November 6, 2009

Easy Peasy Homemade Yogurt

We love yogurt at our house. We use it on fruit or cereal almost daily, and I frequently use it in cooking. I used to think that it was something of a fuss to make, until I ran across an idea that I've used ever since. It's simple, non-electric, and I've had good results almost every time.

Unlike sauerkraut, yogurt is one lacto-fermented food that I really know something about. Making it requires only three things: milk, starter, and proper temperature.


I've learned from experience that plain ol' store-bought ultra-pasteurized, homogenized milk doesn't thicken up very well. Commercial yogurt producers use carrageenan, pectin, or gelatin to thicken it and actually, they make it too solid for my preferences. Home recipes often call for adding a quarter cup or so of powdered milk. That works, but I discovered that once I switched to organic milk, I didn't need to add a thickener, it thickens just fine on it's own.


For good results, a good yogurt culture is necessary. Once upon a time, I could buy plain yogurt at the local grocery store and use that. Nowadays plain is hard to find at the grocery store, and what is to be found often contains only small amounts of live culture in addition to preservatives and thickeners. If the yogurt itself has been pasteurized, then the culture is dead and it's useless.

I buy plain yogurt for starter from a health food store, but if you can't find any locally, Yogourmet Freeze-Dried Starter works very well and keeps for quite awhile (a good addition to food storage). It's been awhile since I've used it so I don't have a source to recommend. I'm sure you can find it via the search engine of your choice.

A small amount of your homemade yogurt can be saved with each batch. This can be used for awhile, though it will eventually die out. When my yogurt stops thickening as well as I like, then I know it's time for a new culture.


Yogurt needs a fairly constant temperature of about 105 - 115° F/ 40 - 46° C (different directions may vary slightly on this point)

Checking the milk's temperatureSome recipes call for scalding the milk first, and then allowing it to cool to the proper temperature. Scalding is necessary with raw milk because it contains it's own friendly bacteria which will compete with the bacteria that make yogurt. With pasteurized milk however, those bacteria are destroyed, so scalding isn't necessary.

I heat my milk to steaming, and then let it cool to the the correct temperature. I've done it enough so that can tell by the feel of the milk, but a fast-read meat thermometer can be helpful here.

I use a whisk to blend in my starter, and then pour it into containers. Wide mouth quart canning jars work great. If you want to add a sweetener, this would be the time to do so. I never sweeten the new starter though.

Usually I make a 1/2-gallon at a time, saving a little (about half a 1/2-pint canning jar) for my next starter. In the photos below, you will see that I'm making a whole gallon of yogurt. This is because I want to make some yogurt cheese.

To incubate, I fill the bottom of a cooler with the hottest tap water I can get, add the containers, and close the lid. That's it.

Easy non-electric yogurt makerHow long does it take? Actually, I've never timed it. I can tell you that I allow about half a day to make it. After several hours, I check on it's progress by tilting the container.

Tilt to check donenessI'm not sure how well you can tell from the above photo, but this batch is done. When I tilt the container, it's getting too thick to pour. I can put it in the fridge now. It will thicken a little more as it cools.

On occasion I've had to add more hot water to the cooler, but that's rare. I did with this batch because it is double what I usually make and I only had a small amount of starter. It took longer, but the yogurt is just as good. Why did I double it? Because I want to make some yogurt cheese and whey. More on that next time.

Recently, I was delighted to find a little store where I can buy non-homogenized, low temp pasteurized whole milk from free-ranging grass-fed cows given no antibiotics or rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). And it makes great yogurt!

Eventually I hope to be having my own goats for milk. And cheese. (If you hadn't already guessed, this is one of the reasons DH is working so hard on the goat fence.) Hopefully by this time next year.

Yogurt & cantaloupe

Easy Peasy Homemade Yogurt photos & text copyright 


Theresa said...

Nice yogurt! I had some friends that made it very simply as you do. I myself am not a yogurt fan unless
it's as a cooler with indian food, but the dogs love it
and get some organic plain when anyone has had to take medication. Just a little for a week or two to keep the gut bacteria balanced. We do the same.

Nina said...

I love baking with yogourt and it's one of the few dairy products I can generally eat without problems. I've never tried making it though. My mom used to and it had a nasty, overly sour, almost bitter taste which coated the mouth and never thickened much at all. Maybe I should try it myself though now

Leigh said...

Theresa, you like sauerkraut. I've been reading that raw (not canned), non-pasteurized sauerkraut has the same benefits as yogurt for digestion. Might as well keep the gut bacteria balanced with something you like. :)

Nina, there are several reasons why that might have happened. It may have been the starter or the milk. It's also possible that it incubated too long. It does tend to get sourer the longer it incubates. Try some yourself with a good starter and organic milk, and keep an eye on it. I think you'll be able to make a yogurt that you're happy with.

Heather said...

We sometimes make our own yogurt too. I do mine in a 2 quart glass jar then I put it into one of those big thermos cooler water jugs - sort of the same thing you do with your big cooler. I love it with blended cherries and a bit of honey. Would love to see how your yogurt cheese turns out.

Katrien said...

This is exactly what I need to get started myself: some handholding with complete instructions and visual examples. Especially your hot-water-in-the-cooler method is helpful. I don't want to buy a yogurt maker and we don't have a pilot light in our over (electric). This will work just fine for us too!

I've been wanting to make yogurt with my raw milk but didn't know the bacteria in it would have to be killed first, which would run counter to why I buy that (expensive milk) to begin with. Looks like I need to investigate a bit more...

bspinner said...

Makes me want to go out and make my own yogurt again. I got a recipe from one of Jeff Smith's cook books and made my own for years. The only difference was to keep the yogurt warm I set it in a water bath on a heating pad. Very good especially with fresh fruit and the only dairy product my stomach doesn't go crazy eating.

Leigh said...

Heather, a thermos is a good idea too. Don't you love not having to use electricity to do this?

Katrien, good point. Now you've got me on the hunt for more information! When we get goats, that will obviously be raw milk, so I wanted to know more. The best information I found was at the Weston A. Price Foundation - To Heat or Not to Heat: A Yogurt Question. Two more good articles are - Make it yourself yogurt at Passionate Homemaking, and Raw Milk Yogurt Escapades at Kitchen Stewardship.

Barb, how can you live without homemade yogurt :) . Great idea to use a heating pad.

Nina, I just read that with yogurt culture, less is more. Best results are obtained with smaller amounts of starter rather than more, so maybe your mom just used to much. Recommended amount is one tablespoon per quart.

Katrien said...

Thank you for all those links! I'm on it. At the moment I'm baking my first bread so that's the priority, but I'll be experimenting with, and reporting on, the raw milk yogurt soon!

So jealous of your goats!

Have you read this, about "Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin" (rBST) :

Robin said...

Wow you make it seem so easy. I would like to try this sometime. Only problem is, we don't eat yogurt that often. My sister-in-law makes goat kiefer which I did like to drink. Now making cheese I could really get into. I LOVE cheese.

Sharon said...

I grew up with homemade yogurt from our goats milk. I made it myself during my Mother Earth years. My dad raised honey bees so a treat was honey drizzled over cold yogurt. Now I buy Greek Yogurt from Trader Joes. It goes on my granola and our delicious potatoes. Seasoned, it's a good dip for celery. Couldn't be without it.

Leigh said...

Katrien, you're welcome! I'm looking forward to you blogging about this. I hadn't read that particular article on
rBGH but I'm not surprised at it's content. I switched to non-growth hormone milk as soon as I found out about it.

Robin, next post will be about yogurt cheese, a soft, spreadable, (and yummy) cheese. You should give it a try and tell me what you think.

Sharon, I love it over granola too! Haven't tried it on potatoes but that's an excellent idea.

Dawn said...

I incubate my yogurt in the oven overnight with just the oven light on. I like your no-electricity method though. Frugality rules! There's nothing like homemade yogurt.

Leigh said...

Dawn, I agree about frugality! LOL. My oven doesn't have a light. :( We do love our homemade yogurt though.

Hannah said...

I've been making kefir with raw goat's milk that doesn't require scalding, and wanted to also make room temperature yogurt (mesophilic) so I got the Viili and Piima cultures. Then the seller stated they don't work well thickening raw goat's milk, so for the starter I would have to use scalded cow's milk then use that for the raw goat's milk but continue to make more starter with the scalded cow's milk. I find the goat's milk not thick enough so I am considering abandoning making the yogurt and sticking to just kefir.

I could try making some raw goat's milk yogurt using your method to keep it warm and see how it works out. I'm still wanting to avoid scalding.

Leigh said...

Hannah, I've just started experimenting with kefir myself, and prefer it because the milk doesn't need to be pasteurized first, also because I don't have to keep buying more culture!

I've tried making raw milk yogurt by heating the milk to various temperatures, to avoid pasteurizing it. I've had varying success, I'm told the natural bacteria sometimes competes with the yogurt culture.

My goat milk yogurt used to get fairly thick. Not like store bought, which is thickened with gelatins, but thicker than we actually wanted. We like to use ours over cereal like milk.

Now that Dan is used to the kefir, I probably won't go back to making yogurt. Kefir is so much easier, just as tasty, and so much more nutritious, plus it's sustainable! What more could we ask for. :)