Friday, August 21, 2009

Guest Post: Homemade Yogurt

Today Katie from Kitchen Stewardship shares how to make homemade yogurt with tips and hints for success.

I’ll bet a lot of people are apprehensive about making homemade yogurt for a variety of reasons:
1. too much time
2. too complicated
3. afraid it won’t work out
4. growing bacteria just sounds scary and dangerous

My job is to dispel all your fears and teach the no dishes, no fuss way to make homemade yogurt. Here’s your motivation:
1. At current prices of $1.99/gallon for milk and $2-3 per 32 oz. tub of plain yogurt, I save $6-10 every time I make a gallon of yogurt, which I do every 2 weeks or less. That’s about $200 a year off my food budget.

2. Nutritionally, I can be totally in charge of the ingredients. No high fructose corn syrup or fake foods for my family. Just the health benefits of yogurt, thank you!

3. Environmentally, I save about 100 32 oz. plastic tubs from going into landfills or being recycled every year.

4. If you compare to the little plastic presweetened cups, the savings are immeasurably greater in every category. For example, the last time I read the nutrition facts on a 6 oz. yogurt cup, it contained about 45 grams of sugar. One teaspoon of sugar has 4 grams, and an 8 oz cup of milk has 12. I don’t think I could add enough fruit to make 45, so I guarantee you can cut your sugar intake…significantly…by using plain yogurt!

How Much Time Does it Take to Make Homemade Yogurt?
Grand Total: 15 minutes active work, an hour and a half that you’ll need to be at home.
• 5 minutes to pour milk into jars
• a few minutes over the next 20 minutes to check on temperature
• a few minutes to move the jars to the fridge
• wait an hour
• 5 minutes to stir in the starter
• a few minutes to get the jars in the freezer and then the fridge

How Complicated is it?
The basic steps:
1. Heat to sterilize the milk. (185 degrees)
2. Cool milk to proper incubation temperature. (90-120 degrees)
3. Add starter yogurt.
4. Incubate at warm temperature 4-24 hours.
Click here for raw milk modifications and experiments.

Let’s get started. There are a bunch of ways to do this, but here’s the easiest method, in my opinion. I realize this post looks very long, but it’s just because I want to hold your hand through every step to take the fear out of the process, which is really simple once you read through this and try it once.

Supplies necessary:
• Glass jars (quart canning jars or empty mayo or spaghetti sauce jars work great)
• Milk (any, from skim to whole)
• Candy thermometer, but I can show you how to do it without one too
• Pot large enough to hold your glass jars
• 2 Tbs of plain yogurt per quart of milk (Buy the freshest yogurt possible at a store and make sure it has “live and active cultures”. I prefer Dannon. I know it has the three top cultures that I’m looking for to help the gut. The little cups are often on sale for 40-50 cents.)
• picnic cooler
• bath/beach towel
• timer

• Run jars and lids through the dishwasher to sterilize. I just cap them and put them away until I need them (assuming if no air gets in, no bacteria will either). They should be totally dry before capping. If you’re a real baby stepper, just put this step on your to-do list for this week, along with “print and read yogurt directions”. Then NEXT week you can tackle “make yogurt” on a day of your choosing!
• Get out picnic cooler and clean bath towel.

How to Make Homemade Yogurt, The Easy Way
The very first time you make yogurt will take a little more attention, because you’ll have to check temperatures to figure out the timing with your refrigerator. After that, it’s a piece of cake!
1. Put your sink washcloth in the bottom of the pot. This will prevent the jars from breaking if they start shaking when the water boils (especially if you forget about them).
*Added bonus: You know how sometimes even after washing your dishrag, it still smells sour? This will knock the stink right out!

2. Pour milk into your jars to about an inch from the top.

3. Place jars into the pot and fill pot with tap water around the jars.

Milk ready to boil in the pot. You can see two mayo jars, one canning jar, and a spaghetti sauce jar.

4. Put candy thermometer on edge of pot. Cook on high heat until boiling (now your thermometer is sterilized). Sometimes I put a spoon in there too so I know it’s sterile for stirring the yogurt starter in.

5. Move thermometer into one of the jars; turn heat to medium-low or so, just enough to keep the water boiling.

6. When the milk is at about 185 (you can’t burn it with this method, so if you forget it for a while, it’s OK!) turn off the heat and put lids on the jars.
The no-thermometer method: When a “skin” appears on the top, you’re at temp. Just scoop the skin off and throw it in the sink.

7. Cool the jars of milk in the refrigerator. Optional: Take starter yogurt out and let it sit on the counter. This ensures that it’s not too cold when you mix it into the warm milk. You can also cool the milk in a sinkful of cold water with ice. It works in about 20-30 minutes with water just halfway up the sides of the jars at my house!

8. Put a lid on your pot of boiling water and arrange the towel in the cooler so you can put the pot in there without melting anything, then close the lid, towel and all.

9. Your goal is to get the milk down to about 110 degrees. Incubation happens between 90-120 degrees, so you have decent wiggle room, but 105-112 is optimal. At my house it takes 50 minutes.

The first few times you make yogurt, you’ll figure out what your fridge can do. Keep your thermometer sterile and check after about 45 minutes, or leave the thermometer in the jar for the first time only and check at intervals, keeping in mind that opening the fridge will change the temperature in there just a bit, so adjust next time when you simply set the timer.

No-thermometer method: You can learn what the jars feel like from the outside. I’ve found that I can’t hold onto the jars with bare hands for more than a few seconds, it’s still too hot. Give it 5-10 more minutes and check again. 118 degrees is the temp at which enzymes and yogurt bacteria die. It’s also the temp at which humans say “ouch!” God built in a way for us to know when our food is too hot for our health! Another way to check the temp of the milk is to use a clean spoon and drip a bit onto your wrist. You want it to feel warm, but not painful. Remember that your body temperature is about 98, and your goal is approximately 10 degrees higher. If you do have a thermometer, I would recommend the first few times to use it and your wrist so that you know what 110 feels like for future reference.

*If you miss and it gets too cold, just heat it up again in the pot on the stove. It’s just milk at this point, so you’re not out anything!

10. Stir in ~2 Tbs. plain yogurt for each quart of milk. Stir gently; remember that you’re dealing with living organisms and you don’t want to knock them senseless! More is not better; too much starter can make bad yogurt. Again, these living organisms need room to reproduce. If you ask too many to live together, it’s like making tenements and living conditions aren’t as nice for your friendly bacteria!

11. Get those lids on again and nestle your jars in the cooler. Keep them wrapped in one half of the towel and take the lid off the pot to let the heat out, then close the lid of the cooler to keep the heat in.

My yogurt jars happily nestled in the cooler, ready to incubate. Before I close the lid, I'll wrap the towel end from the right around the jars.

Keep the cooler still, more or less. Jiggling will affect the consistency of the yogurt. Don’t let the kiddos “cooler-race” in the kitchen! If you have no room in your kitchen, put the cooler in another room and leave yourself a note to remind you when to take the yogurt out.

12. You have to make a call on whether you check your yogurt temp every hour or so (you can add more boiling water to the pot if the temp is getting too low) or just let it go and see what happens. Keep in mind that again, when you open your cooler, you’re affecting the temperature. I would recommend leaving it alone, and as long as your cooler is tough enough to keep the heat in the first time, you will never have to babysit your yogurt. This is NOT rocket science!

13. Incubate 4-24 hours. Shorter incubation makes sweeter yogurt, longer is more tart. Also lower incubation temperature makes sweeter yogurt and higher makes more tart. I’ve had good success between 4 and 8. I forgot it once when my goal was 4 hours and found I liked it better at 6. I forgot it once at 6 hours and found that 8 is fine, but I liked 6 better. More recently I read that after incubating a full 24 hours, almost all the lactose is eaten by the bacteria, making the yogurt extremely digestible. I tried leaving one jar for 24 hours, and it wasn’t too bad. I usually shoot for about 16 nowadays. Experiment to see what you prefer!

Note: If you incubate longer than 8 hours, I would recommend setting a teapot to boil and pouring the contents into your pot. For 24-hour-yogurt, I add boiling water before I go to bed and when I wake up in the morning. I’ve never “checked” on the temp of my yogurt - I prefer to leave it alone - and I’ve had no problems.

14. When the time is up, put the jars into the freezer for about an hour. This improves the texture. No room in the freezer? (I did have a broken jar once when I put it directly into the ice.) Just go right in the fridge. If you forget the yogurt in the freezer, it’s fine. Yogurt can freeze! Just thaw in your fridge.

Note: Don’t get too interested in what it looks like until the yogurt is cold. I have a feeling stirring, and definitely shaking, the jars at this point hurts the process.

15. That’s it! You have created yogurt!

What Does it Look Like?
Most of the time, the finished product will have a yellowish “whey” around the thicker yogurt. This is normal! You can pour it off (into your soup, preferably - there’s protein in that whey!) or stir it in, depending on what consistency you want.

See the whey? Looks gross, but it's just what you want!

8-hour yogurt on the left, 16-hour on the right. The 16-hour yogurt is a bit thicker, but not appreciably so.

The Easy Clean up

Lay out your towel to dry and use it for your showers. Air dry your pot and cooler and put them away. Your only “dishes” include a spoon and a thermometer (maybe). Nice!

When your yogurt is cooled and ready to eat, take out a few Tablespoons for a starter for your next batch. Store it in a clean container and date it (I use a glass baby food jar that has been through the dishwasher). Best practice is to take your starter out first so that it’s the least contaminated by folks dipping out yogurt throughout the week.

I’ve found that I can make a batch every one to two weeks or so and the starter is still plenty strong. I might buy a new starter at the store every two months. If my yogurt starts getting runny, especially twice in a row, I can solve it by buying a new starter.

Visit Kitchen Stewardship’s Easy Homemade Yogurt for serving suggestions and troubleshooting tips, plus nutrition notes on skim vs. whole milk and organic milk. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship shares weekly Monday Missions to challenge you to take baby steps towards being a better steward of God’s gifts of your health, earth, time and money.


  1. Great post and tutorial. I use a yogurt maker that comes with the little glass jars and the warmer with a lid. I like this because it just makes the process much easier for me and it takes less room than a cooler. I LOVE your idea of keeping the milk in the jars to boil! I guess then I would put it all back into a jug to add my yogurt starter (I use either leftover of my own yogurt or freeze dried starter). This will help me not scald the milk, which I do often! Great way to save money!

  2. I love yogurt but unfortunately I'm the only one in the house. Does the extra freeze well? Even if I cut the recipe in half it'd be way too much for me but if I could freeze it then it would work perfectly!

  3. This is awesome! My hubby takes yogurt in his lunch everyday, so this would certainly save us big bucks! I can't wait to try it out!

  4. Jennifer,
    The best thing about this "jar in pot" method is that there is no minimum amount! I make 4 jars now because our family eats it like crazy, but I used to just make two quart jars. You could totally do just a quart, or even less. Just be sure to stick with 2 Tbs yogurt per quart of milk, and you'll be fine.

    You can freeze the yogurt you pull out as a starter if you're not going to make yogurt for a while, and that works out just fine. (The yogurt is good at least 2 weeks in the fridge for eating.) If the yogurt freezes completely, the consistency is not as thick as far as eating goes. Still great in smoothies though! I hope that helps you out -- good luck with your yogurt!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

  5. Great article, I think I'm going to try this tomorrow. I take yogurt everyday for lunch and this will definately help with the budget. At what point can I add flavoring like fruit or especially Vanilla extract? I'm not fond of plain yogurt.

  6. Stephen,

    I always wait until the entire process is finished and the yogurt has cooled completely in the refrigerator (about 6 hours) before I stir it at all. To make a quart "vanilla-cized" use 1 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup sugar (more or less to taste) and stir gently. We usually keep it plain and then add frozen fruit and a sweetener (sugar or honey) when we put it in individual serving bowls. Frozen fruit makes it SO yummy! You can click on the link over to Kitchen Stewardship to see more serving ideas, too. Best of luck!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship


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