Did you know that you can make homemade yogurt without purchasing a special yogurt maker and without powder yogurt starter? You can make your own yogurt using common household equipment with these step-by-step instructions. Making yogurt saves money, and the result is better than anything you can buy in a store. This is the first installment in our slow food DIY recipe series.
Welcome to the first recipe in the slow food DIY series, homemade yogurt! The occasional recipes that will appear in this category are for those who want to learn some new culinary skills. I’m also going to give you the dietitian’s view of these processes by providing you with some food safety information.
If you enjoy cooking, try starting one of these projects on the weekend or when you have a little extra time. I encourage you to give them a go.
In today’s harried society, the idea of making “slow food” may seem like more effort than it is worth. Fortunately, most of the time that goes into many slow foods is hands-off.
Foods like sourdough bread, fermented vegetables, and homemade yogurt need time for natural bacteria (and in some cases yeast) action to occur. This means you’ll have to wait until you can eat, but in most cases, the actual preparation time is short.
IMHO, the making of these foods involves equal parts artistry and science. The food that results from successful attempts is delicious in a way that is unlike store-bought counterparts. (Tip: these artisanal foods would make a welcome holiday gift for the foodies in your life.)
And if this does not sound like your cup of tea, no worries. The vast majority of articles on this website will continue to feature “regular” healthy recipes.
Homemade Yogurt: Getting Started
I’ve been making yogurt at home for years, and I’ve never purchased a yogurt maker or powdered yogurt starter. Home cooks likely have everything needed to make homemade yogurt, without having to head to the store. To make this recipe, you need the following:
- Milk of your choice: I used lactose-free whole milk to make a creamy yogurt. Low-fat cow’s milk, goat milk, and soy milk can also work. You will end up with a different yogurt consistency, depending on the type of milk you start with.
- Plain, unsweetened yogurt with live, active cultures: I used non-fat Greek yogurt here. In the past, I’ve used regular higher fat yogurt (not Greek), and that works too. Make sure the yogurt contains live, active cultures since this is serving as your yogurt starter.
- A candy thermometer and whisk: Most homemade yogurt methods involve a candy thermometer, and this one is no exception. Getting the temperatures wrong is one of the most common mistakes in yogurt making, so don’t skip the thermometer!
- A wide-mouth quart canning jar with a rim and lid: The jar serves as the vessel the milk incubates in and can go straight in the fridge when done. Using a wide-mouth jar is not critical, but it does make filling the jar easier.
- A heating pad with adjustable heat that stays on: Your yogurt needs to stay at a constant temperature of 100-110F during the incubation period. Wrapping a heating pad around your jar can take the place of a yogurt maker. However, you need to be able to disable any “auto-off” settings, since it needs to stay on for 8-12 hours.
- A large cooler: A cooler is another item that helps keep temperatures consistent during the incubation period.
Don’t Make This Mistake When Making Yogurt
My #1 tip for yogurt-making newbies is to ENSURE CORRECT TEMPERATURES. Keeping the milk at the right temperature throughout this process helps to ensure you have success.
I have destroyed numerous batches of yogurt in the past because I did not pay enough attention to temperature. Here are a few (of the many) mistakes I have made:
- I did not let the sterilized jar cool to 110F (or below) before filling with the milk and yogurt culture. Higher temperatures kill the live cultures, so they cannot turn your milk into yogurt.
- I did not let the milk cool to 100-110F before adding the yogurt culture. Again, not paying close enough attention to the temperature resulted in a failed yogurt attempt.
- I set the heating pad too high or too low. Yogurt cultures thrive best in a narrow, consistent temperature window of about 110F. If you go too high or too low, the cultures will not do their thing and turn your milk into yogurt.
- I whisked the cultures directly into all of the milk, instead of a smaller amount first. This isn’t a temperature issue, but trying to incorporate the cultures directly into the larger pot of milk resulted in a funny yogurt consistency. Always add your cultures to a smaller amount of the warm milk, and then whisk this smaller amount into the larger pot.
And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! I understand how frustrating it can be to have a batch flop. I mentally file my failures as learning experiences and attempt to do better with my next round.
Stay Food Safe: Don’t Try to Salvage Failed Yogurt Attempts
Personal disclosure here: I hate throwing out food. I grew up without a lot of money, and it bothers me when I see people wasting good food. As a result, I make a considerable effort to reduce food waste as much as possible in my own household.
Unfortunately, milk that has incubated without turning into yogurt should be thrown out. Milk kept in the food safety “danger zone” of 41-140F for more than 1-2 hours should not be consumed.
Think about it. Would you drink milk that has been sitting around in 100F heat for about 10 hours without refrigeration? Probably not, so please don’t do it here.
On the other hand, yogurt may be consumed after this incubation period, assuming it was made using properly sterilized equipment. The acidity in yogurt acts as a barrier to unwanted bacteria growth. Keep those cultures alive, so you don’t have to throw out the batch.
In my area, a quart of (non-organic) store brand yogurt costs approximately $3.99. I can make a quart of yogurt for about half as much, roughly $2.
Even if I occasionally have to toss a failed batch, I am still saving money overall. Please don’t risk your health by trying to salvage spoiled milk. If you pay close attention to temperatures, you are more likely to get it right the first time!
Which Heating Pad Should You Use?
I picked up the heating pad that I used for this venture at Walmart nearly a decade ago. It was wonderful to have while recovering from cancer-related surgeries, and I’m happy to have found another use for it.
Unfortunately, it is no longer available since it is so old. I’ll tell you about it so that you can find something similar.
The heating pad has five heat settings. I learned (with a little investigative work) that the medium setting (setting 3) kept things at around 110F. Information for the temperature provided by your heating pad’s settings may be available online.
As mentioned earlier, one of the most important features is the ability to disable the “auto-off” setting. Many heating pads will automatically turn off after 2 hours, not nearly long enough to make yogurt. You need to be able to change the setting so the pad stays on.
You may appreciate not having to turn the pad back on every 2 hours if you ever need to use the pad for pain issues. I know that I really liked this feature.
Though kitchen gadgets are fun, I have a relatively small kitchen and cannot purchase every appliance out there. Having items that do double duty, such as a heating pad, helps me to save money and space.
Speaking of appliances with multiple functions, lately I’ve been successfully making yogurt in my Instant Pot. For those who have invested in this appliance, I find using it to make yogurt is even easier than the heating pad method. Keep an eye out for multicooker homemade yogurt how-to in the future!
And now for the disclaimer…
All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The calorie information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don’t sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to this post. Let’s get cooking!
Homemade Yogurt without Fancy Equipment!
- 4 cups lactose-free whole milk (or unsweetened milk of choice)
- 2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened yogurt with live, active cultures (regular or Greek yogurt is fine)
- Important! Please read the post accompanying this recipe before you begin. It contains essential equipment and food safety information that you do not want to miss.
- Set a 4-cup wide-mouth canning jar (plus jar lid and rim) upright on a rack in a tall pot. Add other equipment that will touch the food (metal whisk, tablespoon, etc.).
- Fill the pot with water so that all of the equipment is completely submerged. The jar should be filled with water, with no air bubbles. The water level should be at least one inch above the top of the jar.
- Heat the filled pot. Boil the equipment for 10 minutes at lower altitudes. At higher elevations,
boil one additional minute for each additional 1,000 feet.
- Remove all equipment from the pot using tongs and let cool to room temperature. Warning: failure to let the equipment cool sufficiently will result in a failed batch of yogurt! Sterilization information from https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_01/sterile_jars.html
- Heat the milk in a small pot to 180°F (82°C), whisking frequently. Use a candy thermometer to keep a careful eye on the temperature. Take the milk off of the heat when it reaches 180°F (82°C).
- Let the milk cool to the 100-110°F (37.8-43.3°C) range. Keep an eye on your candy thermometer to ensure the milk does not get too cool. You can speed this process along by submerging the base of the pot in a shallow bowl of ice water.
- Remove 1 cup of warm milk from the pot and whisk the 2 tablespoons of yogurt in. When the milk returns to a smooth consistency, whisk the 1 cup back into the pot.
- Pour your milk/yogurt mixture into the 4-cup wide-mouth canning jar. (The milk should still be in the 100-110°F/37.8-43.3°C range.) Put the lid and rim on the jar.
- Wrap the jar in a heating pad set to 110°F (43.3°C). (You may be able to find out which setting this is for your heating pad online.) Make sure that any auto-off settings on the pad are disabled.
- Place the heating pad-wrapped jar in a cooler. This will help to maintain the consistent temperature needed to make yogurt.
- Leave this set up alone for 8-12 hours. A longer incubation period will result in tangier yogurt. (I let mine incubate for 9 hours.) It should still be in the 100°-110°F (37.8-43.3°C) range at the end of the incubation period.
- After 8-12 hours, make sure that the milk has thickened into yogurt. If it still looks like milk, you should throw the batch out and start again. Remember the food safety adage, "when in doubt, throw it out."
- If everything looks good, pop the jar in the fridge to let it cool and thicken overnight (8-12 hours).
- Makes four 1-cup servings of delicious yogurt. Enjoy!
This is a level 1 recipe (may help support fat loss). Plain yogurt is perfect as a snack or incorporated into a meal. If you want to keep your snack under 100 calories, stick to ½ cup portion. You could also lighten things up by using low-fat or skim milk, though that will change the consistency of the finished product. I used lactose-free milk, but you can make yogurt with lactose-containing milk if preferred. Other dairy milk and soy milk will work as well. Making your own yogurt is a great way to obtain products not available in stores that fit your dietary needs.
Have you ever tried making homemade yogurt? If so, how do you keep the milk at the proper temperature over the incubation period? I’d love to hear if you try this low-tech how-to, and don’t forget to leave a rating!