Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making Yogurt-How to make Yogurt at Home

Okay, here's the thing you need to know about yogurt. It's really really easy. I tell you this at the beginning, before you read all about getting a thermometer and temperatures and bacterial process and all, because I was intimidated by yogurt for years. I would read the directions, in numerous books, and then put them down and relegate yogurt making to the someday when I have a lot of time to figure it out category in my head. I don't want you to do the same thing. So I'll say it again, making yogurt is simple.

Now, I'll probably be very long winded about making yogurt because I like to understand WHY things work. "Why mommy? Why?" I'm not that different from my 6 year old after all. "But why mommy? Why shouldn't I pee on my little sister in the bathtub? She's laughing."


Moving on.

Here's the other thing you need to know about yogurt. You will save a lot of money making it yourself. Say one gallon of milk is $3. One quart of good quality yogurt is usually $3-4 minimum. That means if you are buying yogurt you are paying $12-16 per gallon. If you make a gallon of yogurt guess how much it costs? That's right, $3, give or take the price of a gallon of milk. If you like yogurt, you really want to know how to make it yourself.

The first thing you will need is a pot large enough to hold the amount of yogurt you want to make. I don't recommend trying to do more than a gallon at a time. It takes too long to heat and burns on the bottom, and too long to cool. But you can start with less. You will have exactly as much yogurt as milk that you start with so you will need containers to hold them. My personal preference is glass mason jars. They seal nicely, don't leak, don't leech dioxins when they are warmed and look pretty. I went through a lot of plastic containers before I caught on. But you can use whatever you want. Really. It doesn't even need a lid. The picky among us may want a wire sieve, but that's completely optional.

So for you who like it laid out all neat and tidy instead of lost in the narrative, here's your list.

Large Stock Pot or Sauce Pan (Heavy bottomed is best.)
Candy thermometer (Can be found in the baking section of every grocery store chain in North America I think. But I'll tell you what to do if you haven't got one too. Yogurt makers have been going by feel for centuries.)
Storage Containers
Wire Sieve
Whisk or spoon for stirring

(See that jar with a bit of yogurt in the bottom? That's
from my last batch, to use to start this one.)

Milk (Whole, Skim, and every thing in between. Personally I think whole milk tastes better and makes creamier yogurt, but low fat will work just as well.)
1 tbsp of your favorite brand of plain unsweetened yogurt, as long as it reads on the side, "Active bacterial cultures".

And please tell me that your favorite yogurt doesn't have gelatin or cornstarch in it, because those people who make that slop don't know how to make yogurt. Well, they probably do, but they're cheating you into thinking that it's creamier with additives. Anyway, you could go out and buy a yogurt starter like yo-gourmet or the like, but it's a whole lot simpler to just use some yogurt you already have. Their instructions are way to complex in my opinion, though that's how I started.

Yogurt is a simple bacterial process, just like bread. You introduce the bacteria to the milk, get it nice and cozy so that the bacteria thrive and they eat their way through all of the lactose and in turn give you yogurt. Before you get all grossed out by that, consider that you have a lot of bacteria and microorganisms in your body right now and you want the stuff in yogurt in you, because it's good for you, and then the bad bacteria has less space to run around and eventually almost moves out altogether complaining about over crowding. So that's why you need a little bit of yogurt from somewhere else. It already has live bacteria in it for you to add to the milk.

The rest is just all about temperature. You get the milk hot enough to pasteurize it so that the only thing alive in it is the bacteria you want to grow and nothing else. Then you get it cool enough to not kill the bacteria and then keep it warm enough that they stay active until they have spread through out the yogurt. Got that? Good. Here we go.


Pour the milk into the pot. Set the heat beneath the pot to medium/medium high. (There are those who will tell you that you should put it on low and stir constantly to keep from burning but those people don't make yogurt that often I don't think. Higher heat warms it faster before the stuff on the bottom starts to stick and burn.) Put the thermometer in the milk, it should have a clip for the side of the pot, and stay close by stirring from time to time.

The hardest part about making yogurt is keeping the milk from burning. It takes so long to heat up that you have usually forgotten that you have anything on the stove and you have gone off to fold laundry or have a shower or something. If you get at all engrossed in movies, do not try to watch one while making yogurt. You will forget about it until it's boiling over the top and burnt on the bottom. Oh wait, that's just me? Never mind. Magazines are good. Yogurt making is a good time to read a magazine. On a chair or stool in the kitchen. Next to your milk. So you don't forget.

Watch your yogurt, stirring occasionally, until it reaches 180F, or 80C. If you have no thermometer, stand over it and watch until the outside edges are bubbling vigorously and there is a lot of steam coming off the milk.

Here's for the list people.


Preheat oven to 110F. Or just set it on the lowest possible setting just when the light comes on, no more. Heat milk to 180F, 80C. Remove immediately from heat. Allow to cool to between 110-115F, about 54C. (Or if you have no thermometer, until you can hold your pinkie finger in the milk for a full 10 seconds without it burning.) Skim the skin off the top. Add the tbsp of yogurt. Stir together. Pour into storage containers. Place storage containers in the warmed oven. Turn the oven off. Wait 4 to 8 hours before opening. When the milk stays firm when the container is tilted remove from oven and place in fridge.

making yogurt

There you're done. That wasn't so hard was it?

Oh the sieve? That's for people who want a very smooth yogurt. You can pour the milk through it into the storage containers to catch any lumps.

I don't usually bother sterilizing my equipment. But I do try to get it very clean, rinsing in very hot water and soap just before I use it all. I don't want anything that isn't healthy bacteria growing in my milk.

Be sure to save a little bit of this batch of yogurt to use for starting your next batch.

For breakfast pair it with Muesli.

See also,

Alternate Methods of Incubation

How to "Rescue" Yogurt that Doesn't Turn Out

Greek Style Yogurt, and Making Yogurt Cheese


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for posting this - I'm very keen to give it a go. I just need to get one of the thermometers first!

HOpe you don't mind me asking a question - is it ok to use sweetened plain yoghurt or am I definitely best to look out for some unsweetened?


Carrien said...

Wilma-I honestly have no idea if sweetened plain yogurt would work or not. If the culture is active in it I assume it would work, I just don't know of anyone who has tried it. It might taste a bit funny too but if you plan to sweeten it all yourself later that might not matter.

If you try it will you let me know how it turns out?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Carrien. Once I've got the thermometer, I'll definitely give it a go - too chicken to try it without one!

Will let you know - might have to do a batch with sweetened as the base and non-sweetened. Just to see!


Wilm in NZ

Unknown said...

A question for you: how long does the yogurt keep for?

I am eager to try this but am wondering how long it usually stays good for. A week? Two weeks?

Carrien said...

On occasion I have found a sealed jar at the back of the fridge that is still good more than a month later. SO I would say at least a month, with less time for a jar you've already opened.

The longer it sits, the less active culture will be in it because it slowly dies out over time, but that month old batch had enough culture to make a new batch with.

As long as there is no mold on it it's fine. Yogurt doesn't go sour, as it's already sour.

I actually once taught someone who worked a kitchen that operated from food donations how to make yogurt. They kept getting large quantities of milk that was about to turn and couldn't use it fast enough. Once she had pasteurized and made yogurt it lasted quite a while longer than the milk would have.

Anonymous said...

Well, I haven't made any yet. But I am making progress :-) I've bought a candy thermometer (and it even has the silicone clip attachment like your one which will be handy) and I've managed to find some nice glass 1 litre jars which I'll be collecting this week.

So watch this space! I'm hoping that I manage to do it correctly.

When I was purchasing the thermometer I asked the lady in the kitchen shop if she knew anything about making yoghurt. She did..........but alas only from the ready made mixes so that wasn't much help!

Will let you know how I get on!

Cheers, Wilm

Jillian said...

Will one Tbsp really work for a full gallon of milk? I usually use a 1/2 C yogurt for every quart of milk, if I can get away with saving less of my old yogurt, that'd be great!

Carrien said...

Yes, one TBSP will work. It will probably take longer than you are used to because it will spread more slowly.

Just be sure to keep it warm for several hours.

Anonymous said...

I have used a very simple way to make yogurt at home recipe/ Simply heat the milk until it comes to a boil. Set aside for cooling until you can put your little finger in and count to ten. When you can do this, put the two or three T of starter into the cooled milk and pour into the sterilized canning jars. I use a freezer bag from the grocery store to put the yogurt to be in and leave for eight hours. Amounts made can vary if only using a quart of milk at a time - or you can use a half or a whole gallon of milk. No thermometers or any other equipment - just a pot for heating, a little finger to test for cooling of the milk, a sterile canning jar, and a freezer bag. Turns out yummy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the pic's and the time you took to do this. I just now am liking yogurt. I had to shove it down because I hated the smell enough to make me sick. I now love it and even buy it very often I want to try this but how long will this last and can I put it in the freezer?

Carrien said...

Paula-I wouldn't freeze it unless you wanted to eat it frozen. Which is yummy in smoothie or if you have stirred in fruit. I wouldn't thaw it to eat though, it tends to separate.

The longest I've kept yogurt in the fridge without it going bad is about a month unopened.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carrien,
Thanks for posting this! I've been on the verge of making yogurt for awhile and now I'm just gonna do it. About that sieve: Is it a strainer? Do you make it without using the sieve.

:-) Beth

Anonymous said...


As a mere male who loves cooking, I have been daunted by all the recipes you see for yoghurt, this makes it so much simpler. Thanks heaps.


Anonymous said...

I have been experimenting making the yogurt but sometimes it comes out very stringy.. What could cause this? I am careful in adding the starter at the right temperature.
Thank you in advance for your feedback


Carrien said...

Sandy-I'm still working on figuring that out myself actually sometimes I get the same result.

I have it narrowed down to three possibilities.
1.The milk got too hot
2.The oven was too hot or didn't cool off soon enough
3.The milk is different given change of season and change in cows diet.

Right now I'm pretty sure that it's #2 but it may be a combination.
IF you are sure the milk didn't get too hot to start with then try checking the yogurt more often and chill it as soon as it sets. Remember, It thickens more as it cools off in the fridge. Or check that your oven isn't too hot to begin with?

Let me know if that works for you because I'm still trying to isolate the cause of that. Every so often I do get a stringy batch, still edible, but not perfect.

madeleine said...

thanks so much! these instructions are so simple and clear . . . I already made one batch and I am committed. I am never buying yogurt again.

Els said...

I made a batch yesterday and started out with a liter of milk. Burned my little finger a few times checking if the milk had cooled down enough but it's fine now. To keep the yoghurt warm enough I put the jars covered in a blanket in an insulated crate. The result is absolutely delicious. Just like mafa I am never buying yoghurt again. Would it be OK if I translate your recipe into Dutch and post it on my blog? Giving you the credit of course! Thanks again.

Carrien said...

mafa-I'm so glad, thanks for telling me.

els-Of course you may translate it to Dutch and post it!

Vive...rie...ama said...

Thank you! Can't wait to try. I have made yogurt before and it is always very lumpy (but I've never put it in a consistently warm oven, always just on the counter wrapped in a towel).

Wade said...

Hi everyone. I have a solution to burned milk. I just put the milk in a big glass bowl in the microwave oven. I have the thermometer handy and just heat the milk to 18o Deg C. I then place the bowl once it has reached the temperature in the sink with cold water around it. I watch the temperature go down to 110 Deg F and then add my tablespoon of culture. No burnt milk on the bottom of the pan and it works just fine every time!

Little Red Hen said...

Hi, Carrien! It's Jackie with The Minute Magazine. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this posting! Is it ok for us to print it in the May issue?

Thanks, girl!

Spencer said...

Another good tip to avoid burning the milk is to use two pots that fit inside one another, create a double boiler or water jacket effect.

ariane said...

oy! I just stried this but added the yogurt before the milk cooled. should I get more yogurt and add it again, or might it be okay? i don't know. Thanks!

Carrien said...

Ariane-You need to get more yogurt and add it again when the milk is 110F. Any hotter and you kill the bacteria.

Good luck!

Susan said...

Well, you've inspired me. I've wanted to learn how to make yogurt for nearly 20 years and always thought it must be complicated and would have to wait until I became "that kind" of cook. You know one that can work miracles from scratch and make the perfect souffle. A friend recently encouraged me to check online for information assuring me it was very easy. So I did and I found your post. I bought my jars and thermometer at the start of the week and I have six jars in the oven right now. Trying not to be scared that I'm going to poison myself or my family :) I think I'll make my way through some before giving it to my little ones. Thanks for posting this and gettting me going!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the recipe. I looked at other places and it seemed so complicated I was about to give up. After reading your article I'm ready to start!

Unknown said...

My sister used to wrap her jars in towels and store them in a cooler instead of in the oven, has anyone tried it this way? Less energy usage...

Aditi said...

I have seen my mother make yogurt every night all through my childhood in India. 99% of the time it was perfect. She never had a thermometer but this is what she used to do:
1) Boil the milk and when it rose she would lower the fire. She repeated this three times.
2) She would set the milk aside to cool with a muslin to cover the pot while we had dinner.
3) She would smear a little bit (half a teaspoon) of the yogurt from the previous day all around the bottom of a porcelean bowl.
3) When the milk was just warm to touch on the outside of the pot, she would move aside the skin formed on the milk and pour it in the bowl and cover it with a porcelean plate and keep it a corner of the kitchen that was warm. No one was allowed to touch the yogurt bowl until the following morning. We were told that the bacteria did not like to be moved in the slightest.
4) We did not have an oven or any electrical device that could keep a steady temperature. She relied on nature. Once every month or so she would buy a small bit of store bought yogurt (or borrow a teaspoon of yogurt from a neighbor) because the starter was too sour she would complain. I remember her complaining in the winter months too. Whatever the case we had yogurt every day.

Owlhaven said...

I did it! Turned out great! I love making it in quart jars-- enough for my family. I might even use this instead of sour cream...


Christy B. said...

Thank you for simplifying this process! You have potentially staved off my yo-phobia long enough for me to give this the old college try!

By the way, I found you through a link from

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if you can do this with goat's milk too?

Carrien said...

Green Thumb Mama-Yes, you can do it with goat's milk.

(My little bil, for a while, was raising goats and learning about pack goats. There was this whole bit about making yogurt on the trail that involved putting the still warm milk in a jar at the foot of your sleeping bag and waking up in the morning to fresh goat milk yogurt.)

Anonymous said...

Excellent! BTW, I made this yogurt today and I cannot believe how easy this was! I made it with cow's milk, but I plan on trying it with goat's milk because of my dairy allergy! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most informative posts I've seen on how to make yogurt at home. I have one question - my oven has a minimum temperature of 200 degrees. I'm thinking that I can't keep the temperature at 200 degrees, because it will kill the bacteria in the yogurt. I'm guessing my only option is to monitor the temperature in the stove to make sure it's at 110 degrees, but that would obviously mean hanging out in the kitchen for 4-8 hours with nothing to do but watch the oven - not my favorite way to spend a Saturday. What do you think? Is there another way to get the temperature right?

Carrien said...

kitchenette-I would just turn it on the lowest setting for a few minutes and then turn it off again. You can check the inside temp using the same thermometer. Ovens hold heat pretty well, so it will probably stay warm enough long enough, even if you leave it alone.

Otherwise, click the link for alternative methods of incubation for lots of other ways that will work to keep you yogurt warm, including putting it in a cooler with a hot water bottle.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note, I tried giving home-made yogurt a try recently and love it! After adding the cultures to cooled milk, I place a heating pad on a cutting board and then the container of yogurt on the heating pad. I cover with a towel and leave on medium setting for 7 hours minimum. The longer it sits, the tangier it gets. Finally, I strain through cheesecloth for "greek style" yogurt which is much thicker.

jack said...

you don't need a thermometer. The yogurt culture is not that sensitive - its bacteria after all. Just feel the heated milk on your skin. You are 98.6 degrees, so just make it a little hotter than your skin. That's close enough. I put in in a glass jar on top of the hot water heater. It turned to yogurt just fine. Later I checked it with a thermometer and it was only 92 degrees. It still works. I've been doing it this way for decades. said...

I love your post. Of all the yogurt instructions I have found this one is my favorite. I would like to use your blog and print it out to give to a class of kids I am teaching. They are going to learn how to make their own yogurt. Do you mind if I print it out? I'll be including your website and post to give you credit. Thanks for letting us learn from your experience.

Unknown said...

Carrien: Thanks for your multiple yogurt posts. After looking at maybe ten yogurt recipes, I found your site by searching "yogurt recipe no thermometer." I didn't want to buy a thermometer and your instructions helped me get by with just my finger.

The yogurt is setting as we speak. This is my second attempt with my first batch of milk. A little magic happened last night but it was too cold in my apartment (even wrapped in towels and a blanket) for it to completely set. So I reheated the somewhat yogurt-ed milk carefully per your directions and I have high hopes.

Since I live in S. Korea, a lot of the instructions referencing ovens were of no use to me. Thank you for your details about alternate methods of keeping the milk warm.

And just wanted to say that reading your blog is really inspiring. I enjoy real food, writing/reading and want to have kids in the next few years, so your entries are particularly interesting to me in that they combine those three strands of your life. Are you still planning on moving to Thailand?

inchargemom said...

Thank you for such an in depth article about yogurt making...I was trying it using my sister's directions, but now I understand what I did wrong...the one time that I made the yogurt come out great, I 'overheated' the milk....turns out, that is what I needed to do! husband thought it was only me who starts a project(yogurt making) and goes off and forgets it while it is slowly heating on the oven.....nice to hear it isn't only me!!!!

Shari said...

Carrien: you are the yogurt Goddess! I have always wanted to try this, but was certain that it was a difficult, mysterious secret thing to do; requiring membership in an esoteric secret society. Maybe we will call ourselves Carrienites. Or Carrienians. or something similar.

I confess to not following the directions very well the first time. I wanted the Dannon Activia cultures, because they um, work. So, I used some starter from the vanilla. (I know that you said to use only plain, but didn't) It was fabulous! that was 2 weeks ago. Last night I added 1/2 the starter from that batch, and 1/2 from a very plain yogurt that had 5 different cultures! Now, the question is: (drum roll, please) Does today's yogurt have all 6 cultures from the starters? Will the Activia cultures stay strong, or be overpowered and subsumed by the others? Please don't tell the Danone Group that I stole their proprietary bacteria. I am opposed on principle to an entity owning a string of DNA, even if it is just a dumb bacteria:-)
Oh, btw, I used a hybrid method; I sterilized the jars in boiling water, then set them right side up in the water bath, filled them with the milk, brought it up to 180 degrees by the thermometer, then into a cool water bath until 120 degrees, then into a cooler (prepped with hot water )with the towel from the bottom of the boiling water bath, wrapped in a thick bath towel. The next morning, voila'!! I am so happy to have discovered you. Thank You and
Best Wishes!


scubabeagle said...

I just made my first batch of yougurt this weekend. Overall, I'm impressed. although I must confess I didn't have your blog at the time - I used a yougurt machine. But I plan to give yours whirl. one question that I haven't found an answer to anywhere - when do I add flavorings and sweeteners? I know some are looking for unsweetened, plain yougurt, but I'd need a bit of fruit flavoring and just a touch of sweetener. thanks. happy yougurt'ing.

Carrien said...

scubabeagle-If it's fresh fruit don't add it until just before you are going to eat it or it will get runny and yucky. Sweeteners and fruit preserve type things can be stirred in anytime after the yogurt has set.

Unknown said...

I loved reading this and all of your funny comments. I've been making yogurt for years and do it almost the exact same way- totally agree about using jars, have had my milk boil over numerous times while off doing something else - so that made me laugh. I've discovered what I think is a great way of incubating. I get a small cardboard box that will hold 2 quart jars (cuz that's how much I make at a time). I put the jars in the box and stuff shredded paper around the jars. Then I take the jars out - this will create a 'form' for the jars to be placed back into the box. Then I make my yogurt, pour the milk into the jars, and place the jars in the box overnite. Works perfect every time.

Richard's Blog said...

My first time and everything went very well!! I am now making a gallon at a time and we are eating it instead of ice cream.
One suggestion to the incubation. My oven is too variable with retaining the proper temp. Instead, I experimented with my slow cooker and it works the best! As I am heating the milk I pour water into the slow cooker and set it to warm to achieve and maintain a perfect 105-110 temp. A towel over the top of the jars and I achieve a well set yogurt after 8 hours.

Bill said...

Making yogurt is as easy as falling off a log. I am making 3 quarts at a time at least once a week... and sometimes a gallon or more with my Waring Pro Yogurt Maker.

See my site: for more information.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

I made my first batch of yoghurt last night and we're eating it for breakfast this morning. It's good! And surprisingly easy. Thanks for your excellent instructions - I appreciated the good descriptions you had for us thermometer-less folks.

Anonymous said...

I know you wrote this ages ago now, but amazing, thank you! Don't think you need a thermometer at all ... also, I live on the 24 floor, the lift's out, and I've climbed it twice today, so not a hope of getting one anyway! First yoghurt ... so excited ... esp. as yoghurt in Hong Kong might as well be gold plated with the price tag attached ... also made with 50/50 normal and powdered milk ... impressed. Many thanks!

mayalibre said...

Hi -- Another way to incubate yogurt without using electricity is to use a 1/2 gallon or 1 gallon wide-mouth insulated jug, a Coleman camping type, cost about $10-12. You can put your yogurt jar inside, then pour lukewarm water in the jug around the outside of the jar, then put the jug cover on. Voila! It incubates passively inside the thermos. Also, occasionally my whey becomes stringy or mucous-y but I've heard it's really healthy that way. It's supposed to be like the first clear "milk" that comes out of breasts, or like royal jelly, packed with nutrients. Have you heard or read anything about the value of the whey itself? I've heard it's very good. I notice in my local shops that buttermilk also seems to be making a comeback with people. Great post!

Bernie said...

I did a Food Hygiene Course in the UK. We too swabs from under our fingernails and put them in an incubator. The bacteria under our nails grew into mould of unknown I wouldn't recommend putting in your finger to test the temperature unless you want some random Bactria in your yogurt
. Thanks for the help, i'll be making my own today!

Caren with a "C" said...

I'll have to try this. A few friends of mine were talking last night about making homemade yogurt. Thanks for the recipe directions!

Faye said...

I have tried yogurt many times and it does not thicken enough or at all. tried your method, with a thermometer for the first time, but heat it in a pot rather than the water bath. It thickened somewhat, but you could still drink it. I was wondering if I can use a glass bow in the water bath, rather than a saucepan. I'm thinking that this would allow me to heat and cool it more evenly. the only other issue could be that my oven did not keep it warm enough. I actually have a smaller oven but the lowest temp I can set it at is 120, unfortunately or that would be the ideal.

Jake said...

Just a thought... but why don't you try heating the milk up in the microwave? it won't burn, and it will take Much less time... also, the microwaves and the heat would definitely have killed any bacteria...

Unknown said...

I tell you this at the beginning, before you read all about getting a thermometer and temperatures and bacterial process and all, because I was ...

Anon said...

I agree. Use a sterilised thermometer please.

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Saqib Khatri said...

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