Did you know you can make yogurt at home? You don’t even need any fancy equipment like an electric yogurt maker. For hundreds of years people all throughout the world have been making yogurt using only milk, a little yogurt from a previous batch, a warm environment and some time.
Making yogurt is similar to making sourdough bread: sourdough bread requires a “starter” or piece of fermenting dough that causes the dough to rise and gives the bread its characteristic flavor. In the same way, yogurt requires a starter. This starter contains the healthy bacteria that help turn the milk into yogurt. Here’s the cool part: you can use any plain yogurt with live and active cultures as a starter. At first you’ll need to use a store-bought yogurt as your starter, but once you begin making your own yogurt, you can reserve a little to use as your starter next time.
In a nutshell, yogurt is made by (1) heating the milk to boiling point (2) letting the hot milk cool till it is warm (3) adding the starter (4) incubating the milk mixture for 4-8 hours to let the yogurt “grow.”
Why go to the trouble of making yogurt at home?
- It tastes better! It has a delightful freshness I have never tasted in store-bought yogurt.
- There are no preservatives or unnecessary ingredients.
- You can control the amount of sugar in the yogurt.
- Making yogurt is less expensive than buying yogurt.
- Making yogurt is fun!
Yogurt making is fun because you can experiment with the variables to make your yogurt taste just the way you like it. In this sense, it’s like making wine or bread—but a whole lot easier.
Yogurt variables include:
- Type of milk used (skim, 2%, whole; organic, non-organic)
- Type of starter used (fresh yogurt v. freeze-dried; number of cultures in starter)
- Incubation Environment (electric yogurt maker, warm oven, heating pad, thermos, blankets)
- Incubation Time (4 hours v. 8 hours)
Don’t let the yogurt-making variables deter you from trying to make your own yogurt. Yogurt making can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, and you’ll soon learn what ingredients and methods suit your taste. Take heart: even though I used slightly different ingredients or methods each of the five times I made yogurt in the past few weeks, they all turned out well (except the one time I killed the bacterial cultures because I forgot to let the milk cool first—that was purely my blunder though).
Ready to make some yogurt?
Makes 1 quart of yogurt
1 quart milk (I use whole milk)
½ cup plain yogurt or 1 (5g) packet of freeze-dried yogurt starter, such as Yo’Gourmet
A warm environment to incubate the yogurt
- In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk to 180°F (82°C) or until it begins to boil, stirring as necessary.
- Let the milk cool to 110°F (43°C). You can either let the milk sit in the saucepan until it cools or place the saucepan of milk in a sink filled with cold water to expedite the cooling process.
- In a small bowl, combine the plain yogurt or yogurt starter with about ½ cup of the lukewarm milk. Stir to fully incorporate, then pour the contents back into the saucepan. Stir well.
- Prepare a warm place (ideally 100°F) to incubate the yogurt. A warm oven works well. Place a lid on the saucepan or container in which you are incubating the yogurt. If you are concerned about maintaining a warm temperature, wrap the container well with towels or blankets. You can also place a heating pad underneath the yogurt to help it stay warm (be wise about this! We don’t want any house fires). If you have a crockpot, read this post to learn about using it as an incubator.
- Incubate the yogurt mixture for 6-8 hours (4-4 ½ hours if you are using Yo’Gourmet). Do not touch or stir the yogurt while it is incubating. Don’t stress about the timing; experiment and you’ll figure out what you like.
- Refrigerate the yogurt to stop the incubation process. Enjoy!