Homemade yogurt in a bowl on a checkered tablecloth.

Making homemade yogurt is surprisingly simple. Making it at home allows you to enjoy this delicious and healthy treat with the satisfaction of having made it yourself. 

Yogurt is a fermented dairy product known for its creamy texture and tangy flavor, which is achieved through the culturing of milk with beneficial bacteria. I consider it a gateway into homemade dairy products. (Just like chickens are a gateway homestead animal!)

Creating yogurt at home can be a fun and rewarding DIY kitchen project, giving you the freedom to customize flavors and consistencies according to your personal preferences.

Starting with just two ingredients, milk and a bit of existing yogurt with live cultures, you can go on your own yogurt-making adventure. It’s a journey through heating milk, mixing in the cultures, and allowing the mixture to ferment until it transforms into a thick, creamy yogurt you and your family will love!

And before you run away scared, I meant it when I said it was simple. The process doesn’t require complicated equipment—a few kitchen essentials you probably already have will suffice. All you need is a little know-how to make your first batch of homemade yogurt.

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Key Takeaways

  • Making homemade yogurt is an easy process that involves culturing milk with live bacteria.
  • The key to successful yogurt is precise temperature control and a clean environment during fermentation.
  • Freshly made yogurt can be stored, enjoyed plain, or customized with flavors and toppings.

Understanding Yogurt Making

Making homemade yogurt is really just combining milk with live bacteria cultures, leading to fermentation under controlled warm temperatures. This process thickens the milk and gives yogurt its distinctive tangy flavor.

The Science Behind Yogurt

Yogurt creation is a result of bacterial fermentation. Specifically, the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are responsible for converting lactose, the sugar in milk, into lactic acid. 

This lactic acid curdles the milk proteins, creating the thick texture of yogurt. Temperature is crucial during all stages of this process. The milk needs to be heated to around 180°F to kill any harmful bacteria. Then it’s cooled to around 115 before adding the cultures so the heat doesn’t kill them. 

And once the cultures are added, the temperature needs to maintained around 110–the optimal temperature for the bacteria to thrive and ferment the milk effectively.

Health Benefits of Homemade Yogurt

Homemade yogurt not only provides the satisfaction of creating your own food but also offers health advantages. It’s rich in probiotics, which are beneficial for your gut health and can enhance digestion. 

Since you’re in control of the ingredients, homemade yogurt can be free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and can have less sugar compared to store-bought yogurt. Moreover, homemade yogurt can be a good source of essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin B-12, potassium, and magnesium. 

Making yogurt yourself can also lead to a fresher product, often translating to a higher count of beneficial live cultures.

Gathering Ingredients

Before you start making your own yogurt at home, it’s essential to have all the right ingredients on hand. You’ll need two key components: milk and a starter culture.

Choosing Your Milk

The milk you choose is crucial as it affects the final texture and taste of your yogurt. Whole milk will give you a creamier yogurt, while skim milk leads to a lighter consistency. Avoid ultra-pasteurized or UHT milk as they can impede the culturing process.

And yes, this is a homesteading blog, and I personally like raw milk. But due to its natural bacteria, raw milk is finicky to use when making yogurt. Stick with pasteurized milk for consistent results. I like to use whole milk from a local dairy.

Types of Starter Cultures

For the starter culture, you can either use a small amount of plain store-bought yogurt with active cultures or purchase a yogurt starter culture. 

A person is holding a container of yogurt.
This brand has pectin in the ingredients, which isn’t ideal. But I have successfully used it for one batch.

When selecting store-bought yogurt, check the label to ensure it contains live active cultures. You also want to avoid using a yogurt with sweeteners, preservatives, or thickeners. 

As of this writing, most yogurts labeled “plain, Greek yogurt” were the best options I found at my local grocery store that only listed milk and live cultures in their ingredients.

Equipment Needed

To start making your own homemade yogurt, gather these basic kitchen tools:

1. Saucepan: This is for heating your milk. A large heavy saucepan is ideal.

2. Thermometer: You’ll need an instant-read thermometer to monitor the temperature of your milk accurately. I like to use one that clips to the side of the pan, and is easy to clean.

3. Whisk or Spatula: These will help you stir the milk and prevent it from scorching.

4. Glass Jars with Lids: Sterilize clean glass jars to store your yogurt once it’s made.

5. Cheesecloth (Optional): If you prefer thicker, Greek-style yogurt, you can use cheesecloth to strain it. Or I prefer using this nut milk bag because it’s easy to use and clean.

6. Towels and clothespins: If your yogurt needs a little help staying at the right temperature during incubation, wrapping it in a towel or two and fastening with clothespins may be all the extra insulation it needs.

Remember, you don’t need any special or fancy equipment. Using what you likely already have in your kitchen will work perfectly.

Preparation Process

Creating homemade yogurt is straightforward if you follow these key steps: sterilizing your equipment to ensure a clean environment, carefully heating and then cooling the milk, and introducing the starter culture to begin the fermentation process.

Sterilizing Equipment

To begin, you’ll need to sterilize your equipment to eliminate any bacteria that could interfere with the yogurt-making process. This includes any pots, thermometers, whisks, and jars you’ll use. Boil these items in water for 5-10 minutes, or follow manufacturer’s instructions if using a dishwasher with a sanitizing cycle.

Heating Milk

Next up is heating the milk. Pour your chosen milk into a clean saucepan and slowly heat it to 180-185° F, stirring occasionally. This helps kill any harmful bacteria, and denatures the milk proteins to create a thick and stable yogurt.

Cooling Milk

Once you have heated the milk, it needs to be cooled to 110-115° F before adding the starter culture. You can speed up this process by placing the saucepan in a larger pan filled with cold water, stirring the milk gently to lower the temperature evenly.

Adding the Starter Culture

Finally, it’s time to add the starter culture to the cooled milk. A starter culture consists of live bacteria that are beneficial to your health. 

If using store bought yogurt as your culture, scoop out some of your warmed and cooled milk and stir it into your yogurt to incorporate. Then pour this mixture into the rest of the milk and stir gently to incorporate it into the whole batch. 

If using a store bought yogurt culture, follow the instructions that come with it.

In either case, after adding your yogurt culture, stir gently for even distribution.

Fermentation

Now comes the waiting part. Making homemade yogurt hinges on successful fermentation, where you’ll encourage beneficial bacteria to thrive, transforming milk into creamy yogurt.

Temperature Control

Maintaining a steady temperature is crucial during the fermentation process. Your goal is to keep the yogurt between 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (43 to 46 degrees Celsius). This is the sweet spot where bacteria cultures are most active and efficient in converting the lactose in milk into lactic acid, which gives yogurt its signature tang and thickness.

I usually put a lid on my saucepan, wrap it in a tea towel or two, and put it in the oven overnight with the oven light on. (Just the light, not the oven itself.)

You may need to experiment with a thicker saucepan, or heavier towel if your yogurt cools too much during fermentation. But once you have it figured out, it will be a process you can repeat again and again.

Incubation Time

The incubation time for yogurt varies, but typically it ranges from 4 to 10 hours. The longer you let the yogurt ferment, the tangier it will be.

I like the convenience of letting my yogurt incubate overnight. But you can adapt your process to what works for you and what you like. 

If a longer fermentation time results in tangier results than you would like, shorten it. And if you want more of that tangy taste than what you get, try letting it go an hour longer next time.

Again, you’ll find what works for you as you practice. Eventually you’ll have it down and making your own yogurt will be as easy to you as driving a car!

Finishing Touches

Once your yogurt has incubated and is ready, a few final steps will perfect your homemade batch.

Checking Yogurt Consistency

After the incubation period, your yogurt should have a thickened consistency. Gently tilt your container to assess if the yogurt is firm. If it’s still too runny, it may need to incubate longer. 

However, be cautious as over-incubation can lead to a sour taste.

You can transfer to a storage container right away, or strain it for a thicker yogurt first. Be gentle scooping the yogurt out to avoid breaking up the structure of the yogurt. I find it gets grainy and has more whey if I’m too aggressive with my scooping.

Flavoring Your Yogurt

To add a delicious twist to your yogurt, you can stir in natural flavors like vanilla extract or honey for sweetness. For a healthier option, mix in fresh fruits or nuts. Remember, less is more; start with a small amount of flavoring and add according to taste.

And of course, you can always store your yogurt plain and add toppings and flavors as you serve it. This is what I prefer to do. My children love to choose what jam or honey they want to stir into their yogurt!

Saving a Starter Culture

A person holding a blue container with

The beneficial cultures of yogurt decrease as it ages. So to have the strongest culture you can for the next batch, it’s best to remove a small portion as soon as it’s done. Then store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

I measure out a 1/2 cup of my freshly made yogurt to keep in the freezer until I’m making yogurt again. Then I defrost it in the morning when I’m planning to make yogurt in the evening.

Storing Homemade Yogurt

Proper storage is essential to maintain the freshness and quality of your homemade yogurt. Below are some tips to ensure your yogurt stays delicious until the last spoonful.

Refrigeration

Immediately after your homemade yogurt has set and you’re satisfied with the consistency, transfer it into clean, airtight containers. I like to use mason jars.

Store these containers in the coldest part of your refrigerator, typically at the back, away from the door. The ideal temperature to keep your yogurt fresh is at or slightly below 40°F (4°C). 

Two things to be aware of:

Yogurt grows more tart as it ages. If you don’t like super-tart yogurt, it would be better to make smaller batches more often so you can have a taste you enjoy. 

The beneficial bacteria of yogurt decreases as it ages. So if you’re making yogurt for the health benefits, you (again) may want to make it in smaller batches that you can eat quickly.

Shelf Life

The shelf life of homemade yogurt is typically shorter than that of store-bought varieties due to the absence of preservatives. You can expect your homemade yogurt to stay fresh for about 2 weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator. 

Be sure to label the containers with the date it was made. (I use a permanent marker on the glass mason jar.) This way you can keep track of its freshness. It’s important to use clean spoons each time you serve the yogurt to avoid introducing new bacteria that can affect the shelf life.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When making homemade yogurt, sometimes you might run into a few hiccups. Don’t worry; many issues have simple fixes. Here’s a quick guide to help you out.

Yogurt Too Runny?
If your yogurt isn’t firming up, it could be for a few reasons.

  • Temperature: Make sure your milk is heated properly before adding your culture. If it’s too cool, the bacteria won’t activate, and too hot, it could kill them.
  • Incubation Time: Allow enough time for the yogurt to set. It can take anywhere from 4 to 10 hours, depending on your method and the temperature of your environment.

Yogurt Not Tangy Enough?
The tanginess depends on how long you let the yogurt culture. For a tarter flavor, let it ferment longer.

IssuePossible Solution
Too SourShorten the incubation time.
Lumpy or SeparatedWhisk thoroughly before fermenting.
Off FlavorsEnsure you’re using fresh milk and a clean setup.

Yogurt Not Setting at All?
Your starter may be to blame. Use a fresh culture with live bacteria for best results. Sometimes a weaker starter can lead to a too liquid yogurt.

Making homemade yogurt is a rewarding process, and not every batch will be perfect. By addressing these common issues, your future batches will improve each time. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best starter to use when making homemade yogurt?

The best starter for homemade yogurt is typically a small amount of store-bought plain yogurt with live active cultures. Ensure that the label specifies the presence of these cultures which are crucial for the fermentation process.

Can you describe the process of making yogurt from fresh milk?

To make yogurt from fresh milk, heat the milk to about 185°F to sterilize it, then cool it to 110°F. Mix a little of this milk with a yogurt starter which contains active cultures, then combine it with the rest of the milk. Keep the mixture at a stable, warm temperature for 6-12 hours to allow the yogurt to set and achieve the desired thickness.

Can you make homemade yogurt without using a yogurt maker?

Yes! Making yogurt without a yogurt maker involves heating milk, cooling it to the right temperature, adding a starter culture, and then maintaining a consistently warm temperature as the yogurt sets. You can use a preheated oven, an insulated cooler, or a warm spot in your kitchen to keep the yogurt at the correct temperature during fermentation.

How can I create my own yogurt starter at home?

To create a yogurt starter at home, reserve some yogurt from a previous batch which contains live active cultures. This yogurt will serve as your starter for subsequent batches. If you’re starting from scratch without any existing yogurt, use store-bought plain yogurt with live active cultures.

What’s the simplest recipe for making yogurt at home?

The simplest recipe involves heating milk to about 185°F, then cooling it to 110°F. After cooling, whisk in the starter culture. Transfer the mixture to a container, wrap it with a towel and place it in a warm area. Let it sit undisturbed for 6-12 hours until the yogurt has thickened to your preference.

Is it possible to make yogurt at home without buying a commercial starter?

Yes, it is possible to make yogurt at home without a commercial starter by using store-bought yogurt with live cultures as your starter or by borrowing some from homemade yogurt made by someone else. Ensure the yogurt used as a starter is fresh and contains live cultures for the best results.

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