Making creamy and healthy homemade yogurt is easier than you think--and cheaper than buying it at the store. I'll show you how to make yogurt at home using absolutely no fancy equipment.
How to Make Yogurt
Recipe: Traditional Homemade Yogurt
Step 1. Choose Your Milk
Start with a half-gallon of pasteurized milk (avoid ultra-pasteurized or UHT milk). Whole milk will make the thickest and creamiest yogurt, while skim milk will produce a lighter and looser texture.
Step 2. Gather Your Equipment
You'll need a large heavy saucepan, a spatula, an instant-read thermometer, clean glass jars with lids, and cheesecloth (if you want to strain the yogurt).
Sterilize your jars and lids by washing them in hot soapy water. Place the jars in a large pot and fill them with water to cover. Bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Do this step up to 30 minutes before you are ready to fill your jars, so they stay nice and warm before you fill them with yogurt.
Step 3. Heat and Cool Milk
Using your saucepan and instant-read thermometer, bring the milk to 180 degrees F, stirring often. (This will change the protein structure, so the milk can set into a solid.) Then, bring the temperature back down to 110 to 115 degrees F. This can take a while, but stirring the milk often will help it cool faster. To cool it even faster, you can place the saucepan of milk in an ice bath and stir it.
Step 4. Add Starter Culture
There are two choices for inoculating your homemade yogurt with the right cultures. The easiest is to simply grab your favorite yogurt from the fridge. To inoculate a half gallon of milk, you'll need half a cup of unflavored yogurt. Make sure that the ingredient label lists live active cultures (such as S. Thermophilus or L. Acidophilus), and not just stabilizers. You can also use a freeze-dried culture, which can be purchased online or a a health food store.
Whisk together about 1 cup of warm milk and the yogurt. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and stir to combine.
Step 5. Let Yogurt Thicken
This is where the magic happens. The trick is to keep the yogurt warm (about 110 degrees F) for an extended period of time, so the cultures can get to work and thicken the yogurt. Either ladle the (still liquid) yogurt into clean glass jars and cover with a lid, or leave the yogurt in the saucepan and cover with a lid.
Counter top and oven option: Place the yogurt in a warm spot in your kitchen (wrapped in a towel, if your kitchen is breezy), in a gas oven with just the pilot light on, or in an insulated cooler surrounded by warm water. Depending on your environment temperature, culture strength, and other factors, this could take 12 to 24 hours.
Slow Cooker or Instant Pot option: To speed up the process, place yogurt jars in your slow cooker or Instant Pot and fill it with warm water until it comes comes 3/4 up the sides of the jars. Cover the device with the lid and set it to "Warm." Let the yogurt sit until thickened, around 4 to 6 hours.
Step 6. Cool and Enjoy
Move your homemade yogurt to the fridge to cool, and consume within two weeks. You can save half a cup of your homemade yogurt to start your next batch. If you find that your yogurt starts to get too thin or have a funny taste, your culture is becoming too weak to set properly. Simply start your next batch with a new scoop of store-bought yogurt.
Making Yogurt in an Instant Pot
Make yogurt even easier by using your Instant Pot. Add the milk to a very clean insert. Push the "Yogurt" button and adjust until the screen says "Boil." Close the lid and heat until the milk reaches 180 degrees F, about 1 hour. Remove the insert and cool the milk to 100 to 115 degrees F. Stir in the culture, return the insert to the Instant Pot and hit "Yogurt" again. Adjust the screen to read 8:00 hours, close the lid, and let it incubate. Start checking the texture after 4 hours, depending on how thick or thin you prefer your yogurt. Transfer the finished yogurt to clean jars and refrigerate.
How to Make Homemade Greek Yogurt
You can turn your regular homemade yogurt into thick Greek yogurt by straining it to remove the whey. Whey is the liquid that remains after you remove the milk solids, and can make the texture of the yogurt looser than you prefer. To remove the whey, place your yogurt in a strainer, lined with several layers of cheesecloth, and set it over a bowl or in the sink. Let it drip for 30 minutes to several hours, until it reaches the perfect consistency for your tastes. And, don't throw out that extra whey – it's packed full of vitamins and minerals! Use it in smoothies, to make bread or pancakes, or add it to soup instead of stock.
Try these recipes made with your own homemade Greek yogurt:
How to Make Homemade Frozen Yogurt
For a special treat, turn your yogurt into frozen yogurt. Start with 4 cups of cooled whole milk yogurt and whisk in 1 cup sugar and a little heavy cream (this will help the texture from turning icy). Place the mixture in an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions. Once it reaches the perfect consistency, transfer the frozen yogurt to an airtight container and freeze for a few hours before serving.
Try these recipes for frozen yogurt:
Important Tips for Making Yogurt
Making homemade yogurt is fun and easy, but there are a few important things to remember:
- Always start with clean equipment and sterilized jars to prevent contaminating the yogurt with harmful bacteria.
- Use the best-quality pasteurized milk you can find, preferably whole milk for the best taste and texture.
- Make sure to use a thermometer (don't just "wing it"). Accurate temperatures are crucial to success.
- If you start to see mold growing on your yogurt, throw it away and start the process again with clean equipment, fresh milk, and new cultures.
- Learn why eating yogurt is so good for you.
- Impress your foodie friends with homemade labneh (Lebanese cream cheese) made with Greek yogurt.
Photos by Jackie Freeman