How to Make Yogurt at Home

How did I come up with learning how to make yogurt? Ever since I ramped up my cooking a few years ago, I’ve been on this quest to make as many things at home as possible. Like what? Well, most recently I’ve turned my attentions to dairy products, like yogurt. After weeks and weeks of exhaustive research (seriously – at this point you can ask me *anything* about yogurt making), I discovered that there are countless combinations of milks and cultures, and therefore, countless outcomes. I had to figure out what I wanted my homemade yogurt to taste like, and for someone who was raised on crappy grocery store brands, that was sort of like asking a five year old where the nearest gas station is. Undaunted, I set out to educate myself on the vast array of flavors and textures that result from dairy fermentation.

For a while now I’ve been seeing a yogurt stand at the farmers market called Saint Benoît. What initially caught my eye were the cute little crockery pots that they packaged their wares in. I’m nothing if not a sucker for creative food receptacles, so I bought one and brought it home. And holy bovine juice, Batman! This stuff was good. This was what I wanted my yogurt to taste like.
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Homemade Yogurt Culture Primer

It turns out that Saint Benoît uses some chichi French culture that wasn’t available in the US, but as luck would have it, yogurt making is such that you can simply use a yogurt that you fancy as a starter for your own batch. Depending on several factors – such as the milk you use and incubation time – your homemade yogurt should turn out similarly. I picked up a pot of the Saint Benoît plain stuff and a few pints of organic Jersey milk from the local Whole Foods Market, then hit my favorite food forums and dug up a few more threads on the subject, here and here. There’s lot of good info there, so check them out if you’re interested in making yogurt at home.

Homemade Yogurt Thickness

Now, there’s a thing that a lot of home yogurt makers use to thicken their final product: powdered milk. Let me just say that I’ve been scarred since childhood because my mother – bless her single mother-of-two soul – used to buy milk when it was on sale, mix it with water and powered milk to make it last longer, and then freeze it. Needless to say, I stopped drinking milk altogether and just the thought of powdered milk makes my stomach turn over and over like a hot dog on one of those little roller racks. I won’t be using powdered milk, thankyouverymuch. Besides the weird kiddy-trauma, I think the idea of dehydrated milk is kind of gross.

Anyways. If you want your homemade yogurt to be so thick that you can literally slice it, go ahead and use powdered milk. My recipe below will give you something that’s plenty thick, as long as you let it incubate for at least eight hours. The longer you incubate your yogurt the thicker (and more tart) it will become. Also, the lower fat milk you use, the thinner the yogurt will be.

Learning How to Make Yogurt

A note on starters when learning how to make homemade yogurt: you can’t use flavored yogurt as a starter culture – the flavorings inhibit the fermentation process. This means you can’t flavor it until the next day, after the batch is finished and refrigerated. Also, the yogurt starter must be fresh and unpasteurized, otherwise the cultures will have been killed off by age and/or heat exposure. Leave the Dannon on the shelf and splurge for a nice, local, organic brand. You’ll be more guaranteed of freshness and the resulting flavor will leave you rolling on the floor, hugging your yogurt maker.

Also, a note on incubators: I have this model of yogurt maker, and I like it because you can make a lot of yogurt – 64oz. The little cups are kind of annoying to wash, so I’ve been eying this model, and have heard good things about it. It’s certainly cheaper, and you can replace the plastic container on the inside with glass if you so wish. You can just as easily make homemade yogurt without any newfangled contraption at all, using a heating bad or a warm oven. Check out those forum posts I linked above for more information on that.

Finally, if you notice a clear liquid on your homemade yogurt either before or after it’s been fermented, that’s totally normal. That’s whey, which can be poured off and used for a mega-protein shot in your soups and baked goods. People who are learning how to make yogurt often freak out about this stuff, but it’s not only normal, it’s a sign that you’re doing something right!
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Homemade Yogurt How-to and Recipe

  • 3 cups organic milk – whole or 2% milk fat
  • 1/4 cup fresh, plain yogurt – I recommend organic brands such as Saint Benoît, Nancy’s, or Strauss
  1. Wash everything that will be coming in contact with your homemade yogurt so that there are no competing bacteria anywhere in your production line. You don’t have to be super anal, just clean on a basic level. Heat milk in a saucepan over a medium flame, stirring regularly to prevent a skin from forming. If it does form, just remove it with a spoon. Heat milk until bubbles start to form at the edges and steam begins to rise from the surface – that’s 180F if you’re using a candy thermometer. This step kills off competing bacteria in the milk.
  2. NOTE: Do not walk away from your milk while it is heating! It only takes a few minutes to heat to 180, and it will quickly boil over, scorching the milk and making an awful mess. Seriously no bueno, especially if you’re using expensive organic milk.
  3. Once the milk has reached the proper temperature, remove it from the heat. You want to cool the milk down until it’s reached 115F, which is the ideal temperature for culturing. If you’re milk’s above 120 the cultures will fry, and if it’s below 90 nothing will happen. If you don’t have a thermometer, the milk is at about 115 when you can comfortably put your finger in it for twenty seconds.
  4. Next, in a separate cup, combine starter yogurt with a few tablespoons of the warm milk. Mix well, and then quickly pour into the rest of the milk. Mix the whole batch until it’s completely incorporated, then pour into your yogurt maker of choice. After eight hours, taste the yogurt, making sure not to agitate it too much lest you anger the fermentation gods. If you’d like it thicker or more tart, by all means incubate it up to another six to eight hours. Bear in mind that too much incubation will cause the protein to completely fall apart and you’ll end up with a huge mess of curds and whey, so unless you’re Little Miss Muffet, don’t push your fermentation much past 12 or 14 hours.
  5. Once your homemade yogurt is done, refrigerate immediately for at least twelve hours before eating. After that, flavor to your heart’s content. I like it with local raw honey and a few slices of kiwi. *yogurtgasm*
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Comments from other ninjas:

  1. Jessica! says

    My daughter (14 months) is a yogurt freak! Seriously, she can’t be in a room with an open container without totally freaking out and signing “more, more!” with her tiny little fingers. I can’t wait to make our own!! I can’t wait until she old enough to make it with me. Thanks for this :)

  2. Shawnda says

    I just made my first homemade yogurt this weekend (minus powdered milk ’cause it creeps me out a little, too) with the last little bit of too-expensive Greek Yogurt that I had left. So easy and To. Die. For.

  3. Geosomin says

    Neato. I found a yogurtmaker at a garage sale and have been itching to try it out but not sure where to start. I’ve just been lazy and bought the hommemade stuff at the farmer’s market.
    Think I’ll give it a go…:)

  4. Carolyn says

    I tried making yogurt before, and the taste was pretty good, but it was “stringy.” Any advice? I will try with the proportions you list–I don’t think my version called for as much yogurt.

  5. steph says

    Carolyn, did you heat the milk to 180? I know that heating to that temperature denatures the protein, which makes it smooth and prevents stringiness. All of the times I’ve seen people come up with stringy yogurt, they haven’t gotten the milk hot enough when cooking it.

    Hope this help! Please let me know how your next batch goes.

  6. steph says

    Alex, there is definitely an alternative. Check out this link:

    Also, if you check out this 101cookbooks thread, a lot of people talk about the different ways they use to make yogurt:

    Finally, this guy uses an interesting drawer contraption that he rigged up:

    Good luck!

  7. Cynthia says

    How lovely to know that making yogurt is possible at home. For some reason, the thought had never crossed my mind. I’ll keep this in mind!

  8. Charmian Christie says

    I just started making yogurt again and the first batch was runny. I followed the manufacturer’s advice, but it said to boil the milk. For my next batch, I followed your instructions and it worked perfectly. Thanks for the great post.


  9. Samantha says

    I am so with you on the powdered milk-I haven’t had milk since I was in 4th grade and can’t imagine doing to my kids what my mother did to me. Seriously scarred. I’m dying to try making your yogurt recipe though-sounds like fun and healthier than anything I can afford on a regular basis. Thanks!

  10. steph says


    I’m SO glad to hear I’m not the only one with powdered milk fear. It really was traumatic, wasn’t it?

  11. Giselle says

    Hello- am eager to try your suggestions for making homemade yogurt but with one question- why do you suggest using unpasteurized yogurt for the starter when it’s considered dangerous by the FDA? Confused- I know some say making yogurt is safe because it heats the product up enough to kill bacteria, but even FDA seems to think it’s still dangerous- would pasteurized yogurt do the trick instead?

    • steph says

      Hi Giselle,

      If you use yogurt that has been pasteurized after it’s been fermented, the process won’t work – all of the cultures will have been killed off. You need *living* cultures to ferment the milk. If it’s been pasteurized before the fermentation process that’s fine. In fact, that’s probably all you’ll find, unless you’re buying from a tiny dairy farm. :)

    • Kara says

      hi I used dannon plain from the store they have live cultures in them it says right on the container.Worked great super thick. I personally heat the milk to 180 or bubbling on the edges. wait untill it cools to 110 hotter than 120kills your live stuff. I mix a little warm milk in my starter and stir it as not to shock also I ahd my yogurt starter warming on counter while heating milk regular whole milk from store. mix in milk cover the pan with a beanie wool hat and wrap with towel sit on the counter for overnight I make about 5pm then after the kid goes to school at 8 am I dish it in the storage container the towls keep it plenty warm not runny thick and perfect. lebanese way Kara

  12. Vicki Hvid says

    That’s great info – the girls and I go through yogurt in large quantities so we’re going to have to try this soon.

    That powdered milk apparently leaves long-lasting trauma – my partner even flinched at hearing the name of Prairie Home Companion’s Powdermilk Biscuits.

  13. Marsha says

    I recently purchased a yogurt maker and have tried to make yogurt twice without success.

    Problem 1: Not thick enough. I will try adding the dreaded powdered milk. I never drank it as a kid so it doesn’t creep me out! I want THICK yogurt.

    Problem 2: Not sweet enough for my daughter. Can I add sugar to the milk/starter mix? Is there a max amount that can be used? Can I use Agave Syrup instead of white sugar? Is there a max to that?

    Problem 3: Daughter wants fruit. I will try raw fruit at the bottom.

    Problem 4: Way too sour for my daughter. Maybe I processed it too long…..first time 10 hours, second time 15 hours (I read online to try it that long to make it thicker…..ugh) Now I read that the longer it processes, the more sour it becomes… now 8 hours max?

    I REALLY want to make yogurt for my daughter and myself but am really getting frustrated. Help, please!

    PS: I am using freeze dried french starter that came with the yogurt maker. Should I ditch that and use greek yogurt instead? I hope it’s ok to use the freeze dried stuff since I bought an extra box of it.

    Gratefully Yours, Marsha

    • steph says

      Hi Marsha,

      I can totally answer these questions for you.

      1 – Powdered milk will definitely help with thickening, as will using milk with a higher fat content. Skim milk likes to stay very thin, but powdered milk should help with this immensely.

      2 – You can add whatever you want to the yogurt after its been fermented, but not before! Sweeteners will inhibit the fermenting process, as will fruit. You can mix in as much sugar, honey or agave nectar as you like, as long as it’s already been fermented and in the fridge for at least 12 hours.

      3 – Same goes for fruit – you can add as much as you want, but it has to be after it’s fermented.

      4 – The length of time you ferment definitely affects the sourness, so I’d go six – eight hours max. 15 hours will make really, really tart yogurt, which I like, but little ones don’t!

      Re: the starter, any kind of starter should work, but if you’re having bad luck with the French stuff you’ve got, try a brand from the store that you like. Remember, though – it has to be plain. If it’s sweetened or got fruit in it, it won’t populate your new yogurt correctly and you’ll have to throw the whole thing out.

      Good luck! Please report back and let me know how it goes. :)

  14. Helen says

    my uncle makes yogurt in a stryrofoam cooler, He puts the container with the warm milk and starter in his big old cooler with a milk jug of warm water, apparently it works great, he always has plenty of yogurt (Lactose free because they use lactaid)


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