REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Yogurt

homemade yogurt

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(To buy the REAL FOOD 101 E-book: Traditional Foods, Traditionally Prepared, click here.  Full color photos, step by step tutorials, and more.  Only $14.)

Yogurt can be made many different ways: raw milk yogurt, 24-hour yogurt, yogurt made from one of many different culture strains.  That’s the great thing about yogurt.  It’s very simple, but it’s also variable depending on what you would like to make yogurt for.  Some are thick, some are thin, but all have that bright and sour flavor that we all love.

Yogurt is basically milk and cream that has been thickened with beneficial bacteria.  We all know that yogurt is “good for you”, but why?  Probiotic foods are claimed to be good for our bodies in many ways: gut flora balance, immune system defenses, and general health.  Making your own yogurt at home is simple, and yields the freshest probiotic bang for your buck!

What Kinds of Yogurt Are There?

Making yogurt can be done many ways.  But first you must understand the difference between yogurts that culture at room temperature and those that culture in a warm space.  Room temperature cultured yogurts are called mesophilic, and warm temperature yogurts are called thermophilic.

You can use a yogurt maker or a dehydrator to make thermophilic yogurts, which is very easy since temperature controls are built into these kitchen items.

Mesophilic yogurts are easiest for a beginner, since they simply culture in a jar on the kitchen counter at room temperature.  You can buy mesophilic starters here.  I have personally used the Viili culture from Cultures for Health, and it really was easy to use!  This was what I used before I bought my dehydrator, which really facilitates ease when making yogurt.

Where did yogurt come from?

There seem to be as many strains of yogurt as there are traditional societies.  It seems every culture has some kind of fermented dairy they traditionally make, from Indian raitas and lassis to our American acidophilus yogurts sweetened with fruit.

The history of yogurt is fascinating.  According to Wikipedia:

How milk was first cultured into yogurt remains a mystery. Analysis of the L. bulgaricus genome indicates that the bacteria may have originated on the surface of a plant…

There is evidence of cultured milk products in cultures as far back as 2000 BCE. In the records of the ancient culture of Indo-Iranians (Iran and India), yogurt is mentioned by 500 BCE. In this record the combination of yogurt and honey is called ‘the food of the gods’. Persian traditions hold that ‘Abraham owed his fecundity and longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt’.

The oldest writings mentioning yogurt are attributed to Pliny the Elder, who remarked that certain nomadic tribes knew how ‘to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity’. The use of yogurt by medieval Turks is recorded in the books Diwan Lughat al-Turk by Mahmud Kashgari and Kutadgu Bilig by Yusuf Has Hajib written in the 11th century. Both texts mention the word “yogurt” in different sections and describe its use by nomadic Turks.  The earliest yogurts were probably spontaneously fermented by wild bacteria in goat skin bags.

I think the rich history of yogurt is absolutely fascinating.  To think that ancestral peoples discovered thickened milk and it’s beneficial and sour goodness is amazing to me!

What Kind of Milk and Cream Should I Use?

If you use raw milk, your finished yogurt will have a tendency to be runnier than it’s store-bought or pasteurized counterpart.  This is due to the enzymes present in raw milk, which are good for you but result in a thinner yogurt.

So how can you thicken your raw milk yogurt up?  By adding cream to your milk mixture before culturing.  It also helps to heat your milk to 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) before culturing.  I also find that 24-hour yogurt tends to be thicker, probably due to the extended culturing time that allows it to thicken and proliferate for longer.

You can also use pasteurized milk if you don’t have access to raw milk.  Try to get the best quality milk you can: whole, organic, grass-fed milk.  You can find good quality milk information for your area here.

Why should I make yogurt?  Yogurt is probiotic and is claimed to aid in digestion and immune system function.  Of course I can’t make any health claims here that are definitive, but I do notice that when I eat fermented and probiotic and enzymatic foods, I feel better.

Making your own yogurt at home is also much fresher than anything you can buy, and that generally means that the probiotic count is very high.  Homemade yogurt is simple, something you can make once a week for you and your family that will nourish all of you.

Equipment Needed:

Remember that when you make yogurt, the process is cyclical.  Once you make your first batch, you can save a few spoonfuls to make your next batch and keep going that way to make endless batches of yogurt.

If your yogurt ever fails to continue proliferating, you can always buy a new starter or buy a good quality store-bought yogurt to get your yogurt-making cycle going again.

Basic Whole Milk Raw Yogurt

1 quart (4 cups) raw milk (find raw milk near you here)
raw cream, optional for up to 2 cups of the milk (find raw cream near you here)
yogurt starter (find yogurt starters here) either from a new batch or a previous batch of yogurt OR good quality store-bought yogurt

  1. In a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, gently heat milk until it registers at 110 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Pour into glass jars, leaving at least an inch and half head space.  Add one or two heaping spoonfuls of yogurt starter, stirring very well to incorporate without lumps.
  3. Cover loosely with a storage lid, and place into a yogurt maker or dehydrator.
  4. Set the temperature to the heat specified.  If you are using store-bought yogurt as your starter, then set your temperature at 85-90 degrees.  I like my yogurt a little thinner, so this temperature is perfect for me.  You can also go as high as 100 degrees.
  5. Culture for 12 hours or so, or until the desired thickness is reached.  Then place your yogurt in the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or two to thicken up completely.

24-Hour Raw Milk GAPS Yogurt

1 quart (4 cups) raw milk (find raw milk near you here)
raw cream, optional for up to 2 cups of the milk (find raw cream near you here)
yogurt starter (find yogurt starters here) either from a new batch or a previous batch of yogurt OR good quality store-bought yogurt

  1. In a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, gently heat milk until it registers at 110 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Pour into glass jars, leaving at least an inch and half head space.  Add one or two heaping spoonfuls of yogurt starter, stirring very well to incorporate without lumps.
  3. Cover loosely with a storage lid, and place into a yogurt maker or dehydrator.
  4. Set the temperature to the heat specified.  If you are using store-bought yogurt as your starter, then set your temperature at 100 degrees.
  5. Culture for a full 24 hours, to make sure that the lactose present in the milk is completely converted to lactic acid by the culturing process.  Then place your yogurt in the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or two to thicken up completely.

Yogurt Made with Pasteurized Milk

1 quart (4 cups) milk
yogurt starter (find yogurt starters here) either from a new batch or a previous batch of yogurt OR good quality store-bought yogurt

  1. In a saucepan, briefly scald the milk and then remove from heat and set aside.  Let cool but only until still warm to the touch.
  2. Pour into glass jars and add the starter, mixing well to incorporate without any lumps.  Cover loosely with a storage lid and put into the yogurt maker or dehydrator to culture.  (Alternately, follow the directions on your starter packet if it is specific for temperature and culture times.)
  3. Culture overnight for about 12 hours, or until desired thickness is reached.  Then place your yogurt in the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or two to thicken up completely.

As far as varieties of yogurt, you can buy many different kinds on my resource page.  When you receive the starter in the mail, simply follow the directions that they come with.  Some culture at specific temperatures and for specific times, depending on the strain of bacteria in that particular yogurt.

Remember to read the specifications before you buy, so that you will know if you need a yogurt maker or dehydrator to make your yogurt at home.

How should I use my yogurt?  Use your homemade yogurt for smoothies, yogurt bowls with honey and nuts and fruit, to make frozen yogurt, or just to mix with a little jam and take to school or work for lunch.  Sometimes I just like to drizzle mine with honey and dig in. 

This post is a part of Sunday School, Weekend Gourmet, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, The Mommy Club, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter, Full Plate Thursday, Fresh Bites Friday, Fight Back Friday, and Friday Food Flicks.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.
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Comments

  1. I make a gallon of yogurt each day — and we eat/drink it all! I have a dehydrator so I could make regular yogurt but I much prefer viili. It’s so easy, no muss, no fuss — just the way I like it!

    • How do you use one gallon of yogurt a day? I’d love to hear suggestions.

      • Easy: I have six kids! LOL We all drink a big smoothie/lassi for breakfast and my three-year-old is addicted to just plain ol’ yogurt to drink.

        (Sorry, I didn’t get back here to see this until now.)

      • Forgot to mention that we also make homemade ranch dressing with it. So much better than storebought!

  2. This tutorial is coming just at the right time. Hoping to get some raw milk this weekend and to turn a good portion of it into yogurt. Thanks!

  3. Is there something else you can do if you dont have a yogurt maker or dehydrater? maybe the stove with the light on ?

    • You can try it, but you would need to keep it at a constant temperature and/or culture it for longer. It’s probably easier to buy a mesophilic culture if you don’t have a dehydrator or yogurt maker. You can find them on my resource page via Cultures for Health. Just make sure to read the description so you know it will culture at a lower temperature (i.e. room temperature).

      • The oven with the light on works. That’s how I do it. I do warm the oven a bit beforehand, about 1 minute, turn it off, then leave it in there with the light on overnight. I don’t have a large dehydrator, but I gave up my yogurt maker, this is much easier.

        • I’ve tried it this way and it works okay. I find that it doesn’t keep the heat at a steady temp for long though. It probably depends on your oven, but feel free to give it a try!

    • You can use a cooler with warm water bath and kept in a warm place. I also strain my yogurt before putting it in the refrige. I like a nice thick, Greek type yogurt & the whey is great for other fermenting.

      http://twobluehouses.blogspot.com/2011/03/homemade-greek-style-yogurt.html

      Great tutorial! I am inspired to try with my dehydrator.

    • You can use a slow cooker, that’s what I used to use. I have never put them in separate jars in warm water, I just poured it all in and kept a jar of water to watch the temp, but I think I will try the separate jars in a warm water bath.

      You have to take the temp of your slow cooker on “low” or “warm” first, but it always worked well for me.

  4. Man, all of these posts keep making my “kitchen wish list” get bigger and bigger. Love this!

  5. Hi Kendahl,
    I love to make my own Yogurt, it is just so much better than the commercial carton. Your post is very informative with great tips! Hope you are having a great week end and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  6. I love homemade yogurt and in fact, my kids won’t eat the store bought stuff. For years I didn’t have a yogurt maker so I incubated either in the oven (with the light on) or in my crock pot (makeshift water bath). I am excited to experiment with non dairy milk sources.

  7. ciara gee says:

    where do you get your cool lids for the mason jars from?

  8. If I substitute 2 cups of cream for the raw milk, do I heat the cream when I heat the milk? Can’t wait to try it. Thanks!

  9. Can you add vanilla extract for flavor to this and if so when do you suggest doing so?

  10. Michelle V says:

    Hi! I’ve recently started buying raw milk and want to make yogurt with it. I’m on GAPS, so I need to do the 24 hour ferment. I’ve done it twice now, and each time, the finished product tastes sour, almost like it’s bad. Is that normal, or am I doing something wrong? The only thing I do different than your directions is use a full gallon, since we use that much each week. (I have been making yogurt for a while, just with store milk, and never had this problem before). Thanks!!

    • Hmmm, if it’s sour then it’s not bad, it’s just fermented. But perhaps your raw milk ferments faster than your store milk? Try a lower temperature if you can manage it, to stretch out the time without fermenting so much. Or you may just need to add more honey!

      • Michelle V says:

        Thank you!! I was afraid I’d ruined another batch! My store bought stuff was always a bit sour/tangy, but tasted good. :) Honey it is!

  11. So heating the milk/cream to 110 degrees won’t harm the good stuff in the milk?

  12. I made a batch of yogurt with raw milk last night and left it in the dehydrator for about 13 hours. The dehydrator turned off in the night so it was sitting for a few hours at room temp. When I looked at it this morning it is completely separated with about half liquid on top and half yogurt on the bottom and stirring it doesn’t seem to help much. Is this batch ruined? Where did I go wrong? The last time I made yogurt the same way it was great…

    Also, if this batch is ruined as yogurt can I salvage what’s left in any way? Use the whey for fermenting, use the bottom for anything? thanks

    • Yes, it’s separated into curds and whey now, so strain off the whey and use it for lacto-fermenting. I’m not sure what you could use the solids for. Perhaps as the base for a cream cheese if you have a culture?

      • Thanks. Any idea what I did wrong? I made another batch last night and used the yogurt maker instead and only fermented it for about 11 hrs and it did the same thing – grrrr

        thx

  13. Do you have to use the plastic lids or can you use metal canning lids?

  14. I go straight to the dehydrator with room tempature raw milk with starter. I set it at 110 and let it go overnight. Not sure how long it takes to get up to temp but it always comes out perfect. Any reason to heat on the stove?

Trackbacks

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