Chalk this up to childhood memories best forgotten: When I was in elementary school, my classmates dubbed me Yoghurt Girl. This (hopefully affectionate) title was earned thanks to my propensity for eating a fruit-on-the-bottom yoghurt single every day — not just during lunch, but also at recess. Twice-a-day yoghurt consumption didn’t merely earn me a nickname; it also cultivated in me a lifelong love of yoghurt.
Top illustration by Tina Mailhot-Roberge.
Which is why I’m so excited that the Greatist team has decided to explore the world of DIY yoghurt-making and share it with Lifehacker. There’s some terminology and several steps involved, so the process can look daunting — but don’t let this intimidate you! It’s actually not that tough, and we’ve broken down all the lingo and instructions to guide you every step of the way.
Before we get to the materials and ingredients list, let’s break down some of the decisions you’ll have to make in the grocery store.
Choosing Your Milk
Yoghurt can be made with anything from skim to full-fat milk. Full-fat regular milk tends to be easiest for beginners because it holds together well and makes for thick, mild yoghurt. Lower-fat milk will create runnier and less creamy yoghurt, but that doesn’t mean it won’t taste good. If your diet or taste preferences call for lower-fat milk, then go for it. If going the low-fat route, feel free to add thickeners (such as unflavoured gelatine or pectin) if you prefer a less runny texture. Organic, ultra-pasteurised, or regular milk can all be used. While it’s possible to make yoghurt from soy milk or almond milk, the ingredients and process are a bit different, so we’ll be sticking strictly to cow’s milk in this article. If you want to take a stab at non-dairy yoghurt, check out this recipe for soy milk yoghurt or this recipe for make-your-own almond milk yoghurt.
Choosing A Starter
A “starter” contains the live bacterial cultures that help transform milk into yoghurt. You can start a batch of homemade yoghurt two ways: from a few tablespoons of store-bought (or previously homemade) plain yoghurt, or with a yoghurt starter powder. If using store-bought yoghurt, pick a plain yoghurt (regular or Greek should work fine) that tastes good to you and check the label to verify that it has live, active cultures (this part is very important). Also check to make sure the yoghurt doesn’t contain flavours or added sweeteners (like sugar or aspartame). It’s also best to avoid a yoghurt that uses additives or thickeners. Fat content doesn’t matter.
If using previously made homemade yoghurt as a starter, it’s best to create only six to eight batches from the original batch. After that, purchase some new yoghurt to start all over again with a fresh culture (otherwise, the acidity balance can became iffy). If yoghurt from a homemade batch’s culture doesn’t seem to be setting up right, it might be time to introduce a fresh starter culture.
Powdered starters tend to have set amounts of live bacteria, which allows them to perform consistently (so no worries about acidity balance). Many come in pre-measured envelopes or packets; read the package instructions to determine how much starter to use for a batch of yoghurt.
Choosing An Incubator
Toward the end of the yoghurt-making process, you’ll need to incubate the mixture for several hours (this step is essential for converting milk into yoghurt). The easiest incubation option is to purchase a yoghurt maker, which is a no-frills device designed to keep the yoghurt at a stable temperature while it incubates. But there’s no need to drop some dough on a yoghurt maker if it’s not in the budget. There are several other options for incubating without pulling out the wallet: A thermos, oven, microwave or slow cooker, and heating pad all work. See the instructions below for further details.
Choosing Flavours And Toppings
Flavourings aren’t necessary, but they can certainly spruce up a batch of plain yoghurt and increase its appeal to different palates. Flavourings can be added right before the yoghurt is served. Sweet options include fresh or preserved fruit, honey, molasses, palm sugar, jam or flavoured syrups. The more daring among us (or those without a sweet tooth), can give savoury options a try: Dried spices, diced cucumber or other vegetables, minced garlic, or fresh herbs such as mint, parsley, dill or basil are all good options. Just use whatever amount suits your taste buds and experiment with what flavour combinations are most appealing.
What You’ll Need
Before embarking on a yoghurt-making adventure, make sure to have these materials on hand:
- Heavy, large pot or microwavable container (for warming milk)
- Cooking thermometer, preferably with clip for attaching to the side of the pot
- Large bowl
- Small bowl
- Whisk or large spoon
- Storage containers
- Incubator (see above)
- Cheesecloth and colander for straining (optional, see step #9)
And of course, the actual ingredients:
- 4 cups milk
- 3 tablespoons starter (plain yoghurt or powdered yoghurt starter (see above)
- Thickeners (optional, see above)
- Flavourings and toppings (optional, see above)
Note: This recipe can be doubled or tripled; simply increase the amount of starter and milk proportionately.
What To Do
a. Clean and sterilise your equipment, tools, and work surface. There are two ways to do this: Use the “sanitise” setting on the dishwasher if it has one, or sterilise everything with boiling water. Set out all the equipment for easy access.
b. Prepare an ice bath. Simply fill the large bowl or (clean!) sink with ice.
c. Set up the thermometer. Attach it to the heavy, large pot. The tip should be low enough to be covered a bit by the milk, but should not touch the bottom of the pan.
Heat the milk: Add the milk to the large pot, and place over medium heat. Heat the milk until it reaches at least 80 degrees Celsius (or begins to boil). Make sure to stir occasionally to prevent a “skin” from forming, and watch to make sure the milk doesn’t reach a roiling boil or boil up toward (or over!) the edges of the pot. (Not into the stove thing? Use the microwave, instead! Place the milk in a large microwave-safe bowl or a large glass measuring cup with a spout (for easy pouring) and microwave it in 2- to 3-minute intervals, until it reaches 80 degrees or boils.)
Cool the milk:
a. Once the milk reaches 80 degrees, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to around 45 degrees.
b. To speed the cooling process, place the large pot in the ice bath, stirring the milk occasionally. If the milk temperature drops below 110 degrees, return it to the heat.
Add the starter: Once the milk reaches 45 degrees, it’s time to add the starter culture.
a. For yoghurt starter: In the small bowl, combine about 1 cup of the warm milk with the yoghurt and stir to combine. Add the yoghurt-milk mixture to the pot and stir gently until completely incorporated.
b. For powdered starter: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions! This will involve adding the specified amount of powdered culture to the warm milk, and whisking gently until the powder has dissolved completely.
Note: If using thickeners, add them now, too! With both pectin or gelatine, just follow the instructions on the package.
Get prepped for incubation:
a. First, pour or ladle the warm mixture into a thermos (if going with that method), or a covered heat-safe container (if using the microwave, oven or crock pot method).
b. During incubation, you’ll want to keep the mixture at a temperature of around 45 degrees. If the milk’s temperature drops below this threshold during incubation, it should still be fine; your yoghurt just might have a looser texture.
Now it’s time to incubate:
a. If using a thermos: Simply warm up the inside by swirling around hot tap water inside before adding the yoghurt. (Pour out the water first, obviously!). Wrap the container in a towel or blanket and leave it somewhere that it won’t be disturbed.
b. If using the oven: Warm the oven to about 50-60 degrees C. Turn the oven off. Set the container in the oven.
c. If using a crockpot: Heat the crockpot to about 50 degrees, then unplug it. (If it only has high and low settings, just use one of them to get the pot warm, and then turn it off.). Wrap the yoghurt-filled container in a towel and let it sit, covered, inside the crock pot.
d. If using the microwave: Cover the bowl and swaddle it in a few towels to help retain heat. Pro tip: If you have a heating pad, feel free to heat it up and put it underneath or beside the container to further ensure it stays warm.
e. If using a heating pad: Set the heating pad to low heat and wrap it around the container, or set the covered container on top of the heating pad and wrap a few towels around the container – the goal is to distribute the heat as evenly as possible around the yoghurt. This option might be a bit slower than the others; don’t be shocked if the yoghurt needs to sit for upwards of 10 hours.
Let it set: Five hours is the minimum amount of time required for incubation, but you can safely incubate for longer — even overnight. The longer the incubation period, the thicker and tarter the yoghurt. After five hours, the yoghurt is basically “done” when you want it to be. The texture should be creamy, and the flavour will be tart. Take a taste! If you like it, stop incubating. If you’d like it to be tangier, let it incubate for a few more hours. If you want the yoghurt to be thicker, follow the instructions in step #9 once you’ve finished incubating.
Note: Do not disturb or jostle the yoghurt during incubation.
Strain the mixture (optional): Now, if you want to make a thicker, Greek-style yoghurt, follow these steps (if you want to keep it traditional, skip to the next step!). For thicker yoghurt: After incubation, spoon the yoghurt into a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl Cover with plastic wrap and let it drain in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight (probably closer to overnight). If you want extra thick yoghurt, use a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and allow the mixture to strain overnight. Discard the whey that drains out of the yoghurt (or reserve it for another use!).
Transfer the yoghurt to storage containers: Covered glass, ceramic or plastic containers work well. Or just cover the yoghurt in the bowl and refrigerate until cold (about 2 to 3 hours). If you used a thermos to incubate, be sure to transfer the finished yoghurt to a non-insulated container for chilling so the temperature will drop.)
Add flavorings (optional): After the yoghurt has fully set and cooled, feel free to add flavorings and mix-ins! Or, store plain and top with extras right before serving.
The yoghurt should last for approximately two weeks, though it will have the best flavour during the first week and will become more tart as it ages. If more whey separates out of the yoghurt while it’s in the fridge, just stir the whey back in before serving. Enjoy!
Photos by Perry Santanachote. Makes approximately 4 cups of yoghurt. Recipe and instructions slightly adapted from Epicurious.
How to Make Your Own Yoghurt [Greatist]
Laura Newcomer is a staff writer and editor at Greatist. She has a background in writing and ecology education, and is constantly merging these passions with her interest in health, fitness, and mental wellness. Follow her on Twitter @LauraNewc.