How to Make Yogurt at Home (and Save a Ton of Money)
Turn a dollop of yogurt into a whole tub. But how does it work? Our intrepid yogurt-loving reporter shares the scoop.
By Nicole Doster, Digital Associate Editor and Peggy Woodward, Food Editor
Secret's out: I'm a little bit obsessed with yogurt. Friends and family can tell you, I've been known to scoop through an economy-sized tub in a single day. But can you blame me? The creamy-tart goodness is great in so many ways. Sprinkle a little homemade granola on top and you've got breakfast. Mix in fresh berries and it's a tasty treat for lunch. Spread a dollop on braised meat and you'll never use sour cream again. And don't get me started on dessert.
But as any yogurt-connoisseur can relate, the ingredient takes a toll on your wallet. So when I learned that you can make yogurt at home, I was floored. With a few simple steps, you can turn two tablespoons of plain yogurt into two quarts. (Some quick math: that's 64 times the amount.) But is this one of those DIYs that's too complicated for a real person with a full-time job to do?
Making Yogurt = Fermentation
At its core, yogurt is created by fermenting milk, or letting bacteria cultures build up in the milk until it's thick and tangy.
For all you cringing at the word bacteria—don't worry. It's the probiotic kind that's good for your gut. (Intrigued by fermentation? Things like beer, cheese, wine and sourdough bread are all fermented foods, too.)
You Don't Need Any Special Equipment
All you need to make homemade yogurt is a few simple ingredients, a couple jars and your oven. Amazing, right?
Start with Good Bacteria to Cultivate Good Bacteria
A "starter" is the term we use for the cultures that'll transform your milk into yogurt. By far, the simplest starter you can get is store-bought yogurt. You can grab any plain variety, but it must include live active cultures. (It'll say so on the label.)
Avoid yogurts that are filled with additives like pectin, inulin, corn starch or gelatin. These can give your homemade yogurt a grainy texture. Also skip any flavored or sugary yogurts.
You Only Need Two Ingredients
Got your yogurt? The only other ingredient is milk. Grab the right jug. It's important to use pasteurized milk, which will create the best environment for your starter to grow. (Most milk in the U.S. is pasteurized.)
Avoid ultra-pasteurized (UP), ultra-high temperature treatment (UHT), and raw milk.
An extra tip: The fresher the milk, the better. This'll help keep the consistency smooth and creamy.
Temperature is Key
This method is really all about the temperature. For best results, keep close tabs on temp, and follow the instructions precisely. Too high a temperature will kill off the good bacteria in your starter, but too low a temperature will stop your bacteria from growing at all.
We recommend investing in an instant-read digital thermometer. It's accurate and fast. (Use the thermometer to know exactly when your dinner is ready.)
Now that we've covered the basic principles, here's a step-by-step guide to making yogurt.
2 quarts pasteurized whole milk
2 tablespoons plain yogurt with live active cultures
Large canning jars (with lids), freshly cleaned
Step One: Heat the milk.
In a Dutch oven, gradually heat the milk over medium heat. You'll want to take it slowly, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Warm the milk until a thermometer reads 200°. It shouldn't boil.
Step Two: Remove from heat and let cool.
Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. Stir every once in a while until a thermometer reads 112°-115°. This is the ideal temperature for your starter to incubate.
Test Kitchen Tip: Place the pan in an ice-water bath for faster cooling.
Step Three: Add starter.
To combine, whisk 1 cup warm milk into the yogurt in a small bowl until smooth. Then return that mixture to the Dutch oven and stir gently. Transfer to warm, clean jars with lids, such as 1-qt. canning jars, and cover.
Step Four: Let it incubate.
Here's where the magic happens. Slowly but surely, this milky mix will become yogurt. For the next 6-24 hours you'll want to keep the jars in a warm place (about 110°) to incubate. A conventional love with the light on will do the trick. Let the containers stand, undisturbed, until yogurt is set. The longer they stand, the more thick and tart the yogurt will be.
Test Kitchen Tip: You'll want to make sure your oven maintains 110° heat. Small lumps can form if the temperature is too high. Some other suitable places for your yogurt to incubate: inside a slow cooker set to "low," or wrapped in a heating pad. Test with a thermometer to make sure the temp is right.
Step Five: Enjoy
Check to see if the yogurt has set by gently tilting the jars. (It's thicker when it sets, and will thicken further when you refrigerate it.) When the consistency is to your liking, whisk to form a smooth, creamy texture. Cover the finished yogurt and pop it into the fridge until cold.
It'll keep for up to two weeks, but you'll almost certainly gobble it down before then.
Test Kitchen Tip: Be sure to save a few tablespoons of your homemade yogurt—you can use it as a starter for your next batch! It'll even freeze well, if you can't make more yogurt right away.
Looking for more healthy, sweet snacks? We've got you covered!