How to make your own yogurt from scratch

Homemade healthy yogurt in 30 minutes. No fancy gadgets required!

Jill Chen | Stocksy United

When my husband and I first moved to Guam, we were shocked to discover just how expensive dairy products are on an island. Nearly all groceries and produce must be shipped to the island, meaning that pre-packaged goods come at a higher price (and a shorter expiration date) than things you can make yourself from scratch.

My husband and I are yogurt junkies (we go through a gallon of the stuff every one every week or two!), and we try to consume organic dairy when possible. So I was faced with a choice about my new weekly grocery budget here on Guam: Spend $8 per quart on organic, store-bought yogurt and eat a LOT less yogurt, or spend $8 per gallon each week on organic whole milk, and learn to make yogurt from that. With a fair amount of trepidation, I opted for the gallon.

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Surprisingly, what started as a minor inconvenience became an opportunity for healthier dietary choices, and the development of a new skill—one that I intend to bring back with us to the States. (Because if you do the math, yogurt can nearly always be made more cheaply than it can be bought, no matter where you are.) Plus, since you get to control what goes into your homemade yogurt, it’s likely even better for you than the store-bought stuff. While any yogurt containing probiotics, or “live active cultures” as they are sometimes called, can provide a number of health benefits, store-bought yogurt often contains a lot of added sugars and/or thickeners that may make it a less healthy choice than it could be—especially given all we’ve learned recently about the unhealthiness of sugar.

Although the tanginess of homemade yogurt may take some getting used to (especially if you’re partial to sugar-laden varieties like Yoplait, as I once was) you’ll probably be surprised to find that over time, you require less and less added sweetness to enjoy this nutritious treat! Nowadays, my favorite way to eat homemade yogurt is with fresh fruit, homemade granola, and a small drizzle of raw honey on top. I’ve also experimented with stirring in a tablespoon of raspberry jam, or homemade lemon curd. Really, the possibilities are endless—and delicious!

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So the truth is you can make a batch of homemade, delicious, and nutritious yogurt today with everything you already have in your kitchen—and with only about 30 minutes of active work.

Homemade yogurt recipe

Note: To make the healthiest yogurt possible, start with the highest quality yogurt and milk that you can afford, and forego adding any sugars or flavorings until you spoon an individual serving into your bowl. I also recommend starting this recipe in the morning, so that it may ferment all day, and rest in the refrigerator all night.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Makes: 1 gallon of yogurt

Ingredients:

1 gallon whole milk, organic if possible*
½ cup plain, whole milk yogurt, organic if possible, at room temperature (Yes, you will first have to buy some yogurt to make some yogurt. This is your “starter!” Choose a variety with “live active cultures”—this is essential.)

Tools:

large, lidded pot made of a nonreactive material (e.g., stainless steel)
large stirring spoon
thermometer
ladle
whisk
large, lidded container for storing the finished yogurt

*You may use a low-fat variety, but your resulting yogurt will be thinner, less creamy, less nutritious, and won’t keep you full for nearly as long as the full-fat stuff. Just trust me on this one.

Method:

1. Turn the light inside your oven on—not the oven itself, just the light!

2. Scoop ½ cup of your starter yogurt into a small bowl, and set it on kitchen counter.

3. Pour 1 gallon of milk into your large pot, and set it over the stove, set to high heat. Stir the milk constantly while being sure that your spoon reaches the bottom of the pot—this will prevent the milk from burning. Continue stirring until the milk’s temperature reaches at least 180 degrees (F), at which point the surface of the milk will be steaming, and very foamy (in fact, I no longer use my thermometer, and instead do this step by sight). Remove from heat. (I find this step takes about 15–20 minutes total.)

4. Stop up your sink, and fill it with cold water and some ice cubes (being sure that the water level will accommodate your pot without overflowing into it). Set pot into the water bath, stirring the milk occasionally, until it has cooled to 115-110 degrees (F). I’ve found that this is about the temperature the milk is no longer so hot that I can’t put my (clean!) finger into the milk without scalding it, but still hot enough that I don’t want to leave it in there for too long. It will be very important to monitor the temperature at this time: too much hotter than 115, and it’ll kill the cultures in your starter; too much colder than 110, and it won’t activate the cultures in your starter! Remove the pot from the cold water bath. (I find this step takes about 10-15 minutes total, depending on how cold the water bath is, and how often I stir the milk as it cools.)

5. Ladle about 1 cup of the warm milk into your now-room temperature starter. Whisk to combine.

6. Pour the yogurt/milk mixture into your large pot of milk, and whisk to combine.

7. Place lid on the pot, and set into the oven. Let yogurt ferment undisturbed, and with oven light on, for at least 10-12 hours. The longer you leave the yogurt, the tangier it will be. (Instead of using the oven, you may wrap your pot in a large beach towel and leave it somewhere where it won’t be disturbed for 10-12 hours.)

8. Place pot in your refrigerator (preferably overnight) to allow your newly-fermented yogurt to cool completely and set.

9. In the morning, transfer your finished yogurt to a clean storage container, and keep refrigerated. I’ve found that whisking any separated whey back into the finished yogurt yields a smoother, creamier texture.

Homemade yogurt can be enjoyed for about 2 weeks (although I’ve probably pushed it to 3 at least a time or two!), and you may find that it gets more tart the longer you keep it around. Be sure to save ½ cup of each batch of yogurt because that can be your starter for the next batch!

Note: You may strain the finished yogurt through cloth, cheesecloth, or by using a yogurt strainer to make it thicker (something more along the lines of a Greek yogurt), or enjoy as-is. The longer you strain it, the thicker it will be. It will ultimately result in homemade cream-cheese if you leave it long enough! You may reserve any of the strained yellowish liquid—this is the whey—and use it to get really nerdy with the whole world of lacto-fermentation. But either way, you’ll have just made delicious, nutritious homemade yogurt to enjoy … so dress it up however you like and dig in!

Grace Stark
Grace Stark

Grace is a freelance writer with a specialty in bioethics whose work has been featured on the Public Discourse, Aleteia, the Daily Signal, the Federalist, RedState, and the Marianas Business Journal. In her free time, Grace enjoys cooking, baking, teaching her friends’ kids to swim, and (happy) crying over news stories featuring old people who have been married for forever. She and her husband are both certified Natural Family Planning instructors who live on Guam, and they are currently expecting their first child in March 2017.

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