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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Yogurting updates

Update on making yogurt at home

I got spooked about my own yogurt-making, after reading of others' unfavorable results in their forays into home yogurt production.

The last two times that I've made yogurt, I have felt very sure that something was going to go wrong, and that my yogurt would turn out runny or stringy or something else that I know I couldn't get even my good-sport family members to eat.

Silly of me, really, to let someone else's experience make me think mine would also fail. I'm still doing everything the way I have up until now, and still with success.

These last two batches? They turned out thick and creamy as always.

Info that I'd like to add to my original post, though, is that freezing yogurt for starter works incredibly well. Every 4 or 5 batches, I scoop out into 4-ounce containers, some of the 2nd day of freshly made yogurt. I freeze this. 

Then if I just go through a period of feeling blah on making my yogurt, it's not a big deal. When I'm in the mood to make more, I thaw a small container of the set aside yogurt for my starter. Just a note, the thawed yogurt will look yucky and runny, but it will still set new yogurt. This freezing of my own starter has been working out very well for several months now. I have not bought any new starter at all, since my first batch.

As for other bloggers' problems with making their yogurt, well I can only speculate as I don't have all the details. But this is what I learned in my research before my own first attempt.

Temperature is key!
  • commercial home yogurt machines don't always heat to the correct temperature, and can result in poor set (this is a lot like what I've recently heard about some crock pots, some don't heat to proper temps)
  • getting the temperature in the correct range for each phase is critical. Heat milk to about 190 degrees F to kill competing bacteria, cool to about 120 degrees F, so as not to kill the yogurt culture, but still provide the happy temp for the yogurt cultures to proliferate. And keep at roughly 110 to 120 degrees F, for the duration of the incubation period.
  • a picnic cooler filled with 120 degree F water is an excellent incubator. Other incubation methods have a hit or miss quality when keeping the temp at a steady 110-120 degrees F (these methods include: blanket wrapping, crock pots, thermoses). Incubation temperature is very important.
  • one really does need a thermometer to determine the correct temperature. Use the thermometer for the heated and cooled milk as well as the warm water in the picnic cooler.
Fresh, live active cultures is the other big component to successful yogurt-making
  • the right yogurt starter makes a difference. I've heard reports of store brand yogurts not performing as well. The brands with successful track records are Yoplait, Dannon and Stoneyfield. The yogurt should be plain or vanilla, no fruit added stuff. 
  • if chain-yogurting with your own yogurt as starter, use yogurt that has either been frozen, or is no more than 5-6 days old. The bacterial population begins to decline significantly after that time period.
Sterilize just to be sure
  • sterilize your jars thoroughly. There could be bacteria in the jar itself that could compete with the yogurt culture. I know not every one sterilizes their jars. I do. I want to provide controls for as many of the variables as possible. And it doesn't take all that much extra work.
Take your time

  • don't rush the milk to it's proper temperature. I plan for about 45 minutes for the milk to reach 190 degrees F. I just work that into my schedule for the morning. I'll usually be doing other things in the kitchen, so I can stir the milk regularly.
Basically all these "rules" add controls for home yogurt production, just as a manufacturer employs controls to insure the consistent quality of their product. 

I really want to encourage those who may be interested in trying yogurt for the first time, or retrying after a less than successful attempt, to give it a go. There's something very satisfying about making something that I once thought "had" to be bought.
To see my original post on making yogurt,  you can read it here.


  1. I had to laugh a little at you getting spooked about making yogurt after reading of others' not so great yogurt making experiences. :)

    I'm often scared away from trying new recipes I find on the internet by reading the comments. It goes like this: Peruse and find a recipe that sounds delicious, read the ingredient list a couple of times and realize I have everything to make it, decide to make the recipe, start reading user comments of others' horrible experiences with the recipe and others' positive experiences but they each changed 7 ingredients to make the recipe 'work'...sit there in complete confusion with a dazed look on my face for 5 minutes before deciding I no longer want to try the recipe. LOL!

    I need to learn to just try the recipe and stop reading the comments! :)

    I have been following your yogurt making posts and I am going to try this...for real! No talking myself out of it. LOL!

    1. Good luck with it! In my original post is a link to The Frugal Girl's post on making yogurt. I followed her recipe and directions and had success the first time, and every time.

      I know, it was silly of me to think because someone else had problems with making yogurt, I would, too!

  2. Good detailed information that makes me think this is something I probably won't try. First--only one person in the house really likes yogurt, second--they don't want the calories of whole milk, and third--the time and effort doesn't seem worth it when there is a store brand they really like. But who knows? Maybe someday I'll try it again. We made yogurt when I was growing up

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I think it's great that you know that it's probably not your thing. Saves you the experience, and your energies can be focused elsewhere.

  3. Oh dear, I have a feeling I was one of the ones who spooked you! Glad I didn't really put a curse on your yogurt though and it's still turning out thick and creamy. I've bought a thermometer and tried AGAIN this week...and it was STILL runny! I don't seem to be yogurt-fingered. My hubby has come over a bit competitive and wants to give it a go next to see if he can do any better. If he can't succeed the next stop is a yogurt maker. I will not be beaten! Thanks for your top tips though!

    1. Hi Sarah,
      It could be your starter or milk (see my comments to EcoCatLady below). I know some folks use a dry yogurt starter that they buy at a natural food store, instead of prepared yogurt. That's funny that your hubby wants to best you on this. Such a guy! Good luck to him. Maybe a different milk or starter.

    2. I just read that most milk in Europe and UK is ultra-pasteurized, to extend it's shelf life in the store. This could be your problem, which would mean you need to find a source of raw milk or simply pasteurized milk. Ultra-pasteurized milk will not work for yogurt.

    3. Yes, I thought the problem this time might be the starter: 'Simply Value' cheapo yogurt that hubby bought. Who'd have thought there could be so many variables!! I'm going to try organic yogurt and organic milk next time (might sneak a batch in before hubby tries yogurt making!)...I WILL crack this yogurt thing!

  4. I've had great luck with pretty much the same system you're using. The only thing I do differently is to fill the sterilized jars with cool milk and then submerge them (with lids off) in a boiling water bath - creating a makeshift double boiler to heat the milk.

    It looks like you're just using regular grocery store milk... is it ultra-pasteruized? I had real trouble with grocery store milk and I think it was the fact that it was ultra-pasteurized. So I had to get milk from a local dairy that uses the old fashioned regular pasteurization process in order to get it to work. This is the main reason I haven't made yogurt in over a year or so - it's just too much trouble to go get the right milk. And I also had terrible results when using anything but whole milk.

    Can anybody shed any light on the pasteurization & whole milk issues?

    1. Hi Cat,
      I was just reading up on ultra-pasteurization of milk. It's basically too dead to support the cultures in yogurt.

      The milk I used is store-brand, whole, pasteurized (but not ultra-pasteurized).

      The ultra-pasteurized stuff has an extended shelf life, a couple of months, instead of the standard 2-3 weeks. The ultra-pasteurization process affects the proteins in the milk so severely they cannot grow typical yogurt cultures. Some places don't require milk to be labeled as ultra-pasteurized, making it difficult to tell if it has been or not. But the sell-by date should be a good indicator. If the sell-by date is within the next week or so, it's likely just pasteurized. If the sell-by date is a month out, steer clear. Ultra-pasteurized milk is now being linked to digestive problems.

      And by the way, organic milk sold in the stores is often ultra-pasteurized. You could try a variety of whole milks from different stores, specifically looking for ones that were not ultra-pasteurized.

      One other thing about the milk. I use milk that I've frozen, then thawed for making yogurt, about half the time. So, you may be able to go to the local dairy and buy a few containers of milk, to freeze, for the sole purpose of making yogurt with, in the future.

      I bought some lactose-free milk recently and was surprised that it's sell-by date was crazy into the future (bought milk in Oct, good till Dec.). I read the label and it is ultra-pasteurized.

      From what I've read, yogurt needs proteins to develop. Soy milk works for yogurt, but I've heard rice milk doesn't (haven't tried rice milk, only soy milk). Rice milk has very little protein-- 2 gr protein per cup, soy milk has about 7-9 gr protein per cup.

      Whole milk vs. skim. I think it's just that the whole milk has more solids (being fat solids) to it and less water, than skim or 2 %. I just think that the fat solids along with the proteins and carbs, "bulk up" the yogurt, making it thick. That's just a theory. But it would explain why you can make low-fat milk yogurt thick by adding some dry milk solids (powdered milk). They just help bulk up the yogurt.

      Maybe this at least in part answers why some things haven't worked for you.

    2. Wow! Thanks for all the info. I never knew that milk could be frozen... is it still drinkable when it thaws or is it just suitable for cooking with? I have lactose problems so I rarely buy milk at all... if I do, it's for a special recipe, or because CatMan requests it (or for making yogurt) so I may have to try that.

    3. It's drinkable after freezing, but sometimes separates a bit. My kids still drink it though, and don't mind. Freezing is a great option if you only need a small amount at a time, like for a recipe. Just freeze the rest in small containers, to thaw and use later.

  5. For me, Yogurt is one of those satisfying things to make sort of like making your own granola. It's just such an amazing thing to do. Great post, Lili. :)

    1. Hi Belinda,
      It is really fun to make something that I once thought "had" to be bought!

  6. I use 1% milk to make yogurt and it didn't set using the cooler method, so I eventually bought a yogurt maker. Since it's new (now 6 months old), it is holding its temperature well. I use 1/2 cup dry milk powder to 2 litres of 1% milk and I'm happy with the results. I had tried using plain gelatin but it didn't work as well!

    1. Hi anexacting,
      That's good to know about the 1% milk and dry milk powder addition. Thanks for adding that.


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