I was asked to provide a write up on making homemade yogurt by a friend staying with us for a few days. She eats a lot of yogurt, and recently acquired an Instant Pot with the “yogurt button.”
Now, on several of the IP groups on Facebook, the question gets asked repeatedly: Why make yogurt, and how?
I’ll deal with the “how” first, so that, if you’re only here for the instructions, you don’t have to wade through much. 🙂
The basic process is: heat milk (which can be straight milk, half and half, or milk and cream) to pasteurize it, cool it down to incubating temperature, add the starter, and keep the mixture at incubation temperature for 8-12 hours.
Minimum tools required: A pot that can handle almost boiling temperatures, a way to keep it warm for 8-12 hours, a meat or candy thermometer, milk (I use whole milk and heavy whipping cream), and a starter yogurt culture. The starter can be an unflavored container of a brand you like. I like Greek Gods or Brown Cow for my inital starters. After the initial batch, you can use a half cup of the homemade yogurt as a starter instead. I find that remains workable for up to five or six batches before it starts to taste “off.”
YOU NEED A MEAT OR CANDY THERMOMETER. Do not try to guesstimate the temperatures. You will have failures if you do.
I originally used a crockpot and a gas stove. I now use an Instant Pot with “yogurt” functionality. Mine’s an Instant Pot DUO60 purchased in 2016. Since my friend was asking about the IP version, I will give the details on that first. It can also be done with just a stove top, a regular pot, and the rest of the requirements above. (You’d follow the basic outline for the crockpot, just with greater attention.)
Instant Pot Version
These instructions will vary a little bit, based on the brand and unit you have. I only have the Instant Pot Duo60, so I can’t answer questions on any other variation. The instructions should apply to any of the ones with the “yogurt” button on them.
The goal of this step is to heat the milk to 180° F, without scorching it.
Ensure that you are using a CLEAN sealing ring for your locking lid, or using the tempered glass lid that can be acquired separately. Extra seals can be acquired here. The set of 3 I purchased don’t appear to be available any longer. I do recommend getting a multi colored set, so you can easily tell what gets used for what.
After ensuring the steel inner pot is completely clean (Bar Keeper’s Friend comes in handy here) and thoroughly rinsed, set it into the IP. Hit the button labeled “yogurt.”
If the display comes up with a time, press “adjust” until “boil” appears instead. Once the display shows “boil”, add the milk (or half and half, milk and cream mix, etc.) up to your desired amount. I make large batches, so I go to the “max fill” line. My “recipe” is generally 1 quart of heavy whipping cream and the rest whole milk.
Stir the milk periodically while it heats to prevent scorching. I personally find this doesn’t happen much with the IP, but it will occasionally. “Boil” will generally stay on for 30 minutes, at which point the display will switch to “ygrt” (if I recall correctly). The milk may or may not actually be warm enough at this point. Take a temperature reading while you stir the milk, and ensure that it does say 180° F. If not, return the unit to the “boil” setting by pressing “off” and “yogurt” again. It should default to “boil.”
Once the milk is at 180° F, proceed to the next step.
Step 2’s goal is to cool the milk down to incubating temperature, which is between 100° F and 110° F.
There are two ways to go about this, and variations on both.
I prefer a quicker cooling time, so I can be sure I bring the milk down into the proper range, and don’t have to warm it back up.
So I clean out and scrub half of the kitchen sink, and stopper it up. Then I run cold water into that side. I set the IP inner pot into the sink while the cold water runs. Keep an eye on the water level, and shut it off before it gets too high.
Now, the way to get the milk to cool down most effectively with this method is to stir milk AND stir the water. Don’t use the same spoon for both. 🙂 The water bath will warm up fairly quickly, so I add ice cubes to bring the temperature down. Periodically check the temperature of the milk. I stop the cooling process at about 109° F.
I’ve also added ice cubes to the milk before, and that works, but it also waters the resulting yogurt down a little. Ice cubes to the water bath works better for me.
If all that sounds like too much effort for you, you can simply pull the inner pot out and rest it on a heat-resistant surface. Just remember to stir before you take the temperature, and to take the temperature fairly often. In my experience, leaving the inner pot in the IP makes the cooling process take a lot longer.
The goal of this step is to inoculate the milk with a starter culture.
Put half to a whole cup of starter yogurt into a small bowl or medium cup.
Add a couple of tablespoons of warmed milk, stirring well. Continue this process until you have about double the amount you started with in the container.
Pour the resulting thinned yogurt into the warmed milk. Stir well.
Now we get to actually making the yogurt!
Return the inner pot to the Instant Pot. Press the yogurt button, and press adjust to change it to the display with “8:00” on it. (That’s the default. If you’ve ever changed it before, it may show that remembered time.)
Now, here’s another “personal preference” spot. The minimum time you want is 8 hours, which will give you a sweeter result. If you let it culture for 12 hours, it will be tangier. I prefer to culture for 10-12 hours. So, taking into your personal preference for yogurt, press the “adjust” button to change the counter time.
Place the lid on the IP. Again, with a CLEAN seal if using the normal lid, or the tempered glass lid if you have it.
The IP will beep after a moment, and the timer will start. You can walk away until the alarm sound goes off.
That’s it! If you use a gallon of milk, you will get approximately a gallon of yogurt.
Unless you want a Greek-style yogurt, that is. 🙂 Here’s my method for that result.
The resulting yogurt will be tangier than you are likely used to. You can use honey, maple syrup, sugar, extracts or just fruit to sweeten it if you like. Being on the keto diet, I use flavored liquid Stevia drops. You can do any number of flavors or add-ins you like, too.
It may seem to be a bit runny when you first finish it. It will thicken up when it gets cold.
The crockpot method mainly differs in that you don’t have a yogurt button to use. Follow the steps, more or less. If you have a ceramic liner (like I did), I would NOT use an ice bath to cool down the milk. I often found that I had to pour the heated milk into a large pot, cool it down that way, and then return it to the crockpot liner.
Once you’ve got it cooled down to incubation stage, you have a few options for keeping it going. The crockpot won’t really keep the temperature stable without cooking your starter.
If you have a gas stove, you can turn on the oven, give it a few minutes, and then turn it off. Place the crockpot on the center rake, and keep the oven closed for the next 8-12 hours.
If you have an electric stove, you can experiment with the “proof” option, if yours has that. It may have a “warm food” option, as well, but you will need to consult your manual about how warm that gets. You want the interior of the stove to remain between 100° F and 110° F. Feel free to experiment prior to actually making yogurt.
I have also heard of some people having good success with a heating pad and wrapping the crockpot in a bunch of towels while it sits on the heating pad. I personally cannot vouch for that method.
“Greek” yogurt in the US is generally a strained yogurt.
This can be accomplished with coffee filters, a dedicated yogurt strainer, or cheesecloth. It cannot be accomplished with a vegetable colander or tea strainer alone.
Back when I first started making yogurt, I experimented with cheese cloth and regular coffee filters. Cheese cloth didn’t work well for me, and the regular coffee filters were annoying. Trying to get them to all overlap just so isn’t worth the annoyance factor.
So I use commercial sized coffee filters, which are large enough to line my vegetable colander. I set the colander on top of a larger bowl, with the handles resting on the bowl’s rim. I line the colander with the commercial filter, and then ladle the yogurt into the filter.
Whey starts filtering out almost immediately. I let this process continue until the yogurt is the consistency I like. I generally have to pour off excess whey (reserving it for other uses) a couple of times before it’s finished to my liking.
After it reaches that point, I empty the last of the whey into the reserve container, and dump the yogurt into the large bowl and peel the coffee filter off the yogurt. Using a whisk, I mix up the yogurt until it is smooth and creamy. Occasionally, I need to add a tablespoon or two of whey back in to get the right texture.
One reason I use the milk-cream mixture is there is less whey waste, and the end result is creamier.
I get about 3 quarts of Greek style yogurt out of a quart of cream and a gallon of milk. The two quarts (approximately) of whey are fed to the chickens.
So what about the Why?
Now, WHY would you want to make your own yogurt?
It’s cost effective, particularly if — like me — you are restricted in the types/kinds of yogurt (and especially flavorings) you can have. I have to have minimal sugar and I’m allergic to most of the commercial artificial sweeteners. I’m also allergic to whey, so I can only have strained yogurt. (Yes, granted, I shouldn’t have ANY, but … I’m compromising.) I’m on the keto diet — a lot because it mitigates that whey allergy and all of my other ‘interesting’ food issues.
So I can buy a quart of plain, full-fat Greek for $3.69. That’s 3-4 servings, usually. Brown Cow (currently only available in “maple” sweetened) runs $1.19 per serving. There aren’t many other “full fat” versions of yogurt currently available. None of them are particularly cheap.
Or, I can make a batch of yogurt, get 3 quarts of yogurt, plus 2 quarts of whey for the hens (good for their eggs), for a small amount of elbow grease, electricity, and $4-5 in milk and cream. The savings add up fast. A single batch that yields 3 quarts (and today’s batch yielded 3 quarts plus 2 servings) saves about $6 (and that’s with more keto-friendly yogurt!). The more yogurt your household consumes, the better the savings.
Then there’s “being able to choose what goes in it.” Want the lowest sugar option you can get? Want a very minimalist flavor? Want the richest yogurt possible? Definitely try your hand at making it at home.
Now, I know some folks on the IP groups talk about the “no boil” / cold start method. It uses extra special (expensive) milk, and seems to be finicky to get going. Since that’s a “low fat” and expensive variation, I see no reason to bother.
The whey is also really good for my chickens. One of the girls appears to not be able to process elemental (oyster shell) calcium, ground chicken egg shells, or the calcium in the layer feed. She’ll get to where she’s laying shell-less eggs. I take the whey out there for the girls to drink, and she has no issues for weeks.
Strained whey can also be used in baking, particularly for sourdough breads. However, it is not “sweet” whey, and can’t really be used as as protein powder substitute, from what I have been told by those who have tried.