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Cold Start Yogurt: Make it with or Without an Instant Pot (+Video)

Preview: Make cold-start yogurt at home and save valuable time. No high heat or cool-down is required. Instant Pot–optional. FAQ and video included.

The minimal hands-on time the cold start method requires for making yogurt will amaze you. Even busy people can weave the simple process into their schedule.

I felt dazed and confused when I first started making traditional yogurt over 12 years ago. With all the different instructions, it was hard to know who to believe.

Same thing with cold start yogurt. Now I’m ready to cut through the myths and misinformation about this time-saving method.

cold-start yogurt in jars with blackberries and mint

Don’t worry if you’ve never made yogurt before. This post will make it easy for pros and beginners alike. Be sure to take a look at the FAQ below for answers to basic and not-so-basic questions.

What is different about the cold start method?

You don’t heat the milk before incubation. As a result, you don’t need a cool-down period.

In the simplest terms possible, that is the only difference!

You just shaved at least an hour and a half off the time it will take to make your next batch of yogurt.

There is a catch!!

You must use ULTRA-FILTERED milk. Not ultra-pasteurized milk. Not organic milk. Not regular milk. Not milk from happy cows eating grass on a hillside in California.

Sometimes two or more of these labels will co-exist on the same bottle of milk. As long as one of the labels is ultra-filtered, you are good.

2 different brands of ultrafiltered milk:  fairlife and Organic Valley Ultra Whole

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ultra-filtered milk?

Ultra-Filtering milk removes lactose and much of the sugar. Concentrated protein is another result.

The average cup of regular milk contains 8 grams of protein. Fairway and other brands boast of 13 grams of protein in 1 cup of milk.

Why can’t I use ultra-pasteurized milk?

Ultra-pasteurized milk is heated to a high temperature (280˚F). The process results in longer storage capabilities. Yet, the high temps actually damage some of the protein. You need more protein, not less, to make spoonable yogurt.

In the end, the more protein available, the thicker your yogurt will be.

(Be sure to read the next question and answer to get the bigger picture.)

Is it safe to make yogurt with milk that hasn’t been boiled?

Yes, ultra-filtered milk is pasteurized.

Myth: The purpose of heating milk to 180˚F before incubation is to kill all bacteria.

Truth: According to Brod and Taylor, heating milk before incubating yogurt (never boil) removes the handcuffs from certain proteins enabling them to join the yogurt party. The more the merrier when you want thick yogurt.

So yes. Heating ultrafiltered milk to 180˚F is unnecessary when making yogurt. But it’s still completely safe.

Is the cold start method the same as the no-boil method?

Yes. I’m not sure how that name got started. Even with the traditional method, it’s not a good idea to boil your milk when making yogurt.

What is diafiltered milk?

Diafiltered milk is another name for ultra-filtered milk. This term seems more common in Canada.

How long does the cold start method take?

It takes less than 5 minutes to prepare your starter and milk. The rest of the time will be hands-off as your yogurt incubates (sits in a warm place). Think of a hen sitting on her eggsu002du002dsort of.

There is no exact time. The answer depends. How tart you like your yogurt and the temperature of your incubation system are factors. Mine usually sets in 5 hours at 100˚F. I prefer mild yogurt.

Some people like to incubate all night. Try it either way until you get the product you want.

What is a yogurt starter?

The starter is what inoculates the milk and starts the process of making yogurt. It must contain little yogurt bodies (aka healthy bacteria) to do its job. It can be grocery store yogurt, homemade yogurt, or specially-formulated freeze-dried starter.

Does it matter if my starter is vanilla-flavored?

For the best chance at success, use very fresh unflavored yogurt. I’ll admit to using vanilla-flavored yogurt with sugar added in the past. It turned out OK.

Does my starter have to come from yogurt made with ultra-filtered milk?

No. Use unflavored yogurt with active cultures and no additives such as gelatin. Regular yogurt, Greek yogurt, organic yogurt…any of them are fine.

My yogurt set firm enough, but I prefer Greek yogurt. How can I make it thicker?

I like mine thick, too.

Strain it. The process is no different from straining yogurt made the traditional way. Read these posts for more ideas about straining: using a yogurt pouch or a large coffee filter.

How do I incubate cold start yogurt?

An Instant Pot is super-easy if it is big enough to suit your needs. An oven you can set to 100˚F is big and easy.

Beyond that, you may have to get creative. I have collected lots of ideas from my readers over the years. Read about them here: ways to incubate yogurt without a yogurt machine.

How can I tell when my yogurt is set?

This is a hard question right up there with when will I know he (or she) is the right one? The answer is almost the same. Ha!

Experience is the best teacher but failure might be even better. But let’s give it a shot.

Uncover your yogurt without moving or jostling it. Your incubation system should have a sign: DO NOT DISTURB! When carefully jiggled, your yogurt should barely wiggle.

If it’s not ready, give it another hour or so and check again. If your yogurt still isn’t firm after more incubation (total of 10 hours + or -), smell it.

If it smells OK, add more starter. A different starter would be even better. Stir well. Incubate again for 5-10 hours.

If that doesn’t work and it still smells fine, make smoothies. You could also try making ricotta cheese with your failed batch. It’s delicious and easy.

Does the cold start method produce yogurt with more protein than regular yogurt?

Yes, Regular milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup. Ultra-filtered milk averages 13 grams of protein per 1-cup serving. That means your finished cold-start yogurt will contain 13 grams of protein per cup.

If you like thicker yogurt and decide to strain it, you’ll get even more protein. In case you are a protein fanatic, check out this post for more ways to pump up the protein in your yogurt.

How long will my cold-start yogurt last?

The general answer is for two weeks. If it smells bad or you see any mold (usually pink), throw it out.

Is the cold start method a better way to make yogurt at home than the traditional way where you heat the milk first?

It depends. Read this comparison between the cold start method and the traditional method and decide for yourself.

If you are a yogurt newbie, see a complete tutorial plus a video for the traditional method here. If you’ve never made yogurt before, check out Five Things You Should Not Do When Making Yogurt.

Ready to get started?

Preparing the starter:

Use store-bought yogurt or homemade yogurt as a “starter.” If using a freeze-dried starter, follow the directions on the package to activate it.

Yogurt starter on a spoon
Add a tablespoon or so of starter to a small bowl. This will inoculate up to a half-gallon of milk.
whisking yogurt starter until it's cool
Add a small amount of cold milk to the “starter” gradually. Whisk until smooth.
Don’t warm the milk unless you just want to. The little yogurt bodies will wake up as the milk warms in the incubation process.

Cold start method without an Instant Pot:

pouring ultra-filtered milk into a pyrex pitcher
Pour cold, ultra-filtered milk into this 2-quart pyrex bowl appropriate for incubation.
stirring starter into ultra-filtered milk
Stir in the “starter.” At this point, you can pour the milk into smaller containers or leave it all in the bigger bowl.
incubating yogurt in an oven at 100˚F
Incubate until set. I like my yogurt milk mild, so I start checking at 5 hours. Because the milk starts cold, it takes longer to incubate than the traditional way.
spoonful of set yogurt when incubation is complete
Yogurt straight out of incubation should hold its shape. It will become even thicker when chilled.


Cold Start Method with an Instant Pot

pouring fairlife milk into Instant Pot
Pour ultra-filtered milk into your Instant Pot.
adding prepared starter
Stir in thinned “starter.”
Instead of pouring the milk directly into the Instant Pot, you can add the “starter” to the milk in a separate bowl. Fill your jars and place them into the Instant Pot.
Set the Instant Pot on “Yogurt” for 5 hours (or longer if you like a sourer flavor or are doing this overnight).
It is not necessary to seal the pot. You will not use any pressure. Twist the lid into place on top to preserve the heat.
a spoonful of yogurt after it has finished incubation
The yogurt was set after 5 hours. Your timing may vary.
To check your yogurt, gingerly remove the lid and shake the yogurt ever so gently. If you stir it and disturb the little yogurt bodies, you must start over.
Chill 2-3 hours before eating.

yogurt course

What would you like to read next?

Did you enjoy this recipe? If so, you can help others and me by leaving a 5-star 🤩 rating in the comment section below. No comment is required.

p.s. If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: Paula at

Hope to see you again soon!

Cold Start Yogurt Recipe

Here is a simple recipe for delicious homemade yogurt using the cold-start method. Directions included for Instant Pot or not.
Paula Rhodes
4.5 from 6 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 5 hrs
Additional Time 2 hrs
Total Time 7 hrs 5 mins
Course Making Yogurt
Servings 8 servings


  • 1 liter ultra-filtered whole milk - or use 2% or non-fat ultra-filtered milk
  • 1 tablespoon of yogurt - homemade or storebought


  • Pour milk into Instant Pot or a large bowl such as a 2-quart Pyrex pitcher.
  • Whisk a small amount of cold milk into your yogurt starter until it is smooth.
  • Stir thinned "starter" into cold milk.
  • If using an Instant Pot, position the lid on top and push the Yogurt button. Time should be 5-9 hours according to the level of tartness you prefer. If you are doing overnight, set the pot to finish when you wake up.
  • If using a bowl, place the pitcher in a warm environment. Keep the temperature at a constant 100-110˚F level.
  • Check yogurt after 5 hours. When yogurt sets, it will look like Jello with only the slightest jiggle. If you’re not sure, dip out a spoonful to see if the yogurt will stand up on its own. If you want a firmer set, return it to the warm place without jostling and check again later. Once you stir the yogurt, incubation is over. Remember that it will become somewhat thicker when chilled.



  • If you want Greek yogurt, strain the yogurt when the incubation period completes. You can strain yogurt on the counter for a couple of hours. It’s safe. If you feel more comfortable (and have the room) set your strainer in the refrigerator.
  • The nutritionals apply only to yogurt made with whole milk that has not been strained. 


Serving: 8gCalories: 78kcalCarbohydrates: 6gProtein: 4gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 13mgSodium: 55mgPotassium: 169mgSugar: 6gVitamin A: 205IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 144mgIron: 1mg
Keyword cold-start yogurt, homemade yogurt, making yogurt without Instant Pot, no-boil yogurt
Cuisine American
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
Recipe Rating


Tuesday 28th of December 2021

I was wondering why not add powdered milk to your regular milk instead of buying ultra fine milk? If it's just a matter of more protein seems like that could work...of course it might not save you any money and powered milk needs a LOT of stirring for best results so it might not be worth it. But do you think it would work?


Tuesday 28th of December 2021

Hi Esther, You are my kind of friend--always thinking and asking questions to find a better way. I don't know if it would work. I've never tried it. But I hope you will, then let me know. For me, I don't like the taste of powdered milk. However, my experience on this website tells me that many people don't mind it at all.

I look forward to hearing how your experiment turns out.

Penny Eisenberg

Sunday 16th of May 2021

I got sick from the cold start yogurt. Maybe it’s because I put honey in before it incubates, or possibly from an unsterilized utensil (the pot was sterilized), but I won’t try it again. My regular yogurt from milk brought to 180 degrees takes a little more time, but I don’t have to worry about it. When I’ve tried to add sweetener before incubating, the yogurt thins down or gets gluey. I usually use 1 or 2% milk, pasteurized or ultra and then I strain it to get a thicker, Greek yogurt. The Fairlife is double the price and I eat so much yogurt, I didn’t want to spring for it.


Wednesday 19th of May 2021

Hi Penny,

As you have illustrated, the cold start method is not for everybody. I agree that the milk is more expensive and the regular method is not that much more trouble. I'm so sorry you got sick. I never put sweeteners into my milk before making it into yogurt and wouldn't recommend it to other home yogurt makers although I can't say for sure that the honey was responsible for making you sick.

Hope you are feeling better now. Thanks so much for writing.


Sunday 7th of March 2021


Two questions: #1: I am wondering if there is any way to tell what the sugar content is in a batch of homemade yogurt? I am assuming the cold start method would produce less sugar because the ultra filtered milk already has less sugar and more protein. Regardless, I am still looking for a more exact number if that is possible? I ask due to a medical condition. I spend extra money on specialty foods, low-sugar(2g) yogurt being one of them, and I would love to save some money and make some healthier homemade yogurt in the process if that’s possible.

#2: I saw on your website that you also make bread. I would also love to produce a gluten-free (gf) bread without yeast but I haven’t been successful thus far. Wondering if you had any experience with yeast-free options? GF bread baking in general is different, but manageable. I just can’t make it look and taste like normal bread with the baking soda method. I know it’s possible because I spend almost $7 a loaf to buy from a baker out of FL called Sami’s Bakery. They are the only place that I know that produces GF and yeast-free bread that taste normal.

I realize I am asking a lot but it seems like you have accumulated a lot of knowledge and experience and I will appreciate any knowledge you can provide!!!


Sunday 7th of March 2021

Hi Bethany, Nice to hear from you. Re: #1--The amount of sugar in your yogurt would be roughly the same as in the milk (and starter) that you use. I'm guessing the only way to know for sure is to have a lab analyze it for you. If you strain your yogurt to make Greek yogurt, some of the sugar will be in the whey that you strain off. I have no idea what the specific amount would be.

Re: #2--I have tried several GF bread recipes and not one of them was edible in my opinion, so I'm afraid I can be of no help. Several websites out there specialize in GF bread--perhaps you could reach out to one of them.

Sorry, I cannot be more helpful.


Sunday 1st of November 2020

Hey Paula, my cold starts still are working out when I use a Tbsp of yogurt as a starter per quart. But I'm not a Greek yogurt fan, so do you know why my yogurt turns out quite thick, like Greek? It happens even if I use regular yogurt for a stater. I incubate 8.5 hours. Thanks.


Monday 2nd of November 2020

Hi Jimmy, Congrats on your yogurt. This is the first time I've ever had anybody complain about it being too thick. :-). You could just add some regular milk to your yogurt to thin it down a bit. Also, I only incubate for about 4-5 hours but it's still thick. Still, you could try incubating for less time.

Jimmy Weg

Monday 19th of October 2020

I thought I'd mention that, after a series of good and poor results with CFL starters, I just use a tablespoon/quart of plain yogurt as my starter. Works perfectly and actually is cheaper, even though I just pitch the plain yogurt when I'm done. I think CFL starters are inconsistent and probably handled poorly during shipping.


Wednesday 21st of October 2020

Hi Jimmy,

I say do whatever works for you. I like the CFL starters but if they don't work for you, yogurt from the store works.