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Cold Start Yogurt (With or Without an Instant Pot): You Won’t Believe How Easy It Is

Today I’m going to show you how to make yogurt using the cold-start method both with and without an Instant Pot.

After making yogurt the traditional way for over 11 years, I decided to experiment. I’m a little late to the cold start yogurt party, but I’m having fun with it. I think you will, too.

cold-start yogurt in jars with blackberries and mint

I remember when I first dipped my toes into the world of homemade yogurt over eleven years ago. After reading lots of blogs, I was confused and frustrated with all the different instructions. It was hard to know who to believe.

After much research and experimentation, I’m cutting through the myths and misinformation about cold start yogurt. This post will teach you how to make a successful batch of cold start yogurt in your own kitchen.

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 this method?

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

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

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

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-filtered milk goes through a filtering process to remove most of the lactose along with a lot of the sugar. Filtering also concentrates the protein.

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˚). The process results in longer storage capabilities. However, the amount of protein remains the same. You can’t make spoonable yogurt without freeing up more proteins.

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?

The purpose of heating milk to 180˚F in the traditional method is to “denature one of the main whey proteins, lactoglobulin, which allows it to join in the mesh (instead of remaining inactive) and effectively increases the amount of protein in the milk that will be available to thicken the yogurt.”

In other words, heating before incubation is not to kill bacteria in the milk as some suggest. Hopefully, that has already been accomplished in the pasteurization process.

So yes. It is safe to make yogurt with pasteurized and ultra-filtered milk that hasn’t been heated before incubation.

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. I have the impression this term is 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 eggs–sort of.

There is no exact time. The answer for you will depend on how tart you like your yogurt and the temperature of your incubation system. Mine usually sets in 5 hours at 100˚F. I prefer mild.

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

What is “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. Any unflavored yogurt with active cultures and no additives such as gelatin will work. 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 detailed instructions and 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. You can read about them in this post about 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–failure might be even better. But let’s give it a shot.

Uncover your yogurt without moving or jostling it. Yogurt babies do not like to be disturbed! Very gently shake the container. It should jiggle only slightly.

If it’s not ready, give it another hour or so and check again. If your yogurt still isn’t firm after additional 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. You can read a thorough 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.
The milk does not need to be warmed. Really, it doesn’t. 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 a container appropriate for incubation. A one-liter bottle of Fairway ultra-filtered milk will easily fit into this 2-quart pyrex bowl.
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.

OR

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.
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.

What would you like to read next?


Pin the picture below to save for later.

pinterest image of cold-start yogurt made without an Instant Pot

Did you try this recipe and enjoy it? Consider helping other readers (and me) by returning to this post. Leave a rating on the recipe card itself underneath the picture. Although always appreciated, comments aren’t required.

If you have a question or tip to share, please leave it in the regular comments after the recipe so I can answer back. Or, email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.

Thank you for visiting!
Paula


How To Make Yogurt with the Cold Start Method

How To Make Yogurt with the Cold Start Method

Yield: 1 liter
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 7 hours 5 minutes

Here is a simple recipe for delicious homemade yogurt using the cold-start method. Directions included for Instant Pot or not.

Ingredients

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

Instructions

  1. Whisk a small amount of cold milk into yogurt "starter" until it is smooth.
  2. Pour milk into Instant Pot or a large bowl such as a 2-quart Pyrex pitcher.
  3. Stir thinned "starter" into cold milk.
  4. 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.
  5. If using a bowl, place the pitcher in a warm environment. Keep the temperature at a constant 100-110˚F level.
  6. 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.

Notes

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.

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JimmyW

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Oh, I should mention that CFL contains one strain that Yogourmet does not: Bifidobacterium lactis.

JimmyW

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

FYI, I had my first failure of a cold start yogurt. However, the reason seems to be that I tried a different packaged, starter culture: Yogourmet. I had used it to make yogurt with the traditional hot-start method in my Instant Pot, and it turned out fine, but closer to Greek than the CFL-based varieties. I don't believe that any of the commercial starter outfits suggest cold start, regardless of whether a given variety works.

Paula

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Hi Jimmy,

I have used the packaged starter culture with the Cold Start method several times. HOWEVER, it was not the first generation. The first generation is usually thin no matter what method you use. The more you use it, the thicker it gets. Was it the first batch with that particular culture?

An interesting note about the bacteria in CFL.

JimmyW

Monday 6th of April 2020

Yep, you're right! The yogurt I made in jars came out perfectly. I mixed a pack of Cultures for Life Traditional starter in a quart of Fairlife whole milk, and then poured about 6 oz. of the milk in 6, 8-oz. jars. I added a cup of water to my Instant Pot and incubated for 8 1/2 hours. For me, the CFL starters are the way to go. As I don't eat a lot of yogurt, the CFL is as economic as using a plain yogurt starter, as I'd probably get only one starter portion out of a store-bought yogurt. My homemade is better than any of the premium yogurts I've had, and I sweeten mine with homemade fruit syrups/jams or date/maple/agave syrup/honey. Thanks for the advice!

Paula

Monday 6th of April 2020

Awesome!! Love hearing the success stories.

JimmyW

Friday 20th of March 2020

Hi, Paula. After that first failure with the Cultures for Life Traditional starter, which I bought from Amazon, I tried again with a pack that I purchased from CFL. I used a quart of Darigold Fit ultra-pasteurized whole milk. It turned out perfectly! While it was creamy and on the thick side, I would have strained it if I preferred Greek yogurt, which I don't. So, it seems that the first starter was bad, probably the result of mishandling by the Amazon merchant. I'll have to try making it in jars next time. Thanks!

Paula

Saturday 21st of March 2020

Hi Jimmy, Good to hear your yogurt turned out good. I'm betting it will work fine in jars if that's your preference.

I checked the website. It looks like Darigold Fit is not only ultra-pasteurized, but also ultra-filtered. In case other readers are reading this comment, I just want to make that clear. The cold-start method doesn't usually work with milk that is only ultra-pasteurized. Perhaps I should say--it has never worked for me.

Bonnie

Friday 20th of March 2020

Paula, have you tried making yogurt in an instant pot according to the company’s instructions? My 3 qt iPot has instructions for a “Yogurt “ setting, but it seems to bring it to a boil.

Paula

Friday 20th of March 2020

Hi Bonnie,

Bringing milk to a boil is the traditional way to make yogurt. It is necessary when using regular milk. The Instant Pot manual assumes that's the kind of milk you will use.

However, if you purchase ultra-filtered milk, you do not have to boil it first because it has more protein available to begin with. Regular milk should be boiled to rearrange the protein strands in the milk so it will coagulate easily and make a thicker yogurt. I hope this answers your question. Happy yogurt-eating.