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

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

Sneak 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.

cold-start yogurt in jars with blackberries and mint

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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.

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!!

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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.

ADDENDUM: Some people have written to say they use this method with ultra-pasteurized milk and it works for them. I tried again with another brand I have not tried before. It worked. So, experimentation is in order with ultra-pasteurized milk. At this point, I can’t explain why some brands work and others don’t.

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 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. (See the addendum above. Some brands do seem to work.)

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 eggs.

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.

yogurt crash course signup

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.

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.”

jars of incubating yogurt in an instant pot.

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.

setting the time on an 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.

yogurt set in small jars--ready to eat.

Chill 2-3 hours before eating.

sign up for yogurt course

What would you like to read next?

If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately to Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula


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.
5 from 7 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

Ingredients

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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Video

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.
  • The nutritionals apply only to yogurt made with whole milk that has not been strained. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Cold Start Yogurt Recipe
Serving Size
 
8
Amount per Serving
Calories
 
78
Calories from Fat 36
% Daily Value*
Fat
 
4
g
6
%
Saturated Fat
 
2
g
13
%
Polyunsaturated Fat
 
1
g
Cholesterol
 
13
mg
4
%
Sodium
 
55
mg
2
%
Carbohydrates
 
6
g
2
%
Sugar
 
6
g
7
%
Protein
 
4
g
8
%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Author: Paula Rhodes
Course: Making Yogurt
Cuisine: American
Keywords: cold-start yogurthomemade yogurtmaking yogurt without Instant Potno-boil yogurt
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33 Comments

  1. I was so excited to see this post. I have used you as a resource for my yogurt making and through trial and error have it down to a science for what works for me. An opportunity to remove the heating/cooling step is a game changer for me as I use my crockpot to heat so need to account for that time (for me, 1 gallon of milk in High for 3 hours, then 1 hour to cool).

    I tried this with 2% Darigold brand and it worked perfectly! Thank you so much for experimenting for all of us!

    1. Yay! I’m so happy it worked for you. This will save you a ton of time! Thanks so much for writing.

  2. Charlotte Swift says:

    I live in France where at least 90% of the milk is UHT and live yogurt is usually sold in 4-packs. The other 3 pots can be frozen until needed.

    I whisk 1 small pot of live yogurt into 1 litre of room-temperature UHT milk and fill 4 small pots. These are for me. Then I whisk in a tablespoon of full-fat creme fraiche to the remainder and fill the other 3 pots. These are for my husband.Then I leave them in my yogurt maker without a lid (or you could use a warm oven) overnight and then cover and chill for at least 3 hours. Perfect results every time!!!!!!!! I have been told that UHT milk actually makes BETTER yogurt.

    I use one of the pots without cream as the starter for the next batch or, if I’ve eaten it all, I defrost one of the frozen shop-bought pots.

    1. Hi Charlotte,
      I want what your husband is eating. We don’t have creme fraiche available to buy like you do so that would be quite a treat. Sounds like you have a great set-up for making yogurt that suits you perfectly. I’ll be on the lookout for UHT milk which is not nearly as common in our stores as it is for you.

      Thank you for sharing.

      1. Charlotte Swift says:

        you can use double cream (do Americans call it heavy cream?) instead of creme fraiche. Great as a dessert but maybe too self-indulgent for breakfast! Or maybe not 🙂

        1. Thanks Charlotte. I really don’t think there is a true substitute for creme fraiche. It’s hard to find in the grocery store. But sometimes, I make it myself. Good stuff!

  3. Your yogurt looks like it’s flavored with fruit, but I don’t see in the instructions when you do that. Can you please give pointers on berry flavored yogurt without just adding a compote at the end? Thank you!

    1. Hi May,

      You are very observant. The yogurt in the picture was flavored with grape juice concentrate. When using the cold start method and when I’m not planning to strain the finished yogurt, I do it the following way so I don’t have to stir or disturb the yogurt: With ultra-filtered milk, I stir in my yogurt starter and the concentrate (the amount is up to your own tastes), then incubate. Normally, I don’t recommend adding the flavoring until after the yogurt is set. Too much sugar and other flavorings can interfere with the incubation process. I have not yet experimented with enough different flavorings to know exactly what will and won’t work at this point.

      Since I prefer Greek yogurt, I nearly always strain my yogurt and THEN, add the flavorings. One of my favorite ways to do fruit is to put blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries in a blender. I strain out the seeds (or sometimes let the blender grind them until they are unrecognizable) and freeze the puree. Then when just pull out what I need whenever I make yogurt and stir it into the strained yogurt. It is smooth and beautiful. If you have kids eating your yogurt, they seem to like it better when they don’t see chunks of fruit.

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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!

    1. 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.

  6. 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!

    1. Awesome!! Love hearing the success stories.

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

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

  9. Hey, Paula, have made cold start with 2% Fairlife? Thanks.

  10. Jimmy Weg says:

    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.

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. Paula,

    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!!!

    1. 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.

  13. Penny Eisenberg says:

    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.

    1. 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.

  14. 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?

    1. 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.

  15. It doesn’t have to be a filtered milk. I’m using ultra pasteurized (called long life in UK) milk and it’s perfectly fine. I live in UK and there is no filtered long life milk in the market here. I’m keep wondering why some many people repeat this false information. Maybe because Fairlife is owned by Coca-Cola company, and obviously they want to increase their sale.

    1. Hi Joanna,
      Thank you for taking the time to write. I have never tried the ultra-pasterurized milk in the UK so can’t speak to that. If it works to your satisfaction, keep doing it. Absolutely! For me, the ultra-pasteurized milk available to me makes yogurt that is too thin. But the beauty of making your own yogurt is that you get to use whatever works for you and is available where you live. Happy yogurt-eating!
      p.s. I might add that I do not take money from any company to sell their products except Amazon and a thermometer company.

  16. KL Woodsy says:

    5 stars
    I love this cold start method and make Greek yogurt all the time. Here’s a pro tip:

    Instead of straining the yogurt to get it thick, add powdered milk to the ultra filtered milk. The thicker you want it the more powdered milk you add! To start off I suggest adding 1/2 cup powdered milk to 4 cups of milk. That will result in a moderately thick end product.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      I’m so glad you added your advice to the comments. I have people asking me about adding powdered milk quite frequently. Since I’m not a fan of powdered milk (childhood hangup), I can’t speak from experience. But your advice sounds good. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it down.