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Answers to Your Questions About Making Homemade Yogurt

Preview: This post is a guide to making Greek yogurt at home in response to reader questions. If you have a yogurt question, check here.

Since you clicked on this post, I’m assuming something didn’t go as you hoped or expected with your yogurt. BUMMER!

Hopefully, we can get to the bottom of the problem so that your next batch will be a delicious success.

If you don’t see your question here, send me an email for a personal answer to your question: paula at saladinajar.com

Greek yogurt with blueberries

Although I’ve been making my own yogurt for over 10 years now, some of you have been doing the same much longer. Feel free to leave a comment if you want to chime in with your own experience, knowledge, or opinion.

8 Answers to Your Questions About Homemade Yogurt

The first three questions deal with the question: “Why did my yogurt fail?”.

picture of failed yogurt--looks like milk

#1

Was your starter fresh enough?

This is crucial.  At the beginning of my yogurt-making stage of life, the majority of my fails happened when I used a new starter–as in commercial yogurt from the grocery store. (By the way, you can use either regular unflavored yogurt or Greek yogurt.) I’m convinced it’s not always that fresh.

If your first batch or two gets slightly thick but it’s not what you wanted, I recommend making another batch with new milk using your “thin yogurt” as a starter. Unless there is some other problem (such as sliminess), I predict it will be thicker the next time. 

#2

Did you keep your milk incubated at 100-110˚F? Consistently?

It’s extremely important to keep the temperature constant. I’m guessing this is the number one reason for yogurt fails.

picture of yogurt incubating in the oven
Incubate yogurt at a temperature between 100 to 105 degrees F.

If you are using a slow cooker, a heating pad, an electric roaster or some other creative device (see 6 Ways to Incubate Yogurt Without a Yogurt Maker to learn the different ways my readers do this), check your temperatures with a thermometer until you are certain you’ve got it right. If possible, test the environment, not the yogurt. 

#3

Was the milk disturbed in any way during the incubation process?

Yogurt bacteria are sensitive. They don’t seem to like anything coming into their space when they are busy multiplying. Completely understandable, don’t you think?

Avoid putting a thermometer or spoon in the milk. Do not stir.  I give the bowl a gentle shake or tilt to check if the milk has set up. Once you stir it or pour it into a strainer, incubation is over.

If your yogurt has not set up after 8-10 hours, you could try adding more starter and putting it back in the oven.  This works sometimes but not always. Worth a try.

#4

Is it really necessary to heat the milk to 175-180 degrees since it has been pasteurized already?

If I could make yogurt without heating the milk before incubation, it would save time and I would be the first in line. 

In response to a reader’s question, I tried two batches equal in every way except for the heating-then cooling process.

In the end, they both got thick but the milk heated to 180 degrees produced a thicker yogurt which is my ultimate goal. Looks like I will continue to heat just below boiling and then allow to cool back down below 120 degrees F.

You can read a more scientific explanation here.

#5

I didn’t add dry milk solids or gelatin. Would it be thicker if I did?

Mine gets plenty thick without it. Early on in my yogurt adventure, I forgot to add dry milk a few times. I discovered I liked the texture better.  It’s cleaner and smoother–not pasty. As for the gelatin, it’s not necessary.

If you want it thicker, try straining it.

#6

Some people say I can’t make yogurt with non-fat milk. True?

No.  Yogurt can be made successfully with non-fat, 1%, 2%, and whole milk. Some people even use powdered milk. I have never tried that myself.

Also, you can make yogurt with pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized milk. I’ve done it many times.

#7

The texture is not what I was expecting after I strained my yogurt.

Is it grainy?

comparing texture

If so, my research suggests several possibilities: Did you accidentally let the milk boil? Did your yogurt have any additives? See this post about grainy yogurt for more on the subject.

A Note About Yogurt Texture

In the beginning, most of us have expectations based on what we buy at the grocery store. Many commercial products have additives we have become used to and are impossible to duplicate at home. And anyway, do we really want to?

If you make your own yogurt very much, you will soon be addicted to fresh, unadulterated and customizable yogurt.

#8

One last thing–what’s up with the skin on top of my milk as it cools?

My best answer to this “problem” is to loosely cover the heated milk as it cools.  It prolongs the cooling process a bit but requires no extra hands-on time. Personally, I don’t cover it. I just wait until the yogurt is cooled, then remove the skin quickly with a flat spatula before adding the starter.

If you haven’t seen my video about making Greek yogurt, you can check it out here.


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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: paula at saladinajar.com.

Thank you for visiting!
Paula

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Neville

Sunday 13th of December 2020

Just found your blog after just starting to make yogurt at home. I have been making cheese for several years but not yogurt. I have having fairly good success but finding the after chilling, I have thicker yogurt at the top of the jar and then its thinner at the bottom. I am using 1L mason jars (two at a time), and incubate in a sous vide at 105-109 (still fine tuning). I typically use store bought whole milk, heat the milk to 180, chill to 110, then use 1/8tsp of a freeze dried starter and incubate for 8 hours.

Paula

Sunday 13th of December 2020

Hi Neville, Glad you found my website. Sounds like you have a good system set up to make excellent yogurt. The only question I have is about your starter. Is it a "one-use" starter or the traditional kind that can be re-used? Another question: Have you tried incubating for less than 8 hours? Maybe 5 or 6? If you have a healthy starter, you probably don't need 8 hours unless you like your yogurt to be more on the sour side. Let me know the answers to these questions and I'll dig a little deeper. BTW, your milk is pasteurized. Right?

Daniela

Tuesday 27th of October 2020

I forgot to turn off the yogurt maker it cooked for 16 hours instead of 9 hours is the yogurt ok to eat?

Paula

Tuesday 27th of October 2020

Hi Daniela,

So glad you asked. It is most likely OK. If it still smells good and you don't see any mold (highly unlikely) go ahead and chill it.

Jeremiah

Saturday 19th of September 2020

Hi, I was wondering what company you buy you yogurt starter from? I just purchased Natrens yogurt starter for the first time and it made a wonderful thick and smooth first batch. Also, I made my first batch with 2 quarts of whole organic milk, and 1 tsp of Natrens yogurt starter. How much of the yogurt from my first batch do I use to to start my second batch? I am looking for a nice thick and smooth yogurt. Thank you

Paula

Saturday 19th of September 2020

I used the Greek yogurt starter from Cultures for Health. My first batch was kinda thin. They warned me about that. Successive batches were fabulous. Here's an article I wrote about the amount of starter needed

For two quarts, I use a generous tablespoon or 2 of my own yogurt. You could use up to a 1/4 cup if you want your yogurt to set faster. Too much starter will cause the little yogurt bodies to be too crowded and run out of food, especially if you let them dine all night or all day.

Laura

Thursday 21st of May 2020

I have made yogurt in my instant pot twice with a lot of success. I don’t have the yogurt setting but used a thermometer and then incubated in the instant pot with the lid on. The last 2 times I’ve tried my yogurt did not set. I used a stater from the store. How do I know if my temperature or the starter was the problem. I’m wondering if I can reuse this milk with a better starter.

Paula

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Hi Laura, Frustrating, right? I suspect it's a temperature issue if your starter was fresh. Is the Instant Pot on at all or are you just depending on residual heat to keep it warm? The last time I incubated with my own Instant Pot on the yogurt setting, it was taking forever to set. So I checked the temperature of the milk and it was only 95˚F. It needs to be warmer. I'm telling you this just to suggest you check the temperature of the milk if it hasn't set in 5 or 6 hours. Incubation temperatures should be around 100-105˚F.

As far as re-using the milk. If it still smells fine, try again. I wrote a post about failed yogurt that you might find interesting. Good luck with your next batch.

Felix Nicholson

Saturday 16th of May 2020

Hi Paula,

I'm glad to have found this site, your information and tips are very interesting and useful!

I did try to look through all the comments to see if my question had been answered already, but there are so many!

Anyway, here goes: I have been experimenting with making my own strained yoghurt over the last few weeks, following a traditional Asian recipe which is to boil the milk first then cool it, etc. I'm putting it on top of a storage heater to incubate so there's a bit of trial and error which is fine. I generally use low-fat milk which is what I have at home. I have noticed that it's producing more and more whey to yoghurt ratio, I'm wondering if that could be due to the type of milk? Have you come across this?

Thanks in advance!

Regards,

Felix.

Paula

Saturday 16th of May 2020

Hi Felix, So nice to hear from you. The type of milk you use has a huge bearing on the amount of whey you get. Also, the longer you incubate and the higher the temperature, the more whey you will get. Another factor is how much "starter" you use. Some people use way too much, resulting in a lot of whey.

In my experience, if all these factors are equal, cheap milk from the grocery store releases the most whey. The less fat the milk contains, the more whey you will get. Also, ultra-pasteurized milk (which includes most organic milk) does not release quite as much whey, nor does it get quite as thick. These are just my observations--not based on scientific testing.

Felix Nicholson

Saturday 16th of May 2020

Hi there, I just read through ALL the comments and more or less got my answer - basically I'm getting half and half, using a cheap own-brand type milk. I'll keep experimenting! Great to read all the tips!