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5 Things You Should Not Do When Making Homemade Yogurt

Sneak Preview: Read this beginner’s guide for avoiding five common homemade yogurt problems and mistakes.

Making yogurt is a team project in the same way a farmer works the ground, plants the seed, then prays for a good crop. You don’t have complete control. Your role is to set up the banquet hall correctly and provide the food.

When dinner is ready, the little yogurt bodies are escorted in to dine and procreate. If they’re not in the mood because they don’t like the temperature, the menu, or they are simply too old for such foolishness, they will either croak or go to sleep.

The result? Milk.

When, not if, that happens, don’t let the disappointment discourage you. Nearly all yogurt makers have experienced it, including me.

an empty jar of yogurt

This is not a comprehensive guide to making yogurt or a troubleshooting manual. Rather, these are lessons I have learned from over 11 years of experience with homemade yogurt problems.

If you’ve already run into trouble or need help with the details, be sure to check out the related information linked for your convenience at the end of this article or shoot me a question in the comments.


#1 

Don’t be overly anxious.

picture of frustrated child

Readers often report having sleepless nights in anticipation of a successful batch of yogurt. It’s understandable. 

I remember how exciting the first attempt can be. However, waking up to check on your incubating yogurt like it was a sick child with a fever is not necessary.

Resist checking your incubating yogurt every 30 minutes to see if it’s “done” yet. Jostling or moving the bowl will most likely spoil the process.

After 5-6 hours, it is OK to shake the bowl ever so gently. Watch for a gelatin-like jiggle.

If a slight shake causes a splash (of the milk, not just the clear liquid sitting on top), apologize for interrupting. Excuse yourself for another hour or two while the yogurt bacteria continue to multiply.

Along the same line, NEVER STIR or disturb your incubating yogurt before it has set. Pouring it into a strainer or another container stops the incubation process. You have no choice but to use it as is or try again with more “starter.”

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    #2

    Don’t use slightly old milk.

    Using slightly old milk to make yogurt is not a suitable way to salvage it. The fresher the milk, the better the taste. The finished yogurt will also last longer.

    Normally, you can keep homemade yogurt in the fridge for at least two weeks. Please note that if you plan to use your homemade yogurt to start another batch, it should not be older than 7-10 days for the best results.

    #3

    Don’t incubate yogurt in your oven right after using it for baking dinner.

    yogurt incubating in an oven

    Doing so can lead to the mass murder of yogurt microbes and the sudden cancellation of your yogurt project. You might be surprised how long it takes a 400˚F oven to cool down to 100˚F.

    If you have a double oven, it may be safe to use the second oven depending on how well your oven is insulated.

    By the way, if this happens, read this post about how to salvage a batch of unsuccessful yogurt.

    #4

    Don’t skip the heating process just because you are using pasteurized milk.

    heating milk in the microwave
    Yes, you can heat your milk in a microwave. No scorching. No stirring. No worries.

    I don’t completely understand the chemistry. Nevertheless, heating milk to 175-180˚F rearranges the proteins in a way that is beneficial to yogurt bacteria. The heating process is not primarily to kill bacteria in the milk as some would suggest.

    Skipping this step will result in thinner yogurt more suitable for drinking.

    If you really don’t want to heat your milk, try this cold-start process for making yogurt. It is much easier.

    #5

    Don’t eat every last drop of your precious homemade yogurt.

    I know it’s hard to stop. But save a few tablespoons to use as a starter for your next batch. Do it before you add any flavoring or sweeteners. Hide it behind the broccoli so nobody will eat it.

    Usually, you can make 3-4 batches before you need to start over with store-bought yogurt. Traditional yogurt starters can be purchased online that are re-usable for a much longer time.

    Read more about yogurt starters for homemade yogurt here.

    Are you looking to tweak your method of making Greek yogurt? Don’t miss my video showing one way to do it.

    Bonus tip:

    Can I freeze yogurt to use as a starter for my next batch?

    Go right now and put about 1/4 cup of your (unflavored) freshest homemade yogurt in a small plastic container. Place it in your freezer and save it for a rainy day.

    saving your homemade yogurt to make next batch

    Think of this frozen yogurt as an insurance starter for the day you forget and accidentally eat the last of your yogurt, go on vacation or you just need a break but don’t want to give up the idea forever.

    comparison of yogurt made from fresh starter to yogurt made with frozen starter

    I tried it several times and could not tell the difference between using my three-day-old homemade yogurt as a starter and homemade yogurt stored in the freezer for three months.

    Admittedly, I have not done extensive testing to know how LONG one can keep it in the freezer. It should save at least three months according to my experience. (Update: Throw it out after 3 months.)

    If you have a cautionary tale gleaned from your own yogurt-making experience, I would love to hear about it.


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      Hope to see you again soon!
      Paula

      p.s. Questions or suggestions? Email me: paula at saladinajar.com.


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      Criss

      Sunday 15th of November 2020

      I have made yougurt for a long time and like to use a container that brings the liquid withing 1/2- 1" of the top. After incubation and before refrigerating, I place a couple of layers of paper towel on the top with the end hanging over one side. I put it in the refrigerator and put a small loaf pan under the overhanging end. The paper towel wicks the liquid from the yogurt. The longer you leave it, the more whey you will have, but you need to make sure that the end of the paper towel is NOT touching the liquid. Sometimes, I will remove the paper towel and add new ones depending on how thick I want my yogurt. This makes a nice thick consistency without straining, whick I find a bit messy. Remove the towel, squeeze the liquid out and toss. I save the whey that collects in the little pan.

      Criss

      Monday 16th of November 2020

      @Paula, Normally, overnight is long enough, but sometimes I swap out the towels and let it sit in the refrigeratorfor longer, but I like my yogurt quite thick. I've thought about trying a cloth towel or cheesecloth.

      Paula

      Sunday 15th of November 2020

      Hi Criss,

      Thanks for writing. I've heard of this technique before. It wouldn't be for me, but it might be perfect for others so I'm glad you took the time to share. I'm curious as to how long it takes to get yogurt that is as thick as you like.

      Louise

      Thursday 22nd of October 2020

      Hi. I have been making successful yogurt for years but this was my first time trying it with fresh whey after I read your post. It turned out great. Now I have a full jar of fresh whey after straining but I’m not ready to make more yogurt. Will the whey work as a starter after freezing? How long will it keep as a starter in the fridge? I used the cold start method in the Instant Pot.

      Louise

      Friday 23rd of October 2020

      @Paula, Thank you for the speedy response. I’m in my 80’s and only make yogurt for myself about every two weeks. I’ll freeze a cup of fresh whey and try it. If it doesn’t work I’ll do it over adding freeze dried starter. I’ll let you know the result.

      Paula

      Friday 23rd of October 2020

      Hi Louise,

      Great to hear from you!

      Sounds like you are a pro-yogurt-maker. I treat whey like yogurt when it comes to using it as a starter. It makes the best yogurt within 7-10 days. Beyond that time is dicey. There may or may not be enough active yogurt bacteria to make a good batch. I have never frozen whey. But I don't know why you couldn't. Great idea. However, I have so much whey on hand at any one time, that I can't imagine using precious freezer space for that. If you try it, I would love to know how it works for you.

      Davina Melinger

      Sunday 18th of October 2020

      Hi I am a newbie to yoghurt making. The first batch worked well using UHT milk. I used this for the starter in my next batch. For this one, I used fresh milk and it was great. Until day 3. It was disgusting! It tasted off and had curdled. I am not sure where it went wrong? I didn't strain it (nor the first one.

      I was smart enough to freeze someone th first batch just in case. Do I need it to defrost firat?

      Please help! My 18 month old loves her yoghurt! Thank you

      Paula

      Sunday 18th of October 2020

      Hi Davina,

      Sorry about the disgusting yogurt. Question: What do you mean by fresh milk? How fresh? Was it pasteurized? Did you heat it to 175-180˚F first, then let it cool back down to 100˚F before adding the starter?

      You don't have to defrost the yogurt starter first, but I would so it won't cool down your milk too much when you add it. Just make sure that your milk has cooled back to 100-110˚F before you add it or the excess heat will kill all the yogurt babies.

      Write back if you still have questions and we can try to troubleshoot more.

      gay

      Sunday 21st of June 2020

      Hi I have been making yogurt for years in my donvier yogurt maker with no problems. The last few batches have developed this horrible mold on the to after a short time in the fridge. I cant figur out why, I am not doing anything differently than I have always done. any suggestions?

      Paula

      Sunday 21st of June 2020

      Hi Gay,

      I have not used a Donvier yogurt maker, but I love my Donvier Ice Cream Freezer.

      Is it possible the thermostat is malfunctioning on your yogurt maker? Maybe you could check with a thermometer. What are you using for a starter? Have you tried using something different than your usual starter to see what the results are? Is your milk really fresh? I'm grasping for straws here since you didn't give a lot of details. Hope this helps.

      Steph

      Saturday 25th of April 2020

      Hi Paula, Two questions. Last time I made yogurt the consistency was a bit slimy, the taste was fine, not very sour. since we used it for smoothies we just ate it. Why could this have been? The only difference was that this time I used Greek yogurt instead of normal natural yogurt. The second Q is, what is the reason of the "do not use metal spoons"? I forgot and I did it last night. Going to check the yogurt in a couple of hours... Thanks, Steph ?

      Paula

      Saturday 25th of April 2020

      Hi Steph,

      So glad you wrote. I'll start with the second question. I'm not sure where you heard the idea not to use metal spoons. I use them ALL the time. Also metal whisks. Maybe an old wives' tale?

      About the slimy consistency: I wrote a whole post about slimy yogurt. Greek yogurt is the same as normal natural yogurt with a little or a lot less whey. That's the only difference. You can use Greek yogurt, regular yogurt, or even whey, to make new yogurt. However, natural wild yeast can easily come into the picture and mess things up. No fault of yours. Go read that article. I think it will clear up some things for you. It will also tell you how to strengthen your defenses against wild yeast by using traditional freeze-dried starter. Happy yogurt-eating. p.s. You did the right thing to use a different starter the second time. I'm guessing your yogurt turned out fine.