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5 Things You Should Not Do When Making Homemade Yogurt

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Sneak Preview: Read about these five common homemade yogurt problems and mistakes often made by beginners.

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.

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.

an empty jar of yogurt

#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.”


#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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Read 5 Things You Should Not Do When Making Homemade Yogurt before you try it at home (or after if things didn't go right.)

If you have any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.

Hope to see you again soon!
Paula


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