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Can My Failed Yogurt Be Saved?

Sneak Preview: If you tried making yogurt at home, but it didn’t set, here are some ideas for what to do next. Don’t throw your milk out until you read this.

Have you just discovered your yogurt project still looks like milk? So now you’re asking yourself what to do next. Right?

DON’T THROW IT OUT JUST YET!

Failed Homemade Yogurt

Oh, the disappointment and anguish over wasting money on milk, not to mention your time.

I can’t count how many times I get desperate emails seeking to recover and make good yogurt from the same batch of milk or recycle the non-yogurt-milk into something entirely different.

You are not alone!

The answer to these questions can go in several ways. If you know why your yogurt failed, you have a good chance at success if you try again with the same batch.

Was your incubation temperature too high or too low? Was your starter too old or dead? Check out my yogurt trouble-shooting post if you aren’t sure.

But what if you don’t know what you did wrong, and do everything the same way again? As the old saying goes, you can probably expect the same poor results. 

Here are some suggestions based on my own experience:

4 steps to possible yogurt recovery

#1

 Does the milk smell bad? 

If so, throw it out — no need to ask any more questions.

If the milk still smells OK and you aren’t feeding it to anybody who is immunocompromised such as the very young, the very old, or very ill, then proceed to the next step.

Related Post: Five Things You Should Not Do When Making Homemade Yogurt

#2 

Reheat milk to 100˚ F 

We are assuming you heated the milk to 175˚ F the first time around, and then, let it cool back to 100-110˚ F. DO NOT reheat a second time to 175˚F.

If your milk has cooled down to room temperature, you may need to warm it back to 100˚F. BE VERY CAUTIOUS not to let the milk go above 110˚ F. If you accidentally overheat the milk and it separates or clabbers, you’ve just made fresh ricotta. KEEP READING for what to do next if this happens to you.

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    #3

    Add a new starter.

    If you suspect the original starter was the cause of your fail, try a different starter. Make sure the new starter is fresh and contains no additives.

    #4

    Re-incubate per my original instructions for making yogurt.

    Start with the incubation step. No need to reheat the milk to 180˚F.

    See the video in this post for instructions for making yogurt from beginning to end if you prefer pictures to words.

    Option #2 for failed yogurt that still smells good but looks like milk

    Make fresh ricotta cheese from failed yogurt

    IF you are sure you remembered to add “starter,” you could try this idea. I accidentally discovered it when I had a “yogurt fail” myself recently.

    In step #2 above, I was heating the milk back to 100˚ F in the microwave. But somehow, the milk was warmer than I thought. In no time at all, the milk started boiling (and popping).

    Overheating milk that contains a starter will cause it to curdle and separate. Adding the starter irrevocably changes the pH.

    Don’t panic! Here’s what you can do:

    Grab a slotted spoon and start dipping out the curds into a cheesecloth or coffee-filter-lined colander. This will drain most of the whey off. Only the curds will be left behind.

    Season the ricotta cheese with a pinch of salt, and refrigerate it. Your reward will be fresh ricotta cheese perfect for lasagna or most any other ricotta recipe. Use immediately or freeze it for the next time you make lasagna soup.

    For more information and pictures of the process, see my post on making ricotta cheese.

    Why did my yogurt fail?

    #1

    Did you remember to add the starter?

    I’ve had several failures through the years, mostly due to my forgetfulness.

    For example, I heated three batches of milk (2 quarts each) last night. As usual, I set them on the counter to cool down to approximately 110˚ F.

    Later in the evening, I went to bed without thinking about the milk again until I awoke at 6:00 this morning. As I lay in bed, it hit me that I forgot to add the “starter” and put the milk into the oven to incubate.

    Throwing out all that milk was unthinkable. It didn’t smell bad, so I heated the milk to 100 degrees, added a little more starter, and incubated as usual. Five hours later, I had perfect yogurt.

    #2

    Was the starter compromised?

    Was your starter fresh? The fresher the better. When older than 10 days, your chances for good yogurt decreases in a hurry.

    Is it possible you killed the yogurt because your milk was too hot when you added the starter? Use a thermometer if you aren’t sure.

    #3

    Does your incubation system maintain the correct temperature?

    Another scenario I often hear about is forgetting to turn on the heat for your incubation “system.” Again, if the milk still smells OK, reheat milk mixture to 100˚ F. Turn on your heat source for incubation and give the milk a few more hours to make yogurt.

    If your system doesn’t include a built-in thermostat, you might want to double-check it. Is it holding the temperature where it needs to be the entire incubation time?

    #4

    Is your yogurt too thin?

    Perhaps your “fail” could be better described as drinkable yogurt. As long as it smells good, you could try again.

    Perhaps it just needs to incubate longer. Keep incubating. Bear in mind that once you stir or jostle the milk-plus-starter, you will have to start over again with a new starter.

    There are many ways to make yogurt thicker with additives and techniques done before incubation. However, the easiest way to make a batch of completed yogurt thicker is to strain it.

    Unfortunately, if your yogurt is very thin, it won’t strain very well. Instead, it will pour right through your lined strainer. I would try again with more starter.

    If you don’t want to re-incubate, my recommendation is to use the yogurt-milk as is, even if it’s not what you originally planned. Try it in smoothies. Substitute it for buttermilk in baked goods such as these cinnamon biscuits. Or make ricotta cheese as described above.

    As one of my readers once told me, “The yogurt gods can be fickle.” Whenever you’re dealing with a live organism, the results can be unpredictable.

    But don’t be discouraged.

    The more experience you have, the fewer failures you will experience.


     


    What else would you like to read about homemade yogurt?

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      Paula

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

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      annemarie

      Saturday 28th of November 2020

      Hi Today I tried to make yogurt (first time ever) in my slow cooker. I followed the directions I found. 1/2 gallon milk (I used 2%) heated on the 'low' setting for 2 1/2 hours, then kept on warm for 3 hours. Then I mixed 1/2 cup of bulgarian yogurt I had in the fridge with 2 cups of the warm milk and put back in the slow cooker. Wrapped a towel around the cooker and left it closed up and unplugged. 8 hours later, it was still liquid like milk. I hadn't checked the temperature, and didn't think that it had 'scalded' the milk like is required. So I heated it back up to 180 degrees (for which I had to turn the cooker up to 'high' for about 20 minutes. Then I kept it at warm for 4 hours, and then added in another 1/2 cup yogurt and left unplugged and closed up. Now it's like curdled milk, a little sour, with some 'clabber' or when floating in it. I put it in the fridge to see if it hardens. Any tips for next try?

      Paula

      Sunday 29th of November 2020

      Hi Annemarie,

      Isn't that frustrating? I know the feeling. This probably won't make you feel any better, but I think making yogurt with a slow cooker is the hardest method and is least likely to succeed. If you don't have an instant-read thermometer, make that the first thing on your list before you try again. You can get one for around $12 here. You can make some really good ricotta cheese with your failed batch. Directions are in the post you came from. Once your yogurt project clabbers, there's no going back.

      The temperature ranges of different brands of slow cookers can be all over the place. Also, the older your appliance, the less likely it is to cook at a steady temperature. Put some water in there and heat it for a couple of hours. Then test it. I suspect your milk was not kept at a steady 100-110˚F for the entire 8 hours.

      Sidenote: 1/2 cup of starter is a lot for a half-gallon of milk. The little yogurt bodies run out of food because there are too many of them. I only use 1-2 tablespoons. See this post for more information about the starter.

      If you heat the milk up to 175-180˚F, cool it back to 100˚F, add your starter, then keep the milk mixture at a steady 100-110˚F, you should have yogurt in 5 hours. When your temperature is not steady, it will take longer and maybe never.

      One last hint, Anne-Marie: you might want to start with only a quart of milk until you have success (now that I think about it, that might be hard to do if your slow cooker is big)

      Please write back and let me know how your second batch goes. Once you get this figured out, you are going to be so happy. We'll keep working until you have success.

      Vicki

      Monday 20th of July 2020

      When I made my yogurt in my instant pot my milk cooled below 100 I still added the yogurt and let it cook on yogurt setting for 8 hours is it still okay to eat even if I added yogurt below the 110 temperature?

      Paula

      Tuesday 21st of July 2020

      Hi Vicki,

      The first question is: Does it still smell good? If so, I would eat it. If you see any mold, throw it out, but I doubt if you will. The main thing that happens when the milk falls below 100˚F is that it just takes a little longer for the yogurt to make because it has to come back up to temperature before the little yogurt bodies get busy. I've had it happen to me MANY times with no consequences whatsoever.

      Mary Ann Shaffer

      Wednesday 17th of June 2020

      I recently started making Greek yogurt but I hate throwing out the whey. Then I started to wonder: I've read that the whey is healthy and good for you, so why bother making Greek yogurt. If I just use the yogurt and stop straining it to make Greek yogurt I am using the whey too..but so many articles support eating Greek yogurt. Am I missing something?

      Paula

      Wednesday 17th of June 2020

      Hi Mary Ann,

      Interesting question. In my opinion, it's a matter of how you like your yogurt. Some people like theirs thick, like me. I much prefer the richness and creaminess of Greek yogurt. The ratio of calories to protein is better, too. On the other hand, a lot of people don't mind the flavor of the whey left in their yogurt or stirred back in. Sounds like you might be one of those. If you like regular yogurt, it seems like the only thing you are missing out on is the extra step it takes to strain your yogurt.

      JULIE BAKER

      Wednesday 15th of April 2020

      Thank you so much! My yogurt failed and this post was exactly what I was hoping to find.

      Terri

      Saturday 11th of April 2020

      Hi Paula! I'm so glad I found your post! I attempted to make yogurt today in my instant pot. It was a fail but I am hoping I can still salvage it. After 12 hours of incubating, it still looked like milk. I did a bit of research and realized that although I set my milk in the instant pot to "boil", my instant pot probably did not reach 180 degrees. So, I used the failed yogurt and set it to boil a couple of times until the temp reached 180 degrees. The yogurt now looks curdled. There's a lot of liquid and large chunks of curd. I decided to whisk it (now there's little balls) I waited until it cooled to 116 degrees and added a fresh starter and then put it into the instant pot to incubate. I will have to see what it looks like in the morning. Do you think it will be safe to eat since it has been out for so long? (it had starter in it the entire time and it smells ok). Thanks!

      Paula

      Sunday 12th of April 2020

      Hi Terri,

      I'm sorry about your yogurt. Always a disappointment. If it smells OK, I would eat it. Next time, make sure the temperature cools down to below 110˚F. 116 degrees is still a little warm and leaves you with no room for error. When the yogurt has LOTS of liquid and appears curdled, you may have used too much starter and/or let it incubate too long. At this point, I would drain most of the liquid off and whip it with an immersion blender or a whisk. If all also fails, drain ALL the liquid off, add a pinch of salt and enjoy your fresh ricotta cheese.