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My Homemade Yogurt Didn’t Set. What Can I Do?

Sneak Preview: If your homemade yogurt didn’t set, here are some ideas for what to do next. Don’t throw your milk out yet!

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

DON’T GIVE UP JUST YET!

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

Failed Homemade Yogurt

I can’t count how often 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. First, if you know why your yogurt failed, you have a good chance of 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.

yogurt course

#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 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 process will drain most of the whey off. After that, 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, primarily due to my forgetfulness.

For example, I heated three batches of milk (2 quarts each) last night. Then, 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. But, 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 ten days, your chances for good yogurt decrease 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 the 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. For example, is it holding the temperature where it needs throughout the entire incubation period?


#4

Is your yogurt too thin?

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

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

There are many ways to make the yogurt thicker before incubation with additives and techniques. 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. If this is your situation, try again with more starter.

If you don’t want to re-incubate, I recommend using 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.

Please 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?

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

Hope to see you again soon!
Paula

Shirley

Wednesday 8th of September 2021

The number 1 reason my yogurt wasn't setting was because i would move it, I have found that yogurt likes to be left alone, do not move or jiggle it. I have had 3 complete failures where the yogurt was completely runny and on each occasion i had either jiggled or checked and mixed the yogurt. Since iv discovered the problem iv had great success making nice thick yogurt.

Paula

Thursday 9th of September 2021

Hi Shirley,

Thanks for writing and verifying one of the first things I learned when making yogurt. This quote comes from one of my most popular posts: "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."

deborahnicole

Tuesday 31st of August 2021

TLDR: crock pot method always works great for me, keep track of your temps and times so you know for next time. (ie. write. it. down)

I'd like to share my latest adventure with yogurt. I haven't made it for a while but I made some last week from a gallon of whole milk (in my crockpot- fit all but about 2 cups).

Now, I super paid attention to the timings and temperature of the milk, after cooling and adding 2T of store bought greek yogurt as a starter I wrapped my crockpot (with lid) with a towel and put it in it's insulated carrier inside the oven with the light on. I cultured for exactly 12 hours, it was slightly tangy, (but I would try to double my culture time for more tartness) I put up half as it was and strained the rest for greek yogurt; me and 6 kids ate it all in 2 days with granola.

Current batch: I decided to make it in my 10qt pressure cooker (so I could fit the whole gallon plus the 2 cups leftover- we can't drink cow's milk) on slow cook setting to heat. Boy oh boy- I forgot to pay attention to all the steps (remember those 6 kids?). after heating, it got too hot- about 190, removed the lid and covered with a tea towel, got too cool about 90, didn't reheat to 110, took out a few cups, added my 2-4 T of store bought greek yogurt leftover from the first batch starter, mixed it in and turned the heat back on "for five minutes" to warm it and hold warm. OF COURSE I forgot to turn it off, middle of the night ran to check it, it was back to about 190 with a skin on top, should have but didn't skim. mid morning milk was too cool again but I added about a cup of warmed whey, put the lid on pot and put it in the oven with the light on. some time later evening I remembered my yogurt, it was not firming up but at this point what do I have to lose? I let it culture for another 8 hours, et voila, it is yogurt. I was a little scared but I smelled, and tasted and tasted again and nothing in my senses is warning me that this is not ok. so have I rescued my $2.71? So far my belly says yes. So I guess yogurt can be forgiving but so much easier to do it right the first time.

Paula

Wednesday 1st of September 2021

This is a fabulous story, Deborah. I love that you took the time to tell the whole story. Maybe it will give hope to others who think there is no way to save it. I also like the way you depend on your senses to warn you. Smelling, tasting, and seeing is invaluable when it comes to making yogurt.

Emma

Tuesday 11th of May 2021

My yogurt cultured for 12 hours at about 110 degrees, but then I forgot about it and left it in there for another eleven hours. When I checked it at the end of the 23 hours, it had cooled to 80°. Is the yogurt still okay to eat?

Paula

Wednesday 12th of May 2021

Hi Emma,

If it smells OK, it's probably fine. Hopefully, you put it in the fridge.

Quincy

Saturday 6th of March 2021

Thank you so much!! I am on my second attempt of trying to make yogurt and haven't had luck yet either time...I am trying to re-incubate it right now, I really hope it works this time! I don't want to have to throw out all of that milk. Thank you so much for your troubleshooting article!! Your website is amazing!

Paula

Saturday 6th of March 2021

Thanks for your kind words, Quincy. If you need help, feel free to reach out again.

Tina

Sunday 21st of February 2021

First, thank you so much for your website and willingness to share your expertise. I've recently begun making goat's milk yogurt in my Ninja Foodi from a recipe I found online. My first three batches turned out great and the yogurt is delish. My fourth and fifth batches failed and I can't figure out what went wrong.

The directions call for warming the milk to 181 but not more than 200 (I have glass candy thermometer so I'm not sure of the exact temperature so I could have gone over 200)

Next step is to cool to 110 and add the starter. I've been using plain, unsweetened So Delicious coconut yogurt with active cultures. I used this for my first three batches. The recipe calls for 1/4 cut per half gallon of milk. I don't think the store-bought yogurt was old but I didn't check the expiration date so I guess that's a possibility.

Then the directions say to cover the pot with foil and put it back into the cooker on dehydrate for 8 hours at 180 with the lid closed. When the time is up I do need to carry the pot to the basement to refrigerate and I've read that giggling the pot can upset the product but again my first three tries were perfect.

With my first failed batch I tried turning it into ricotta but that didn't work. I heated it over 200 on the stovetop using my glass thermometer and it never curdled. Frustrated but unwilling to give up (because goat milk is almost $9 a half gallon) I put it in a pitcher and popped it into the freezer. Again, I'm wondering it the starter was bad.

The next failed batch was more like Kiefer. It had a large amount of milk on the top and a thin layer of almost-yogurt on the bottom. Again these last two batches came from the same band of milk, Meyenberg ultra pasteurized goat's milk and the same tub of starter albeit I had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get almost the last 1/4 cup for the final batch.

I divided this last failed batch into two pitchers and froze them because I was leaving town for the weekend and again didn't want to dump nine bucks down the drain.

I apologize for this lengthy message and hope I've given you some clues as to why my batches failed. I hope I can salvage what's in my freezer and have the confidence to try again with fresh ingredients.

Many thanks for your help and wonderful website :)

Tina

Monday 22nd of February 2021

@Paula,

Thank you so much for your quick reply to my dilemma. Yes my recipe indeed calls for the ninja foodie to be set at 180 on the dehydration mode. I found the recipe at thesaltedpepper.com and it worked like a dream the first three times using all the same ingredients and directions.

By coconut yogurt I mean it was non dairy, made from coconut milk. It is unflavored, plain, no sweetener added. Since I couldn’t make ricotta either I’m wondering if the yogurt was old when I bought it which was recent. We avoid A1 casein so I didn’t want to contaminate my A2 goat milk with cow milk starter.

The goat milk yogurt, which I strained and got a big mason jar of whey from was amazing both before straining and after, we like it think and tart. Discovered adding a dollop to a bowl of chili is to die for.

Now that I have a 18 dollars worth of frozen heated milk in my deep freeze I want to try to salvage it. If I add acid how much per quart. I can use lemon, vinegar, or whey from a previous batch of homemade. I’d love to get ricotta if the milk is beyond yogurt.

I’m hoping freezing was the right call since I didn’t have the time to mess with it after the failure.

Thank you so much for your time and support

Paula

Sunday 21st of February 2021

Hi Tina,

I can hear the frustration in your words. I'm so sorry. A couple of things jump out at me. Maybe I'm reading it wrong.

1. Incubating yogurt at 180˚F is way too high. The temperature should be between 100˚ to 110˚F. That will kill the yogurt bodies for sure. Is that what you really did?

2. Are you saying you used the same coconut yogurt for all of the batches? It's always better to use unflavored yogurt for starter if you can. By coconut yogurt, do you mean coconut-flavored or yogurt made with coconut milk? I try to use yogurt that's no more than 7-10 days old for the best results. Much older and the little yogurt bodies start to get weak and/or die off.

3. Regarding the ricotta, the fact that your milk didn't curdle indicates that there was not enough acid present. It sounds like your starter might be too old. You could add lemon juice or vinegar and it will surely curdle as it starts to boil.

4. I have never tried to make goat yogurt so I'm not really an expert on the subject. I know it is usually thinner than yogurt made with cow's milk. Also, ultra-pasteurized cow's milk can be difficult to make yogurt with because all the bacteria has been completely killed off. I'm wondering if it's the same way with ultra-pasterurized goat's milk.

Is any of this helpful? If not, write back and we'll dig deeper.