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

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Sneak Preview: If you tried making yogurt at home, but your yogurt 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.

#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?

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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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.

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.