Homemade Yogurt: Problem Solving

Yogurt didn’t set

Ideally the yogurt should set between 6-12 hours. If after 24 hours your yogurt still hasn’t set (i.e. it’s still milk consistency), the cultures are most likely alive and well. Take a small amount of unset yogurt and reculture. You can even find a use for the remaining non-set highly probiotic yogurt.

Likely causes

  • Room temperature too cool (move to a warmer place such as an oven with the light on)
  • Too little starter culture (especially in the winter, you may need more starter)
  • Old milk (buy new milk and/or keep milk in a colder section of the refrigerator)
  • Unhealthy culture (obtain new culture or revive culture)

If my yogurt has been out all night, and not set by morning (and I am in a hurry to have yogurt and I think the problem is simply not enough time or too little starter culture), I turn my oven on to 170. When it reaches 170, I turn it off and put my yogurt in. Usually within the hour I have set yogurt.

Yogurt separated

If you have curds (white portion) and whey (clear-yellowish liquid), your yogurt separated. The cultures are very alive. The curds are sweeter, the whey more bitter. Either (or both) may be used to start another cycle.

To reculture, I usually stir together the curds and whey, and then take a tablespoon of the overripe ferment and add it to new milk. You don’t need to throw out the remaining separated yogurt. Strain it over a bowl. The remaining yogurt cheese (curds) will have a fine flavor.

Likely causes

  • Old milk
  • Fermented too long
  • Too much starter culture used
  • Unhealthy culture (obtain new culture or revive culture)

Yogurt too lumpy

Refrigeration may smooth out the yogurt some. If necessary whisk gently for 10 to 20 seconds just before serving.

Likely causes

  • Starter is lumpy (before adding it to the milk, whisk it well to remove lumps)
  • Not stirring the starter in well (next time try mixing the starter with a little milk before adding it to the big bowl of milk)
  • Old milk
  • Over fermentation, but not to the point of separation
  • Erratic temperatures

Options for thicker yogurt

  • Refrigerate – a few hours in the refrigerator will make the yogurt thicker and smoother
  • Yogurt with low-fat milk will be thin. Make yogurt with whole milk – or – half & half
  • Strain yogurt – see strained yogurt recipe
  • Boil down (concentrate) the milk – before adding culture
  • Set and store yogurt in an unglazed clay pot – this allows for more water evaporation
  • Add 1 t. gelatin – after fermenting
  • Switch to another variety of culture starter – one which produces a thicker yogurt

A new environment

Did you just receive the culture? Probiotics must adapt to changes in their environment. They suffer jet lag! A lag time of a few cycles is usual before the probiotic re-establishes itself to a new environment.


Yogurt, like any living thing, does not like to be stressed. Try your best to figure out the stress and remove it.

Reviving a culture

Usually a yogurt culture is quite forgiving, however, when you are trying to revive a culture, you want to do everything possible to encourage it.

  • A regular fermentation schedule (I usually go to daily)
  • Extra warmth
  • A little more starter culture than usual
  • A wider round bowl than usual (so it can get more oxygen)

If it you haven’t seen a difference after a few cycles, obtain a new culture.

I would love to hear from you.
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