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Easy Homemade Yogurt – with Lots of Tips

The benefits of homemade heirloom yogurt and step-by-step instructions.

Yogurt is ancient. Probably as old as bread and wine, if not older. Almost universally, cultures all over the world used yogurt.

Yogurt is milk which has been transformed by lactic-acid bacteria into a firmer, mildly sour substance. This process is called fermentation.

Benefits of homemade heirloom yogurts

The benefit of this drink [homemade heirloom yogurt] is so great that people who use it daily keep their life force for many years, and delay aging.

Ancient saying from the Caucasus region, south of Russia

The cultures in heirloom yogurts are so strong that you can take a small bit a yogurt, add it to milk, and make more yogurt. You can keep this process going forever.

Compared with store bought, heirloom yogurt has many more varieties of microbes, and the microbes are more numerous and active. Most store bought yogurts I’ve seen contain10-15 strains of microbes (bacteria) and 6-10 billion CFUs, colony forming units, per cup.

Microbiota analysis of Caspian Sea yogurt, a ropy fermented milk circulated in Japan [2009]

We analyzed the microbiota of domestic ropy fermented milk, Caspian Sea yogurt (or ‘kasupikai yohguruto’ in Japanese), circulated in Japan. We collected six varieties from five localities. Lactococcus (L) lactis ssp. cremoris was isolated from all samples as the dominant strain at levels of 10(8)-10(9) CFU/g. We show this strain produces an extracellular polysaccharide (EPS) that causes the unique characteristic viscosity of the product. From analysis of the RAPD [Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA] pattern of 60 bacterial isolates from the six samples, we found that 59 strains from a total of 60 isolates were identical and produced this viscosity.

PubMed

To make comparisons easier, I converted the above CFU/g to mL/cup.

CSY min CFUsCSY max CFUs
per gram100,000,0001,000,000,000
grams to ml100,000,0001,000,000,000
~237 mL/cup23.7 billion237 billion

Ed Kaspar says his Caspian Sea Yogurt is very similar to Matsoni. Below are impressive Matsoni testing results for the number of strains of bacteria.

Major microbiota of lactic acid bacteria from Matsoni, a traditional Georgian fermented milk  [2007]

A total of 26 samples of Matsoni were collected in Georgia [the country]. From these samples 80 strains of lactic acid cocci and 173 strains of lactobacilli were isolated.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Research done by a Russian biologist Ilia I. Metchnikov (Noble Prize 1908) has suggested that regular consumption of yogurt [heirloom] can help to achieve a longer and healthier life span.

Why aren’t heirloom yogurts available in the stores?

  • They don’t have the shelf life necessary for commercial sale. The microbes are very active, and within a few days, the yogurt starts becoming too sour — even under refrigeration.
  • Commercial sale requires consistency of taste. The numerous microbes in heirloom yogurt interact with their environment and thus flavors vary.

Yogurt vs. milk

  • more nutritious
  • more digestible
  • more complex flavors
  • less lactose (milk sugar)

How much to consume

Homemade heirloom yogurts can be very potent. Start with a small amount of yogurt and gradually increase. Depending on health conditions and pharmaceuticals, the initial amount might be as small as ½ teaspoon/day. Most people can work up to 1-2 cups/day.

Tap into your own wisdom, intuition, and body awareness. Sometimes you will crave a food, and other times your body will tell you that it doesn’t need that food.

Easy ways to consume

  • replace the milk you put on your breakfast cereal
  • add on top of your oatmeal
  • add to a vegetable soup (after it has cooled a bit)
  • dilute with water, add a pinch of salt and drink
  • combine with grains and/or vegetables (e.g. search recipes for yogurt with carrots, beetroots or sweet potatoes)

Recipe

Easy Homemade Yogurt
Take 1 tbsp of yogurt starter, mix it into a cup of milk, and wait about 8 hours — you'll have healthy, delicious yogurt.
Prep Time5 mins
Fermenting Time8 hrs
Total Time8 hrs 5 mins
Course: Yogurt
Cuisine: Global
Keyword: Curd, Dahi, Sour milk, Vegetarian, Yogurt
Servings: 1 cup
Calories: 146kcal
Equipment
  • A container — glass, stainless steel, or unglazed clay bowl
  • Something to loosely cover the container — a paper towel, dish cloth, coffee filter, et.. Secure as necessary (rubber band, elastic hair band, etc.). Do not put a lid on the jar as the starter needs to breathe to culture properly.
  • Spoon or whisk. Stainless, wood, plastic (plastic is fine here since it is not in contact with the ferment for long)
  • If heating milk: 1) heavy bottom pot 2) diffuser/Simmermat (required for clay cookware on electric/glass/ceramic stoves) 3) thermometer (optional)
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp culture starter
  • 1 cup milk use FRESH milk (many culturing issues are a result of old milk). All types of milk work, except ultra-pasteurized (UHT)
Instructions
  • Pasteurize milk – Required for raw milk, optional for pasteurized milk
    Swoosh some water in the pot and pour it out (don't dry the pot)
    Swooshing some water to coat the bottom and sides before adding the milk helps create a layer of separation and thus makes the pot more non-stick. This is especially important if using a clay pot on a gas stove without a diffuser.
    Pour milk into pot & bring to a simmer (~180°F) over low to medium low heat
    If you see simmer bubbles, that is hot enough, and easier than using a thermometer.  You can stir occasionally if you want, but you don't have to. Especially if you're using a low heat, there should be no reason to stir. If you feel milk is sticking to walls of the pot while heating, turn the heat down.
    You can remove the pot from the stove at this point, however, some prefer to simmer the milk for 10-20 minutes. This concentrates the milk a bit and results in a thicker and more flavorful yogurt.
    Do not use a microwave to heat the milk.
    Cool milk
    If you want to cool the milk off quickly, do a high pour and pour the milk back and forth between two containers a few times. This also helps if you are using non-homogenized milk or raw milk (the fat layer will not separate out as much on the yogurt surface)
    The temperature of the milk must be below 115°F. Anything above 115°F will kill bacteria in the starter. A thermometer works, but if you use it, don't let it just sit in the pot. The yogurt will turn out better if it doesn't have prolonged contact with stainless. I prefer "the pinky test" — if you can hold your pinky in the milk for 8 seconds comfortably, then the temperature of the milk is fine. This step could take anywhere from 15-30 minutes.
    If it's winter, try not to let the milk cool all the way down to room temperature. Starting the yogurt culturing process off at 115°F instead of 75°F gives it a bit of a needed boost.
  • Inoculate (add the yogurt culture starter to the milk)
    If you are reculturing an existing yogurt, get the starter from the bottom thickest part of the original yogurt. This is the most probiotic dense part.
    Some inoculate in the same container the milk was heated in. Some transfer to another container for quicker cooling or other reasons.
    Thoroughly mix starter and milk. Ratio: ~1 T. starter/ 1 cup milk. The starter can be added directly to the milk or if you find you are getting a lumpy yogurt product, try this. First make sure your starter is "smooth". If necessary stir it a bit. Then pour a little bit of milk into the starter and mix; then add this mixture to the rest of the milk and briefly stir.
    Some like to set yogurt in a few small bowls instead of one large bowl. When you spoon yogurt from a large bowl, you disturb the yogurt and cause it to break and release whey.
  • Incubate (let it ferment)
    Cover culture. 
    If culture can culture at room temperature, let sit on the counter.
    If culture needs heat, it must be kept between 110°F-115°F.
    Jar must not be disturbed by any jiggling or additional stirring. This reduces firmness.
    Incubation ranges from about 5-12 hours depending on many factors – season, yogurt, heat, amount of starter used. If you keep things consistent, incubation time will be relatively consistent. When nearing the end of the suspected incubation time, check the yogurt every hour by gently tilting the jar gently. If the yogurt moves away from the side of the jar in one mass, it is finished. You can continue to ferment a bit longer depending on the taste you desire. If clear liquid forms, you've gone too far.
  • Serve
    Take what’s needed, do not disturb the rest. Yogurt will break more.
    Yogurt is at its prime right now. Very fresh, sweet and alive. It is easiest to digest at this point.
  • Store
    Refrigerate tightly covered. Refrigeration tends to smooth and set (thicken) the yogurt.
    Refrigeration causes your yogurt to slowly loose prana (life force) and probiotics. After a few days yogurt will become more sour. Refrigeration slows, but does not stop, the fermentation process. Store in the coldest part of the refrigerator. For best freshness, make smaller batches more often.
    People who make yogurt everyday let it sit out on the counter and do not refrigerate.
Never consume yogurt if it tastes or smells bad or unpleasant

Equipment information

Fermentation container

The bacteria need oxygen, so the more surface area, the better. Select a wide (not tall and narrow) container. Traditional wisdom says cultures thrive best in a round (not square) container.

Never keep yogurt in a plastic container.

Heavy bottom pot (if heating milk)

Everyone seems to have a mishap sooner or later when they aren’t watching their pot close enough and the milk bubbles over. The milk is still fine to use for yogurt, you just have a mess on your stove to clean up. You might want to select a pot with extra room in case you don’t catch the simmer at the exact time.

Some people choose the double boiler method for heating milk. A small stainless bowl set in a larger pot of water. This avoids the accidentally boiling over issue.

Some people, who are very careful, use the same stainless steel bowl for fermenting as heating. They have a gas stove and heat the milk very, very slowly, as a stainless bowl is not very thick. They do this to minimized clean-up (one less thing to wash).

Metal thermometers

Since clay is all natural, it’s best not to use or add anything that isn’t. This includes using a metal thermometer to measure the milk temperature when heating milk. Miriam can’t explain why, but finds this to be true. Just gauge visually and when there are small bubbles, you have heated the milk sufficiently. To determine if your milk has cooled enough to add yogurt starter, see if you can stick you clean pinky finger in the milk for 5 seconds. If so, the milk has cooled sufficiently.

Ingredient information

Quality ingredients matter

The fermentation process will magnify the benefits of what you start with.

Milk

Purchase the freshest and best quality milk possible and keep it in the back of your refrigerator (not the refrigerator door). The fresher the milk, the better. Using milk beyond it’s sell-by date is usually problematic. Consider purchasing smaller containers of milk, since once opened milk tends to age more quickly. If I purchase a gallon of milk, I will sometimes transfer it to two 1/2 gallon containers. Most of my yogurt making failures can be attributed to older milk.

Never use milk that is ultra-pasteurized (UHT) or microwaved. The yogurt bacteria will not be able to bring it back to life.

Otherwise, any milk that contains lactose will work. Traditionally various kinds of milk were used: cow, goat (thinner), sheep (thicker), camel, etc. I’ve even heard of human breast milk being used, but supposedly it won’t thicken unless mixed with something like 1/2 cow’s milk.

Whole milk or cream makes the thickest yogurt. Low fat milk makes a thinner yogurt.

Traditional wisdom says raw milk is best. In the mid-20th century problems started arising with raw milk. I believe raw milk is safe and very beneficial if:

  • the cows are healthy and grass-fed
  • the milk is tested for bacteria levels and handled properly

Raw milk can only be sold in stores in certain states. When it’s available to me, I prefer yogurt made with raw cows milk. If raw milk isn’t available, I try to use non-homogenized, gently pasteurized, grass fed whole milk with no additives.

Why pasteurize?

With raw milk, you don’t want the microbes in the milk competing with the microbes in the yogurt culture

With pasteurized milk

  • Pasteurization kills most of the microbes in milk, but not all of them. The longer the milk sits on the shelf, the more spoilage bacteria will have grown, so re-pasteurizing it gives you a clean slate.
  • Ayurvedic wisdom says to re-pasteurize the milk. It seems to make a difference how long ago (from a digestibility standpoint) the milk was pasteurized.

Heating the milk gives you the option to concentrate flavor – instead of bringing the milk just to a simmer, simmer the milk for ~20 minutes. The milk will reduce a little in volume and you will notice a significantly thicker yogurt.

Since you have to “heat and cool” the raw milk anyway, why not purchase milk already pasteurized?

The gentle heating on your stove is not as harsh as the pasteurization process

In Ayurveda, the minute something is cooked, it starts loosing prana (energy). Thus it is much fresher to pasteurize at home and use immediately.

Starter culture

I highly recommend one that can be cultured at room temperature and can be continually perpetuated. The simplest thing to do (if you can) is to obtain a culture from a friend. You won’t have an adjustment period, and you can go straight to the recipe below.

If getting a culture from a friend isn’t an option, I recommend Caspian Sea Yogurt from the Happy Herbalist. You’ll have to follow a specific four day adjustment period, see Starting a Yogurt Culture From the Happy Herbalist for details.

There are other options as well. See Related Posts at the bottom.

Ingredient temperature

Using cold milk and starter straight from the refrigerator is fine. However, fermentation will take a little longer

More tips for making yogurt in a clay pot

  • It is highly recommended that you set aside a separate pot. (The pot will adapt itself perfectly to your yogurt, your yogurt will be a higher quality, and you’ll have less problems making yogurt).
  • If you do not have a separate yogurt pot, steam clean your clay pot before using it for yogurt.
  • I often make back to back batches of yogurt or kefir. Dairy can saturate a clay pot with moisture. Instead of waiting for the pot to dry out, I’ll use this gentle stove top drying technique.
  • Some people make a small quantity of yogurt at a time – 1-2 cups. For this amount consider one of Miriam’s bowls. She will sometimes sell single bowls, instead of a set of four. The bowl comes without a lid. The lid of the small clay pot works. When I ferment kefir in one of Miriam’s bowls, I cover with a paper towel, and if I need to refrigerate leftovers, I put a plastic lid over the bowl.

Good to know

Cleanliness matters

Everything that comes into contact with the seed culture should be very clean, you don’t want to contaminate the culture.

Proper culturing temperature

Obtaining a correct culturing temperature is very important. Drafts from windows, air conditioners, etc. can affect the temperature where the culture is sitting. Some warmer parts of the house tend to be on a high shelf or in a dehydrator or oven. Take into account if you turn your heat or air conditioning lower at night.

  • For thermophilic culture
    • Place pot in oven with oven light on. However, this may not be enough
      • Turn your oven on to the ‘warm’ setting. Let it set for 2-5 minutes. Turn off the oven.
      • Heat a pot of water and leave it in the oven to add additional heat.
      • Use a clay pot (it retains heat better) and if necessary, wrap it in a towel.
    • Use an instant pot that has a yogurt setting
  • For mesophilic cultures which require 70-80F, add yogurt starter to the milk when the contents have cooled to 80F.
    • If it’s summer, let your pot sit on the counter
    • If it’s winter, you may have to place pot in oven where it is just slightly warmer, you may or may not need to turn the light on.
  • For mesophilic cultures which require low 60F, add yogurt starter to the milk when the contents have cooled to room temp.
    • You may need to ferment in your basement if not using a clay pot.
    • With a clay pot, the pot is cooling enough that 60F loving yogurt is happy in your 70F house.

Varying ratios

The ratio of fermentation time, fermentation temperature and amount of starter will need to be adjusted seasonally. The warmer the temperature, the faster the ferment. In cold weather, you may have to be creative in finding a warmer place. Vary from “1T yogurt per one cup milk” to “2T yogurt per one cup milk”

Culturing the yogurt too fast may not give the best results, culturing the yogurt too slow may allow pathogens to enter the culture.

Batch frequency

Have a routine. The bacteria will adjust to the routine if it is steady and regular. Some people prefer to make yogurt every evening, most prefer to make yogurt every few days. Try not to go more than 7 days. Waiting longer weakens the culture a bit. However after a few quicker cycles, you see the culture getting stronger — more active.

The tradeoff — more probiotic vs. too sour

The longer the fermentation, the more probiotic the yogurt. However, it also gets more sour. You need to find the sweet spot so it will be probiotic and delicious.

Scaling the recipe

To make larger batches, use ~1 tbsp yogurt per cup of milk up to ½ gallon of milk per batch. ½ gallon is 8 cups.

My yogurt is close to setting and I won’t be around and I’m afraid it will separate?

Place your yogurt in the fridge prematurely. Leave it there for 12 hours or so. It will likely solidify nicely. Refrigeration slows, but does not stop the fermentation process.

Reducing lactose

Strain the yogurt and remove most of the whey — where much of the unconverted lactose remains.

Labeling yogurt containers

I find I need to label my yogurt, as I sometimes have multiple containers that look similar. Painters tape works great — it’s easily removable, I can transfer the tape from jar to jar, and I already have lots of it. Chalk pencils, wax (grease) pencils and a glass marking pencils also work great.

Clean-up

Use cold water to remove dairy from pots, cups, plates, etc. Then continue to wash with warm water.

Cross contamination

If fermenting different cultures, keep them at least a few feet apart. Else they will cross pollinate and create something different. This is even more of a problem with similar cultures – e.g. milk kefir, water kefir, and yogurt. Put yogurt and kefir in separate rooms. There is not a cross contamination problem if yogurt is tightly capped in the refrigerator. Also, do not culture yogurt near garbage cans or compost pails (these can contain molds).

Have a back-up plan in case something bad happens to your culture

  • Rely on a friend, who is also making yogurt, to give you a new seed
  • Keep a spare seed in the refrigerator. Set aside a few tablespoons of yogurt once a week. After a week, you will need to replace the spare with fresh yogurt.

Taking a break from yogurt

1-2 weeks is OK, but yogurt gets more sour each day. It may take a few cycles for the culture to “revive”. When storing in the refrigerator, use a slightly greater milk to yogurt ratio than you normally would.

Heating and freezing yogurt

Heating yogurt to over 115°F kills probiotics

If cooking with yogurt, it may curdle if cooked too long or at too high a temperature, due to the higher protein content

Freezing yogurt kills probiotics. However, some will survive. The longer it is frozen, the greater the die off.

Can yogurt be made from coconut, almond or soy milk?

Yes, but dairy free yogurt will not be as medicinal.

Fermentation is a bacterial process which grow off of very specific substratum. Hence the substratum of coconut milk or almond milk is going to be completely different from milk protein. Practically speaking, think about what happens when coconut or almond go bad, they need to be thrown out. When milk goes sour, it can still be turned into various milk products. Hence milk (various animals) has been known for centuries to be the best fermentation substratum. Coconut and almonds are generally eaten raw. Soy when curded becomes tofu.

Dr. Kalpna Ranadive

Properties of yogurt

Foods are categorized as either building or detoxing. Yogurt and other dairy products are building in nature.

Yogurt is a fascinating and useful food. It is particularly calming to the digestive tract, as people throughout the world have discovered. It can calm a milk case of diarrhea or move along a constipated system. The addition of warming spices such as pepper or ginger will definitely assist in this latter action. Regular use of yogurt will frequently relieve long-standing bloating and restore a healthy bacterial balance to the colon. In action, is is initially cooling. Yet in the long run it is warming to the body. Its qualities and tastes are heavy, moist, sour, and astringent.

The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar with Urmila Desai

Given yogurt’s initial cooling nature, the following can be helpful:

If your body needs warmth, eat yogurt at room temperature, not cold
Don’t eat yogurt after sunset
Yogurt is best eaten in the middle of the day, when your digestive fire is the strongest.

Blessing

Some people bless their food before consuming. Others also bless their food when preparing. If so, they would be sure to bless their food when the starter is added to the milk. “Richo” Chec of Strictly Medicinal Seeds always blesses each seed when it is planted.

Food combining

Some foods take longer to digest than others. When you combine a quick digesting food with a slow digesting food, the quick digesting food ends up sitting in the stomach until the slow digesting food is complete. When the quick digesting food sits in the stomach, it ferments and petrifies.

Having mostly easy to digest combinations frees up body resources for other things, such as healing and more energy.

Yogurt combines well with vegetables & grains

Yogurt does not combine will with fresh fruits, beans, MILK, cheese, eggs, meat, fish, nightshades, hot drinks (the most important not to combine with is MILK)

Food combining rules are often violated — e.g. mango lassi. Usually when you see them violated in traditional recipes, there are digestive herbs and spices added to compensate. There is a difference if these rules are violated with large quantities, or only a small amount of something.

Yogurts symbiotic relationship

We have “fed” a community of bacteria first (fulfills our “Giving” Dharma). Bacteria then as a way of gratitude for human beings, transform the milk into a much easily consumable and easily digestible food. (Thus the bacteria fulfill their Dharma of giving). Plus the life force within each bacteria in that curd, once consumed activates/ magnifies our life force. This is an amazing energy manipulation via food! Scientifically, it is the best symbiotic, synergistic helping by one living being (bacteria) of another (human being). Which then triggers another circle of life propagation aka new bacteria growth within our gut.

Dr. Kalpna Ranadive

Problem solving

See Homemade Yogurt: Problem Solving

Learn more

AyurvedicYogi

Ayurvedic Dairy: The Raw Story on Milk, Yogurt and More

When searching the Internet for more information or recipes

Use the various names yogurt was known as — curd, sour milk, etc.

Search on specific heirloom varieties — Bulgarian, Caspian Sea, matsoun, matsoni, Caucasian sour cream, Villi, etc.

Special thanks & sources

Sirisha, Ramah, Ed Kaspar, Kalpna Ranadive, Miriam

I would love to hear from you.
Scroll down to share your experiences & Wisdom.

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