Written by Emily, Contributing Writer
I've been making homemade yogurt for just about two years now, and I love the convenience, quality, and savings of making yogurt at home.
Yogurt is one of the most basic traditional foods, and even if you are just getting started with real food, including yogurt in your diet is an easy way to reap so many of the health benefits of cultured dairy. One of the main health benefits of yogurt, besides the protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals, are the probiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria that inhabit our guts and help to promote better digestion and increase our immune systems.
Yogurt is an easily digestible food, and even people who have trouble with lactose intolerance can often eat yogurt because most of the lactose has been "eaten" by the good bacteria during the culturing process.
Making homemade yogurt really is easy, but it can seem kind of overwhelming because it does have a lot of steps. I'm going to walk you, step by step, through my method of making homemade yogurt, and after you've done it once or twice, you will be able to figure out what that works best for you and be able to provide your family with fresh made yogurt on a regular basis!
How to Make Homemade Yogurt Using a Crock Pot
Step 1: Turn your crock pot on low to let it heat up. It is important to remember to do this step first so you don’t forget, and so the crock pot is the right temperature when you’re ready to add the milk. Also, take your yogurt starter out of the fridge so it can warm up a little before you add it to your milk.
Step 2: Pour your milk into a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it reaches 185 degrees. (I have used a candy thermometer I got for $10). You can choose the amount of yogurt that you want to make at a time - I usually make 6-8 cups of yogurt per week. Be careful not to let the milk burn on the bottom of the pan during this step, and also make sure the milk doesn’t boil over – so stir often and keep an eye on it.
*Tip: I have stopped checking the temperature during this step. It’s just one less thing to have to do. When the milk starts getting bubbly and frothy (or it boils over onto your stovetop) you know it’s done.
*During this step I usually get ready for step three by getting the sink of cold water ready.
Step 3: Once milk reaches 185 degrees (bubbling) remove from burner, cover with a lid, and place the pan in a sink half full of cold water. (This is kind of obvious, but make sure the water doesn’t go over the top of the pan, just part way up the sides.) You can add ice to the water as well, but I’ve found that it doesn’t really cool the milk down any faster.
Step 4: Let the milk cool down, stirring occasionally. Once milk has reached between 90 and 110 degrees (I’ve read different temps here, I usually do about 100 degrees), remove pan from water. This usually takes just about 10 minutes for me, so set your timer, so you don't forget and the milk gets too cold.
*Tip: You can also do this step without a thermometer. After washing my hands, I stick my pinkie into the milk. If it's painfully hot to the touch, I let it cool a bit longer. If it's very warm, but not painfully hot, it is about the right temperature.
* While the milk is cooling, get ready for step 5
Step 5: Measure yogurt starter into a bowl (I use glass) and pour about a cup of the warm milk over it and stir together. Use 2 Tbsp of yogurt starter per 4 cups of milk. Meanwhile pour remaining milk into heated crockpot. Pour milk and yogurt from bowl into the crockpot and stir it all together.
Step 7: After the yogurt has finished culturing, place the crock in fridge to cool yogurt. I have found this step to be really important because it helps the yogurt to set better. Since I started doing this my yogurt has been nice and thick and creamy. Don't stir or shake your yogurt, it needs to be disrupted as little as possible in order to set well.
When your yogurt has finished cooling and set, you can ladle it into a glass jar to keep in your fridge. I hope you can tell in the picture that this is finished yogurt, it has set, and is definitely more "solid" than milk. I have found that yogurt will keep for at least 7-10 days, and often it's still good at around 14 days, if there's any left of it by that point.
What is yogurt starter?
It is basically just yogurt. You can use the yogurt you just made as starter for your next batch. I usually set aside 1/2 cup of yogurt for starter into a separate small bowl right away, to keep the starter separate from the jar that we are dipping in to eat from every day, and also so we don't end up eating all the yogurt and I'm left without a starter!
You can also use store bought yogurt, of course, especially if this is your first batch of homemade yogurt or you feel like your homemade yogurt starter is getting weak. Just make sure that your store bought yogurt is plain, unsweetened, with nothing added, and it should save "Live and Active Cultures" on the label.
Stephanie's note: Though I also generally do the same as Emily, starting with plain store bought yogurt and then saving some each time to make my new batch, you can also purchase yogurt starter cultures for some unique types of yogurt or just regular yogurt, from Cultures for Health. Once you've used these to get started, then you can continue to set aside your homemade yogurt for making more.
Our family's favorite way to eat homemade yogurt is with a drizzle of raw honey and fresh or frozen fruit. Yum! It's also great with a sprinkle of nuts, or on top of homemade granola.
You can also use homemade yogurt in lots of different kinds of recipes. Here's a few for you to get started with: