Yogurt is not only great for snacks and smoothies but is versatile for lots of other cooking and baking purposes, too. It can be used to make baked goods a little lighter, and also as a lower-fat substitute for mayo and sour cream. And because it’s fermented, homemade yogurt is filled with lots of gut-friendly probiotics. But many yogurt recipes require a yogurt maker or an Instant Pot, which of course, not everyone has. And honestly, you can make a delicious batch of yogurt without either of those gadgets. So read on to find out how to make homemade yogurt without a yogurt maker or Instant Pot. (And if you’re looking for a way to use your homemade yogurt, try my recipe for Creamy Maple Apple Cider Vinaigrette.)
In reality, though, not all yogurt is created equal. Many store-bought yogurts are filled with unnecessary additives, as well as loads of sugar (resulting not only in a less healthy yogurt but one that is often overly sweet and artificial-tasting). Also, not all yogurts have live, active cultures, which mean they lack the health-giving benefits of the probiotics that we tend to expect in our cup of yogurty goodness.
Don’t get me wrong – delicious, healthy, and probiotic-filled yogurts are available to buy at the grocery store. The problem is, they often come at a premium price. It doesn’t seem like a lot of money to pay $1 (and often even more) for a 5-ounce cup of yogurt until you consider that I make half-gallon of my own homemade yogurt for $3-4 (that’s 64 ounces)! Of course, the cost will vary depending on the type of milk that you use, and the prices of milk in your area, but if you use yogurt in your kitchen regularly, a batch of DIY yogurt is probably worth the minimal effort that it takes. (And it stores well. A batch of yogurt should last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.)
There are several things to keep in mind with homemade yogurt. The first is the consistency of the final product. Homemade yogurt is often thinner than store-bought because it lacks the thickeners that commercial products often contain. This is especially true if you use low-fat milk when making your yogurt, as the lower the fat, the thinner and less creamy the yogurt will be. Some recipes will get around this by calling for the addition of dry milk powder, or plain gelatin to make it thicker and give it more body. My recipe, however, is basic and calls for just 2 ingredients – milk and a little bit of starter. When I want my yogurt to be a little thicker, I simply make it Greek-style by straining off the whey using a strainer and some cheesecloth. This keeps it super-simple, with no need to add anything else to the recipe (of course you can always add fruit, nuts, herbs, or a little sweetener of your choice to your finished batch of yogurt.) And the leftover whey can be saved to be used in baked goods or other recipes.
Equipment for Making Homemade Yogurt without a Yogurt Maker or Instant Pot
And there is some basic equipment that is helpful to the yogurt-making process. You will need some glass mason jars, a heavy-bottom pot, and a big spoon. A clip-on candy thermometer is helpful, although not totally necessary. If you want to strain your yogurt, you will need some cheesecloth, a large coffee filter, or even a flour sack towel.
How to Incubate Yogurt
You will also need a way to incubate your yogurt at approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This is, after all, a process of fermentation. The bacteria that ferment the milk into yogurt prefer a nice, warm temperature of about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Some people will use their oven with just the oven light on. I’ve also heard of using a heating pad. For many years, my incubator was an old Styrofoam cooler that I packed with jars of very hot water. This method worked wonderfully and is probably the best way to incubate yogurt with no special equipment. These days I use my food dehydrator set at 108 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ingredients for Making Yogurt
And as I mentioned previously, there are only two ingredients. First, you will need ½ gallon of the milk of your choice. I’ve successfully used everything from skim milk to whole milk (even adding a little half-and-half or heavy cream on occasion). And you can use either homogenized or non-homogenized milk, but non-homogenized milk will have a layer of cream that forms on top of the finished yogurt, which is something that I rather like. The only other ingredient is a yogurt starter. You can purchase a yogurt starter online, or do like I do. Or you can simply use a small amount cup of store-bought plain yogurt (but be sure it states that it has live, active cultures on the package).
Another option is to use a bit of yogurt from a previous homemade batch, but this may become less effective over further consecutive batches. This weakening of the starter with successive batches can be avoided if you use what’s known as an heirloom style starter.
My favorite culture and the one I use the most is an heirloom Bulgarian yogurt culture. It makes a thick, creamy yogurt with delicious tangy flavor.
Tips for making homemade yogurt:
- Before adding the starter culture to the milk, you will need to heat the milk to 180°F. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first reason is to kill off any bacteria in the milk so as to start the fermentation process with a clean slate. The second (often overlooked) reason, however, is texture and consistency. I have found over many years of making yogurt that heating the milk to temperature very slowly over medium-low heat and then cooling it very quickly in an ice bath produces a creamier and more full-bodied yogurt. A small slow cooker works great for this.
- I have read many times that ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk shouldn’t be used because it won’t ferment properly (and many store-bought organic kinds of milk are, in fact, UHT). However, I have never found this to be the case, and have never had a problem using UHT milk to make yogurt. That being said, I find the taste of the yogurt made with UHT milk to be different, so I do try to avoid it. Just experiment and find the milk you like best.
- This recipe makes half a gallon of yogurt. If this is too much for you, simply cut the recipe in half or even a quarter.
- Homemade yogurt will store well in the refrigerator for several weeks. If it starts to look bad or smell funny at any point, discard it and make a new batch.
- And remember, if you want to keep your yogurt going from batch to batch, set aside 1/4 to 1/2 a cup from each fresh batch to use as your starter for the next one. You can freeze the starter yogurt to keep it extra fresh.
And that’s really all there is to making your own yogurt. Even if it seems a little complicated at first glance, it is very easy once you make it. You’ll refine your process and it will become easier and easier.
If you try my method for making Homemade Yogurt without a yogurt maker or Instant Pot, I hope you love it. And follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram so you don’t miss a post.
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