How To Make The Most Healthful Homemade Yogurt

by lydia on April 26, 2013

For those of you who’ve followed my site for awhile, you will know that last year I changed my fermenting ways. I did this because I learned that my approach to fermentation was very haphazard and if I was doing this ultimately for my health, I wanted to do it right. So, I’ve been on a year long journey delving into the world of anaerobic fermentation, why and how.

Yogurt is something most of us take for granted, or perhaps assume it’s a health food regardless of how it’s prepared. I know you real foodies know how to find ‘healthier’ yogurts in the store or even how to make homemade. I’ve found that I don’t want to consume yogurt unless it’s in the most optimal form for many reasons. One, I don’t tolerate much lactose and most yogurt has it. Second, I want the most probiotic content I can get and most yogurts don’t really have all that much if any. Unless, of course you understand a bit more about the science behind how bacteria thrive in yogurt and how to reduce the lactose to make it more tolerable, not to mention the best quality milk to make it less of a food sensitivity issue.

Did you know that there are 2 kinds of milk, A1 and A2? That’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax and I’ll save that discussion for a later date. Today, I’ve asked my good friend Patty, author of the blog, Loving Our Guts to share what she has learned about yogurt making. Patty has been on GAPS for many many years and before that was on the SCD diet. She has been making yogurt for ages for her family and has learned a ton on the subject.

I know you are gonna learn a ton from this post. In addition to the text below – you have the option to enjoy a recorded version of this information that Patty and I did together. If you have time, I highly recommend you listen to the recorded version -there is also some dialogue at the end and few pieces not written in the post that you may enjoy! (*Note: this recording was part of a course that I taught, so some information may not pertain to you as you listen, for example asking questions on the course facebook page. Regardless of that, the recording is a great resource and I wanted to share it along with this post).

Listen to Patty Talk About All the Intricacies Involved in Yogurt Making HERE

What Is Yogurt

Yogurt is a way to ferment milk to make it last longer, decrease the lactose and increase the beneficial bacteria. You can find yogurt in nearly every store and it is generally considered in our culture to be a health food. There is good reason for this! Yogurt is lower lactose than regular milk and somewhat predigested so it is easier on your gut. It is populated with beneficial bacteria that will then do good things for your gut. And since it is a whole food it contains more nutrition and is nicer to consume than a pill.

Making Yogurt


Why You Should Make Your Own Yogurt

While all of this is true  for many brands of commercial yogurt, sadly it isn’t true for all. The longer you ferment your milk the more beneficial bacteria it will contain. Some commercial yogurts are only fermented for a matter of minutes. Some are pasteurized after they are fermented killing off the beneficial bacteria. Many contain large amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners. Most are sold in plastic containers and the fat in the yogurt attracts the plastic in the container, putting bpa or whatever plasticizer is present into your food. Also over time the beneficial bacteria die in a container so there is no way to know how much is still there when you consume the yogurt.
All of these are good reasons to learn to make yogurt yourself.  You can avoid additives, prevent contact with plastic, ferment it long enough to get lots of good bacteria and consume it soon enough that the good stuff is still alive!  It’s also much cheaper and once you figure out your method is not difficult or time consuming.

Ingredients in Yogurt

So let me explain some things about yogurt.  I’ll start with the starter.  All yogurt needs a starter.  That is a certain amount of the microbes that you want to grow in your milk to transform it into yogurt. For yogurt to form it needs to contain Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and Streptococcus Thermophilus.  These two bacteria interact together to help the milk coagulate. They also form the lactic acid that helps to curdle the milk. Both of these actions on the milk create the familiar thick structure of yogurt and the lactic acid also is responsible for the familiar sour taste. Other bacteria can be used in addition to those two as long as they can thrive on lactose (the sugar in milk that feeds the bacteria.) Each will have a distinct flavor that may be more noticeable to some than others.

Some other bacteria strains that are commonly found in yogurt are:

  • L.Acidophilus
  • B. Longum
  • L. Casei
  • B. Bifidum

This is far from an exhaustive list but most of the commercial yogurt starters available contain some or all of the strains I have already mentioned. Commercial yogurts will also contain some or all of these strains and sometimes more.  Often you can use commercial yogurts for starting yogurt as well, just make sure it says live strains on the container and does not contain any flavors or other additives.

I personally have experience using the Yogurmet starter culture and the Custom Probiotics starter culture. Both make good yogurt. I prefer the Custom Probiotics for two reasons. It does not contain any fillers (Yogurmet has sugar and dried milk) and it has more strains of bacteria.  You can get starter #1 with 3 strains (L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus and L. Acidophilus) or you can get starter #2 that has those three plus L.Casei and B. Longum.  You can also request that B. Bifidum be added to either one when you order it.  It is more of an investment up front ($50 a bottle) however my family makes 1-3qts of yogurt each week and a jar lasts us 12-18 months.  It is, as far as I can tell, the most economical way to get your yogurt starter. (*Note from Lydia- L. Casei is a key strain to help heal leaky gut. Lactobaccillus Casei is found in the mouth and intestine, it can survive the stomach acid and can settle into the intestines, it has a wide pH and temperature range. If you are working to heal your gut -get the Yogurt Starter #2 to get the benefits of the L. Casei. Another good option recommended on the SCD diet is GI ProStart Yogurt Starter).

There are other ways that people have “started yogurt”.  Using a probiotic called VSL#3 is a popular approach.  The theory is that the bacteria in the pill will multiply in the yogurt and create even more of those beneficial bugs that can then be ingested thus saving the person money.  This starter has a different flavor than traditional yogurt but is not unpleasant.  One word of caution though, not all bacteria thrive in milk.  Some won’t do much of anything, some will make and unpleasant product. L-Reuteri is one such culture.  I have heard from those who have tried that it turns the yogurt into a slimy snot like substance. So you have been warned! Just because a pill says probiotic on it does not mean you can use it for a yogurt starter.

Incubation Methods

Ok now how to make yogurt.  The most important thing you need for making yogurt is a way to keep it warm.  For the duration of the fermentation you need to keep the milk warmer than 95 and cooler than 118.  That can be tricky to do.  Obviously the easiest way to do it is to simply purchase a yogurt maker.  There are many varieties available, some have lots of small cups, others have one large container. Another easy method is to use an Excalibur Dehydrator.  It allows you to set the temperature and walk away. When these sorts of purchases aren’t in the budget other approaches are used.  One is to use the heat from the lightbulb in the oven. Many replace their oven light with a 100 watt lightbulb while they make yogurt.  Another is to fill a cooler with hot water and put a mason jar of yogurt into that cooler.  If the water cools too soon simply replace it with hot water again. Some have an elaborate method of using their crock pot and turning it off and on as needed to keep their milk in the right temperature range.  Still others put a lightbulb in a box and keep their yogurt warm using that. My former doctor would simply put the hot mixture into a thermos and put the thermos in a sleeping bag to keep it warm. A little time online will reveal many different options for making yogurt.
I highly recommend that you try out your chosen method using some water before you invest your milk so that you won’t be surprised that it gets too hot or doesn’t stay hot enough and ruins your milk.


Vessel For Yogurt Making

The container that you use to make yogurt is also important.  For many years I made my yogurt using mason jars. It is a glass container so no worries about plastic getting into my food. It is readily available at many stores or possibly even in your kitchen already. Once I learned about the risks to bifidus strains of bacteria from oxygen exposure I decided to do some testing as to what kind of container was best. I was amazed to discover that the type of container had a profound impact on the flavor of the yogurt and ultimately decided that it was best to make yogurt in an anaerobic vessel (the Probiotic Jar is a good one) and to leave the airlock on the jar while it is in storage in the fridge.  The longer the yogurt was stored the more dramatic the flavor difference between the different kinds of containers. I am able to fit a 2L  jar with a mini-airlock in my 9 tray Excalibur Dehydrator and that is how I make yogurt now.

dehdyrator yogurt

How To Make Yogurt

So once you have made these decisions and assembled your supplies you are ready to get started making yogurt.

  • Milk- Preferably raw (from Jersey cows if possible or goat, this is A2 milk), second best non-homogonized low temp pasteurized whole milk, third best homogenized pasteurized whole milk.  Never use Ultra Pasteurized milk. You can also use heavy cream either raw or pasteurized with not additives.
  • Thermometer (to keep track of the milk temperature)
  • Jar to make milk in (I prefer Probiotic Jars)
  • Pot to heat milk in
  • starter culture or additive free active culture plain yogurt
  • A way to keep the milk warm.

Take your milk and put it into the pot on your stove.  Heat it on medium high till the milk is 180 degrees.  Then remove the pot from the stove and allow the milk to cool to 115.

Making Yogurt
Once the milk is cool enough mix a small portion of it with the starter culture you are using. Follow the package directions for how much to use of a powdered culture or use ¼ cup commercial yogurt for each 1 qt of milk.  You can also use previously made homemade yogurt.  More about that below.

Making Yogurt

Mix the milk and the starter till they are combined then add in the rest of the milk till the jar is full.  Put the lid on tightly.  If you are using a Probiotic Jar put water in the airlock and put that on the jar. (*Note from Lydia: making yogurt anaerobically is optimal as the Lactobacillus bacteria strains and Bifido bacteria strains need an anaerobic environment.)

Making Yogurt

Put the jar where you are keeping it warm.  I set my dehydrator to 105 with my anaerobic jars. With mason jars I set it to 95. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to get it right for your exact set up. That is why I suggest a trial run with just water in your jars.

Making Yogurt

Traditionally yogurt is fermented for 4-8 hours.  The longer it ferments the more beneficial bacteria it will contain. Also the longer it goes the less lactose and more sour it will taste.  GAPS and SCD have you ferment yogurt for at least 24 hours to make it virtually lactose free. I have read that if you go beyond 30 hours the bacteria colonies will collapse because of lack of food so be careful to not go too long.  There does not seem to be much of an increase in bacteria or decrease in lactose beyond 24 hours.
After it is done culturing 4-24 hours hours put the yogurt right into the fridge.  Don’t stir or shake it till it is fully chilled. 5-6 hours. If you do disturb it the curd won’t set and your yogurt will be runny.

*Raw milk- You can make raw yogurt.  To do this heat your milk just to 110 or so and then add your culture and proceed from there the same as any other method.

**Homemade yogurt as a starter.  Homemade yogurt will lose it’s effectiveness sooner or later.  When that happens you will have ruined yogurt. You can feel pretty safe using it for 4 generations if you heat your milk to 180 and then cool it.  It is best to only use it for 2 generations if you are keeping your milk raw since raw milk has it’s own innate bacteria that will begin to compete with the yogurt bacteria.

If you enjoyed this information, you might enjoy reading more of Patty’s post on the subject as well:


Close up picture

Thanks so much Patty for sharing your expertise with us! I hope this is helpful to others and maybe even encourage some to take the leap and give homemade yogurt making a try!

To read more of Patty’s insight, be sure to check her out over at ‘Loving Our Guts‘ and on facebook @Loving Our Guts.


Have you tried making homemade yogurt in your dehydrator?

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