Yogurt: Should You Try Making Your Own?

By Marla Walters on 25 May 2010 (Updated 23 May 2011) 47 comments
Photo: Douglas Freer

First: Cost. A container of yogurt costs from .90 (store brand, on sale) up to about $1.75 (national, high-end brand) in my area. I do live on an island, so transportation adds considerably to the price. Could I make it for less?

Second: Additives. Here is a sampling of some of the ingredients of a national brand of yogurt: modified corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, sugar... That struck me as a lot of sweetener. Could I make a version that was sufficiently sweet and tasty, that my family would actually eat it?

To back up a little, though: why should you eat yogurt? Well, it contains protein, calcium, and vitamins B-2, B-12, potassium, and magnesium. Also, if you eat yogurt with “live and active cultures,” your body is receiving help in its digestive and immune systems. This makes it a very healthy addition to your diet.

My yogurt-making research began with my cookbooks. Unfortunately, there was a dearth of information, so I turned to the Internet. Yes, indeed, I could make my own yogurt. However, after reviewing a few sites about making it in the oven (using the light) or an ice chest, or a thermos, I decided those were not the methods for me. Home canning and beer-making have made me a little paranoid about keeping foods at the correct temperature. It gets even trickier in a tropical climate. I did not feel that I had the skills or equipment to properly incubate yogurt.

Not willing to give up on the project, I began investigating yogurt makers. There are dozens of models to choose from. After doing a lot of reading, I decided on the Cuisipro Donvier. It had received great product reviews and I liked the idea that the yogurt would be in individual cups. It was not a cheap appliance, however. I paid $65, including Vachon yogurt culture, shipping via USPS, through Amazon.com. After making the first batch, I realized that it would be nice to have a second set of cups, so that I could keep the yogurt going. That was another $12, bringing my investment to $77.

The Cuisipro Donvier, as it turns out, was popularized by the Mirielle Guiliano book entitled, “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” In her book she both instructs both on machine and “manual” preparation of yogurt. While not getting fat would be a nice benefit to eating homemade yogurt, that isn’t a benefit I am banking on (remember, I’m the one whose husband makes home-brewed beer. I’m in it for the frugality/quality angle.

The machine itself is very easy to use. It is really more an “incubator” than “machine.” You pour milk (I use 1%) into a saucepan, heat it to 185 – 190 degrees, and cool to 110 – 115 degrees. It comes with a handy pre-marked thermometer. I have also experimented with adding powdered milk to the saucepan during the heating phase, which gives the product a more custard-like texture. After cooling, you add starter to one of the yogurt jars (either powdered culture, or two tablespoons of plain yogurt), mix with some of the cooled milk, pour this back into the pan, mix it all up, and pour everything into the cups. The cups then go into the yogurtmaker. Start the timer, pop the lid on, and 10 – 12 hours later, you have yogurt. It is then cooled in the refrigerator.

I was averaging $1 apiece at the grocery store on pre-made, 6-ounce yogurts. Milk costs me $3.99 per gallon, and it takes one quart to make a batch of eight yogurts. So, I can now make eight, 6-ounce yogurts for $1 worth of milk. Two tablespoons of plain yogurt (as a starter) cost me about 16 cents. To make it thicker and more custard-like, I add one-half cup of powdered milk, which costs me 30 cents. So, each batch of eight yogurts costs me $1.46. Each yogurt, then, costs me 18-1/4 cents to make, saving me about 82 cents apiece. At that rate, it will take me only 94 yogurts, or just under twelve batches, to recoup my initial $77 investment in equipment.

So, back to that sweetener question I had. The fresh yogurt is, of course, tangy. So far, we have been adding fruit (cherries, strawberries, pineapple) to ours. I like a small bit of honey swirled on the top. That is IT. My husband and daughter just add fruit.

It is also really nice to have plain yogurt on hand for baking, salad dressings, smoothies, and the like. Yesterday we made Mango Lassi drinks, which were delicious. My daughter had one at an Indian food restaurant, and raved about it. I found a recipe for them at http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/mango_lassi/Simply Recipes.

To revisit my first question: Could I make it for less? Definitely.

As to my second question: Could I make it sufficiently sweet and tasty enough that my family would eat it? That answer is also yes. They love it.

To me, “making my own” as opposed to buying pre-made food products focuses on the factors of quality and cost. I would say that making your own yogurt is definitely worth your time and expense.

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Guest's picture
Jessica Y

I've been making mine in a crockpot ala the A Year of Slow Cooking blog.

Guest's picture
MNK

I'm going to look into the crockpot method! I've made batches in my countertop toaster oven on the lowest setting with great results but an easier method is always worth trying!

Guest's picture
Mary

Unfortunately West Bend seems to have stopped making their 1-quart yogurt makers. I've had mine for a couple of decades and it still works perfectly. I picked up a second one at a tag sale for $1. They are also great for incubating salt-rising bread culture if you're into that.

Yogurt is so expensive to buy and so cheap to make. I once spent a summer at a nature reserve and my cabin had an old stove that had a "warm" setting. I bought unhomogenized milk at a local farm and made yogurt using that warm oven. It was the best yogurt I've ever had.

Guest's picture
Terry

Mary, I just found a West Bend 1 quart yogurt maker at a thrift store, but it didn't come with any instructions. Do I add water to the incubator and then put the 1 quart pot of milk inside the incubator, or do I just leave it dry and then put the 1 quart pot of milk inside the dry incubator?

Guest's picture
Guest

Greek yogurt is also easy to make. It's just strained. I used cheesecloth for a while to do it - set your timer for about 30 minutes to check the consistency. If you wait too long you will get more of a cream cheese than a yogurt. (Which is still nice to use on other foods.)

I was given a yogurt strainer which is a little less messy than the cheesecloth and doubles for storing it. Very nice. And again - a lot cheaper than the greek yogurts (and healthier I think) in the store version.

Plus - no more plastic containers that are difficult to recycle!

Guest's picture

It sounds like the "yogurt maker" is just used to keep the milk warmish?

Like Jessica, I make yogurt in the crockpot. Pour about a half gallon of milk into the crock, and heat on low to 185-190 degrees (about 2 1/2 hours). Then turn off the heat and allow the crock to cool to about 110 degrees (about 1 1/2 hours). Then whisk in some starter (I just use about 1/2 cup from the last batch; no need to purchase a separate starter), wrap the crockpot in a blanket, and go to bed. You should wake up to great yogurt in the morning.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Neat article! My mom makes some from goat's milk and flavors it with instant coffee crystals. It tastes just like a cappuccino variety from the store!

Guest's picture
Marla

Yum! Thanks, Linsey - got to try that one.

Guest's picture
Merlene

I made my first batch using the crockpot last week and it turned out beautifully. Better than I'd hoped and was gobbled up in about 48 hours around here. Starting another batch this afternoon and I'll never go back to buying store-bought yogurt again.

Guest's picture
Marla

The crock-pot idea is cool. I'd have tried that, but alas, our crockpot (a wedding gift) is closing in on thirty years. I just am paranoid about keeping foods at the proper temperature, and don't trust that old thing. Also, I really like the individual cups with the Donvier. They are really handy. Even though buying yogurt in a big container was cheaper than the individual cups, did I take the time in the morning to scoop some out to take to work? Nope. I tend to grab and go. I need convenience.

Guest's picture
fairydust

My parents had a yogurt maker like you've described, with the individual cups. Mom used to make a batch each week for all of us to enjoy with/as breakfast. Dad ate his straight up, but I used to mix in a spoonful of fruit preserves. Nowadays I mix in a teaspoon of sugar-free DaVinci flavoring syrup in Kahlua flavor and it tastes like Starbucks' caramel macchiato ice cream (slightly melted) - yum!

Guest's picture
Lorenzo

I have been making my own yogurt for years. I have a Salton 1 quart that at the time we got for about $16. It seems the current prices is around $25. To pasteurize the milk and denature the proteins (makes for thicker yogurt), I create a double boiler using a crockpot full of water, into which I place a covered metal bowl of milk. I keep the milk at 190 deg F for 10 minutes. I have digital probe thermometer that I just leave in there. Before heating, I typically add about a cup of non-fat dry milk, for a denser yogurt, and 1/8 teaspoon of stevia powder for sweetening. Then cool it down to under 120 deg F (in an ice bath if I'm impatient), and innoculate it with about a tablespoon of yogurt from previous batch. Then stick it in the Salton for 8-12 hours, and then in the fridge for a couple of hours before eating. If you haven't got a previous batch of live yogurt, just get some plain yogurt of a brand you like, make sure it has active cultures, and use that. In a pinch I have used my kids' flavored yogurts.
You could probably incubate yogurt using a heating pad under a bowl. I've done that for fermenting bread dough in the past.
A very indulgent variation is to use half and half instead of milk.

Guest's picture
Terry

You got a good deal on that yogurt maker. The Salton 1 quart yogurt maker now sells for $160 on Amazon.

Guest's picture
Aryn

If anyone is thinking of getting the Donvier, monitor the Amazon prices. Every so often it drops to $24.99.

Guest's picture

Thank you for sharing! This is actually something I started considering about a week ago and I appreciate hearing from someone who cut to the chase. A large tub of Brown Cow or Greek yogurt can cost upwards of $3 here, so it sounds like this is a worthwhile endeavor - and like you, I'm way more interested in frugality and quality. Mostly, we use yogurt on granola and in smoothies.

Guest's picture
Marla

I'm w/you, N&U -- love that Brown Cow and Greek yogurt, but the price! Ouch. If you are going to try it, I do recommend adding the powdered milk to achieve that thick, custard-y quality. Check out that lassi recipe, if you like smoothies.

Guest's picture
tannaz

i was making something called 'caspian sea yogurt' for a while. the upside is that you don't have to do any cooking -- you just add it to cold milk and let it sit for 8 hours, et voila -- yogurt. the only downside was that the culture dies after a few days, so you have to be pretty diligent about making constantly making yogurt. you can read about my experience it here:

http://tannazie.blogspot.com/2007/08/made-it-myself-1-of-2.html

Guest's picture
PottedPlant

I've been making yogurt with a Yogourmet 2-quart incubator for at least 12 years. I do a lot of cooking with yogurt, so the large container suits my needs better than the single serving incubators.

The easiest prep method I've found: 4 2/3 cups powdered milk mixed with enough hot water to make 2 quarts, stir like crazy, add 1/4 cup starter yogurt, stir some more, add to incubator. Four hours later (with my machine) you've got very thick yogurt with no cooking.

A couple of caveats: I double checked to make sure the water coming out of my tap was 120 F. Any cooler and the culture can't work. Second, powdered milk is already sterilized, so there's no need to bring it up to 180 F, but liquid milk needs to be heated to kill any stray bacteria.

Guest's picture
Guest

I make yogurt using a heating pad. I've been doing it for a couple of months, and it has worked pretty well. The most difficult part is that my heating pad automatically shuts off after 2 hours. I have to make sure that I go in every so often and shut it off for a minute and then turn it back on. Since I don't have have room for a yogurt maker in my kitchen, this is a great alternative.

Guest's picture
Guest

Lots of great ways to make yogurt. I make a double boiler from a stainless steel bowl and a big pot. Heat the 1/2 gallon of milk up to ~180 degrees w/added milk powder then cool the bowl of milk in a water bath in the sink. Once it's lukewarm, inoculate with starter from the old batch and (here's my ultra frugal twist) put the whole thing in my gas oven for 6-8 hours. The pilot light alone in my old gas oven keeps the temp just right for culturing the yogurt. I've also wrapped the bowl up in a blanket or sleeping bag and put it in a warm/sunny spot for the daytime hours. No need to buy a special gadget to keep things warm.The temps don't have to be exact for this to work and be safe too. Crockpot method looks great, but I can get my yogurt pasteurized and cooled back down to the inoculation temp in less than 45 minutes, then I'm free to leave the house for the day.

Guest's picture

I never thought it's possible to make your own. Someone who really loves yogurt and creativity will really enjoy it. I don't eat that much yogurt though to spend my time and money to produce it.

Guest's picture
Sarah

I personnaly don't like the taste of flavored yogurt from the store and I don't like eating it very often because of the expense. I started making yogurt so that I could have an alternative for sour cream that was lower in fat if I needed it, make frozen yogurt, and yogurt is supposed to be really good for immune support. I figured I would make yogurt mostly for making frozen yogurt not for eating fresh. I was wrong about that. I can't make enough of it. I bought 8oz canning jars so that I can have a constant supply in the fridge. My favorite mix in is 1 tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp per 6 oz cup. My kids like 1-2 Tbsp homemade jam. One thing that is frustrating is whenever I add flavorings it thins down everything. Anyone have suggestions?
I've made about 6 batches so far and I can't get enough of it.

Guest's picture
Kim

I have been making my own yogurt for about 2 years after reading Tightwad Gazette. I have tried the crockpot mettod but I have found that the heating pad works better. I use a half gallon of 2% milk adding 1/4 cup dry milk and heat up to just below boil. I let it cool to room temp and mix acouple of spoonfuls of plain greek yogurt. Once well mixed I pour it into several small canning jars and place on my heating pad set on low. Mine doesn't automatically shut off as it is from the 1970s I am sure. I then cover the jars with a bath towel and set a large pot on top of it all. Walk away and 8 hours later Yogurt! I add different flavors as I eat each. I have flavored with jam that I mixed in while heating up the milk it worked perfect just got tired of the same flavor.

Guest's picture
Jonathan

$1 for each 6 oz container? I've been getting yogurt for 30-40 cents using coupons and buying on sale. If you're lucky you can get it down near 25 cents.

Guest's picture
Marla

Hi, Jonathan . . . yup, you read that right. A distinct DISadvantage to my location. Consider yourself lucky!

Guest's picture
andrea

The best incubator I have found is an Igloo cooler. I put canning jars of milk/yogurt mixture inside the cooler and fill the cooler up to the jar necks with the right temperature water. I float a candy thermometer in the water to monitor temperature. I close the cooler, then check it in a couple hours. If the temperature has started to drop, I take out a little water and add some boiling water, stirring in the hot water, and waiting to see if the temperature is back up to the right place. I check it every couple hours, until it is done. If the water has started to separate from the yogurt, it is a little over done. Controlling the proper temperature is key to yogurt success, so this thermometer method is foolproof. Also if incubated in warm water the milk/yogurt mixture is evenly warmed, as opposed to any method where the single heat source is from underneath.
Yogurt starter can be frozen in ice cube trays, so don't need to buy starter yogurt very often.

Guest's picture
Marla

Andrea, thanks for the great tip about freezing the starter in ice cube trays! That'll be handy.

Guest's picture
Danielle

I found a great quality yogurt maker at Tuesday Morning for $29.99 and it has been used about once a week ever since. Best investment ever. The quality of the yogurt is so much better. We sweeten it with fresh fruit or agave nectar syrup.

Guest's picture
Marla

Danielle, what a DEAL! Got to try some agave nectar . . .

Guest's picture
whuebl

I have a Waring Pro I bought at Tuesday Morning in Annapolis over a month ago and have been making several gallons of yogurt each week. I have 3 quarts of skim milk in my crock pot on warm right now that will become yogurt tomorrow morning - I use Activia and it only takes a couple of hours to firm up and is delicious.

http://mryogurt.info/

Bill

Guest's picture
Guest

Glad to see that homemade yogurt is catching on. My mom used to make it and I recently picked it up for the same reasons mentioned in the article: lower cost, fewer additives (especially sweeteners), and also to reduce the waste from all those little plastic cups. I will add though that if anyone is turned off by having to buy a machine I have successfully made yogurt many many times using only a pot to heat the milk and a cooler to keep the yogurt warm while it sets. From all the batches I've made my first batch was the only one that didn't set and it turns out my thermometer was ten degrees off. So give it a shot! Its cheap, healthy and very easy.

Guest's picture
Guest

Also, forgot to mention that how tangy the yogurt turns out is directly related to the time the yogurt is exposed to warm temperatures after it sets. If I put my yogurt in the fridge after 4-6 hours (my average set time) it turns out sweet. After 8-10 hours it is noticeably tangier although still delicious.

Guest's picture
J.

I just heat the milk, standing by until the moment it begins to boil. Let it cool but not below 90. Add a few tbsps existing yogurt. Set on heating pad on medium heat, cover with dish towel. Check back in 7 hours: Yogurt. Tastes great.

Guest's picture
Terry

I have a crockpot with a knob that has four settings-- warm, low, high, and off. I put in 4 cups of cold water into the bottom of the crock pot. Then I fill the pyrex glass measuring cup with 4 cups of 1% storebought milk. Then I put the measuring cup down into the water bath inside the crock pot, and cover the measuring cup with a small plate (to prevent condensation from dripping into it). Then I put the lid on my crockpot and turn the crockpot up to high for about 1 to 2 hours, until the water bath temp reaches 190 to 200 degrees F. Then I turn off the crockpot and let it sit until it reaches 110 degrees F.

Once it reaches 110, I stir in my starter into the milk in the pyrex measuring cup, still sitting in the water bath in the crockpot. I use a tablespoon of fresh plain yogurt from the store as my starter. Almost any brand will work, but don't use ones with gelatin in them.

At that point, I turn the crockpot knob to the warm setting, and plug it into my lamp dimmer cord, and measure the voltage with my digital voltage meter (made by Fluke, I'm an electrician by trade). I make sure the voltage is in between 36 volts and 40 volts (instead of the normal 120 volts for house wiring). At that low voltage, on the warm setting, my crockpot will keep the water bath at about 110 to 115 degrees constantly. You may have to experiment to see what exact voltage level works best for your crockpot, that is what works best for my crockpot. This will not work on a digital crockpot. It only works on crockpots with knobs that turn for the off, warm, low, and high settings. If you can't find a lamp dimmer, you can make your own "crockostat", just google it, and you will find instructions for it.

I like my yogurt very tart and so I allow it go for 15 to 24 hours before I turn off the crockpot and put the yogurt in the fridge. It makes it thick, rich, and very tangy, which is the way I like it.

Marla Walters's picture

Terry, thank you for the instructions! Seems like several commenters use their crock-pots for making yogurt. What a great use.

I like my yogurt tangy, too. I set my maker for 11 hours last time and that was perfect for custard-y texture.

Guest's picture
Marla Zumwalt

I love this article. As usual, Marla Walter's articles are very informative and well as entertaining. I may actually try making my own yogurt!

Guest's picture
Marla Zumwalt

I love this article. As usual, Marla Walter's articles are very informative and well as entertaining. I may actually try making my own yogurt!

Guest's picture

I am a yogurt lover (strawberry yogurt). Healthy for your tummy. :)

Guest's picture

I would love to try it on my own. I could start a yogurt business if i'll get successful. Lol

Guest's picture

I'm going to look into the crockpot method! I've made batches in my countertop toaster oven on the lowest setting with great results but an easier method is always worth trying!

Guest's picture
Jen

My son has a milk allergy and I can't find a decent soy yogurt in the stores. Anybody have suggestions for making it with soy milk?

Guest's picture
Marla

Jen, thanks for asking about soy millk yogurt. I have not tried the recipes in this link but they don't look too difficult. Check out the recipe from the University of Illinois. I'd guess you will want to adjust the amount of sugar - the soy milk you buy may already be sweetened. I found another site that said not to substitute honey for the sugar, either. I am hoping other readers will chime in with more suggestions for you. Here is the link:
http://www.soymilkmaker.com/recipe.html#soyyogurt

Guest's picture
erzebet

reply for the article:

why do you have to complicate things so much? this is how i make yoghurt: i buy raw milk from the market, bring it home, put it in a big pot. next i add it about 200 gr of fatty yoghurt to 5 litres of milk and i let it sit at room's temperature for 1-2 days depending on the season. from time to time, i mix cream with the rest. i taste it from time to time and when i like it, i put it in the freezer to stop fermentation. that's all!

people have been making yoghurt without yoghurt makers for so much time. and stop being paranoid about germs and fat. they are both necessary for health.

Guest's picture
Harshith

Another way to get thick yogurt is how we make it in northern india... All the steps are the same as mentioned above, except that the yogurt is incubated in unglazed earthen pots known as "bhaaN"... These pots are porous and water is slowly but continuously lost by evaporation, giving a thick yogurt with curtard-like consistency... Ofcourse, owing to our warm climate, we don't really need an incubator... During the winter we just keep the pots near near the warm stove, overnight...
A famous variation to yogurt is "mishti doi" (literally, sweet yogurt) in bengal... The milk is heated with sugar or jaggery before the starter is added... Not having much of a sweet tooth, i don't like it, but most people do...

Guest's picture
Marla

Erzebet, thanks for the comment. However, readers, I do not recommend raw milk yogurt, per this FDA site.

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/Product-SpecificInformation/MilkSafet...

Guest's picture

I would say that making my own yogurt is definitely worth my time and expense.

thank you for your sharing.

Marla Walters's picture

Thanks for your comment! I am now going to experiment with making a low-fat lemon mousse to stir into the plain yogurt. I love lemon anything.
P.S.: Your parkas are beautiful!