How to make yogurt

Posted on Posted in Nerd Stuff

3119372622_4Milk. So white. So pure and clean. What better way to begin this deranged culinary experiganza than by taking such a wholesome staple and infecting it with random cultures until it is a seething mass of uncontrolled bacterial growth?

This is not nearly so mad as it might seem. Do you like yogurt? That’s milk, cultured with bacteria. Sour cream? Cream, infected.  Commercial examples of these products also contain all sorts of unnecessary thickeners and gums, but with fresh products that you make yourself, there is absolutely no need for these things.

The liberal elitist powers-that-be would have you believe that in order to make yogurt, one requires a whole slew of shielded low-heat electrical elements, tiny ceramic pots, and laboratory-isolated cultures. Absolute poppycock. Making yogurt is ridiculously simple. Stupidly simple. My cat could do it if she had opposable thumbs. 1 You need THREE THINGS to make yogurt: milk, buttermilk, 2 and a container to keep the yogurt in. 3

Are you ready?

Step 1: Pour the buttermilk into the container.

Step 2: Pour the milk into the container. 4

Step 3: Leave the container out on the counter at room temperature for about 24 hours, until it sets. If you feel like it, you can put a towel or handkerchief over it to keep bugs or dust from getting in.

There! It’s yogurt!

Maybe this is not the particular culture that makes yogurt yogurt. I don’t care. This stuff looks like yogurt, tastes like yogurt, and you don’t have to do any heating or cooling of any kind. That’s what this blog is about: cheap, easy, healthy.

And next time you make the stuff, you don’t even need to buy the buttermilk; just save a couple of dollops of the yogurt, and that will act as your culture.

Now for the exciting part. Want a big ol’ pitcher of buttermilk or kefir? Stir the yogurt until it’s smooth. 5 Want sour cream? Use cream instead of milk. Want mango lassis, available in your fridge anytime you care to have a glass? Pour your homemade buttermilk, some chopped mango, and some honey into a blender, puree, and keep in a pitcher. 6 To make greek yogurt, strain your yogurt in some cheesecloth. To make cream cheese, strain for longer. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUY ANY OF THESE THINGS EVER AGAIN. Just milk, which is comparatively really cheap. And you don’t have to deal with all the fillers and junk that are in all that commercial stuff. It’s just cultured milk and whatever YOU decide to put in it.

Just so you know, out of the, say, fifty times that I have done this, something went wrong. There was an outside infection, from the air or from the pitcher or something. But instead of setting like yogurt, the milk became thick, slimy, and ropy. I did some research. There was nothing that I found online that said ‘Do not drink the ropy milk! It will give you crazy diarrhea / make you sterile / kill the heck out of you!!!’ In fact, I discovered that I had made viili, the Nordic version of yogurt. I ate it. Nothing untoward happened. If it had smelled or tasted off somehow, or if there was strange colors, I would have tossed the whole batch out. So if you think there’s something off, do your research! But know that mankind was culturing foods for millennia before microbiology was even a glimmer in Pasteur’s eye. So if you keep an open mind, smell before you taste, and taste before you eat, you’ll probably be fine. 7

Got any odd cultured foods you’ve tried out?


ADDENDUM 8/23/13:  It has been brought to my attention that I totally forgot to give any kind of ratio of buttermilk to regular milk.  You really don’t need very much buttermilk at all; I’ve used as little as a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk for a half-gallon pitcher full of milk, and had no problems.  Whatever bacteria strain they use in commercial buttermilk seems to be quite hardy. 8  Here’s my process: half gallon pitcher, into which I put one of those little half-pint cartons of buttermilk, then I fill the rest of the pitcher with regular milk.  (I use whole, but whatever you prefer will do.)  Thank you, everyone (especially Mom! ( :   ) for bringing this informational lack to my attention.  And don’t hesitate to post any more questions!  If you are having trouble posting comments below, please give the ‘Contact’ button in the menu a try and let me know it’s not working for you; I’ll see if I can figure what the problem is.

The easiest yogurt recipe ever on Punk Domestics

image credits: Photo By Tambako The Jaguar via


  1. Don’t let their haughty ways fool you. Cats are really, really stupid.
  2. You don’t need much, just one of those little tiny cartons will do.
  3. If you prefer your yogurt in little individual cups, then your container should be some sort of pitcher, and after you’re done mixing, you pour the mixture into all your little cups.
  4. If you’re using little cups, give the milk/buttermilk a couple of stirs in the pitcher then distribute amongst the cups.
  5. Don’t knock it. A big glassful tastes awesome on a summer’s day.
  6. Try peach, strawberry, loquat, durian…
  7. Please see the disclaimer on my About page.
  8. Theoretically, you could use an infinitesimal amount of buttermilk for any quantity of milk, and it would eventually culture and set, because all that is happening is that the bacteria from the buttermilk are dividing and growing until they take over the whole container of milk.  The problem is that there are other competing bacteria populations, from the air or the surface of the container or your breath or the milk itself, and these bacteria will probably just make the milk go bad instead of preserving it, like the buttermilk culture does.  So you want enough buttermilk so that the introduced bacteria culture takes over before anything else does.

25 thoughts on “How to make yogurt

  1. Hey, Josh! What’s the ratio of buttermilk and milk? I probably missed that, but didn’t see it. Also, is it best to use a glass or ceramic container, or is plastic ok, or does it matter?

    1. When I’m starting out, I just use one of those half-pints of buttermilk in the bottom of a half-gallon pitcher and fill the pitcher up the rest of the way with milk. (The reason for the half-pint is just that it’s the smallest container of buttermilk they have at the store, and I don’t have any use for a tiny container of commercial buttermilk with thickeners and junk. I love drinking big glasses of my homemade buttermilk, but the commercial stuff is just good for the culture.) After that first time, I use about a quarter cup of my homemade buttermilk/yogurt/sour cream for the culture. If you have homemade sour cream or yogurt that has given off a few tablespoons of clear liquid, you can use that liquid (it’s whey!) as a culture, in about the same amounts.

      And I’ve always used a plastic container, just because that’s all I have. : )

  2. Thanks Josh! I try to keep as much processed food out of my boys as possible…not easy! I can’t wait to try this!!!

    1. I know what you mean! Processed food is so ubiquitous these days… I’m hoping my experimenting will result in more cheap, fast alternatives to all kinds of processed foods. Let me know how this recipe turns out for you!

  3. Sorry “Doc” all you made was more buttermilk. Doesn’t taste like yogurt doesn’t have the same texture as yogurt. Because its buttermilk. If you are happy with it fine and dandy but don’t lie to others and call it yogurt.

    1. I haven’t tried it myself, but I can think of a couple of options:

      1) Buy a lactobacillicus culture from a homebrew store. (Here’s one from Wyeast Labs.) I would try maybe a quarter cup or so of the culture for a half-gallon pitcher of milk, let it culture overnight, then taste it and see how it worked.

      2) I would make a sourdough starter. A lot of the wild bugs that clabber and preserve milk into buttermilk are the same ones that make up a sourdough culture. Here’s one recipe. There are lots of others online. I would try smaller amounts for this, maybe a tablespoon of sourdough starter in a cup or so of milk. (This would be my approach so that I could have as little flour in my buttermilk as possible. The amount of milk is scaled down to make sure that the starter is able to catch before any other stuff starts growing in the milk. Once YOUR bugs have taken over the milk, you won’t have to worry; they’ll pretty much crowd out any bad microorganisms.)

      I am anxious to know how this turns out; let me know what happens!

  4. What? What?? I can possibly make my own viili? Verrry interesting! I got a viili start from a buddy of mine last year. It sure had buttermilk undertones. I eventually contaminated it…I think….and got too nervous to use it again. That’s when it donned on me to get a starter first – from the jar when I started using it, not to use the remnants of the jar to make the next batch. Doh! Anyway, I didn’t really want to spend $12 and shipping to get a new batch, so I’m giving this a try. I have made buttermilk and sour cream this way before, easy peasy. Yogurt I always have done w/ heat, etc and it’s turned out good. But counter top yogurt is so much easier!
    Thanks, I’m having a blast reading your blog.

    1. Thanks, Marianne! And the viili was totally a fluke, a random contamination. But if you figured out a way to make the viili work consistently with buttermilk as the original starter, I’d love to hear your technique! And just so’s you know, I’m still messing around with the countertop yogurt recipe to make it thicker and creamier; higher fat content definitely does the trick, but something else I’m messing around with is heating the milk before to evaporate some of the moisture. (Note that according to this theory, you still would NOT have to keep the milk at a steady temperature; that was my main gripe with the standard yogurt recipes in the first place.) Let me know your experiences with the recipe, and thanks for reading!

      1. Real Durian, indeed! What I want to know is, who was the first human who opened up one of those things, smelled it, and thought “sure, I’ll eat that.”

  5. Didn’t see that anyone responded to your musing about using sourdough starter to make yogurt so I tried it. It worked and I think it tastes more like conventional yogurt than what is made with buttermilk. It took about 36 hours to thicken but is worth it.

    1. Haha, that’s fantastic! It made sense on the theoretical level, but to actually hear that it worked is really freakin’ cool. : ) I’d love to hear more about what you did! Was it as simple as starter in milk, or did you heat the milk beforehand? Was the sourdough starter an ongoing culture, or did you start up a whole new starter for yogurty purposes?

      Sorry about all the questioning, I had just forgotten about the sourdough suggestion and I’m excited to hear that it actually worked!

      1. The sourdough starter is some I cultured about 17 years ago using juniper berries from here on the farm. It’s just fed with white flour and water and has always been a fairly mild tasting starter. I was making yogurt per your article with the heated milk and buttermilk. Didn’t measure anything so had enough milk for 2 pint jars and 1 four ounce jelly jar so put sourdough starter in the little jar=maybe a tablespoon or so. Left them setting on the kitchen counter. The kitchen was rather cool as winter still lingers here in the Midwest. The buttermilk yogurt took almost exactly 24 hours to set up( as did the sour cream I made a few days earlier) The sourdough yogurt took almost 36 hours. I keep my sourdough starter in the frig and feed it weekly. it has just been fed a few hours earlier so might not have been up to full steam yet. I’ll keep you posted as I make subsequent batches.

        1. I look forward to hearing how it progresses! Think I’ll have to actually try it out for myself now… : )

    1. Hmm, I’m not certain I understand. Do you mean, use buttermilk instead of regular milk? If so, the answer would depend on what your ‘buttermilk’ actually is.

      In this blog, I say ‘buttermilk’ meaning the thick, cultured stuff, basically the stuff that you get at the store that says ‘cultured buttermilk’. If this is what you mean, then no, I don’t think you could make yogurt out of it. Yogurt sets because growing bacterial cultures alter the chemical structure of the milk, forming a protein matrix that holds its shape. That’s why liquid milk can turn into gel-like yogurt when you introduce a culture. But cultured buttermilk has already been cultured, the protein matrix created then broken up (stirred until the buttermilk is a pourable liquid again), and the protein matrix cannot be reformed as far as I know. So cultured buttermilk cannot be used as the bulk of a batch of yogurt because, in essence, it’s already BEEN yogurt (or a yogurt-like substance), and you can’t un-fry an egg.

      If, by ‘buttermilk’, you mean the thin liquid left over from when you make butter, the answer is: I don’t know! Probably. You should try it! : )

      I hope that made at least a modicum of sense. Let me know if I actually addressed your question.

      1. Thanks, your answer did make sense. I guess I wasn’t really understanding the whole bacterial culture thing. But now I do. Thank you.

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