Tips to Guide You in Making Yogurt
~ Successfully Every Time ~

Tips For Making Yogurt

A warm welcome. This page is dedicated to help you succeed in making yogurt successfully..... every time!

I've made yogurt many times.... more than a hundred and counting. Yup, that's a lot of yoghurt. :) I've learned a few tips and tricks along the way that I'd like to share with you.

Making yogurt is a combination of art and science.... some steps are more precise and important than others. The trouble is when you're first beginning you don't know which is which.

These tips supplement the basic recipe for making yogurt:

How to Make a Firmer, Thicker Curd

There are two ways without adding gelatin, pectin, tapioca or corn starch.

1. Preheat Treatment of Milk

  • To make a firmer, thicker curd heat the milk to 170°-
    180° F (82° C) and hold it at that temperature for 10-15 minutes. (Optional: add 2-3 Tablespoons (25 grams) of powdered milk at treatment temperature.)
  • The high temperature drives out the oxygen and aids anaerobic fermentation.
  • This is the method I use most often. It works extremely well and the curd sets up so well it's impossible to tell the difference from commercial curd.
  • It's convenient because it doesn't require adding anything and the preheat treatment doesn't require exact times and temperatures.

A little about whey...

  • To prevent whey from separating from the curd (called wheying off), milk is heated to 175-185° F (80-85° C) for approximately 15-30 minutes.
  • This allows the proteins to fully hydrate and bind as much water as possible.
  • Not as much water (whey) will be released when the curd is formed.
  • Whey is high in protein and lactic acid.

2. Add Milk Protein

  • This involves adding milk powder to fresh milk.  While the milk is heating, sprinkle 1/3 cup of powdered milk (non-fat or whole) on top.  Let it rehydrate 5 minutes before stirring.  Use approximately 1/3 cup per 1 quart or litre of milk.
  • The milk proteins become more concentrated and yield a more solid curd.
  • Curd made using this method is higher in protein.
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Fermentation Troubleshooting (Curdling & Coagulating)

Inoculated milk (milk with yogurt starter) should thicken to a custard-like texture within 6 hours (often curd will set within 4-5 hours). Generally I gently tip the jar of inoculated milk after about six hours. If there's no sign of coagulation I check again after six hours.

If after 6 hours the inoculated milk is still runny then it hasn't properly curdled and coagulated.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • The bacteria in the culture were alive but not in sufficient quantities to curdle and/or coagulate the milk. This can happen if the culture is old.
  • The bacterial culture was killed when the temperature of the inoculated milk went above 130° F (54°C).
  • The inoculated milk was moved or jostled too often during incubation.

What to do if curd hasn't formed?

If the inoculated milk is still good (smells and tastes good) try this:

  • Take the jar or container of inoculated milk and stir in another 1-2 Tablespoons of a fresher yogurt starter than you initially added.
  • Put the container back in the warm oven (or other incubator) and let it incubate an additional 6 hours.

If the inoculated milk smells bad or slightly off, throw it out. Better to be safe.....

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Yogurt Starter

  • The starter must contain live bacteria.
  • If you're using commercial yogurt check the label. It should say "contains live culture" or "bacterial cultures" or list the bacteria present such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus or Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium lactis.
  • Make sure the starter is fresh.... check the best before date. The amount of yogurt bacteria in the culture will decrease with time.
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Yogurt Is Very Runny and Didn't Set Properly

There can be several reasons for this.

  • The starter culture was too weak.  Use a new culture or increase the amount of culture.
  • The fermentation temperature was too high or too low.
  • The container was disturbed during incubation and the coagulum was broken up. 
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Yogurt Has a Stringy, Slimy Texture and Smells Bad

The yogurt starter or milk was contaminated with unwanted bacteria.  Throw the yoghurt out and make a new batch.  Use a fresh culture and pasteurize the milk. 

Yogurt Is Quite Soft After Incubation

The curd was incubated for 6 hours, but it's not as firm as it should be.  This commonly happens when the culture is too weak.  If you re-culture from previous batches it's time to use a fresh starter culture.

If the inoculation temperature is too low or too high the lactic acid bacteria won't grow as well. 

If the incubation temperature is too low the bacteria will grow slowly and the curd won't become fully firm in the usual incubation period.

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Yogurt Is Very Firm and Tastes Too Sour

The curd has been incubated for too long and become too acidic.  If you prefer a milder taste, incubate only until the curd is set.  Check the inoculated milk after 4 hours by gently tipping the container.  If set, remove and refrigerate immediately.

A little about the taste of yogurt...

  • The tartness can be controlled by the amount of culture added, type of bacteria in the culture and the length of incubation.
  • The amount of yogurt starter (culture) effects incubation time. Curd will form quicker when more starter culture is added. Shorter incubation time means a milder tasting yogurt.
  • You shouldn't need more than 1 heaping Tablespoon or 2 Tablespoons yogurt starter for one quart (litre) of milk. I rarely use more than 2 Tablespoons of yogurt starter per quart (litre) of milk.

Yogurt Is Set and Doesn't Taste Sour

The incubation period wasn't long enough.  The longer yoghurt ferments the more acidic or sour it becomes. Allow the inoculated milk to incubate from 8 to 24 hours according to how sour tasting you like the curd.

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Yogurt Is Grainy Or Gritty

The milk was heated too high when pasteurizing.  Try not to heat above 180° F (82°C).

Choice of Milk

  • If you want the fewest calories in yogurt use skim.
  • If you're mainly concerned about taste use whole milk.
  • Whole milk makes a thicker yogurt than skim.
  • To make low fat yogurt thicker add skim milk powder.
  • Goat milk is higher in fat and makes a thick, creamy yogurt.
  • You can also use powdered milk, evaporated milk, and .
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Yogurt Making Equipment

Generally you'll have most, if not all, of the equipment you need for making yogurt. Make do and substitute when possible.

meat and candy thermometers

One item that you may not have and is necessary is a thermometer. Actually any thermometer will do..... as long as the temperature goes to 180° F. You can buy a meat thermometer for under $5. Candy thermometers may cost a bit more.

There are thermometers with an alarm that can be set to go off at a specified temperature...... this can be a real saver if you tend to forget about the pot on the stove.

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Heating Milk

heating milk in covered pot
  • Heating 1 quart (litre) milk on medium temperature takes about 15-20 minutes.

  • The milk will heat more quickly by covering the pot with a lid.
  • Heating milk on a lower setting takes longer but is safer if you tend to forget about what's on the stove. A thermometer with an alarm may be worthwhile.
  • The milk doesn't need to be heated to exactly 180° F (82° C). I've read recipes that call for the milk to be heated anywhere from 140-180° F. In fact, if you're using pasteurized milk the bacteria are already dead and the milk only needs to be warmed to to 115-120° F for thermophilic yogurt.

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Cooling Milk

  • To cool the milk more quickly place the pot of milk in a sink full of cold water. Ice cubes can be added. Cooling this way takes about 5-10 minutes. Watch closely or it'll end up being too cool.
  • Another way to speed up cooling is to put the pot in the fridge..... if you don't mind the fridge being steamed up.
  • If the milk is cooled below 110° F don't worry.....
  • Put the milk back on the stove and reheat to 110-115° F before adding the culture.
  • The temperature can vary a few degrees.
  • Lactic acid (probiotic) bacteria in the starter culture grow best at temperatures of 115° F.
  • The bacteria will still grow at temperatures slightly higher and lower than this too.

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  • Don't shake or stir the container during incubation. Yogurt bacteria don't like to be disturbed..... the milk won't properly gel.
  • Some yogurt bacteria grow best at 115° F (46° C). Other bacteria grow faster at lower temperatures, 90-110° F. However they all will grow within a range of 90-120° F.
  • Try to maintain a temperature somewhere between 100-120° F. for 6-8 hours during fermentation (incubation).
  • Dry bacterial cultures can set the milk in 3 to 4 hours.

This is really important:

  • Try not to let the temperature go above 130° F (54°C). The lactic acid bacteria will be killed.
  • Lactic acid or yogurt bacteria are essential in making yogurt.
  • Incubation time effects how tart yogurt is. The longer the fermentation, the more lactic acid is produced and the tarter the taste.
  • If you want a tart taste, allow the inoculated milk to ferment for 24 hours.
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Incubation Methods

There are many ways to keep the inoculated milk warm (110-115° F) during incubation (fermentation). You can try one of these or invent your own method.

  • oven - pre-warmed to 110-115° F, with oven light or pilot light on.

  • toaster oven - set to 110-115° F.
  • crock pot - pre-warmed and periodically turned on.
  • thermos - pre-warm thermos with hot water before pouring inoculated milk in.
  • insulated cooler or container - wrap container of inoculated milk in warmed towels and put in cooler.
  • warm water - fill a large pot or sink with very warm water..... enough to partially cover container of inoculated milk and place container in it. Empty cool water periodically and refill with warm water.

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  • Refrigerate immediately after incubation.

  • Yogurt will easily keep a month in the fridge when you have it in a tightly sealed container. I like to use glass mason jars.
  • Curd becomes more acidic with time and has a tarter flavour.

Tips really do come in handy when you're making yogurt..... just like they do when you're cooking with yogurt.

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