Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt and Blueberries

Photo courtesy JMacPherson

Yogurt is a great addition to a paleo diet. It’s full of probiotic bacteria that will keep your digestive system functioning properly, and it’s yummy. I find that my homemade yogurt is much less sour than commercial yogurt, and even seems to have a bit of a vanilla taste, even though I don’t add any vanilla. Not convinced it’s worth the bother? Read 5 reasons to make homemade yogurt.

Any basic yogurt recipe has four basic steps.

1. Heat milk to 82C (180F) degrees.

2. Cool the milk to 46C (115F) degrees

3. Add a starter.

4. Wait.

I like to make yogurt the old-fashioned way with no equipment other than a pot and a wooden spoon. I don’t even bother with a thermometer, but some people prefer to use a yogurt maker. What yogurt makers do (except for a few very fancy ones that can heat and cool the milk) is simply keep the yogurt at a constant temperature after you’ve heated, cooled, and added starter. I’ve found a big towel or blanket does a fine job of keeping the yogurt warm.

How to make yogurt at home without a yogurt maker

This is actually a very simple process, but there are certain details you need to get right for it to work. Trust me that it’s really super easy, in spite of the long explanation.

Preparation time: 15 minutes Start to finish: 2 days


1 liter (1 quart) whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized) 

1/2 cup light cream (optional)

At least 1 tbsp. of unflavored yogurt with a live culture (either store-bought, or saved from your last batch of yogurt).

Let’s Cook

1.  Pour the milk into a pot and heat it on a medium heat. Stir the milk constantly, making sure none of it sticks to the bottom. I like to use a wooden spoon with a flat end – I drag it across the bottom of the pot while I stir.

2.   After about 2 minutes, foam will start to form around the sides of the pot, then gradually across the milk surface. After about 7 minutes, steam will start rising. This is good. You want to heat the milk until it is nice and foamy, but stop before it starts boiling. Last time I made yogurt, it took me 8 minutes, but use this only as a general guide. If you have a thermometer, stop when it reaches 82C (180F).

Homemade yogurt

Getting Foamy

3.  Set your pot aside to cool down. This should take around 12 and 25 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, test it by inserting a clean pinky finger. The milk shouldn’t be so hot that it immediately burns you, but not so cool that you can leave your pinky in there comfortably.  The test: If you can leave your pinky finger in the pot for 5 seconds and no longer, the temperature is right. Or… stop letting it cool when it reaches 46C (115F).

4.   Add the yogurt starter and stir. Note that you can add more than 1 tbsp., but the end product won’t be as thick.

5.  Wrap the pot in a heavy blanket or towel and leave it on the kitchen counter to ferment for at least 8 hours. I’ve always left it longer, closer to 24.

Keeping the yogurt warm.

Keeping the yogurt warm.


Fermenting the Yogurt

Fermenting the Yogurt


6.  Remove the towel and store the pot in the fridge for another day, and it’s ready to eat. 

Greek Style Yogurt 

Paleo people aren’t fat phobic, so why not make extra-thick, Greek-style yogurt? Make sure you add the optional cream. Then, when your yogurt is finished, line a colander with cheesecloth, then pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and let it drip for an hour or two. Some of the liquid whey will drain off and you’ll be left with a thicker yogurt. Don’t through out the whey. Keep if to use when making other fermented foods or just add a bit to other dishes where the taste won’t be noticed. Whey is very healthy, though not too tasty.

What milk should you use? I’ve only used cow’s milk, but you could use goat, sheep, yak… whatever you can get. Use the best quality milk you can afford. Note that you don’t need to use raw milk, though you can, of course. This is a great way to get some of the benefits of unpasteurized dairy with pasteurized milk. You could theoretically use skim milk, but why would you want to?

What yogurt should I use? Only yogurt with a live culture can magically convert milk into yogurt. The first time you make yogurt, you obviously can’t use your own homemade yogurt as a starter, so buy the best yogurt you can find – one with no filler ingredients. If they are using thickeners, it means they didn’t let the cultures do their job for very long… i.e. there won’t be a lot of probiotics in it. The ingredients should be just milk and probiotic bacteria – such as L. acidophilus. Make sure there are no ingredients such as “milk protein concentrate”, locust bean gum, gelatin and others.

Can I use some of my own yogurt to get the next batch going? Of course! If you aren’t ready to make a new batch as soon as the old batch is eaten, you can freeze a bit of yogurt to store it. Let it defrost naturally (don’t heat or microwave it) when you’re ready to make your next batch. You can even make yogurt culture from scratch, but more on that in a future post.

What about buying a yogurt culture? Since there is no way to measure the amount of live bacteria in yogurt, you might want to buy a yogurt culture to hedge your bet that you’ll have enough. So far I’ve lived on the edge – I’ve used real yogurt, and it hasn’t let me down.

What do I do with the skin that forms on the yogurt when it cools off? The skin seems icky to me, so I always quickly picked it off threw it out. Later I noticed that some recipes say to carefully move it aside and add the yogurt to the milk underneath. Oops. Further reading showed me that other some recipes don’t mention the skin at all. I concluded that it really doesn’t matter: keep the skin or discard it – it’s a matter of personal preference.

What about the liquid? Sometimes there is a bit of liquid in the container when you buy commercial yogurt. This can happen with homemade yogurt too. I’ve had so little liquid that I’ve ignored it, but if it bothers you, then pour it off or stir it in.


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Posted in Fermented Foods, Paleo Diet Recipes Tagged with: ,
8 comments on “Homemade Yogurt
  1. Lauren says:

    I am new to Paleo so please forgive me, but is this recipe considered Paleo- with the use of milk? I thought Paleo was dairy free?


    • Ruth Almon says:

      Very strict proper paleo is dairy free. Primal is a variation of paleo that includes dairy. Most people people do allow butter and ghee. Many use good quality cream and homemade yogurt or kefir. A lot of people can’t digest dairy well and they should avoid it, but others have no problem. There’s a lot of ethnic variation in this. Many Asians don’t do well with dairy, while northern Europeans thrive on good quality dairy.
      It’s important to fine tune paleo to suit your own body.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Thank you so much for this. My grand daughter (7) is spending time with me at Christmas. She LOVES yogurt. I always try to have a cooking project when she visits and this would be great. But, she will not enjoy plain yogurt, as she is used to commercial. How do you suggest i sweeten, flavor this so she not only makes her own yogurt, but enjoys eating it.

    • Ruth Almon says:

      I actually never eat it plain myself. I always like to eat it with fruit. Berries are a great option.

      Why not take a portion of the berries (or other fruit), mash them and mix it with the yogurt. This mashed fruit will color the yogurt too. For instance with strawberries you get a lovely pink. Mashing 2 or 3 strawberries is enough to color one portion. Then add whole or cut pieces of fruit. Depending on the fruit, this may be sweet enough, (like with mango). If you do want to add additional sweetness, I’d go with good quality honey or maple syrup.
      It’s so great your granddaughter gets to cook!!! So many kids these days don’t know anything about cooking beyond the microwave. :)

      • Vanessa says:

        Thank you, i was thinking honey and have a great local source. She is excited about making it and i am pretty sure she will eat it. I teach her about gardning too. It was so funny, she planted English peas, watched them and watered them, picked and shelled them, helped wash and put them on to cook. At dinner, she got the first helping, made a face and said “i dont eat those!” She did agree to try one, guess she is going to have to grow corn next, thats the only veg. she will eat!

        • Ruth Almon says:

          She’s so lucky to have you in her life, Vanessa! One thing I truly believe in is that these exposures make a difference, even if you can’t see the difference right away. My daughter is in her 20s and always surprises us by eating one more thing she never used to touch. She was a very finicky eater as a child. I think being exposed to lots of real food made it possible for her to expand her choices in her 20s. Kids that grow up knowing nothing more than chicken nuggets will often never start eating veggies.

          Having the opportunity to grow veggies is such a great life experience!!

  3. Harmony says:

    I’m just curious what the benefit of making your own is compared to buying a high quality yogurt. It seems the price for a quart of good quality milk is about the same as a quart of yogurt. Is the quality better? Better for you etc? Thanks. You’ve definitely made it look doable.

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