Anytime you’re growing something, there’s always some problem that could go wrong.
Whether your goal is to grow a child, a vegetable garden, a goldfish or, you know, bacteria, living organisms are by nature dynamic. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they get sick. Sometimes they grow faster, or slower or…chunkier.
If you’ve made an odd batch of homemade yogurt, this is the “help line” to call!
Help, My Yogurt Turned Out…
- Separated into whey plus thick cheesy weird stuff!
Honestly, for all these texture/consistency problems, you need to troubleshoot in the same way. Your problem might be:
- Be sure to incubate your yogurt only between 90-110F – over 116 or so kills the bacteria completely, but over 110 tends to hinder them and you get runny or cottage cheesy yogurt. I’ve found that about 100F makes the best thickness.
- A problem – you might start at the right temp, but if your pot of water is too hot, it can raise the temp of the cooler WAY too high. I learned that an electric stove, for some reason, holds the heat in the pot more. My yogurt at my in-laws was terrible for weeks! I finally figured out that I couldn’t boil it right before putting the jars in the cooler. I had to put the pot in the cooler while the jars were cooling and/or allow some “cool down” time to let the steam out. You might use an oven thermometer with a wire that comes out of the cooler so you can check the temp while the lid is closed, since opening the lid will alter the environment.
- Another problem – be aware of summer vs. winter temps. I learned I can’t get the cooler out of the way in the garage in the summer unless I take precautions and use warm, not boiling, water. It just got too toasty in there! On the other hand, you might be able to incubate without a cooler if you have a steamy garage at about 95F.
- If you have a problem over and over with texture and think it may be inconsistent incubation temps, you might try regulating it with a dehydrator just to see what happens – I’ve had good luck with my Excalibur dehydrator with all the trays out at 105F.
- Amount of starter
- Too little starter makes runny yogurt, but too much (more than 2 Tbs./quart for pasteurized or 2 1/2-3 Tbs. for raw yogurt) makes things separate into whey and thick cheese. Renee of MadeOn lotion says to spread that cheese on bread and broil, and your “oops” tastes like good mozzarella.
- Quality of starter
- If you’ve been using the same yogurt to restart your new batches, sometimes it just starts to wear out. I used to buy a new starter every month or two, then I got better at consistency and could go 6 months. Sometimes if you get frustrated with the thickness of your yogurt, it’s worth spending a few bucks to start over, or try a powdered starter from your local health foods store or online: , this one is a popular brand, and Cultures for Health is well-respected and sells these on Amazon: traditional flavor, mild flavor, Heirloom Bulgarian or a variety pack of 4.
- If you haven’t made yogurt in a while, your starter is probably weak. I wouldn’t bother using yogurt that is over a month old, and less than 2 weeks is optimal.
- Kind of milk
- If using raw milk, fresher is better. It’s tempting to make yogurt with milk that’s about to turn, but you’ll probably get a funky consistency. Best to pasteurize and then make yogurt.
- Skim milk (and other reduced fat milks) will always make considerably thinner yogurt. Read about the benefits of full fat dairy first, and if you still insist on using skim, try the trick here.
- How you finish
- Don’t stir or shake your jars after incubating and before cooling. Just let them be.
- Try putting a jar in the freezer for an hour after incubating vs. just in the fridge. One reader even found that if she let the jars sit on the counter for 2 hours after incubating, she had a wonderfully creamy batch!
Raw milk yogurt notes: Keep in mind that the natural healthy bacteria in raw milk will compete with the yogurt cultures, and raw yogurt is notoriously less thick than pasteurized. Get tips on making raw milk yogurt here.
Five “Runny Yogurt” Fixes
1. You can follow the directions to fix runny yogurt with gelatin if you consistently have runny problems. That fix will not help if you already have runny yogurt in the fridge, though, as the gelatin needs to be added when the milk is warm.
2. If you keep your milk hot between 160-180F for 20-30 minutes, according to this helpful post at Cultures for Health, it will break down the milk proteins so they will coagulate better. This really works, but again, won’t help if your yogurt is already runny.
4. Make green smoothies with it.
Help, My Yogurt is Too Sour!
Longer incubation times typically make for more sour yogurt, but so do higher temperatures. Four hours is sufficient to make yogurt. Experiment with 4, 6, or 8 hours to see what you like. For a while, 6 hours was too tangy for me, but now I love it at 12-16 hours, so don’t be afraid to leave one jar fermenting after you take the others out to see what you think. Add boiling water to keep the temp up after 8-12 hours.
Help, I Broke a Jar!
I’m sorry for your loss.
No really, I am. I hate breaking jars. It happened to me twice this month, so even the yogurt lady guru breaks jars. It keeps me humble. I can’t always pinpoint exactly what went wrong, but here are a few things to check:
- Is your washcloth covering the entire bottom of your pot?
- Are you using high-quality jars? Quart jars rated for canning usually do better (but not 100%) than reused store jars.
- Don’t lid your jars while you’re heating them up.
- Don’t let your pot boil like crazy. That’s never a good thing. Set your timer so you don’t burn the house down.
- Start with cold water surrounding the jars instead of hot water.
- If you’re using water in the sink to cool the jars, make sure you put the jars in the empty sink, then add cool water slowly up to half the jar, then add some ice, and cringe. If you’re in that much of a hurry, know that you’re running the risk of jar breakage.
Even if you lose a quart of milk, remind yourself how darn much money you’re saving making homemade yogurt – more than a quart of milk over time!
Help, My Yogurt Smells Like…
…dirt, grass, rotten food…
Uh, yeah. If it smells like anything other than fermented milk (which isn’t incredibly pleasant for everyone, but you should recognize the aroma), trust your nose. Throw it out and start over. You may have grown some extra bacteria on accident (or it’s too old). Be sure to use clean jars and clean hands and utensils.
One of the great beauties of the jar-in-pot method is that you can do different things in the same batch – different kinds of milk, different temperatures or amount of starter. If you’ve got a consistent issue, write down a few fixes and try them on different jars. For example:
- stir in 2, 3 and 4 Tbs. starter into different jars
- start the process at 95F, 100F, 105F and 110F in various jars
- do some raw and some pasteurized
- pull jars at 4, 8, 12 and 16 hours incubation
- incubate in two different places
- store in three different places after incubating – fridge, freezer, countertop
Keep track of your results on paper – it will be worth it to be a little academic about it for a week or two, because once you nail it, hopefully it’s like riding a bike from then on and you won’t even have to think about it.
Need more help?
Remember that there’s an online forum to “ask the teacher” in the Cultured Dairy & Cheese eCourse, where you can see a video of me making homemade yogurt using the jar-in-pot method. For some folks, seeing it in person has made all the difference in building confidence, much like my water kefir video got a lot of people starter with that process.
- Can I make dairy-free yogurt?
- Try this method with almond milk that a reader found, and you can use coconut milk with this jar-in-pot method and a bit of gelatin to thicken. A few more thoughts on that here.
- Cultures For Health shares a method, but they use their starter for every batch, which would get expensive over time.
- This method with coconut milk worked well for me and straining to make a thicker yogurt was amazing! The psyllium husk trick to thicken it up also worked, but I found I had to sprinkle the psyllium right into the whole jar of yogurt instead of separating out a bit then stirring back in. (That really didn’t work!) Used 1/2-1 tsp. per 2 cups yogurt.
- Great success with this one. The gelatin thickening trick worked too, even though the gelatin all sort of fell to the bottom and got weird for the last bit of the jar. Worth experimenting with!
- Is there a less complicated way?
- How do you eat this yogurt?
- Here are some ideas for what to do with your plain yogurt.
- What kind of milk should I use?
- That question is answered near the bottom of this post, including info on UHT organic milk.
- I strained my yogurt. What do I do with whey?
- Ideas here.
- How long will my yogurt keep?
- At least a month is safe; beyond that, use your nose. Cultured products last longer than fresh milk.
- Can I freeze homemade yogurt?
- Freezing yogurt is FINE as far as keeping the bacteria alive. You can even freeze yogurt in 1 Tbs. portions and use it as a starter for another batch, but sometimes it will be slightly weaker than a brand new, fresh starter.
- The issue with freezing yogurt for eating is its thawed consistency. Once thawed, frozen yogurt separates and is runny, so if you want it for smoothies or just don’t mind a weird consistency, you’ll still get your probiotics, but don’t expect thick, creamy yogurt once you freeze it.
Just wanted to let you know that there’s a pretty big sale on NaturoKits through this Sunday, over $10 off! If you’ve been interested in trying natural health but don’t know where to start, this first aid kit is for you. Shop here.
Also, “the Berkey Guy” has his new LPC Survival website up, and it’s fantastic. As a longtime KS sponsor, I’m happy to highlight his business – you’ll want to check it out if you’re interested in filtering your water or real food preparedness.