This is the number one problem people come across when they start out making their own yogurt: It’s thin and runny! People wonder if fermentation happened, or just “This is it. Homemade yogurt must always be runny.” …but this is simply not so!
So, just what is the difference between store bought and homemade yogurt? Well, many commercially made yogurts contain cheap, and unhealthy starches and stabilizers to thicken them up. But, we don’t need to do that at home to get the same results. It’s possible to get a nice, thick, and creamy yogurt at home without using any fillers at all (Really!).
Here are the top three reasons why homemade yogurt does not turn out thick and creamy, and what you can do about it:
1. Use Whole Milk. (preferrably raw, or organic…or even whole milk coconut milk from the can would work nicely, as well).
It is tricky or next to impossible to get low-fat or non-fat milk yogurt to turn out thick without adding some kind of thickener like starch or gelatin.
Basically, the lower the fat content of the milk the higher the water content. It’s hard to ferment water since the bacteria that turn milk into yogurt eat lactose (milk sugar). If you must use a lower fat milk, add a thickener to it, such as arrowroot, or strain it with a coffee filter (directions below).
2. Use the right amount of starter.
When I first started making yogurt at home, I worried about not using enough starter, but found out that too much starter causes a problem.
It’s a common misconception, but in all actuality, too much starter means that the little guys get too over-crowded and won’t get the job done. They need room. The following are some tried and true milk to starter ratios…
- 1/2 gallon of milk to a 1/2 cup left-over yogurt as starter.
- 1 gallon of milk to 1 cup left-over yogurt.
- 3 tablespoons left-over yogurt per quart of milk.
If you don’t have any yogurt around already to use as a starter, you can purchase one of several varieties of yogurt starters at Cultures for Health, and just follow the instructions on the package for how much milk is required for your perfect batch of yogurt.
3. Cool the milk enough.
You want to be sure to get your milk just up to 180F, heated gradually, to relax the proteins, otherwise you get weird textures. Also, I always mix the yogurt in with some of the warm milk and whisk it smooth before adding it.
If you add your yogurt starter too soon, the live and active cultures will be damaged by the heat. Remember, yogurt bacteria can be frozen with little to no damage, but heat will kill them. So, make sure you have a thermometer handy to check and see if the milk has cooled down to the necessary 110 degree level before you add your starter, or the culture will be rendered useless.
You’ll know if you did things right if after 6-8 hours the milk looks congealed and pulsl away from edge as a clump when the jar is tipped.
Also, remember that the yogurt will thicken up a bit more in the fridge, and you can always strain your homemade yogurt to make it super thick, and Greek-style, by lining a strainer with a large coffee filter or single-ply cloth diaper (both available at Wal-Mart), pouring the yogurt in, and letting the liquid whey drip out into a pan until it has reached the perfect thickness.