We go through a lot of yogurt in our house. It can get mega-expensive, mega-fast when you consume that much organic grass-fed yogurt. In our area, organic yogurts in the individual size tubs run about $1.50 apiece. Seems economical enough, until you start doing the math. One dollar for about six ounces of yogurt, times three people in my family, times once a day– that’s over $30 per week in yogurt! Yeeeesssshh. I could think of about 300 things I’d rather spend $30 on in a week than yogurt.
But what if I told you could get an entire half-gallon of organic yogurt for less than you pay for a single cup of fancy coffee? Yup, you can make organic grass-fed yogurt for even cheaper than conventional store-bought yogurt by making your yogurt at home. I know, yogurt-making seems difficult and complicated, but I promise it is totally easy and only takes about 10 minutes of hands-on time. Plus, it only requires two ingredients! You can do this.
And bonus: the stuff you make at home is healthier for your family because you control what mix-ins you use (have you ever looked at how much sugar is in store-bought yogurt?) and how long it ferments.
In our house, we make 24-Hour Yogurt—which is yogurt that ferments for a full day. Many store-bought yogurts are fermented for only a couple of hours, and some as few as 30 minutes! Why do you want a long ferment time on your yogurt? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Reason Why You Should Eat Long-Fermented Yogurt
- It’s virtually lactose-free! Twenty-four hours is the magical spot where the beneficial bacteria from your yogurt starter culture have gobbled up almost all of the lactose in the milk—leaving you with yogurt that is nearly lactose-free and much easier to digest. This is, obviously, a good thing if you know you are lactose-intolerant, but it’s a good thing for the majority of adults, too. Did you know roughly 65% of adults have a reduced ability to digest lactose? So even if traditional dairy products don’t cause huge problems with your gut, you might see digestive benefits from going lactose-free.
- It’s packed with more beneficial bacteria than most probiotic pills. Supplements have their place, but at Wholefully, we always recommend that you get your nutrients from whole food sources—and that includes your probiotics! Taking probiotic pills has become such a normal thing that people forget that the original way to get beneficial bacteria is through what’s on our plate, not what’s in a capsule. A single cup of 24-Hour Yogurt has 700 billion CFUs of good bacteria! Go ahead and check your probiotics bottle—I’m going to guess it’s nowhere near that 700 billion mark. Between my daily serving of 24-Hour Yogurt and kombucha, plus my frequent servings of sauerkraut and fermented pickles, I actually don’t take a probiotic pill at all. I get all my good bacteria from my food!
- It’s thick, tangy, delicious, and versatile! The long fermentation time gives the yogurt a Greek yogurt-style tart and tangy flavor, which makes it perfect for both sweet and savory uses. We use it as sour cream on our chili, mixed into foods to make them rich and creamy, and even as the base of desserts! Long fermentation also means the yogurt is naturally thick. I like a really thick yogurt, so I still strain it, but right out of the pot, 24-Hour Yogurt is thicker than your normal store-bought yogurt.
We make a full gallon of whole milk, grass-fed, organic 24-Hour-Yogurt every two weeks. I use a Greek yogurt strainer to thicken my yogurt (I’ve been using this one for years), and end up with almost three quarts of very thick Greek-style yogurt and about one quart of leftover whey (which I mostly use for baking). You absolutely don’t have to make as much as I do—yogurt-making is scalable up and down—but we’ve found that the gallon amount works great for us!
Before we dig into the actual how-to here, I did want to talk a bit about the two ingredients you’ll need: milk and a yogurt starter culture.
Milk: I recommend starting with organic, grass-fed whole cow’s or goat’s milk (if you want a plant-based yogurt, we have a how-to for that, too). You might be tempted to go for a lower milkfat, but really, you want the whole kit-and-kaboodle here—that’s what makes the end result creamy, thick, and packed full of good-for-your-gut probiotics. You can use raw milk, pasteurized, or ultra-pasteurized—all three will work just fine for yogurt-making.
Yogurt starter culture: You’ll need to inoculate your milk with some starter bacteria to get the yogurt-making process going, and there are two ways of going about this. You can either use premade plain yogurt with active cultures (either store-bought or from a previous batch of homemade yogurt) or you can use a freeze-dried yogurt starter culture. Both work relatively the same, with one important caveat—because you are fermenting for such a long period of time, you give the bacteria all the time they need to run rampant. Which is great if it’s a bacteria your gut needs—less great if the bacteria that runs rampant in your yogurt is one that your body doesn’t need. When using premade yogurt as a your starter culture, you run the risk of inoculating your new batch of yogurt with a bacteria that you didn’t intend to be there—something that got in from the air, from your container, from a spoon—anywhere!
You reduce this risk using freeze-dried starter cultures. This isn’t a big deal if your digestion is in good shape and you are more-or-less healthy. But if you are fighting any sort of illness or disorder, you might want to be more careful with the bacteria you are introducing into your body and stick with a yogurt starter culture. Before I was diagnosed with Lyme, I always made my 24-hour yogurt with yogurt from a previous batch. Post-Lyme, I always make my yogurt with Yogurment yogurt starter cultures. Both turn out about the same taste- and texture-wise.
And those are the only two ingredients you need to make yogurt! So how do you do it? Well, it’s pretty darn simple. I’ll include directions below for both the classic stovetop and heating pad method, and my preferred method—in my Instant Pot.
Step One: Heat Your Milk
Either over low heat on the stove, or using the “Yogurt/Boil” setting on your Instant Pot, heat your yogurt until it reaches 185°F. You don’t want to boil the milk, but you do want the milk to get hot enough to kill any not-so-good bacteria that might be lingering. A thermometer is great if you plan on making lots of yogurt, but you don’t absolutely need one. Just heat the milk until it looks frothy, very steamy, and has small bubbles (but don’t let it get to boiling). If you’re using an Instant Pot, the temperature sensor will automatically turn off the Instant Pot and beep when it hits 185°F.
Step Two: Cool Your Milk
Turn off the heat, remove the pot of yogurt from the heat, and allow to cool. You want it to cool to between 100°F and 115°F—the perfect temperature for yogurt bacteria to thrive. Again, you don’t need a thermometer (but it makes life easier). A good rule of thumb is that when you can stick a (very clean!) finger in the milk, count to 10, and not feel like your finger is going to burn off, it’s at the right temperature. Depending on the amount of milk and the heat of your house, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.
Too hot and the yogurt cultures will die. Too cool and the yogurt cultures won’t multiply. If the milk gets too cool, just heat it back up. If it is still too warm, wait for it to cool down.
Step Three: Pitch In Your Starter
When your milk is sufficiently cooled, it’s time to inoculate the milk with your starter. If using premade yogurt, take a little bit of the warm milk and whisk it with your starter yogurt in a small bowl. Pour the yogurt/milk mixture into the milk and whisk well.
If using a freeze-dried yogurt culture, just sprinkle it onto the warm milk and whisk the dickens out of it. To get the optimal amount of probiotics, you should use the amount of freeze-dried culture listed on the package for the amount of milk you’re using. I admit, to save some money, I usually use fewer packets than recommended.
Step Four: Ferment!
Your goal during the 24-hour fermentation time is to keep the yogurt at right around 100°F for the entire time. There are as many ways to do this as there are people making yogurt! But my two favorite are:
- In the Instant Pot: the easiest of them all! Just set the Yogurt setting to 24 hours, close the lid, and walk away. The Instant Pot will keep the yogurt at right around 100°F and then beep to let you know when 24 hours is up. Easy. Peasy. I haven’t had a single batch of yogurt fail since getting my Instant Pot.
- Using a heating pad: cover the pot of warm milk, and then wrap tightly in a large towel or blanket. Place on a heating pad set to low for 24 hours.
Step Five: Chill, strain (if you want), and enjoy!
The yogurt will be pretty thick when it comes right out of the fermentation, but it’ll thicken even more as it chills. If after it’s chilled you’d still like thicker yogurt, strain through either a yogurt strainer or nut milk bag. Enjoy just as you would store-bought yogurt!
Frequently Asked 24-Hour Yogurt Questions
Can I ferment longer than 24 hours?
After 24 hours, you start to hit the law of diminishing returns—you begin to get bacterial die-off because the more aggressive bacteria start to beat out the other probiotics. After about 36 hours, the whole shebang is so volatile that it won’t last long in the fridge anymore. 24 hours is the way to go—set a timer!
How long will 24-Hour Yogurt last in the fridge?
We get 2-3 weeks out of it no problem. The worst that’s going to happen is it’s just going to get more tangy and more soured. As always, use your senses. If it smells, tastes, or looks off, throw it out!
Does the 24-hour fermentation work with other milks, too?
Sure does! It works wonderfully with goat’s milk, and you can definitely use it for coconut milk, too (although the method is slightly different).
Are there other ways to keep the pot warm during fermentation?
Some other options to try: on top of the fridge (it’s too cold for me), under the light in an oven (I don’t like having my oven occupied for a full day), using the “warm” setting on a slow cooker (the “warm” setting on my slow cooker is closer to 165°F, which will kill all the probiotics), in a cooler filled with boiling water (never tried it). Also, there are specific yogurt maker machines—but if you’re going to buy something to make yogurt, I’d recommend you buy an Instant Pot. It does the yogurt-making thing and way more!
How do I use 24-Hour Yogurt?
My favorite thing for breakfast is a good yogurt bowl. I top my 24-Hour Yogurt with fruits, nuts, seeds, and a drizzle of honey and call it a meal! We also use it like sour cream on chili, tacos, and burritos. My daughter likes to dip cucumber slices in it! You can also use it for cooking, but just be aware that if you heat the yogurt to above 115°F, it will kill off the beneficial bacteria (and it’ll probably curdle, too). If using the yogurt to make things thick and creamy (like in my Penne Rosa), wait until it has cooled down considerably before mixing the yogurt in.
Yogurt is one of the best ways to get started with fermenting foods in your own kitchen—it’s something that almost everyone in the family enjoys eating, and it’s easy, easy, easy to get right! I promise you can do this. As always, leave us any questions in the comments and we’ll try to get you on the fermentation bandwagon. Happy yogurt-making!