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Pretty much always when I make yoghurt myself, the homemade version comes out much thinner, much more liquid, than the store-bought yoghurt that is used to produce my yoghurt. How can I make it thicker? Should I increase/decrease the temperature? Add other ingredients (I just heat milk, add yoghurt, stir it, and then put it away in a closed container for 10 hours or so)?

Any general ideas on how to make yoghurt thicker?

Edit

Current Procedure:

  • I take the milk from the fridge and I start heating this directly.
  • Right from the start, I also add the yoghurt, straight from the fridge as well.
  • I'll continuously (slowly) stir the milk
  • Once it reaches about 40 degrees Centigrade I'll take it off (but perhaps my rustic measure with the temperature is off)
  • I then put the lid on the pan I used to heat the milk, wrap this in blankets, and put it away overnight.
  • Next morning, yoghurt is ready - but quite liquid.
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How hot do you heat the milk, and at what temperature do you put the yogurt in? –  BaffledCook Sep 12 '12 at 12:56
    
@BaffledCook Added this information –  user Sep 12 '12 at 13:07
    
What kind of milk you user? Do you know it's fat content? Using farm milk should lead to thicker yogurt than using UHT milk. –  Coral Doe Sep 13 '12 at 8:40
    
As I see it, your method was bad and your yogurt didn't get to proper thickness. Almost all answers suggest tricks vor getting properly thickened yogurt to be thicker than normal. That's why I changed the title. If you don't agree with the new meaning, you can roll it back in the edit history. –  rumtscho Sep 19 '12 at 13:44
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I really hope anyone reading this reads all the way down the answers. The top one(s) aren't actually very good and are actually totally mistaken on some points. –  Lee K-B Sep 3 '13 at 7:44

8 Answers 8

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are many myths surrounding yogurt making:

  • UHT milk is bad. This is simply not true. I have made yogurt with whole fat UHT milk for years and it comes out nice and thick. In fact for the past several months I have been using a high quality whole milk powder that makes a lovely, thick yogurt.
  • Store bought yogurt will always be thicker because of additives. Also not true. My yogurt is as thick as a high fat sour cream and contains no added milk powder, gelatine, etc.
  • You need many hours of 'fermentation' to make yogurt. Again I don't agree. My yogurt sets in 3-4 hours, after which it goes in the fridge to cool and finish the culturing process.
  • The milk must be exactly x temperature when you add the starter. This is only somewhat true. As long as the milk is at or below 45°C it is fine. If you can stand the temperature, so can the bacteria—ie, if you can hold a finger in it for ~10 sec, it's ok. That said, too low and you're losing some effects of the protein denature explained below.
  • Everything must be sterilized. This is only somewhat true. Clean everything carefully, of course, but you are adding a starter with billions of cultivated bacteria into an ideal environment for it to grow. It will easily dominate other bacteria that happen to get in—and they will, since there are bacteria in the air all around us, so even post-sterilization there will be plenty of foreign stuff entering the yogurt. That said, an over-long incubation will give other bacteria a chance to express themselves, so best to avoid that.
  • Don't move, touch, or cause the yogurt to shake in any way during incubation or it will fail. I used to believe this myself but it's really not that sensitive. Obviously less agitation is better, but it will not fail even with fairly substantial movement during the incubation. Drinking yogurt is shaken quite violently during incubation in order to keep it liquid and even then it's still quite viscous.

The keys to making good thick yogurt are:

  • Protein. The milk becomes solid because of a protein in the milk, and for that to happen, the protein must first be heated to above 70°C. I heat it to 75-80°C for just a few minutes and it still turns out very thick. A milk with high quality protein will make a great yogurt.
  • Incubation temperature. If you want to make good yogurt in 3-4 hours (beyond which it will not get thicker, only more sour), it must be incubated at a steady 40-45°C. A lower temperature will also produce yogurt, but you are in a race with other bacteria, so the quicker it's done the better. Buy a 75-cent indoor thermometer and start looking for ways to create the right temperature environment.
  • Time between generations. Try to bake a new batch every 4-5 days. After a week in the fridge the bacteria are starting to suffer and will not be as strong and active when introduced into the next batch. A short generation cycle will let you go on making yogurt with the same culture for dozens of generations.
  • Sugar quantity. This is my own personal guess based on bread making, etc. A little sugar will boost the bacteria, but too much will slow it down. I use 2 tbsp per litre of milk and it works very well. Tart with a hint of sweet. Up to double this amount should be fine but more could affect it. Like I say I'm guessing here but it seems to make sense.

Two final notes.

  • The "water" that separates out of the yogurt is whey protein—generally seen as a very healthy thing to eat. A firm yogurt will let you pour it or spoon it off if you don't like it, but there's no reason not to just scoop it out with the rest or stir it back in.
  • Fat content is important, but the milk protein is what will make or break the yogurt. I have made a very thick yogurt with skim milk powder or skim milk with added skim milk powder. Soy milk, which has quite a bit less fat than whole milk, makes a very solid yogurt. It's all about solids. Of course a >3.x% whole fat milk will produce a tastier yogurt, because milk fat is oh so tasty!

Further reading from an industry source: http://www.dairyconsultant.co.uk/si-yoghurt.php

Additional tips: http://www.facebook.com/diyhelpers

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Very interesting, thanks. One doubt though: are you heating the milk to 75-80°C? Isn't that contradictory to the 45°C-max rule? –  user May 9 '13 at 5:22
    
There are two stages. First is heat up the milk to alter the protein. Second is cool down and add the culture at the temperature it likes—40+°C. Should I update my answer to make it clearer? Sorry... :D –  Lee K-B May 9 '13 at 15:18
    
No problem, thanks for clarifying; updating the answer would be great to ensure everybody understands this right away. –  user May 9 '13 at 21:22
    
Actually I just realized I do state quite clearly that the milk must be below a certain temp when you add the starter. :D –  Lee K-B May 10 '13 at 5:38
    
OK my bad, I did not capture it correctly. Thanks for checking on this! –  user May 10 '13 at 12:04

Your method is wrong. Look at this site.

  1. Avoid UHT (Ultra Hight Temperature) pasteurized milk.
  2. Heat the milk without the yogurt. You want the milk to reach about 90ºC for pasteurization.
  3. Keep it at 90ºC for 20 minutes.
  4. Let the milk cool down to around 40ºC before adding the yogurt.

The site has more info.

The reason your method isn't working is that you heat the milk together with the yogurt. Heating will create hot spots where the temperature can become really hot (killing the yogurt ferments). By letting the milk cool down to the desired temperature, there will be no hot spots, and all the yogurt ferments will be happily alive.

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Also, note that home-made yogurt will never be as thick as the store-bought. They cheat and add gelatin, pectin, and/or gum. –  Jeremy Stein Sep 13 '12 at 18:35
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Even though this is the top answer I highly recommend readers to keep looking down the list here. Some of this is completely untrue. UHT milk makes a fine yogurt, for example, and homemade yogurt can easily be as thick or thicker than the average store bought. Just keep working at it! –  Lee K-B Jun 8 '13 at 18:14

You have milk based yougurt. Try this:

INGREDIENTS:

Whole milk, double-cream both in measure 50/50 1L/1L (use non UHT the best you can get)

your yogurt starter (buy best pure yogurt you can get, one 150-200ml is sufficient)

METHOD:

Bring mixture of milk/cream to boil and leave to cool down to 53-54 degrees celsius Add your yogurt and mix well (whisk is here great tool)

You can transfer it from the pot into termo-botles or just leave it in room temperature. It's bacteria and will work in lower temperatures, will just take longer (room temperature) Keep it away from drafts and dramatic temperature changes. (Kitchen next to central heating is good, or pre-heat oven over night to 50 or less degrees celsius, just for an hour and switch off and leave your yogurt pot in the oven).

So if you start morning, the next day morning your yogurt should be done. Yo can just use same pot and help them to stay warmer by wrapping it in cloths or blankets.

Than put your yogurt into a sterile glass jars and for at least 2 days leave it to carry on in fermenting slowly in the fridge.

PRECAUTIONS:

Hygiene (everything needs to be clean but no residual cleaning products)

Temperature (54-55 should be the maximum while adding your starter, you can pour a bit of mixture into bowl and whisk that small amount with starter and than add it into your pot)

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This makes sour cream, not yogurt. –  rumtscho Feb 10 at 16:40

Besides fixing the process by not heating the yogurt, i suggest a cheat: add 2 tablespoons of powdered milk for each liter of milk.

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Very simple, wrap it in a few layers of muslin cloth (aka cheese cloth) and hang it suspended over a bowl in the fridge for a day or two.

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That's the way to make Greek yogurt - but if the OP follows a correct fermentation procedure, he wouldn't need that at all. –  rumtscho Sep 12 '12 at 11:40
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Greek yogurt IS strained, but it also starts with a much higher butterfat percentage (6-10+%) than normal yogurt which lends to its creamy, thicker texture and lovely mouthfeel. Normal yogurt may sometimes need to be strained based on the performance of probiotics present, or the environment. They're living things and don't always perform consistently. The culture could be old or weak. In those cases, straining is the only way to achieve a better texture without using adjuncts. We use fresh bugs about every 10th batch of yogurt, and still always have to strain additional whey off at the end. –  Matthew Jun 9 at 16:02

Keep it simple:

  1. Good whole milk (sure, other varieties also turn to yoghurt, but it isn't the same)
  2. Milk should be lukewarm when you add the 'starter' (It is not necessary for the milk to be boiled before that)
  3. Keep it warm throughout the setting period. Don't let it cool to less than 25degC. Less than that the yoghurt formed is usually thin and runny. (Fired) Clay pots work best - one can almost cut the yogurt like custard. Ceramic is next best, especially if uncoated / unglazed. Metal vessels usually take away heat too fast, and the result is runny stuff!
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Raw milk: must reach 85 ° (185 F) to change the protein. Store pasteurized milk: must be warmed to about 60 ° (140 F)

Cool down: To 40-45 ° (105-110 F)

Culture: More means more sour yoghurt. Per liter (1.056 quart US, 0.833 UK) Mild/Sweet: One metric tablespoon (1.014 US, 0.845 UK) Really sour: For Lasi (Dooq), dips (thickened) 4.25 tbsp (4.25 US, 3.5 UK) Anywhere in between shall work.

Container: glass, ceramic, glazed pot, plastic, clay JUST NOT THE CONTAINER THAT THE MILK WAS HEATED IN. No bare metal. Note: Transferring milk at the proper temp to a glass bowl shall cool it more than a plastic one. In large quantities not significant but in small quantities makes a difference. Wrap a towel or small blanket around the container.

Setting temperature for environment: 40-45 ° (105-110 F)

Lower range temp: loose or running High range temp: firm or set

Time: Longer means more sour 3.5-4.5 hours Refrigeration: 3+ hours to set finally.

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If you want thick yogurt, get the right yogurt pot. The secret is in the container. All the yogurt making cultures only make yogurt in a 100% natural clay pot. not glazed ceramic ones. The water in the yogurt gets slowly evaporated through the micro pores in the pot and voila you get the thickest and silkiest yogurt that you can ever get... without the use of any artificial thickeners...

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This cannot be "the secret", all my childhood long I have had thick homemade yogurt (thick enough to stick a spoon in it so it doesn't fall) from lots of different containers, mostly glass, never clay or something other porous. –  rumtscho Feb 10 at 16:39

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