Remember back when I was still an 'Instant Pot Ingenue', I mentioned the yogurt function on this magical machine but said it would have to be the subject of a later post?
Well, this is that post.
And it's made me even more fanatical about the Instant Pot now. Seriously, it's super easy to make your own fresh yogurt and it tastes amazing - I think better than the store brands. And, after making your first batch, you really only need a half gallon of milk to make repeat batches.
So while this post may be more of interest to those who've already got an Instant Pot, maybe this will spur interest if you're on the fence about getting one?
Even if you're the kind of reader like my family members who just read my blog because they're related to me (so thus mandatory)😃 or don't EVER plan on making your own yogurt, you know I cannot resist putting totally useless nerdy factoids about food in my blog so hey, keep reading. Especially if you have those types of friends who are known to say 'I heard on NPR the other day blahdy blah blah...' - now you'll have your own scintillating conversational tidbits to contribute.
p.s. I am one of THOSE people.
So my husband and I are greek yogurt fans, usually buying big tubs of the Fage ('fa-yeh') brand 2% greek yogurt. I like the Siggi's brand too but its ridiculously expensive to buy. My kids love regular yogurt like Activia and Stoneyfield, particularly the Banilla flavor.
Between the 6 of us, we go thru quite a bit. So I thought it would be fun to experiment and see how complicated it might be to make our own. Plus, all the yogurt marketed to kids are total sugar bombs - I wanted to stop buying any of the flavored yogurts as it seemed few had less than 10 grams of sugar.
Like most things for the Instant Pot, once you read thru enough online descriptions and instructions, you end up saying 'That's it??'. Making yogurt is definitely in that category.
And I don't know why but there is something so very 'Little House on the Prairie' about making homemade dairy products (butter, soft cheese, ricotta) that totally appeals to me. Maybe I'm old fashioned - I guess I just like the fact that I know what's in it. Call me Half-Pint.
- Half gallon of any milk. As long as you avoid ultra-pasteurized or ultra-homogenized, you should be fine. I just use our 2% store brand.
- Single serve pint of plain yogurt with active cultures for your starter. I'll describe preferred brands and alternatives below.
- Digital thermometer
- Whisk or spoon
- Yogurt strainer (store bought or create your own - I'll describe what I've used below)
- Mixing bowl for ice bath
- Instant Pot
The process of making yogurt is basically 5 steps and the Instant Pot does most of them for you.
- Heat milk to at least 180°F (range 180°F and190°F) - kills off wild bacteria and allows whey protein in milk to denature to make it thicken to yogurt.
- Cool milk to around 110°F (range 105°F – 114°F)
- Add yogurt starter (couple tablespoons plain yogurt, tempered)
- Allow yogurt to set (8-9 hours)
- Done if you like plain regular yogurt; or drain if you like greek yogurt
It is honestly less than 15 minutes of work outside of what the Instant Pot is doing and the wait times....very easy. But given the wait times, it's a good idea to do the heating up and cooling down before bedtime - that way it can do the set up overnight.
So thought it would be easiest to break this down into the stages and describe what I do at each step. But before that, a factoid:
Yogurt goes back to the Neolithic peoples of Central Asia around 6000 B.C. Herdsmen wandering around with their animals ended up milking them and storing the milk in a carrying case (ie., animal stomach...ew) where it naturally curdled making it suitable for storing longer periods. But it wasn't just for the lonely goatherder - No! It fed armies as well. Apparently the Mongol leader Genghis Khan and his armies LIVED on yogurt. You could say it was the original military MRE???
Pour the milk into the clean, empty Instant Pot liner. Close the lid and seal the vent. Hit the 'Yogurt' button and then 'Adjust'. It should say 'BOIL' on the screen. Now your milk is heating up. This will take about 30 minutes.
While it is heating up, take your yogurt starter out of the fridge and spoon a few tablespoons into a bowl and let sit to come to room temperature. There are several different options to choose from for your starter.
You can buy just a single serve plain yogurt to start. Some brands have more active cultures than others but most major brands should be fine. If you've already made some yogurt, you can also use some of your current batch or the whey that you drained. Just use a fresh supply of whichever one to ensure live cultures.
When the digital display says 'Yogt', release the pressure, take the lid off and check temp with the digital thermometer. Stir the milk to make sure you get an accurate measurement. Try to avoid touching the sides or bottom of the pot as cooked milk proteins stick there and you don't want them to mix into your liquid.
If your milk isn't to 180°F yet, then turn on the 'Saute' function, adjust to 'Low' and allow it to come up to temperature while stirring gently. I've had pretty good luck with mine being almost at 180°F with just an additional minute or so on 'Saute' to bring it up.
Once your milk is at 180°F, you need to cool it down to 110°F. You can just let it sit until it comes down to that temperature but this can take an hour so I prefer to just lift the pot out and place it in an ice water bath. This brings the temp down faster within ~5 minutes.
Again, stir to make sure you have an even temperature for measuring accurately and try not to touch sides or bottom when stirring. Once you are at temperature, lift the liner out of the ice bath, dry the bottom and sides, and put it back into the Instant Pot.
Factoid interlude: Yogurt really didn't go mainstream to Europe until around the 1500's. The story goes that King Francois (of France of course) was suffering from severe diarrhea. Doctors of the time were not successful in providing relief (apparently bloodletting just didn't do the trick for this one). The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire Suleiman the Magnificent, a buddy of the king, sent a doctor who prescribed yogurt and voilá, the French king was able to get off the 'throne'. See, that Activia commercial that purports to help with your 'digestive irregularities' is not so far off from this early medical advice!
Ladle a couple spoonfuls of the warm milk into the bowl of your yogurt starter to temper your yogurt (so it's at the same temp as your milk). Mix gently and then add the starter into the pot. Give it all a stir to distribute evenly.
Close the Instant Pot lid (doesn't matter if vent open or closed) and push 'Yogurt'. This will automatically set timer for 8 hours. I personally like to have it set for 9 hours. To do this, hit '+' button to increase the time. The longer the time, the more tart the flavor so if you like a more mild yogurt you can try 6 to 7 hours. The display will show your desired time and beep and then the timer will start to count up from 00:00 to whatever time you have set.
If you just want plain yogurt, you can just put the pot in the fridge and let it firm up for about 6 hours or so and it will be ready to eat or store!
If you prefer greek yogurt, then you need to strain and allow the whey to drain out. There are many ways to do this. I initially just used what I had at home to drain my yogurt but now that I make it frequently enough I invested in a $20 greek yogurt strainer just to save time putting things together.
Before I had the commercial strainer, I used my mesh strainer, put it inside the bowl from my salad spinner, and lined it with coffee filters. It worked fine but sometimes was a little messy getting the yogurt out once drained. Some people use a cheese bag and hang it to drain over a bowl.
Whatever your method, let sit in the fridge for a couple hours, depending on the level of 'thickness/dryness' you prefer. I like my greek yogurt on the dry side so I let mine sit for about 4 hours. You can always add a little whey back in if you like to make it creamier.
So you will have whey liquid at the end of straining your yogurt that you can do many things with. Don't throw it out! I typically store the whey in an old peanut butter jar in the fridge until I figure out what I want to do with that particular batch.
You can freeze the whey into an ice cube tray and then it's easier to store for longer periods. The whey still contains the active cultures so you can just use a thawed cube for your next batch (they will last for a couple months in the freezer). I have also used whey to add to pancake or waffle mix as it's like adding buttermilk - tastes great! I've also used it in bread recipes. See my post on 'Cheese Please' as there was a link to a bunch of different uses for whey.
You can flavor your yogurt once it's ready. I prefer it plain and just add honey separately for sweetness but you can mix in honey, flavored syrup, vanilla, jam, blended fresh fruit, flavor extracts (couple drops per pint), or whatever floats your boat. You could also make a cucumber raita or tzatziki at this point - here's easy recipes for both.
Lots of posts I read had pretty pictures of yogurt stored in cute little pint jars with fruit added so family can 'grab and go'. That seemed way too 'Pinteresty' for me so I just put it in a glass snap-top container from Ikea (5x7x3). You could freeze it in this container if you didn't think you could use all of it at once. I use 2 of these and keep a batch of plain in one for my husband and me and use the other for the kids flavored version ('V' for vanilla here).
I have made a double batch using a full gallon of milk (just takes a little longer to heat up but is otherwise the same process) and then just split between the 2 storage containers.
One last factoid: Yogurt production was first industrialized by Isaac Carasso of Barcelona Spain in 1919. He made yogurt with jam and his company was called "Danone" for his son ('little Daniel'). That son, Daniel, then took the company to France. Fleeing the Nazi occupation, he came to America - specifically to the Bronx. You know his company now as Dannon (whose global headquarters are now back in France).
There are a thousand posts out there on making yogurt in the Instant Pot so I must give credit to several I used extensively when I first started. It's helpful to read everyone's tips and if you need more detail than what's here, rest assured, there is plenty of advice out there. See here, here, or here if you want more info.
So have to share that I dusted off my sewing machine and made my own 'Instant Pot Cozy' out of leftover fabric from my kitchen remodel so that it matches my valance. So now my magic machine can sit out on my counter in it's heralded spot.
As the weather cools down and we head into Fall, I foresee some Instant Pot soup magic in my future!