Something that comes up again and again in our conversations about homemade yogurt is how to make it thicker, more like store-bought. Thin runny yogurt loses it's appeal really fast, so let's talk options.
First off, take a look at the kind of milk you're using. While you can technically make yogurt with whole, 2%, or non-fat milk, a higher fat content will definitely give you a thicker, creamier yogurt. Also, avoid milk that has been Ultra High-Temperature pasteurized (UHT). This should be indicated on the label. UHT pasteurization tends to break down the proteins necessary to set milk into yogurt.
If you're still having problems with thin yogurt after you've settled on a milk, try some of these techniques:
1. Longer Initial Heating - Most yogurt recipes have you warm the milk to around 200°F before cooling it down and adding the yogurt culture. During this step, try holding the milk at 200°F for 20 minutes or longer. This allows some of the moisture in the milk to evaporate and concentrates the solids. This is the technique we've been using to make our yogurt and have been very happy with the thickness.
2. Let the Yogurt Sit - The longer the yogurt has to set, the thicker it will become. The trade-off is that it also gets more sour the longer it sits. With our oven-technique, we've found a balance between thickness and sourness at around the 7-hour mark.
3. Strain the Yogurt - There's a lot of whey suspended in that yogurt! Try straining some of it out using this technique for making Greek-style yogurt. You can strain for anywhere from a few minutes to overnight, depending on how thick you want your yogurt.
4. Add Nonfat Dry Milk Powder - Try adding 1/2 cup of dry milk powder per quart of milk. Mix it into the milk before you start heating it. This is especially helpful for making thicker yogurt from non-fat milk.
5. Add Gelatin - A little gelatin helps make yogurt surprisingly creamy and thick (though too much and you'll get yogurt jello!). Start experimenting with one teaspoon of gelatin per quart of milk. Mix it in a bowl with a little milk and let it bloom. Then stir into the pot of milk as it starts to heat. If you want to avoid gelatin, we've heard that pectin also works.
As a last note, we didn't find much evidence that using different brands of commercial yogurt to culture your homemade yogurt made much difference in terms of texture. Some brands will have different strains of active culture, which will give your yogurt slightly different flavors and health benefits. But it seems like the thickness is more dependent on the type of milk you use and your process.
What other advice do you have for making thicker, creamier yogurt?
(Images: Emma Christensen)