Milk to Make Yogurt With

My definition of yogurt is something that stays on a spoon with a pleasing glossy wobble after 8 hours incubation at the right temperature.

Our yogurt recipe is really pretty good but sometimes our customers just can’t get it to work for them – could it be the milk?  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve bought 28 different types of milk and made yogurt with them. All milk is not created equal and yogurt it turns out, is a great judge of character. Of the 28 milks I tried only 16 made decent yogurt. The others did not. Any milk that didn’t work got tested again to make sure. So what’s the deal?

Pasteurised milk is not the problem, Yogurt culture prefers pasteurised milk because it kills off competing bacteria. It can also cope with “homogenised” milk that has had the fat suspended evenly through the milk.    What really made the yogurt culture turn it’s nose up was any milk that had been “standardised”. If you buy milk that is “standardised” it means that the manufacturer may have added in a substance called permeate.

Yogurt is particularly fussy about the level of protein present in the milk.  It is what helps it set. Commercial yogurt makers know this. The way permeate is being used in milk changes the protein levels occurring naturally in the milk and the yogurt culture doesn’t like it. Finding out which milks have permeate in them is tricky as they don’t have to put it on the label but the word “standardised” is sometimes an indicator – but not always. If in doubt email the supplier to ask.

The milks below were the ones that didn’t make great yogurt. You’ll see most of them are blue top, there are a fair few cheap brands but also a couple of organic and expensive brands in there too.   We found that heating these milks to 90 C and cooling helped to bind all the proteins back together again into something that set better but even then the resulting yogurts from these milks were consistently weak, grainy, scummy and susceptible to splitting.

Milk not to make yogurt with
Milk that doesn’t make great yogurt. (includes Anchor Lite & Pams Standard blue top not present)

So what is permeate? It is a waste product from the dairy industry. It is the stuff that passes through an industrial membrane used to filter out the good bits from either milk or whey leftover from cheese making. The good bits (retentate) are kept for use in other products. The permeate that gets through contains mostly water, some minerals and lactose and possibly some proteins depending on the type of membrane used.    

And why on earth is it being added to milk? Because under NZ law, to call milk, milk it must contain at least 3% protein. The milk that comes out of the cow has more than this and it varies depending on the time of year. This protein is also valuable stuff and if you can add a waste product (permeate) back to the milk to achieve a consistent 3% protein then you’re lowering the cost of production.

Not all milk producers do this but one leading one who does has been quoted as saying that permeate is just “adding milk to milk” and therefore there is no need to put it on the label and confuse consumers.  I’d like to invite them to sit down and knock back a nice glass or two of permeate with me some time. Together with some permeate cheddar and crackers. I think if it is just milk why not have a whole range of permeate dairy goods in the pipeline (literally).

The good news is that there are dairy producers out there who are not using permeate in their milk and I believe that within a short space of time they will start advertising the fact on their bottles as consumers demand to know. This will put pressure on other producers and we will see an industry move to more transparent labeling if not an industry accord to stop the use of permeate. Let it go down the drain where it belongs please, not back into our milk.

Until then, here are the milks we found made consistently good yogurt and there is not a “standardised” label among them. Enough said.   We can also add Green Valley brand milk to this list, even their standardised milk does not contain permeate. Way to go Green Valley.

Milk that makes good yogurt
Milk that makes good yogurt (Village Milk included but not present for the photo)

If you are interested in reading more about Permeate I’d recommend this good article by Amelia Wade in the Herald from last year and Wendyl Nissens book “The Supermarket Companion”   as a good reference guide to what’s actually in our food. If you are interested in making good yogurt at home check out our nifty little “How to Make Yogurt” book and Probiotic Yogurt Culture.

 

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74 comments

  1. Wow, this is really helpful research you’ve done, and must have taken considerable time! Saves your customers heaps of time messing around too….Many thanks!

    1. Thanks Karen, put it this way – our digestive health is very good after undertaking this research. A lot of yogurt was made and eaten. H.

  2. Wow Heather you don’t do things by halves! What a great reference to have. Did you include any raw milk in your testing at all? Printing this for next time I get around to yoghurt making, thanks 🙂

    1. Yes we did Julia, Jess bought me a couple of liters of raw milk from the Village Milk vending machine in Lower Moutere. It made good yogurt but without pasteurising it was fragile in structure. Heat treatment of the milk first seems to help both the culture performance and coagulation / viscosity – yes I”m turning into a yogurt curd nerd.

      1. How would one pasteurise the raw milk (like what temp would you need to heat it too ect) Thanks and thanks fr such an awesome blog 😀

        1. Hi Emma, it’s a good idea to heat the milk to 90°C when making yogurt and then cool it to culturing temperature of around 40°C as this binds the milk proteins and makes a thicker yogurt. To pasteurise the milk you only need to heat the milk to 65°C and hold it there for 30 minutes.

          1. Hi, so if I took the raw milk to 90deg, then lowered it to 40, that would take care of the pasteurising aspect wouldn’t it? As it would be above 65 for at least 30mins. And I’m sorry to sully your beautiful pnatural page with techno speak (busy mum), but could you heat to 90deg in the microwave instead of stovetop? Have you tried this? Thanks

          2. Hi Sarah, sully away – no problem. I guess so – I don’t have a microwave so I can’t help you on that one. Give it a go and see if it works. The heating to 90° is as much about binding the milk proteins together as it is about pasteurizing it.

  3. Thank you so much for publishing this article I was wondering why I could never make yoghurt and opened my eyes to permeate! Do these companies never stop screwing our food over for profit. We are lucky enough to enjoy raw milk from RAW MILK MANGAWHAI they have a great facebook page and will try making yoghurt with that even though you did say the natural bacteria in it could kill the culture off but I will try. Thanks so much for publishing great and interesting articles.

    Thanks Clare

    1. Thanks for the feedback Clare. More and more raw milk vendors are popping up around our neck of the woods too. Heating to 90C really does help make a better yogurt but isn’t essential. Your yogurt will just be a little more fragile.

  4. Thank you! I have wondered why my recent attempts at yoghurt-making have failed miserably when it used to be so easy. Answer: organic Meadow Fresh. Call me naive, but organic to me means not played around with, in-its-natural-state other than pasteurisation. Retro Organics is our milk of choice, and that will work fine.

  5. I’ve always used milk powder rather than fresh milk, and never had any problems.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Angela, I’ve used milk powder to make yogurt too and it is a really cost effective option. Some of the UHT milk I tried also worked surprisingly well. I personally prefer the flavour and texture of yogurt made from less processed milks.

  6. Wonderful.. I make yoghurt from many of the failures and it is edible… but I was blaming myself that some was better then others.. this is so helpful.

    1. Great to be able to help Kay – here’s to many good batches. Remember, heating the milk first to 90C really helps, then cool to 42C before adding the culture. Heather

  7. When I make yoghurt I use milk powder (cheaper than milk too). For nice Greek style yoghurt you just put a bit more milk powder in your mix.
    I use a 2liter ice cream container, measure the milk powder, add hand warm water and mix. Then add one or two tablespoons of yoghurt and carefully stir through. Put on top of the hot water cylinder for the day and then in the fridge over night. Ready to use at about $1.50 per liter.

    1. Thanks Dot, I’m lucky enough to have an uninsulated water cylinder cupboard too and I use it for incubating sourdough bugs and other fermented foods and drinks. Mine isn’t hot enough for making consistent yogurt but thanks for sharing your recipe. Milk powder does make a cost effective yogurt.

    2. Hi Dot,

      Do you use light milk powder or the blue one.

  8. Thank you Heather, for the time and research you have contributed. It is most appreciated.

    1. Thank you Carol, it was a satisfying project.

  9. hi Heather,
    I also use raw milk from mangawhai, I use a recipe that has a couple tablespoons of milk powder in it.
    the milk is heated to frothy, add yogurt when cool to body temp, put in easi yo maker 8 hrs and then perfect yogurt.
    thanks for all you info
    Raewyn

  10. Hi Heather
    Thanks for the very informative article about the ability or not to make yoghurt. We have our own house cow that I milk once daily (we share with her calf). I didn’t realise heating the milk to 90degrees would make the yoghurt better. I use raw milk to make butter and cheese but my yoghurt was never very successful. I am going to make some heating it this afternoon. Thanks again for the information.

    1. Hi Marilyn, thanks for your comment. I’ve used raw milk for cheese making too but had the same poor results using it for yogurt. Heating will do two things to your raw milk, it will kill the competing bacteria and bind the proteins together so they make thicker yogurt. I hope you’ve found it works for you.

  11. Hi. Your research makes for interesting reading. I was wondering if you had tried making yoghurt with Meadow fresh Farmhouse milk? Thanks

    1. Hi Kim, yes MeadowFresh Farmhouse (also badged “silver top”) is the milk I use for both yogurt and cheese making when I don’t use farm milk. It is pasteurised but not homogenised or standardised.

  12. Thanks so much – you have solved a mystery for me! I had been making batch after batch of fabulous thick silky yogurt until a couple of weeks ago. The last few attempts have been runny by comparison and lacked the creamy texture of the previous ones. I’ve used lots if different kinds of blue top (it is for a toodler to eat) and thought i would start making life easy by not heating the milk first. Now i have read this, i would agree that if using fresh milk, the difference to the final product of pre-heating the milk is major. And now I know it isn’t just a couple of not quite right batches, so thank you! Sadly, I have just made a non-preheated batch this morning. Anyone got suggestions for using up runny yogurt? 😉 back to the heat then cool procedure for me!

    1. Thanks for your feedback Deb. It does seem like extra faffing around to heat it first but you’re right – it makes a big difference. I’d strain your runny batch through a sieve lined with a double thickness of cotton cheesecloth until you’re happy with the consistency. If you leave it for a few hours in a cool spot you’ll get a nice thick cream yogurt you can use as a dip.

  13. Hi, I always use farmhouse or naturlea un homogenised milk and your yoghurt culture – in my easiyo maker. But every time it has the appearance if looking curdled and isn’t thick until I strain it, so each litre of milk gives me about 2 cups yoghurt and 2 cups whey…..what am I doing wrong? It tastes good tho 🙂

    1. Hi Beks, what method are you using, maybe we can give you some tips. Heather

  14. hi Heather, thanks to your newsletter and my curiosity about bottling soup for lunches, I got suddenly so much wiser! I got side tracked by the yogurt making page…AND here we go, 18years later,( I moved here ’96, and have made my yogurt a hundred times overseas before), and still not being able to make it here made me grow grey hair. I knew and had an instinct it had to do with the processing of our new zealand milk! I had an idea that they killed all good bacteria ..well, I will go off and learn more about permeate. And I will now use my newly available raw milk from laura’s diary (orton bradley park) too and heat it up. so far I make quark and cheese successfully, but not jogurt. Tell us, pasteurizing is at 72 degree C as far as I remember, not 90 degree C? why so hot? would less heat work too? I best try out tomorrow!! thanks a million for your research, nobody I asked over all these years could give me an answer. thanks

    1. Hi Franziska, thank you for your comment and I really hope you can make great yogurt again. You are lucky to have access to some good permeate free milk to start you off. You are right pasteurizing is well below 90C but by heating the milk to 90C you change the viscosity of the fat protein molecules and the yogurt is so much thicker. I have tried without heating to 90C first and always a runnier yogurt. So heat it up, cool it back to 41 / 42C, add your culture and incubate it. Good Luck. Heather

  15. With your culture and following your directions of heating and cooling raw milk from Village Milk making perfect yogurt is a breeze. I bought a Goldair yogurt maker with FlyBuys and it was so simple to use. I divided the litre of yogurt into three containers as that’s how much we eat at a time with toasted muesli and the last container was still perfect on the third week.
    We can really taste the fruit in the muesli which we couldn’t when using fruity, sugary bought yogurt.
    I’ll use the culture each time, each batch uses so little and I don’t want to sacrifice a cup of the yogurt.

    1. That is fantastic feedback Clare. It is very consistent when you hit on the right method and milk. Aren’t we lucky to have such easy access to great milk in our region. Very interested to hear about the Goldair yogurt maker. It would be nice to make a set yogurt in little pots like that. Thanks for taking the time to let us know your success.

    2. Hi Clare,
      I also have a Goldair yoghurt maker (FlyBuys!). How do you use ti to make yoghurt from fresh milk? I’m interested in anything time-saving 🙂 Thanks

      1. Hi Sarah, I’m not familiar with the Goldair brand but if you’re using fresh raw milk I’d recommend heating it to 90C first and cooling it to culturing temperature of around 41C and then incubating it for 6-8 hours in your machine. Hope that helps. Heather

  16. Hi. I’ve just discovered your website. I’m keen to make my own yogurt, so great article, thank you. Do you have any idea when your yogurt culture will be available? Also, did you try the Zorganic milk at all? Many thanks.

    1. Hi Keryn, thanks for your comment. The yogurt Culture is back in stock. I haven’t tried the Zorganic milk – is that a new one?

      1. Hi. Zorganic has been around for a while but isn’t easy to find. I’ve tried it now and it seems to work fine, though the yogurt is quite runny 🙂

        1. Hi Keryn, good to know – I haven’t seen it on shelves down here but we can add that to the list. Try heating to 90C first and cooling back to culturing temp. to improve thickness.

  17. Hi, I am dairy free and want to make yoghurt from coconut milk or other dairy free milks, have you experimented with them or know of others who have had success using non dairy milks?

    Thanks.

    1. Hello Pam, thanks for your comment. We are indeed looking into this as many customers are interested. We have tried our dairy starter cultures with mixed success but we are in the process of trying to source some starter cultures for non-dairy milks. Watch this space.

  18. Does your starter contain L casei please?

    1. Hello Gillian, Our probiotic yogurt starter culture does not contain L casei.

  19. Hi Heather, thanks for all of your work and info, we are looking at making some yoghurt from Village raw milk, acknowledging that heating to 90C gives you better yoghurt but doesn’t it kill the beneficial qualities of the raw milk? Thanks alot

    1. Hi Lynn, Village milk is so great. Aren’t we lucky to have access to it. Unfortunately heating to 90C does kill a lot of the enzymes in raw milk and pasteurizes it – but it does give you thick yogurt. If you want a thinner raw milk yogurt then don’t scald the milk first. Heather

  20. Hi, I tried making the yoghurt with the Naturalea Organic milk and its turned out just as it started, very runny. I neglected to preheat the milk but thought it should still have turned some. The milk was near its end of shelf life so wondering if that was a factor? I bought it while waiting for the easiyo kit to arrive which took longer than expected. I kept the culture in the fridge for a few days, now in the freezer. Wondering if any of these factors might have caused this to fail? Will get a fresh litre of the same milk today. Love your website and have passed it round interested parties – thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Roger, definitely the heating the milk makes a huge difference to thickness. Other factors you mention wouldn’t have made a difference. Hope MK2 goes well. Heather

      1. Thank you Heather. My next batch was only slightly better than the first despite heating the milk. I tried a third time and it was as runny as the original milk used in that batch. I ordered a thermometer from your site to see if it could shed any light on what I was doing wrong as I had been relying on the feel of the milks heat. I found another website that troubleshoots yoghurt flops such as mine and it indicated that my problem was that I wasn’t letting the milk cool enough and was in effect boiling the culture to death. I tested this with the thermometer. Milk was heated to 40C and then left to cool. I was surprised how long it takes to cool, much slower than it took to heat. I got impatient as it sat at 38C for a long time so I dipped my finger in. It felt blood temperature to me so I mixed in the culture and put the ensemble into the Easi-yo thermos and left it for 12 hours. Removed it and found it was definitely much thicker. Sat it on the bench to acclimatise and it turned out very smooth and a nice pourable but thick consistency. Really am pleased with the outcome. So I think allowing the milk to cool sufficiently after the heating of it is vital for a good result and mixing in the culture between 36C and 38C is the best time to add the culture. Thanks 🙂

  21. Hi I’m just wanting to know if you have used powdered milk? If u have what prands? would you just do the same process?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Tessa, I have used powdered milk to make yogurt. From memory I used the full fat Anchor brand in the blue/silver foil. Same process.

  22. Recently found your site while looking for something else. This article caught my eye. I have been making my own yoghurt for a while and getting very variable results but mostly runny yoghurt that I need to drain.
    I had been using blue top milk. I make some overnight using one of the green top milks that you said worked and heating to 90C first and this morning I have beautiful thick yoghurt. Not only that but it tastes much better then the thin ones.
    Thank you so much for this post.

    1. Thank you for feedback Kat. Sounds like you’re on the way to consistently good yog.

  23. I have been trying to make yogurt with various results, now using fresh gate milk, but still not very thick. I have heated to 82 degree and cooled to 40 degree then added culture, left for between 8-10 hours,but still really runny.
    Will try heating to your temp. of 90(do you leave at this temp for a while?)and reducing to 42.
    Also do you heat very slowly and can you put into cold water to bring to temp. down faster? or is not a good idea.

    1. Hi Lynn, Is that “Fresh Gate” or “Farm Gate” the brand or do you mean milk fresh from the farm gate? Steer clear of the cheaper milks retailed by service stations, they often contain permeate and this doesn’t agree with yogurt culture it seems. Try the 90°C and cooling to 42°C and yes I cool my milk rapidly in a sink of cold water – takes 5 mins. Good Luck.

  24. Hi there

    Are you able to use your yoghurt starter with coconut milk? My daughter is dairy free so looking for some alternatives – thanks. Also Does the starter contain dairy?

    1. Hi Fleur, thanks for your question. We do have a non-dairy yogurt starter for soy but it does not work for coconut milk and it is not dairy free.

  25. Hi
    I want to make coconut yoghurt. I have bought your probiotic powder. Can you post a recipe or do I have to buy the book.
    Also which coconut milk should I use / not use.

    Thanks

    1. Hi Bev, we’ve been testing different coconut milks with mixed results. We don’t have a recipe yet for one that works with our probiotic powder although some of our customers seem to be having success. Keen to know how you get on.

  26. Are you able to do these same tests with milk powder as i am unsure of the differences between the brands and what of your yogurt culture you are using for your yogurt i assume it is one of the ones you sell.

    Regards Nat

  27. A very interesting article. It could a long to explaining why I have a horrid reaction to some milks and not others. Thank-you.

  28. Hi, followed your recipe from book and used your culture and one of the milks suggested on this website, but yoghurt was extremely runny and I had to strain it but was left with only a small amount of yoghurt, it was delicious though. The only thing I forgot to do was leave it out for 2 hours after removing from yoghurt maker. Would that affect the thickness?

    1. Hi Louise, cooling the yogurt thoroughly helps it thicken. Another reason for runny yog is insufficient temp during incubating. It should stay around 40C during the incubating and when its done it should be set like a firm instant pudding – was yours set like this when you’d finished incubating? Did you use a flask or a heat pad?

  29. Hello,
    I’ve been wanting to make yogurt from full fat cream–does it hold true as the milks? I tried once before but didn’t heat it first. Would that help? Thanks for your great insight!
    🙂

    1. Hi Mandy, yes you’ll make a lovely sour cream type product by incubating cream with yog culture. Yes I’d still scald it first.

      1. Thank you so much–I’ll definitely give it a go! 🙂

  30. Hello. thnx for the great info here.
    i am wondering if i can make sour cream with your yogurt starter? i use milk seperator and get quite thick cream and fat free milk. so, do you mean to heat CREAM (after seperating milk) to some temperature to make sour cream in you above comment ? thnx

    1. Hi Nurdan, yes you can. Cream makes a lovely rich yogurt that is very much like sour cream – maybe just a little more tangy in flavour. Yes scald the cream first to 80-90C then cool to 40C and continue with your yogurt making.

  31. Hi. I was wondering if you’d researched the Zorganic range as part of this trial?
    Thank you,
    Heidi

    1. Hi Heidi, no that is a new range to me. I’d love to hear your feedback on it. Do their milk products make great yogurt for you?

  32. Hi Heather
    Thanks for such an informative piece of research. Do you have a non-dairy yoghurt starter that can be used with milks other than soy?
    Thanks, Claire

    1. Thanks Claire, we have tried several different starters with different non-dairy milks but we haven’t found anything we’re happy with. We do have a starter for soy milk yogurt but it contains small amounts of lactose.

      1. Many thanks for your response, Heather. I will probably have to do without yoghurt for the time being 🙂

  33. Hello Heather,
    great information you have shared and researched, my reason for making homemade yogurt was so I could use A2 milk, it seems the only commercial A2 milk available is Fresha Valley, from Waipu in Northland and is only available at selected supermarkets in Auckland. Fortunately for me both local supermarkets stock it. So when your pro-biotic culture arrived and I got the Easi-Yo flask out of storage I made my first batch, the result was a runny but still tasty product, good enough to add pear and ginger stewed fruit and drink, I might add. The next barch I used the Meadowlea Organic A1 milk with good results, after refining my method a little. So back to the A2 I went, this time when I heated the milk I used a double boiler, which obviously separated the milk from a direct heat source, I reserved the water, and as the milk was cooling bought enough water to the boil to use in the flask, then when all was ready put the jar in the flask and waited. I reboiled the water from the flask every 3 hours, and the result was a thick creamy yogurt which also yielded about a cup of whey per litre of yogurt. So the final analysis is add Fresha Valley A2 milk to your list of mi8lks that work. And as a use for the whey I made scones, the result is stunning, so it’s off to make another batch earmarked for pastry. Thanks again for the great information and the research behind this article.

    1. Alec, thank you so much for sharing this research. It all adds to our understanding of making great yogurt (and scones and pastry) Thank you.

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