Tender Sapling

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Homemade Yogurt Grows Good Cultures + Character too!


Want a fun food project to enjoy with the kids that’s healthy, green, globally-loved, and cultivates some wonderful qualities of the heart too? Look no further: Yogurt!

How can all these lessons be packed into one food? Here’s a quick run down:

* Healthy: Yogurt is considered a health food. We’re talking ideally homemade, no sugar added, real yogurt. Historically, yogurt is credited with curing at least one king from an incurable case of diarrhea. Yogurt is a great pro-biotic with awesome bacteria for your body, which I recently learned that 90% made up by microbes according to this fascinating article by Michael Pollan. (While our yogurt-making experience is solely with cow’s milk, there are non-dairy options and recipes out there, if you prefer that route.)

* Green: Ok, this point is debatable, but I’m going with the historical angle on this one. For thousands of years, humans have used the milk of cows, goats, water buffalo, yaks, and other animals to create yogurt. So, no packaging, transportation, etc. These days, you can do your research and determine the greenest source of dairy or non-dairy milk you wish to use to make your yogurt. Plus, when you make it at home, you reduce your environmental impact by using the same containers to make your yogurt in week after week.

* Globally Loved: The original, homemade stuff has been a staple food throughout history from India and Central Asia to Russia and Europe. This excerpt from Wikipedia highlights two cultures’ historic respect for yogurt – a miracle food in their estimation:

In ancient Indian records, the combination of yogurt and honey is called “the food of the gods”.[17] Persian traditions hold that “Abraham owed his fecundity and longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt”.[18]

Given that I am half-Persian, I grew up with yogurt as a staple in our family’s diet and am excited to pass that along to my children. Strangely enough, I did not grow up making yogurt. It wasn’t until I was a young adult living in China and craving plain yogurt that I was given starter yogurt and taught how to make it by a fellow teacher at the school where I was teaching.

In modern times, you can find it in most corners of the planet. While living in China, my husband and I were amazed that the Chinese children at our school coveted their (sugary) yogurt snacks despite the general dearth of dairy products in China. (Guess this shouldn’t have been a surprise since many lactose-intolerant tummies can digest yogurt, with its unique properties.) The reach of yogurt-eating struck us recently while studying Mongolia, when we discovered a picture of a Mongolian woman making yogurt in her ger (see below).

* Character Cultivating – This is not an instant gratification recipe like baking cookies or making a smoothie. As you’ll see from the recipe steps below, yogurt-making takes hours. Luckily, you can go out with your little ones and do something fun or, if it’s overnight, catch some well-deserved zzzz’s while this baby does its thing. While all that good bacteria is growing in it, you’re also helping grow your own tender sapling’s virtue of patience.

Our family’s yogurt recipe below really is kid-friendly. In fact, I almost titled this post “Yogurt Even the Kids Can Make.” Because, yogurt-making really is that easy. In the pictures below, our 9-year-old son is demonstrating most of the steps.

There are many yogurt recipes out there. The general guidelines you’ll find list somewhat different temperatures than what we’ve found works best for us. So our variations might suggest how flexible yogurt-making really can be. Which makes sense to me, given people have been making it for some 2,000+ years under all sorts of conditions.

Here’s our simple method that works like a charm for us.



1 1/4 cup Starter Yogurt (we use Stonyfield Whole Organic Yogurt as our starter)

1 gallon Milk (we use organic cow’s milk)

Yield: About 1 gallon of yogurt (which we breeze through in about a week)


1. Place 1 1/4 cups starter yogurt in a medium-sized bowl and allow it to come to room temperature while heating the milk.


2. Pour milk into a very clean pot and heat gradually on medium heat. We do not stir it at all during the heating process and find that very little milk sticks to the bottom if the pot is extremely clean.


Check out this picture of a Mongolian woman doing the above step in her ger:

A Mongolian woman making yogurt inside her ger.

A Mongolian woman making yogurt inside her ger.

3. Heat milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and then remove from heat to begin gradual cooling. We find this handy food thermometer very helpful in gauging the temperature of the milk. Once the yogurt is warmed to 180, we simply place the pot on the counter to cool off.


4. As the milk temperature approaches 125 degrees Fahrenheit, get the clean containers for the yogurt ready. Place open containers on a towel on the counter where they can sit undisturbed for at least 12 hours. We use these glass Pyrex 1.75 quart/1.65 liter containers with lids and they work beautifully.


5. Stir up the starter yogurt, which should be room temperature now, so it is nice and smooth.


6. Once the milk reaches 119 degrees Fahrenheit, the fun begins!


7. Skim off the film from the top of the warmed milk.


8. Ladle 4-5 ladles-full of the warm milk into the bowl of starter yogurt.


9. Stir up the starter yogurt with added milk.


10. Pour the starter yogurt with added milk into the big pot of milk.


11. Stir it gently.


12. Pour into prepared containers.


13. Put lids on containers and tuck in with warm blankets to trap the heat and allow it to incubate as it gradually cools. We use three baby-size fleece blankets. Isn’t it cute and cozy?


14. Go have some fun or catch some zzz’s for 12 hours while the yogurt sets. Then stick it in the fridge ideally for 5+ hours and it is ready to enjoy!


15. Eat plain, add fresh fruit as we did for our Mongolian Culture Club gathering (pictured here), have dada and the little ones make a fruit parfait to treat mama, etc., etc. We’d love to hear your favorite recipes that use yogurt in the comments below!


Wow! You did it! Hope you had fun making homemade yogurt with your tender sapling and growing some good bacteria while going greener, celebrating a global favorite food, and growin’ patience!

What are your favorite recipes for expanding your child’s heart and mind?


Author: Emily

Emily is homeschooling mama to three amazing boys, whose alarming growth and appetites keep her running laps to the grocery store. She writes about loving life amidst the piles of laundry and legos. When life is just too much, she binges on chocolate and plans a dream trip around the world.

2 thoughts on “Homemade Yogurt Grows Good Cultures + Character too!

  1. Thanks, Emily and family, for sharing your “works like a charm” yogurt recipe! Back in the day, I used a yogurt maker that came with little white cups and lids, but the unit ceased working many, many years ago. Then I succumbed to purchasing vanilla yogurt from retail markets. In recent years, I’ve bought the thicker Greek versions. I like your environmentally friendly option and plan to try this

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