Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: discreet, my @ss
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I'm not a yogurt-making expert but there are a lot of things that could have gone wrong with your yogurt.
Did you make sure the yogurt you used for starter had live, active cultures? Was it plain yogurt? Was it fresh?
How long did you incubate it? Yogurt gets thicker (and tarter) the longer it incubates. Whole milk makes thicker yogurt than 2%, which gets thicker than skim. And the less starter you use the longer the colonization takes (I think I've read around here that some folks culture for up to 24 hours. I usually do 12.) Also, even when yogurt is fully cultured, refrigerating it till it's cold completes the thickening.
When I was culturing yogurt from probiotic powders my first batch would be runny and lumpy no matter how long it incubated. I would make that first batch small, and use about half of it as starter for the next batch which would be thicker and smoother. I read other people saying they had the same experience.
Usually yogurt instructions call for "scalding" the milk first, heating it to just below the boiling point, then cooling it to 110 before mixing in the starter. I think this is because even when you use pasteurized milk it can pick up other bacteria along the way. I'm not sure though.
And I've noticed that usually when I have an "unexplained" failure, it's a time when I wasn't as vigilant as usual about washing everything I used very well first.
The rice cooker sounds like a super convenient way to incubate the culture, as long as you can rely on it to keep a constant temp. I use an insulated picnic drink jug for pints and an improvised heatpad setup for quarts.
Hope this helps. I've found that it isn't as complicated as it sounds once you get the routine down, even with the scalding and washing. And I also have had good luck re-culturing (after re-scalding) failed yogurt, so as not to waste the milk -- or you can use it like buttermilk in baked goods.