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Sunday, April 7, 2013

How to Make Yogurt, Syrian-style, and Labneh (Greek Yogurt)

Easy Gluten Free Yogurt

Making yogurt is so easy, and not at all technical.  People have been doing it for ages without food thermometers or fancy yogurt makers!

I learned how to make yogurt from a couple of Syrian ladies a few years ago, so this method is based on what they showed me.  I'm calling it Syrian yogurt in honour of them, and in the hopes that their families and friends are safe despite the escalating casualties in the Syrian civil war.

Once you get the hang of making basic yogurt you can up your game and make Greek style yogurt, or the thick, drained yogurt known as labneh in the Middle East. This is my absolute favorite type of yogurt! 

Why make your own yogurt?


Making yogurt is cheaper and healthier than store bought, and super easy. 

Honestly, even though I knew how to make yogurt years ago I didn't often do it because I could get organic plain yogurt for a reasonable price and didn't always eat it anyway.  

However, when I came to the US last year I was shocked at how difficult it is to find yogurt that isn't made with corn syrup in the regular markets!  That just seems to defeat the purpose of eating yogurt!!   The only yogurt that doesn't have seem to have corn syrup in it is organic, and that's at least $5 a container.  So I'm back to making my own yogurt! 

To make yogurt you'll only need 2 ingredients: Milk and starter culture (pre made yogurt).  What type of each changes the quality and texture of your yogurt.

The type of milk you use is important.


Preferably you'll want organic, whole milk.  If you can get raw, go for it!  This is, afterall, what people have been using until very recently to make yogurt.  Otherwise look for regular pasteurized rather than ultra pasteurized.  Pasteurization kills bacteria, and you want bacteria in your yogurt, that's what makes it good!

Yes, organic is more expensive, but you don't want me ranting about hormones and corn-fed cows and e-coli right now, do you? Ultimately, once you get your yogurt system going you'll be able to make tons of organic, tasty yogurt for far cheaper than storebought regular yogurt.

Also, the more fat, the better the yogurt.  Seriously, who wants runny skim milk yogurt? A little bit of fat never hurt anyone, at least not the good kind of fat. 


The type of yogurt you use as a starter makes a difference.


You'll need about 1/2 - 1 cup plain yogurt as a starter, to get the bacteria growing in your milk.  Once you make your own yogurt you can simply reserve some of it to use as a starter.  For your first time you'll need some store-bought yogurt.

Again, ideally organic yogurt is preferable.  You'll also want to use a thicker yogurt, as this will in turn make thicker yogurt.

If you can't find thick organic yogurt (i.e. Stoneyfield is organic, but thin and runny), and you want your yogurt to be thick, then you can turn your runny yogurt starter into Greek yogurt first following the directions below, then use it.  

This method is pretty fool proof and non-techy, but I've included tech notes for those who need to be absolutely sure they're doing the right thing! 


Milk (anywhere from 2 cups to 4 gallons, the amount of milk = the final amount of yogurt)
1/2 - 1 cup plain yogurt


1. Bring your yogurt starter to room temp.

2.  Stirring regularly, in a thick bottomed saucepan bring milk almost to a boil over high heat.  You want it to get foamy and just start to roll. You do not want it to burn to the bottom of the pot.

   For those tech-y folks, this means your milk will be at 170F on a candy thermometer :) 

2. Remove from heat and cool until it's cold enough to touch, but warmer than room temp.  You can do this slowly on the counter, or quickly by placing your pot in a sink of cold water.

   For those with thermometer in hand, this is about 120F. 

3.  Blend your yogurt starter into your milk until smooth.

4. Keep your yogurt warm for 8-10 hrs or overnight.  You can do this a few different ways.  First, you can choose to do this with all the yogurt in the pot, or in clean containers, like mason jars.  I was taught to just leave it in the pot, but have switched to glass jars for convenience.

To keep your yogurt warm (approx 120F) you can:

 a)  Wrap the pot in a large towel and place in the oven with the oven light on. (I've done this numerous times successfully)

 b) Pour into containers with tight fitting lids, place in a cooler and pour in several inches of hot water.  Cover the cooler with the lid.  (This is also a successful method for me)

 c) Place on a warming pad.  (I haven't tried this but I've heard some people do it)

 d) Keep warm in a crock pot (Also haven't tried it personally)

I usually do this in the evening and wake up to fresh, thick yogurt in the morning!  Now on to the thick labneh, Greek style yogurt.

To Make Greek Style drained yogurt (or Labneh)



Salt (optional) 


Cheesecloth or cotton flour bag
Large bowl
Wooden spoon


1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth or a flour sack.

2. If adding salt to yogurt, add to taste and stir in.

3. Pour yogurt into cheesecloth.  Tie cloth around the wooden spoon so the bag can hang.  Place a bowl under the strainer to catch the whey and move to the fridge to drain for 2 -10 hrs.  The time will depend on how thick you want the yogurt to be.

I love love love thick drained yogurt.  In Syria they drizzle olive oil and salt over the labneh and then slather it on bread.  You can also use it as a veggie or cracker dip.

How do you like to use yogurt?  


This post was shared on the following great blog parties: Waste Not Want Not Wednesday, Musings of a Housewife, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Mostly Homemade Monday, Natural Living Monday, The Weekly Creative, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Traditional Tuesdays, Fat Tuesdays, Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, Gluten Free Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Whole Food Wednesdays, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Wheat Free Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Full Plate Thursday, Foodie Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Farm Girl Blog Fest,        


  1. I have been looking for a yogurt recipe, one that even I can follow:) This post could not have come at a more perfect time! SO glad you linked up to Motivation Monday!

  2. Hi,
    Since I am dairy intolerant, would a nut milk work just as well? I would love to make greek yogurt. Would you use raw nuts?

    1. Hi Olinda, super good question! I've never tried dairy free yogurt, or tried to make it, so I did a quick google search and it looks like you can use nut, rice or soy milk and do it with a non-dairy plant based probiotic culture that will thicken the milk into yogurt. You can find more info here:

      They have a vegan starter. It looks like some people suggest adding a bit of sugar, as this is was the starter feeds off in regular milk (natural sugar), causing it to thicken. Some also suggest adding a bit of a thickening agent, like tapioca starch or guar gum.

      Thanks for bringing this up! I kinda want to try it out now just to see how it works ;)

  3. I love Greek yogurt! Thanks for the recipe. Can't wait to try it!

  4. What a great post! I hope that you share this at Gluten Free Fridays this week :)

  5. Great post - I would have never considered making my own yogurt! Thanks for sharing at The Weekly Creative.

    Shannon @ Sewing Barefoot

  6. I have not been successful making my own yogurt it doesn't have the right tang. Does it take on the flavor of the yogurt you use as a starter? I did use organic whole milk, don't remember if it is ultra-pastrized.?

    1. Hi Diane, sometimes the milk and starter you use do make a difference. Sometimes if you leave it sit longer (overnight) it develops more tang. I find that the regular plain, organic yogurt I buy isn't very tangy to begin with, though and I actually prefer it that way. I'll put it out to my FB and Google+ pages and see if anyone has a suggestion :)

  7. This is a great recipe for homemade yogurt that I will just love. I have yogurt every morning with some grains and fruit. Thank you very much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and have a great week!
    Come Back Soon,
    Miz Helen

  8. It's wonderful to learn more about traditional yogurt making from the ladies you mentioned, and I'm so glad you shared this post at the Hearth and Soul Hop. It's an excellent tutorial. I've never tried making my own yogurt before but I use it a lot. We eat it with fruit or on its own, and I use it in baking too.

  9. Thanks for sharing this on Wildcrafting Wednesday! I hope you can join us again today!

  10. I have been looking for this for ages! I had a minor stroke and there it went, thank you so much

    Warming thoughts: mom and grandmother just left it on the stove top, but that before ac kept a house nice and cold. I'm thinking if has in the oven,.pilot light would work. I have electric and raise bread on an oven that has be en warmed to 200° and them turned off..I'm thinking this could work with this as well

    1. So glad this helped jog your memory! Yes, I've done it with the pilot light on it's worked really well. Right now I live in an apartment with a stove with NO light! How bizarre is that? I don't think just heating the oven then turning it off would keep it warm for the length of time required, it needs to be kept warm for several hours to thicken.

  11. Are there any brands or specific bacteria looking for store bought starter yogurt? Some same active bacterial cultures, some doesn't say that at all. I see that liberte brand keifer fermented milk has a bunch of bacteria in it. Danone danactive is the only other one that actually lists off two bacterias as well...

    1. I try to chose yogurt that has no other ingredients other than milk and/or milk powder. Brands like Danone, and others, often have sugar, corn starch, colouring, etc., which are unnecessary and not so great as far as I'm concerned.

      Plain yogurt should have probiotics (the bacterial cultures) in it even if it isn't listed. The brands will depend on where you are - in the US, I used to buy Stonyfield organic yogurt. In Canada, I'm still deciding on my favorite brand. I like the Liberte organic brand (like the one you mentioned), and right now I've got a huge container of Olympic in my fridge.

      However, if you're looking for specific names of good bacteria, yogurt often has bifidobacteria, streptococcus, and different kinds of lactobacillus (i.e. lactobacillus acidophilus, etc).

      I hope that helps :)

    2. Thanks for the quick reply. Really want to get that crockpot out and start making yogurt ;0

      I emailed liberte (and waiting on danone) and told me that they do have both "live and active" bacteria needed. Even though it just says bacteria cultures on the label. I assume that if bought the greek variety as a starter, my yougurt would have the higher levels of protein than regular?

      It's just after reading quite a few articles found out that some say as long as says active bacteria, some have to say specific which ones, some say have to be live and active (nya doesn't exist in canada apparently). So wasn't really sure if just go out and buy just the bacterial cultures from health food store (stronger bacteria?) or take my chances on store variety...

    3. I think if you get one of the plain store bought ones that doesn't have any added junk (flavours, sugar, etc) you'll be fine, and won't need to add any extra bacteria. As for the protein, usually higher fat yogurt (2% or homo) has slightly more protein (but also more fat and carbs, so weigh your needs accordingly).

      I haven't used my crockpot yet to make yogurt. I just put it in the oven with the light on, or in my cooler with some hot water, so I can vouch that both work for me if that's easier than hauling out the crockpot :)

  12. Does it matter if use a $10-$15 walmart or grocery store mesh strainer with cheesecloth?
    They seem pretty flimsy, debating on spending the extra money for a higher quality one?

    Was searching online (settled @ amazon) at a $20 and $30 (plus $10 shipping) bouillon strainer since really don't wan to spend $70 for a good one. Seems to be mixed results in reviews. Some say that worked great, while others say that had to strain again because of chunks in the whey.

    Found a commercial restaurant grade (only double mesh) one online for $9, but need to add $10 for shipping. Or $20 + ship for 10" model which they seem to think that would be needed to hold 2 quarts of yogurt.

    Obviously don't want to make the wrong decision then have to spend more money and buy the other model. Or should just go to the dollar store and try out one of there plastic ones with huge holes and leave in the fridge for a day or two (with cheese cloth of course :) ?

    Haven't made anything yet, although did catch yogurt on sale the the other day so will make first batch within the next week or two :)

    1. Wow! You've done a ton of research and I feel bad saying that all I ever use it just a basic strainer that I've lined with either cheesecloth or a flour sack. You can get these at the dollar store. If you don't have a strainer, just line a large bowl or pot. Then I just tie the loose ends around something (like a wooden spoon) and suspend that over a pot or bowl (some women I know screw a hook into the bottom of their cupboard and hang it over their sink). It really doesn't need to be anything fancy - it's a simple process with cheap equipment that anyone can do :)

    2. My problem is that I tend to go a bit overboard, over think and get a bit carried away sometimes. I'm just glad that saw this response before made a grave decision :) Likely will pick up a cheap strainer, use a few layers of cheesecloth, then leave in the fridge overnight.


    3. Lol, no worries, I know that it seems too simple to be true, but it really is very easy and people have been doing this for centuries with really cheap, simple equipment. Before you spend a lot of money just give it a try - worst case scenario you get watery yogurt, best case, it turns out fabulous and you save $30! Let me know how it goes :)


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