Sake Gumi
Last month Yoko posted a story on a homemade yogurt she made from Bulgarian cultures, which I found really interesting because the method employed was totally different from the way I remembered my mother and grandmother used to make it. That prompted me to pay a quick visit to the internet to check the "official" word on the how-to of yogurt. What I found were a number of sites that described the process in very technically precise terms, and thereby requiring various forms of gadgetry (from thermometers to beakers to incubation bulbs and so on), all of which I regarded as completely unnecessary when compared to my childhood memories of the way it was done.

I decided to check back with my mom to see if my memory was in fact serving me correctly, since I don't recall them using anything more complicated than a pot and a blanket (I'll explain in a minute). It turns out I was right. Moreover, it made me really proud that they were able to make such wonderful yogurt that served as the sensorial reference point for so many wonderful childhood memories, all without the insane gadgetry and obsession with precision that too often replaces the necessary soulfulness and love in the kitchen. Armed with my enthusiasm and renewed pride in family and culture (no pun intended), I set out to make yogurt myself the way my ancestors did. Well almost, since I'll be using a stove and electric blanket. But you get the point.

First grab a pot and fill it with milk, any kind of milk you prefer; lowfat, nonfat, and whole milk will all produce yogurt, though flavor and body will of course vary depending on which milk you use. I used a 2% lowfat in this case, because that's what I had around at the time. The amount of milk you use is up to you, as it will correspond with the amount of yogurt you'll end up with.

Bring the pot just to a boil, and when you see it's starting to boil, turn if off and allow it cool just enough so that when you stick a finger in it your finger won't burn. The process of bringing it just to a boil will kill any unwanted bacteria in the milk that could potentially interfere with the work of cultures you'll introduce to it. And of course you'll want to keep your finger impeccably clean so that you won't undo the process by contaminating the milk. Eventually you'll get a sense of how long it takes without using your finger, so your finger can resume its dirty duties.

Once the milk has cooled a bit (but still warm), pour a little (like half cup or so) into a small bowl, and add a spoonful or two of store bought yogurt and mix it in until smooth. This yogurt that you'll be mixing is your starter culture. You can buy any type you like, so long as it's unflavored and contains live active cultures--this should be indicated on the packaging.

Therefore beware of pasteurized yogurt that doesn't have live cultures, as you'll definitely fail. Pour the mini mixture back into the pot and gently stir it around so that it mixes with the rest of the milk. You're dealing with live organisms here, so you want to be gentle so you don't destabilize the mix.

Place the lid on the pot, or pour it into a container with a tight lid. Wrap the pot or container with a blanket and place it in a warm corner of the house, and leave it there undisturbed for about 4 to 5 hours. I used an electric blanket so I could maintain a steady level of heat, but you can also use a regular blanket and place it near a heater. The whole purpose of this is to maintain the warmth (generally between 78-110 degrees) for a long enough time that will enable the cultures to do their work, and thereby coagulate the milk into yogurt.

After 4 or 5 hrs, the yogurt should be done, and at this point you can refrigerate it. It should yield a slightly tangy yogurt with a thick consistency almost like that of sour cream. If however after this time it seems like it's not yet coagulated (and assuming heat maintenance wasn't too much of an issue), you can leave it for a few more hours, as it may just need a little more time.

An alternative to the blanket technique is to preheat the oven to its lowest setting, and once the oven has preheated, turn it off and place the covered pot in the oven for several hours, the whole purpose still being to maintain a warm environment for the bacteria. The yogurt came out great the very first time, turning out exactly as I remembered it, without any thermometers or the like; the wisdom of the ages was my only guide.

The most technologically advanced tool I used was my stove top to heat the milk, and perhaps the electric blanket. Of course you can get as technical as you like and can control the outcome with greater precision, but personally I prefer the old school way, as it takes me back to my childhood. It's also quite in keeping with the more soulful ethos of cooking that encourages us to interact with the food we eat. Plus it's pretty darn cute to look at it all wrapped up in a blanket in the corner of the room.

This further proved to me how much my elders, and by extension the elders of other non-Western cultures, have been not simply practicing but in fact living by the principles of the "Slow Food" movement before anyone knew to even call it that! What has become a recent revolutionary idea in the Western culinary world has been a way of life for thousands of years for many of us. It's nice to sometimes slow down in such a fast paced city.


  • This is the best yogurt! Reminds me of the first bowl of yogurt I ever had in Greece, 53 years ago… no yogurt available in the States at that time! I made my own with a culture from Yonah Shimmel on the Lower East Side..

    Susan on

  • I’d love to try this sometime. I like how the yogurt you made is of sour cream consistency. The Bulgarian type I use is pretty runny in comparison.
    Yeah, I love how yogurt reminds us just how simple foods can be. I can not eat store bought yogurt anymore. It tastes like Jello and is a perfect example of gimmicky marketing tactics…

    Did someone say Go-gurt?

    yoko on

  • Yoko – I don’t think the type of cultures you used were the reason for the runniness of the yogurt, but rather the method.

    From what I can tell it appears the issue is that the environment is not warm enough for the yogurt to coagulate further and become thicker. Next time try incorporating the cultures you have into milk that’s somewhere b/w 78 and 110 degrees—over that temp will kill the cultures, and below it the yogurt will be less coagulated. And since you’ll be keeping it at temperatures warmer than room temp, it’ll only take 4-5 hours, as opposed to 8.

    Paystyle on

  • The batch pictures is done, and I’m about to start the next. It’s funny how quickly we finished this, whereas the store bought yogurt—though it can be pretty tasty depending on the brand—just seems to sit in the fridge.

    Note: if your initial batch works out properly, you may want to reserve a couple spoonfuls in a smaller container as the culture for the next batch so that it won’t get contaminated.

    Paystyle on

  • THanks for sharing this wonderful low tech way to make yogurt. I’m going to try it.

    Cheri Sicard on

  • This is so cool! I’m Iranian and this is exactly the way my mom makes yogurt. I’m craving yogurt now. :)

    Mariam on

  • cool! i want to try!

    erin on

  • That is the right way to make persian yogurt, My mother put the mix in the oven with the light on as a heat sourse.

    Steve on

  • I made my first lot of Persian Yoghurt and it was perfect and so simple to make! I used some of the yoghurt to culture the second lot I made, but it was quite runny. My temperatures were obviously not correct. We are trying to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet and I have used this yoghurt on sugar free breakfast cereal and grated apple. Absolutely delicious. We have also made sugar free deserts (from I Quit Sugar Book by Sarah Wilson) using the yoghurt – once again – yummy! We are also using full fat milk to make the yoghurt – based on current research that says it is not fat that is killing us – it is sugar!

    Kerrie on

  • I am making this right now. My sister who passed away many years ago left a hand written recipe for “mast”. She lived in Iran for 4 years and learned to cook so many dishes. I was just looking through my memory recipes and came upon this. It is exactly like your recipe and outshines all the other recipes I have seen on the internet with a lot of equipment and more time. I well remember how delicious her homemade yogurt was and since I make smoothies every morning and use yogurt, I thought I would start making my own. We will see how it turns out. :D Thanks for posting this as it confirmed what was written so long ago and had nearly faded out.

    SamiamHis on

  • I actually want to cry. Such a simle recipe. My mother in law was persian, she held this close to her heart. I would try to sneak in on her to find out how to make but she was from the old school ( was 87 as the time ) and was not having me find out how to make this. Now I can try to make. NO matter how simple it will never have the love she had in it, but I can again remember her. I am american, married a Iranian. So I only remember how it sounded in english when they would say moust me kie …pass the yougurt. Sorry about the bad spelling ..its al I have of a women I respected and loved so much. Thank you for posting this.

    holly lynn on

  • I have found that I get a thicker consistency at a lower temperature. Room temperature (about 23 degrees Celcius) works beautifully, though it takes much longer to coagulate.

    Djy Sea on

  • I tried this after 5 hours it was watery at the top. I threw it down the drain and saw the bottom of the pot turn into yogurt. Would you recommend I keep it warm for a longer period of time or something else?



    Delores on

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