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Making Yogurt in an Instant Pot: Is It Worth It?

Cheryl Sternman Rule99 Comments

If you haven't heard of the Instant Pot, you're not alone: Until fairly recently, I hadn't heard of it either. Even today, I don't own one. So this isn't a You-Need-To-Go-Buy-This-$100-Machine proclamation. But as a yogurt writer and one who's committed to exploring the many high-tech and low-tech ways people make yogurt around the world, I felt a duty to give this popular machine a yogurt run-through.

WHAT IS AN INSTANT POT?

The Instant Pot is a programmable electric pressure cooker. You plug it in, push a few buttons, and within minutes the combination of steam and building pressure begin to cook food more quickly than traditional appliances. Stovetop pressure cookers have been in use for a long time, but they do require tending. Electric versions like the Instant Pot (and its many cousins) are self-contained, and their auto-shut off (or auto-warm) mechanisms mean you don't need to hover once the machine finishes its work. Like a slow cooker or a rice cooker, an electric pressure cooker can keep your food safe and warm while you go about living your life. 

The Instant Pot has multiple, and sizable, online communities of enthusiasts and followers. These fans trade recipes and tips and enter this communal space frequently through their mutual affection for this single appliance.

One topic that comes up over and over (and over) again is how to use the Instant Pot to make yogurt.

Instant Pots with a Yogurt Button

Not all models have a Yogurt button, but those that do enable you to do two of the four main steps in yogurtmaking: 1) Heat the milk high enough to denature the proteins (thus giving you a thicker set) and 2) Maintain an even, yogurt-friendly incubation temperature throughout the 6 to 8 hour fermentation period.

Despite the fact that the Instant Pot's user manual includes instructions for how to make yogurt in the machine, the huge number of yogurt-specific questions posed daily in online forums reveals rampant confusion.

So, I borrowed a friend's Instant Pot to make several batches of yogurt, note-taking all the way.

Making Yogurt Using the "Inner Pot"

If you've ever made yogurt in a large saucepot (which is how I make it at home), think of the Instant Pot's metal "inner pot" as comparable; it's the best way to make a large batch of yogurt without fussing with jars.

Here's what you do:

PHASE ONE: HEAT THE MILK

  • Make sure the vent on top of the unit is turned toward "sealing" and the unit is plugged in.
  • With the inner pot in place, pour in 1/2 gallon whole (I like organic) milk.
  • Push the Yogurt button, then Adjust.
  • The word "More" will light up, and the word "Boil" will appear on the display. 
  • The unit will then begin heating the milk. It took exactly 26 minutes for the Instant Pot to heat 1/2 gallon of milk to 180°F, the target temperature for Phase One. "Yogt" appears on the display when complete.
  • Remove the lid from the Instant Pot. Do not let condensation from the lid drip into the milk.
  • In order to "hold" the milk at 180°F for 5 minutes, press Yogurt and Adjust again. This turns the heat back on. Even though the lid is now off and the milk won't reach a boil, this additional heating time will ultimately create thicker yogurt without the need for milk powders or other thickeners. Hit Keep Warm/Cancel when complete.

PHASE TWO: COOL THE MILK

  • Unplug the unit. Carefully remove the inner pot and place on a wire rack. Cool the milk to 115°F, the target temperature for Phase Two. To speed cooling, set the inner pot (only! not the entire Instant Pot!) in a shallow bowl of icy water and stir gently. Test the milk frequently with a thermometer or affix a candy thermometer to the side of the pot. Without the ice bath, the cooling process took 37 minutes. Lift off and discard any milk "skin."

  

PHASE THREE: INOCULATE WITH A STARTER CULTURE

  • Place 2 tablespoons active yogurt into a medium bowl. This is your starter.
  • Ladle 1/2 cup of the warm milk into the starter. Scrape the milky starter back into the inner pot.
  • Return the inner pot to the Instant Pot. Remove the thermometer. Close the lid. Plug in the unit. Make sure the vent points towards "sealing." (UPDATE: During this phase, the vent can actually be pointed in either direction.)

PHASE FOUR: INCUBATE UNTIL FERMENTED AND SET

  • Push the Yogurt button. Add time using the (+) key to reach 8 hours. Go about your day (or night).
  • In 8 hours, your yogurt will be fully set and "Yogt" will appear on the display. Ladle into clean containers or jars and refrigerate for several hours before enjoying. Yield: 7 cups yogurt

Making Yogurt in Individual Jars

Some people prefer to make their yogurt in individual glass canning jars. This way, you don't have to ladle the finished yogurt into jars or other containers; you simply heat the milk and incubate your yogurt inside the jars.

But. And this is a big but: You do still have to cool the milk down before adding your culture, and removing hot, liquid-filled jars from the Instant Pot to facilitate cooling can be tricky. In other words, you can't just push a button and walk away and find yourself with yogurt 8 hours later. That intermediate cool-down step still requires hands-on involvement. 

I was able to fit three 16-ounce canning jars into my pot. This volume translates to 48 ounces of milk, or considerably less than the amount I was able to make when using the inner pot. (Larger Instant Pots can theoretically accommodate larger jars.)

Here's what I did:

PHASE ONE: HEAT THE MILK INSIDE THE JARS

  • Fit the steamer rack into the Instant Pot. Pour in 1 cup water. Fill three 16-ounce heat-resistant canning jars (these are mine) about 90% to the top with whole (I like organic) milk. Lower the jars onto the steamer rack. Lightly place the jar lids (not the rings) on top of each jar. This will prevent steam and condensation from dripping back into (and watering down) your milk.
  • Make sure the vent on top of the unit is turned toward "sealing" and the unit is plugged in. Twist the Instant Pot lid in place.
  • Press [steam] and adjust the timer to 1 minute. Once the machine indicates the cycle is complete, use natural release to release pressure. Despite the fact that the timer was set for 1 minute, it took almost 20 minutes for my unit to reach pressure and then move to the natural release phase. When I took the temperature of the milk, the thermometer read 215°F. This higher temperature is much hotter (35°F hotter, in fact) than is necessary, though it does result in beautifully thick yogurt. And it's nice that the milk doesn't boil out of the jars. Hit Cancel and unplug the machine.

PHASE TWO: COOL THE MILK INSIDE THE JARS

  • Using oven mitts, carefully ease off the jar lids and tuck a thermometer in one of the jars. I didn't feel comfortable removing the hot jars from the pot as they were filled so high and spillage would have been likely. Others may be braver than I. Just use caution.
  • Allow the milk to cool to 115°F. This took about 90 minutes. Remove the thermometer.

PHASE THREE: INOCULATE WITH A STARTER CULTURE

  • My preferred ratio is always 1 tablespoon starter per quart of milk. In this case, this translated to 1-1/2 teaspoons starter per 16-ounce jar of now 115°F milk. If there's skin on top (which is likely), lift it off, then gently stir in your starter.
  • Replace the jar lids (without bands) and twist the Instant Pot lid back in place. Turn the vent back to "sealing." (UPDATE: During this phase, the vent can point in either direction.)

PHASE FOUR: INCUBATE UNTIL FERMENTED AND SET 

  • Hit the Yogurt button and set the timer for 7 or 8 hours. "Yogt" will appear on the display once incubation is complete.
  • Hit Cancel and unplug the machine.
  • Remove the jars, dry off any condensation, affix the rings onto the lids, and refrigerate several hours (or overnight) before enjoying.

Does the Instant Pot Make It Easier to Make Homemade Yogurt?

This is the million dollar question.

On the Pro side: Unlike with my traditional saucepot technique, there was remarkably little clean-up using the Instant Pot. The inner pot needed a light washing (but no scrubbing), and when incubating in jars, it was nice not to mess with ladles or funnels. (Many people make yogurt in jars perfectly happily without an Instant Pot for this very reason.) I also found the yogurt beautifully thick and set without the need for any thickeners. 

On the Con side: If you own an Instant Pot and enjoy using its many functions to pressure cook, slow cook, make porridge or rice, you may be frustrated that the machine will be in use (and therefore unavailable for other cooking tasks) during the entirety of the yogurtmaking process. Because the pot does other things so well and so quickly, and yogurt turns out beautifully using so many other methods, I'm not sure I'd want to tie up my Instant Pot all day just to make yogurt. (For example, I wanted to use the Instant Pot I was borrowing to pressure cook beans for dinner, but it was filled with yogurt.) Even if making yogurt at night, keep in mind that you still need to heat, cool, and inoculate the milk (Phases One, Two, Three) before starting Phase Four and heading to bed.

The Final Verdict

I think I might buy an Instant Pot, but... not because of its yogurt setting. The yogurt functionality works perfectly well, but I just happen to be seduced by its other features more. (Its prowess with dried beans may be what pushes me to buy one.)  

That said, for those who love their Instant Pots for homemade yogurtmaking, I hope the above step-by-step guide helps fill in any blanks in the manual's instructions. 

However you make yogurt, enjoy the process and, of course, the results. 

|| Have an Instant Pot? Here's a Dedicated Facebook Group with Links to Instant Pot Recipes ||

|| Have an Instant Pot? Here's a Dedicated Facebook Community for Enthusiasts ||

|| Don't Have an Instant Pot but want to purchase one? Here is a link to the 5-Quart model I borrowed and may end up purchasing. Here is a link to the newer 6-Quart model. And here is a link to the newest 8-quart model. As always, Amazon purchases through these affiliate links help support Team Yogurt. Thanks! || 

|| If you've landed here, I'm guessing you have a strong interest in making yogurt. That's great. Here's a link to my cookbook, Yogurt Culture, which gives you 115 recipes for cooking with all that yogurt you'll be making. ||

|| Finally, deep gratitude to Team Yogurt contributor Danielle Tsi, who kindly lent me her Instant Pot so I could bring you this resource guide. Visit Danielle's lovely photography blog Beyond the Plate. ||

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