I eat yogurt for breakfast most mornings. It’s not glamorous but it’s healthy and easy to assemble a bowl of muesli, fruit, yogurt, and honey. I add a heaping spoonful of flax seed meal (my dad got me into flax years ago). My husband has his yogurt with just fruit. Together we eat about half a gallon of yogurt every ten days.
For years, that meant we were amassing a collection of yogurt tubs. My mom loved those tubs for freezing food and I took to gifting her frozen pho broth in recycled yogurt tubs. She got so many tubs that she re-gifted empty tubs to her friend, Mrs. Nha.
Earlier this year, I investigated buying a yogurt maker. Why keep going to Costco for half-gallon tubs of yogurt, especially when my mom had had enough of the recycled tubs?
The yogurt makers on the market are about $100 and my husband questioned how often I would use it before I got bored. I reminded him of the starter that I grew and maintained for years by baking us weekly loaves of walnut bread. He reminded me of how we had it babysat when we when on vacation.
I kept thinking about yogurt makers but then came the Instant Pot, which has a yogurt function. I was eager to try it out and looked to my friend and cookbook author Cheryl Sternman Rule for insights. She wrote an amazing cookbook about yogurt and at her website, TeamYogurt.com, she had instructions for using the Instant Pot to make yogurt.
For regular, plain yogurt, there are only two (2) ingredients:
- Milk – Cheryl suggested organic milk for making yogurt and through rounds of testing, I found that you can use low-fat milk or full-fat milk. I like full-fat milk (surprise!) for its rich flavor.
- Yogurt starter – Choose one that’s full of live, active cultures. I used the Costco yogurt because it was a very natural product, made with few ingredients. For the first batch, use purchased yogurt. Subsequent batches can be started with yogurt saved from prior DIY batches.
When I make Vietnamese yogurt (da ua or sua chua in Vietnamese) I simply incubate sweetened condensed milk with the regular milk. Years ago, I posted a Vietnamese yogurt recipe with sweetened condensed milk; I incubated it in the oven and the results were inconsistent. I was a yogurt novice. The Instant Pot has made me somewhat of a yogurt expert. Let’s face it, I’m a lifelong learner.
On my last trip to Vietnam, I noticed that the yogurt tended to be sweeter than I remembered. It was also on the runny side. Once home, I tried adding sweetened condensed milk to yogurt and it was okay but the sweet richness of the condensed milk wasn’t fully integrated with the yogurt.
The other day, after seeing my photo of homemade IP yogurt on Instagram, someone asked if it was Vietnamese yogurt. My mom used to not add condensed milk to hers when she made it in Vietnam; she incubated her yogurt in the hot Saigon sun. On occasion, it was quite sharp but we ate it anyway. It was good for us, my mom said.
I was curious about adding condensed milk to the IP yogurt, so I made a batch of yogurt and just poured in some condensed milk (I keep it in a jar in a fridge). The half gallon of milk changed flavor with just 1/2 cup of sweetened condensed milk; I thought I’d have to add more.
I went through my regular steps to make yogurt and the next morning… Voila! The yogurt had a sweet lilt. My husband tasted it and remarked, “This doesn’t seem like regular yogurt.” Of course not, it’s Vietnamese yogurt!
Whether you’re making regular or Vietnamese yogurt, it’s simply about following this blueprint:
- Pasteurizing the milk
- Cooling it down
- Adding the starter
- Incubating the mixture for hours
The Instant Pot can help you do that because it will regulate the temperature. I start a batch in the afternoon or evening and wake up to a pot of yogurt for breakfast. There’s little guesswork or monitoring involved. Cooking while you sleep is fabulous!
The tricks involve working all the buttons and gauging temperature, which I zero in on with a Thermo-Pro instant-read digital thermometer. At first, I was using a regular dial thermometer and it wasn’t precise enough.
I had some issues, well, some mistakes. Here are my lessons learned:
To ensure a thicker yogurt, Cheryl has you continue to keep the milk heated for a few minutes after the initial pasteurization. I do that for 5 to 8 minutes via the Saute function. The extra heating induces evaporation so the milk is richer and the yogurt is thicker. Do that with the lid off. The other night I left the lid partially covered and had an accident because the milk did boil.
Adjust the heat level, as needed, and remove the lid.
To cool the milk without getting a film on top, set the milk in a sink of water so there’s enough water to come the sides of the pot — at least the same level as the milk. The photo below is from a one-gallon batch of yogurt. (If your sink is large, use an ice bath and stir the pot now and then.)
When setting the IP to make yogurt, be sure to have the temperature set to Normal. I once had it set to Low thinking it needed a low temperature and the milk remained as a liquid.
Incubation time depends on how much tang you want. Eight (8) hours is mild. Ten (10) hours is a moderate amount of tang. Twelve (12) gives a nice sharpness. This all gets mitigated by the fat in the milk. For the Vietnamese yogurt I just made this week, I used ten (10) hours because I like the tang. You can back off and go for nine (9) or even (8) hours of incubation. Less time means the condensed milk will pop more. I like the sweet-tartness so I went for a longer incubation.
When fresh and warm, yogurt will seem rather thin. It will thicken in the fridge but if you want very thick yogurt, strain it through cheesecloth or muslin or paper towel; occasionally whisk to evenly strain and create a creamy texture. The fabric I used below is very thin muslin (you could use it for curtain sheers). The straining time depends on the yogurt quantity and temperature when you strain it. Just eyeball it.
And, there’s usually a film stuck to bottom of the IP pot. Avoid stirring that up or it’ll mess with the texture of the yogurt.
How does Vietnamese yogurt compare to regular yogurt? The color of Vietnamese yogurt is on the buff side, rather than the off-white side. It’s a subtle difference that’s hard to see in this iPhone photo I took.
What’s more interesting to note is the texture. Strained regular yogurt is on the right. I didn’t strain the Vietnamese yogurt on the left because it’s not traditionally super thick. However what I made was creamy, tangy and a touch sweet with the goodness of sweetened condensed milk. It captured the quality and quirk of Vietnamese yogurt.
Below is a yogurt recipe for your Instant Pot adventures. Make it with the sweetened condensed milk for a Viet twist; add more sweetened condensed milk if you want to emphasize the sweet. Or, keep the yogurt plain.
Double the quantity after you get comfortable with making the recipe. It’ll be good anyway you do it. I never thought I’d type this but the Instant Pot makes yogurt super duper easy and fun.
Instant Pot Vietnamese Yogurt
Yield 6 to 7 cups
- 8 cups (1/2 gallon) whole milk, organic preferred
- 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 2 to 3 tablespoons plain yogurt with live cultures, at room temperature
- Pour both kinds of milk into the Instant Pot. Lock the lid in place; turn the pressure release valve to seal. To pasteurize (heat the milk to 180°F), choose Yogurt and press Adjust until Boil appears on the display. When done, about 25 minutes, unlock and remove the lid.
- For thicker yogurt, encourage evaporation: Press Yogurt and Adjust (or use Saute and Normal mode) to hold the milk at 180°F for 5 to 8 minutes. (Don’t expect boiling, unless you mistakenly have it at More, like I did!) If you like, use a meat or candy/deep fry thermometer to occasionally gauge the temperature at the center.
- Cool the inner pot of milk in a sink filled with 3 or 4 inches of water. Or, use an ice bath: fill a large bowl or wide pot with 8 to 10 ice cubes and water to a depth of about 3 inches. Let the inner pot of milk sit in the cold water for about 10 minutes; frequently lift and swirl the pot to aerate and cool. When the milk hovers around 110 to 115°F, remove the pot from the water and dry the outside. Discard any milk skin that may have formed.
- Ladle 1/2 to 3/4 cup of warm milk into the yogurt and combine well. Stirring the warm pot of milk with the ladle, pour in the thinned yogurt. Replace the inner pot in the Instant Pot.
- Lock the lid in place (the pressure release valve can be in either position). To incubate, press Yogurt, then set the time between 8 and 10 hours (use the maximum for tangy yogurt). When done, the display says “Yogt”. (Once set, I’ve let the yogurt sit in the IP) for several hours. The IP’s Yogt mode defaults to standby so no heat is on and the yogurt cools.)
- Remove the lid. Whisk the yogurt for a consistent texture, avoiding the bottom where there’s likely a film of milk. For a thicker texture, strain the yogurt through fabric (set it in mesh strainer positioned on top of a bowl).
- Transfer into containers or jars and refrigerate for about 2 weeks.
Courses breakfast, lunch, dinner
If you have Instant Pot yogurt tips or Vietnamese yogurt tips, do share them!
Related post: How to make great rice in the Instant Pot