This one simple step transforms homemade yogurt into thick, creamy Greek yogurt. It’s completely worth it. Whey makes yogurt tangy and loose; straining it out makes it sweet and rich.
Why Is it Called Greek Yogurt?
Not all yogurt in Greece is strained, and many cuisines besides Greek cuisine strain yogurt. Basically it's a marketing term to refer to yogurt that's been strained to make it thicker.
Unstrained yogurt has plenty of integrity. It's the original yogurt! Greek yogurt is nice for some things (making tzatziki, eating with berries) and regular old yogurt is better suited to other things, like marinades. I strain my yogurt by default and then whisk some of the whey back in as needed if I need regular yogurt for a recipe.
How to Make Greek Yogurt
Line a strainer or colander with cheesecloth. Double it up if the cheesecloth’s weave is loose. (A coffee filter or heavy-duty paper towel works for smaller amounts.) Set the colander over a bowl. The whey will start to drip from the yogurt down into the bowl.
You can do this in the fridge, but straining your yogurt on the counter is fine. That's how I do it and I'm still here, safe and sound.
You’ll be surprised how much whey strains out. From straining yogurt made from one half gallon of milk, you can get nearly 4 cups of whey. This does decrease your yield of yogurt, but not as much as you’d think. Ideally, strained yogurt has a textural lightness, a hint of fluffiness.
How Long Does It Take?
Depending on how stiff you’d like your yogurt, it takes anywhere from 1 to 8 hours. I use a conical strainer, which strains out faster, and a half-gallon of yogurt strains to the consistency I like in under 2 hours. A regular strainer will take longer.
I like to strain my yogurt a day after making it, because by then it’s set and fully chilled.
Whisk Like Heck
- After straining, your yogurt will look curdled and chunky. Whisk it thoroughly (seriously, like for a full minute) by hand and you’ll see it transform, becoming smooth and shiny.
- Don’t be afraid to use a little muscle. I give every little bowl of yogurt I spoon out a good thrashing before I dig in. This whisking will turn the yogurt back into the creamy, dreamy yogurt you love.
- If you strained your yogurt too much and it’s stiffer than you like, just whisk the whey back in, a few tablespoons at a time, until it’s the consistency you like.
Can You Reuse the Cheesecloth?
You can use your cheesecloth multiple times. I have a special yogurt straining cloth that I use weekly, and it’s showing no signs of wear and tear. Make sure you rinse it well after straining, getting any clinging blobs of yogurt off. Soak it in a solution of warm water and baking soda for an hour, then rinse it and let it air dry.
I don’t wash my cheesecloth in the washing machine, for a few reasons. You don’t want your yogurt to taste or smell like laundry detergent, especially if it’s scented. You don’t want to bleach it, for the same reasons. You can run it through the dryer, but keep in mind this will cause it to shrink, making the weave tighter so it takes longer to strain.
Ways to Use Leftover Whey
Yogurt whey is acidic, with sour power. It’s a little trickier to use than regular sweet whey (from making cheese or butter), but it can be handy in the kitchen.
- Use half water and half whey to when cooking whole grains for a little tang.
- Add it to bread doughs to give them a sour edge.
- Mixed it with milk as a stand-in for buttermilk in batters.
- Use it instead of water when making pie dough. The acid helps make a flaky crust.
- Use half water, half whey as a cooking liquid for beans.
Whey lasts a long time. Refrigerate it up to 2 weeks; after that give it a whiff, which'll tell you if it's ready to dump or not. If it’s on the older side, check your jar for mold—if it doesn’t look or smell good, toss it. I promise you’ll have a lot more whey than you’ll ever use up.
For Glamorous Hair, Use Whey!
I know we're a cooking site, not a beauty site, but try using whey as a rinse. Seriously. It's my very favorite thing, and I ditched a slew of hair styling products after this discovery. I read about rinsing hair with whey, tried it on a lark, and am now a total convert.
Mildly acidic whey has just the right pH to make hair glossy and bounce with body. Just pour 1/2 to 1 cup over your hair (wet, dry, or freshly shampooed) in the shower and work it into your scalp well with your fingertips. Leave it in for about a minute, then rinse thoroughly. Grooming yourself with food is the wave of the future, trust me. It's whey out!
More DIY Cooking Projects!
How to Make Homemade Greek Yogurt
- Plain yogurt, any amount, homemade or store-bought
Set things up:
Line the strainer with the cheesecloth (use a double layer, if needed) and set it over the bowl.
Strain the yogurt:
Add the yogurt to the strainer and let the whey drip out for anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours. Do this in the fridge if it’s warm or intend to strain your yogurt for more than a few hours. Check the yogurt occasionally and stop when you reach a consistency that you like.
Whisk and store:
Whisk the strained yogurt until smooth and shiny. I mean it. Whisk like heck. Don’t be afraid to whisk hard! If it’s too stiff, whisk in some whey, a few tablespoons at a time. Transfer to a storage container, and store for up to two weeks. Discard the whey, or refrigerate it in its own jar for up to 2 months.