Frugal Food – Adventures in Yogurt


When I first came to China four years ago, I stopped eating yogurt. It was a combination of things, really, that kept me from buying the stuff. Back home, we ate yogurt with a spoon, scooping each bite from the bowl or carton the same way one might scoop fruit from its rind (and with much the same relish). Here, you drink yogurt. You could probably eat it with a spoon if you liked but the consistency is all wrong.  Instead of scooping, it is more like ladling.  You don’t eat yogurt here, you drink it.

When I moved from Wuhan to Shanghai, I found there were alternative choices to the Chinese drinking yogurt. In Shanghai, you could buy imported yogurt from the store or you could get imported French yogurt delivered to your door. You wouldn’t need to drink this yogurt from a straw, but you would be paying through the nose for it. Nonetheless, I did go this route for a time. It was so nice to have fresh, un-sweetened, scoopable yogurt on hand. Plus, my daughter loved it. After a few months, though, while adding up the food bills and playing with the grocery budget, I came to the realization that – for our family at least – we just couldn’t justify the cost of good yogurt. We were paying more for yogurt every month than we were paying for our electricity!

Luckily, I happen to live in one of the most crunchy and frugal communities in Shanghai. I knew of women who, pioneers that they are in this strange land, made their own yogurt. I had always assumed that yogurt making took a lot of time or that one must be very skilled to undertake such an endeavor. But, in talking with my neighbor, I learned that anybody can make yogurt, and it doesn’t take much time or any special equipment.

And so, I began making my own yogurt. For the cost of two or three small cartons or bottles of the imported stuff, I could make an entire crock-pot full.

Make Your Own Yogurt Recipe


1 box milk

¼ – 1/3 cup milk powder (you can find this at any local super market. I usually buy Nestle brand unsweetened milk powder – it comes in a yellow bag). The milk powder will give the yogurt a thicker consistency and a higher nutritional content.

¼ cup plain yogurt (to be used as a starter)


  1. Pour milk into crock-pot
  2. Add milk powder and whisk until smooth
  3. Heat mixture to 185F/85C (I’ve skipped this step before and my yogurt has set but it was a bit thinner than usual).
  4. Turn off crock-pot and let mixture cool to 110F/43C
  5. While the mixture is cooling, set the starter on the counter and let it warm to room temperature.
  6. When the mixture is at 110F/43C, add the starter and whisk until smooth.
  7. Place a lid on the crock-pot and allow the mixture to incubate. The trick is to keep the mixture warm during the incubation process. During the summer months, simply leaving the mixture in an un-air conditioned room does the trick. In the winter, I suggest wrapping a towel or two around the crock pot.
  8. Your yogurt will be ready in about 8-10 hours. The longer you leave the yogurt, the thicker and tangier it will be.
  9. When the yogurt has set (after 8-10 hours), whisk until smooth and refrigerate (your yogurt will become thicker in the refrigerator). You can refrigerate in one container and scoop into smaller containers as needed, or you can separate the yogurt into serving sized containers. Either way, make sure you put some of the yogurt aside to use as a starter for the next batch.

10.  Your yogurt will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks, although it is best to use your starter within 5-7 days.

I want to address the most frequently asked question I get about making your own yogurt, “How do I sweeten it?” The recipe above is for a batch of unsweetened yogurt.  If sweetened yogurt is a must-have at your house, I recommend the following:

  1. Choose your sweetener. There are many to choose from that are probably better (they sound better at least) than highly refined white sugar or *GASP* high fructose corn syrup (which we commonly refer to in our house as “the devil”). Some choices for sweeteners that you might consider are: honey, 100% pure maple syrup, or molasses.
  2. Decide how much of your yogurt you want sweetened. If you like the whole batch to be sweet, go for it. If not, take out a portion that you don’t want sweetened and store it separately.
  3. Make sure to take out some yogurt before you sweeten it and set it aside to use as a starter for your next batch.
  4. After your yogurt has been made and you have removed any that you don’t want sweetened (including the starter), mix your sweetener in slowly until you get the desired sweetness. It’s as easy as that.

I would like to add two quick suggestions about sweetening your yogurt. The first is, if you have children, consider offering them the unsweetened yogurt first. After all, they might like it. The second is, try sweetening the yogurt with fruit. Fruit might add just the right amount of sweetness needed to make the yogurt palatable for those of you out there with a sweet-tooth. If you do add fruit, I recommend adding it to each serving individually as you eat it.  If you fruit to the entire batch, it might not taste so good as you get near the end.

Besides sweetening your yogurt, you can flavor your yogurt in many different ways. Two of my favorite ways to flavor yogurt are by adding flavored extract, fruit preservatives, or fresh fruit. There are many different combinations, so experiment away.

7 responses to “Frugal Food – Adventures in Yogurt

  1. Since I arrived in Shanghai, I also make my own yogurts and the baby loves them! I use a yogurt-maker, and it is really easy to do.
    Thanks for the tip of using milk powder,I’m going to try!

  2. I am VERY interested in this…..I just arrived here a month ago and have had the same thoughts about yogurt. My 2 toddlers eat yogurt everyday and they are not fond of the drinkable stuff here.

    Back home I made my own baby food and considered making my own yogurt, but never did because of all the easy choices back home.

    I did not bring my crock pot from back home because it was so old……should I buy a yogurt maker or a crock pot to start making yogurt? Where can I get a yogurt maker if that is the way to go?

    Thank you for posting this article-I plan on becoming a frugal mama myself! We would like to take this 2 years in Shanghai and learn new ways to save money! Keep the ideas coming!!!!

  3. Really interesting!! i was a big fan of yogurt until i came here. I don’t think any of my friends would know how to make yogurt of their own. I will def try it! Just one question, if i don’t have a crock pot, can i use a normal pot and just make sure to measure the temperature?

  4. The yoghurt pots look very very pretty. Did you get them in china? I just started making my own yoghurt too but it’s always in a big container in the fridge. Not as cute and convenient as in these little pots.

  5. can anyone tell me where I can find plain milk powder…. would prefer if it’s organic. Checked the cityshops but the only type of powdered milk they have is formula.


  6. I also would be interested in knowing where I could get a crockpot here in Shanghai or how to do it without one.
    where did you buy a thermometer?

Comments are closed.