Yogurt Dairy, Hemp Heart, & Sunflower Seed

Yogurt is a multibillion-dollar industry. Homemade yogurt rivals any commercial brand with flavor for mere pennies in cost and minimal time. Most importantly, you will control the ingredients you choose to add. I will share a tried and true method of making dairy yogurt. I will also walk you through making plant-based hemp and sunflower seed milk and yogurt.  I will share a simple solution to resolve any bitter aftertaste issue with hemp, and I encourage you to make the subtly sweet and smooth sunflower seed yogurt.  It’s a pleasant surprise.

While in my twenties, I made a ‘yogurt making date’ with my great aunt, the queen of bread and yogurt in our family. What did I learn that day? Yogurt is easy to make. She found it humorous that I would think it was difficult. She chuckled through the entire tutorial. This is her method and it works brilliantly.

To begin, you will need to purchase starter culture from your health food or natural food grocer. If possible, purchase an heirloom starter. You will save a portion of your finished yogurt to use as your next starter.

Dairy Yogurt. You will need:

Starter Cultures

½ Gal. of Whole Milk

Oil – neutral flavor such as corn oil

Glass jars with lids, heat with warm water before filling with yogurt

Pan with sides to hold jars upright in the oven

Large, thick towels to wrap the jars

Plastic bag as a final cover to retain heat


Candy thermometer

Prepare a 6-quart stainless steel stockpot by lightly coating the inside and bottom with oil. This step will ensure an easy cleanup but does not add oil to the milk. Preheat your oven to 100˚ to 110˚. Turn the heat off and turn your oven light on to help maintain a warm, cozy home for your cultures to multiply.

Pour the milk into the prepared stockpot and place the stockpot on your cooktop burner set on medium high heat. Do not stir. Watch it carefully as it will heat quickly. Allow it to boil until the entire top foams up once. (210˚) Immediately remove from the heat, let cool until just hot to touch (110˚) and remove any “skin” layer that may have developed on top. Add starter cultures in an amount according to package directions, to a small amount of milk, then mixing it thoroughly into the remaining milk.

Fill your warm glass jars with prepared cultured milk and secure lids. Wrap all around including top and bottom in large, thick towels and cover with a plastic bag to help retain heat. Place wrapped jars in a pan with sides to maintain their upright position. Place the pan in the warm oven with oven light on, and close the door. Let the cultures develop for approximately 4 hours. At this point, your yogurt will be smooth and slightly tangy, which is just how I like it. If you prefer a stronger flavor, leave the jars in the oven for several more hours. Remove from oven and refrigerate until chilled. Enjoy!

To prepare the starter for your next batch, remove one pint of yogurt and place in cheesecloth-lined colander or sieve. Cover with plastic wrap to protect it from drying. Place the colander on top of a container to catch the water. Let this drain overnight in your fridge. Once the yogurt has drained completely, it should have the consistency of cream cheese. Remove it from the cheesecloth. Separate into tablespoon size portions, cover, and freeze. Thaw before using in your next batch of yogurt, mixing it into a small amount of hot milk first (110˚) and then into the larger batch as you did before. Continue to reserve starter with each batch you prepare.

Drain a portion of your yogurt to use as a spread (yogurt cheese) if you would like. Season it with garlic, salt to taste and a drizzle of olive oil. I remember my grandmother seasoning a bowl with fresh garlic cloves by pressing the clove into the bowl and lightly coating the entire inside before adding the drained yogurt. Powdered garlic is also a seasoning option. I have also combined dill or basil with lemon and salt to taste. Yogurt cheese is a very versatile medium.

Hemp Heart & Sunflower Seed Yogurts. You will need:

Hemp hearts or raw pasteurized sunflower seeds


Fine cloth to filter the hemp hearts or

Cheesecloth to filter the sunflower seeds

Arrowroot or thickener of choice

Clean jars with lids

Starter cultures specifically labeled for nondairy yogurt

Candy thermometer

Fresh juice from an orange or another sweet citrus

For those living a plant based life or having a dairy intolerance, plant-based milk and yogurts are a delicious option. I chose to address hemp yogurt because it has a challenging bitter aftertaste that can easily be remedied and makes a beautifully white tangy yogurt.  I elected to share sunflower seed yogurt because we have the best sunflower seeds in the world, though less often used for milk or yogurt. Both are excellent options for those with nut allergies. I purchased pasteurized, raw sunflower seeds through Trader Joe’s. Purchase hemp hearts at most grocers.

The process for making hemp heart yogurt and making sunflower seed yogurt are similar. First, we will prepare the milk. Both hemp heart and sunflower seed milk use a ratio of 4 cups of water to one cup of seed. I suggest you soak the sunflower seeds for approximately 10 minutes, drain and rinse before adding the 4 cups of water. Blend in a high-speed blender until smooth. Check out our guide on the best blenders for Indian cooking which are good for blending these food items.

Filtering for Plant Milk

The blended hemp hearts will not have much pulp, but they do contain small green bits that need to be filtered out to produce the prettiest milk. Line a colander with a very fine woven cloth such as a flour sack towel or fine milk/cheese filter. Place the filter lined colander over a bowl and begin pouring liquid through the filter, occasionally lifting the cloth to squeeze the milk through.

Sunflower seeds, on the other hand, will produce pulp. Therefore, filtering with several layers of cheesecloth in a colander works best in this instance. As with the hemp hearts, you will need to lift and squeeze the cloth to push the milk through. Replace the cheesecloth regularly as it fills with pulp. Repeat filtering until the milk is creamy and not gritty.

Once you have your strained milk, heat the milk in a pan until it reaches approximately 180˚ to 190˚. Remove one to two cups of milk to blend in the arrowroot thickener. Use one tablespoon of arrowroot for each cup of milk in your batch. Whisk briskly to incorporate before adding to the remaining milk. Blend thoroughly. Set the mixture aside to cool to 110˚ or refer to the culture package directions. Once the milk has reached the appropriate temperature, blend the cultures into the milk.  Pour the milk into warm jars and secure the lids. As with dairy yogurt, wrap the jars in towels, cover with plastic to retain the heat and place in slightly warm oven with the oven light on for 4 hours. Remove from oven and place in your fridge to chill. Once your yogurt has chilled, either drain the separated liquid or shake your jar to incorporate. I prefer to remove the separated liquid.

Your final step with the hemp yogurt is to add sweet citrus juice such as fresh squeezed orange juice to eliminate any bitter aftertaste of the hemp. Taste as you go. Start adding the juice of ¼ orange per quart and continue to add until the bitterness is gone.

We tested the hemp and sunflower yogurts against the dairy yogurt in three dishes: yogurt with fruit and granola, frozen yogurt blended with fruit and a savory yogurt tzatziki sauce. The texture of plant yogurt differs from dairy due to the thickeners, but the taste is equally delicious.

Tzatziki Sauce

2 Cups of yogurt

½ Cup finely diced English cucumber or seeded regular cucumber

Juice of ½ lemon

1 Tsp. To 1 Tbsp. Fresh dill or fresh mint, finely diced

Salt to taste

We would love to hear from you! Questions? Comments? Enjoy your fresh yogurt!

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