How to Strain Yogurt

 

Strained yogurt is an ancient dairy food that is eaten in Israel and throughout the Middle East. Yogurt has been a staple on the continent of Asia for over a thousand years. While we do know that yogurt is ancient, the origins of the dish are a bit unclear. The word yogurt has a Turkish origin because the food found its way to Western Europe through Turkey and the Balkans. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, “Yogurt is one of the fermented milk foods whose origins are probably multiple. It is easy to imagine how, in parts of C. and W. Asia, unintended fermentation of milk could have produced something like yogurt, and that people would have noticed that this would keep for much longer than fresh milk, besides tasting good.” The nomadic tribes of Western Asia stored milk in animal skins, where is would naturally coagulate and acidify. This was likely the way yogurt was discovered, a far cry from the colorful plastic tubs sold in grocery stores today.

Strained yogurt is a type of thickened yogurt that is regularly enjoyed throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. It is eaten plain as a dip, and also used in cooking because it does not curdle at higher temperatures. The process of straining yogurt creates Greek yogurt (the popular, high protein thickened yogurt sold in stores) and labneh cheese (an even thicker yogurt that has the consistency of soft cream cheese). Naturally strained yogurt is high in protein and calcium. It’s also lower in sugar and carbs than traditional yogurt, making it a good choice for diabetics and people on low carb diets.

I find straining yogurt to be a great cost-effective technique. Buy a large tub of plain yogurt and you’ve got several tasty possibilities! The process is super easy, and you probably already have the tools to do it in your kitchen. This blog will walk you through the process.

Here are a few things to keep in mind. Straining yogurt will reduce the volume of the yogurt because you’re removing liquid. If you’re thickening the yogurt to use in a recipe (like when a recipe calls for Greek yogurt or labane), start with more yogurt than the recipe requires. The volume will be reduced by more than half depending on how long you strain it, so plan accordingly. If a recipe calls for ½ cup of strained yogurt, you might want to start with 1 ½ cups to be safe. It’s not an exact science, but err on the side of straining more to make sure you end up with the proper amount. You can always snack on the leftovers. :)

Save the liquid (known as whey) that collects in the bowl; it’s filled with nutrients, can be used as a milk substitute in baked goods (breads, scones, biscuits) or to add nutrition to smoothies and protein shakes. The whey will add a mild cheesy flavor to anything you’re using it in. If you’re keeping kosher, only use whey in dairy dishes. I store the collected whey in a mason jar, it keeps well. Keep it refrigerated, and don’t use it if it’s been in the fridge for longer than 6 months or has an “off” smell.

Strained yogurt has a rich, creamy flavor that can be used to create dips, spreads, and parfaits. I much prefer strained yogurt to traditional yogurt– it’s a healthy treat you can feel good about. Enjoy!

How to Strain Yogurt

You will need

  • Plain yogurt – any fat content is fine
  • Cheesecloth, muslin, a thin dish towel, or a coffee filter
  • Colander or strainer
  • Medium bowl to rest the strainer in
  • Kitchen twine or string
Prep Time: 10 - 48 Hours
Kosher Key: Dairy

Instructions

  • Assemble the tools. Place your colander over your bowl.
  • Cut the cheesecloth into 18-inch rectangles to form 6 to 8 layers of cloth. Line colander with the cheesecloth.
  • Scoop yogurt into the middle of the cheesecloth.
  • Gather up the sides of the cheesecloth to form a bundle, and tie it at the top with the twine or string. Do not squeeze the bundle, just let it rest inside the colander. The bowl below will catch the excess liquid.
  • If using muslin or a thin dish towel, line the colander with one layer of cloth and proceed with filling with yogurt and tying, just as you would with cheesecloth. Any thin, tightly knit fabric will work. I've even heard of people using a very clean pillowcase to line the colander. Don't use a thick kitchen towel, it will absorb too much of the yogurt during the straining process.
  • If using a coffee filter, line the colander with the filter. You want the base of the colander covered with a single layer of filter. Depending on what type of filter you use, the size of your colander, and/or how much yogurt you want to strain, you may need more than one filter to achieve this.
  • Place the yogurt in the middle of the filter(s). Cover the yogurt surface with plastic wrap (plastic touching the yogurt).
  • Place the colander, bowl, and yogurt inside the refrigerator and let the excess liquid strain into the bowl through the colander. Check after 1 hour to make sure the liquid that is dripping into the bowl is thin and not too white. It should be slightly milky, with no chunks of white in it.
  • If the liquid has a lot of white stuff in it, your cheesecloth is not thick enough, which means you’re losing yogurt instead of liquid. Wrap a few more layers of cheesecloth around the bundle. If the liquid is clear, you're good to go.
  • The longer you strain the yogurt, the thicker it will be. To make plain yogurt into Greek yogurt, strain overnight (10-12 hours) to 48 hours. Check consistency every 12 hours and stop straining when you reach the consistency you like.
  • To make plain yogurt into rich, thick labneh cheese* (aka yogurt cheese), let is strain for 48-72 hours.
  • You can also strain kefir in the same way you strain yogurt; it will take a bit longer to thicken than yogurt because it has a higher liquid content. You can even strain Greek yogurt to thicken it and make the flavor more potent (I do this when I make tzatziki sauce).
  • *Note: I use the term “cheese” here loosely. Strained yogurt does not actually produce cheese in the traditional sense of the word; labneh (aka yogurt cheese) is simply a thickened form of yogurt.

Comments (38)Post a Comment

    1. Lisa, that is salted labneh cheese spread topped with olive oil, za’atar and olives. You make it by straining salted yogurt into labneh. I’ll do a more detailed post on it sometime, it’s really delicious! :)

  1. I was going to ask the same question as Lisa…. it looks amazing and I can’t wait to see your post on it!

    GREAT information and step-by-step photos. I’ve been buying Greek Yogurt…now I can make my own! Thank you, Tori!

  2. This is a wonderful and educational post, Tori! I’ve only used cheesecloth once in my life and that was to make goat cheese. Long ago I saw an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown was talking about yogurt (I think) and made a creamy dip out of it by straining overnight ;-)

  3. we love yogurt(dahi).i put shreded cucumber,cilantro,roasted cumin seeds salt and sprinkle red or black papper.

  4. Oooo, Oooo, Oooo! I cannot WAIT to try this. I love love love my Greek yogurt and haven’t gone without it since re-discovering it’s amazingness at the beginning of the summer. I’ve paid up to $7 dollars for the good stuff and all along all it is is strained regular yogurt. Damn you corporate America! Thank you so much for the awesomely laid out tutorial!

  5. IN INDIA WE CALL YOGURT AS A CURD!YOU CAN MAKE SWEET OR SOUR DISHES FRON CURD.CHOP THE ONION,TOMATO AND CUCUMBER,ADD SALT AND BLACK PAPER IN CURD(ADD ROASTED CUMIN SEEDS)MIXES EVERY THING IN CURD.YOU USE AS A DIP.YOU CAN ADD FRUITS,NUTS,HONEY,SAFRON IN CURD.YOU CAN MAKES A DRINK FROM CURD.ADD ICE,SALT,CUMIN POWDER AND BLACK PAPER IN CURD.PUT EVERYTHING IN FOOD PROCESSOR.SAME WAY YOU MAKE SWEET DRINK.ADD HONEY(ROSE WATER,SAFFRON)IN CURD.

  6. Did you ever post about the salted labaneh dip mentioned in previous comments? It looks so yummy but I couldn’t find the post. :)

    1. It doesn’t. I’ve made labneh numerous times, it comes out substantially better if you strain it at room temperature

    2. While this may be true, I can’t recommend it for food safety reasons. Yogurt does have natural cultures and people have been culturing dairy at room temperature for centuries. That said, modern dairy products are very different from the raw unpasteurized dairy products of yore. I would not recommended keeping dairy outside of the refrigerator for a prolonged period of time due to the possible growth of harmful bacteria. I have nothing against the method, I just cannot recommend it here because I wouldn’t want anybody to get a food borne illness based on this kind of advice. I’m glad it works for you though!

  7. Thanks so much for this info. Just made my first ever batch of homemade yogurt and strained it w cheese cloth. Thinking I’ve done something totally wrong because the cheesecloth soaked up so much of my yogurt and it was not pleasant removing the yogurt from the cloth. Any suggestions on how to prevent this from happening. I spent 10 minutes wringing out the yogurt from the cloth.

    1. Hi jaLane– the cloth will soak up a bit of the yogurt, but it shouldn’t be excessive. Did you use nonfat yogurt? Nonfat yogurt is thinner, which may result in the cheesecloth issue you’re having. Next time try lowfat or whole. Also, try using a muslin cloth, coffee filter, or even a clean pillowcase to strain. The more tightly woven the material is, the less likely it will be to soak up any yogurt during the process.

  8. This looks good. I recently made my own greek yogurt from skim milk. Strained out a lot of whey. Then just whisked up the yogurt. it was smooth and creamy. My daughter commented it looked just like creamy store bought yogurt. Greek yogurt is high in protein, low in fat and carbs. I also reuse the whey

  9. I am so excited to read this!! I live in Dubai and it’s impossible (ok, just super expensive) to buy Greek Yogurt here, and I knew I could make it myself! Plus, I have been wondering about Labneh, and now I know what it is, plus I can make it on my own. Thanks SO much, this post is super helpful!!

  10. Hi
    This looks great, one question, whilst straining should you keep in the fridge or just at room tempertature? thanks :)

  11. Hi,
    I’ve strained the yogurt and created my own concoction, but I’m still waiting for the Labneh recipe.

  12. Nice blog. I do not understand why it is called Greek Yogurt where everywhere in this World called “Turkish Yogurt” or Yogurt. One other thing never understood is “Frozen Yogurt” that has nothing to do with Yogurt! It is better called ” Low fat Ice cream” Or Nonfat Ice Cream.

  13. Hi Tori
    Turns out I have been making this for a while now and not knowing what I was doing. Out of necessity I froze a container of Lemon Yogurt. When I thawed it out I noticed that there was a lot of water in the container so I drained it out and noticed the remaining yogurt was quite thick. Whipped it up with a cup of frozen desert topping (CoolWhip) and put it into a graham cracker crust topped with more CoolWhip and put back in the freezer. Topped with fresh blueberries and served and it was a hit. Next time I will just use your method and save the freezing until it is done.

  14. Hi,
    Could you please tell me who makes the strainer you used in the photos? I’m having a hard time finding one in that size with two handles instead of the one long one.
    Thanks!

  15. I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and was getting ready to make my own yogurt when I found some greek yogurt in a local gourmet store. I’ll use that as a starter and will strain it to make it thicker. I’ve been making yogurt myself here but using the local yogurt yields a mediocre product, although I must admit my culturing method has been to add a cup or two of yogurt to about a liter of milk and leave it covered in a warm room for 2 to 4 days. I end up with a product that tastes almost like buttermilk or drinkable yogurt and is quite good. I grew up in the dairy industry so I have no adversion to cultured products, the thicker the better. Now that I have a good starter and a thermometer, I may even make some sour cream. Our dairy had great sour cream, but the starter was a culture that was over 25 years old. I’m working with much less flavorful cultures and don’t want to add vinegar to kick start the acidity. I’ll go the natural way, and if I can find sour cream somewhere in town, I’ll use that. It is fun, the end products are very interesting if not very consistent, and I get to taste many thicknesses and flavors of homemade yogurt.
    Vietnamese people seem to be somewhat lactose intolerant, but I think it is psychological rather than physical. My wife can’t eat cheese or butter without feeling mentally nauseated but she can eat ice cream, cup yogurt that is frozen, and drink coffee with sweetened condensed milk (because she says it is not milk). The people here are just beginning to drink more milk and eat cheeses, so I would expect that the newer generations will add weight and height as their consumption of dairy (besides ice cream) increases.
    I enjoy your site and suggestions. Keep it up, its very interesting!

    1. Thanks Bill. I too am a big fan of cultured dairy, it’s the ancient way of getting calcium, protein and healthy probiotics into our system. I feel badly for people who can’t handle lactose, I don’t know what I’d do without my yogurt and cheese!

  16. Just discovered your site today while looking for pictographic recipes for Falafels.. Now I found all the sauces and Greek yogurt too!!! Very excited to try out the whole shebang tomorrow.
    Couldn’t get enough of Greek yogurt on my trip to Greece and haven’t found it available I’m stores here in India. Definitely going to try making my own now!
    Keep up the good work!

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