Beijing Yogurt Recipe – Sweet & Tart Drinkable Yogurt

February 2, 2018Van
Blog post

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 15 hours

Serves: 6

I love yogurt. Whenever I see a new form of this cultured treat, I have the urge to test it out and compare it to my list of all time favorites. Beijing Yogurt requires no spoon because it’s a drinkable yogurt, it’s sweet and tart at the same time – absolutely delicious! In China its often served in adorable little clay jars with paper tops that you insert straws into. Life moves pretty fast in modern China, and theres no time for sitting leisurely with a spoon—this is yogurt on the go!  Actually in China,  you have to drink it very quickly because you have to return the clay jars back to vendors!

I was perusing the aisles of my local Japanese Market and spotted these cute plastic cups with a vivid blue top in the refrigerated section. Turns out it was “Beijing Yogurt” or “suan nai” that was made in the U.S. Needless to say I was at the checkout stand within a few seconds! I used this Beijing Yogurt as my starter, but any plain yogurt with active cultures will work for this recipe. I found the adorable milk bottles on Amazon (buy here).

The original version (nai lao) of this was first learned by the imperial chefs in the 1800s, the recipe transformed into a more mild and sweeter version that caught on in Beijing in 1950s when it became a hit among the health conscious and hip. In fact, its true debut was in the theater district where artists and actors gravitated towards this delicious drink. Each time I make this, I imagine sitting in a bustling corner of Beijing, watching all the people go by as I take comfort in this sweet & tart yogurt drink.

If you’re curious about the ingredients in the Beijing Yogurt that I used as my starter, here they are: Cultured Pasteurized Milk, Non Fat Milk, Sugar, Contains Live & Active Probiotic Cultures (L. Bulgaricus, L. Casei, L. Acidophilus, B. Bifidus, S. Thermophilus)

Beijing Yogurt Recipe Ingredients

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Beijing Yogurt Recipe

Yogurt Recipes

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Print Recipe

Beijing Yogurt Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 hours
  • Serves: 6

Recipe for the Instant Pot or Yogurt Maker


  • ½ Gallon Pasteurized Milk
  • ½ Cup + 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
  • ¼ Cup Plain Yogurt with active cultures
  • ½ Cup Cultured Buttermilk


  • 1)

    In a bowl, mix ¼ Cup Plain Yogurt and ½ Cup Cultured Buttermilk with a whisk until the mixture is complete smooth and there are no yogurt lumps and set aside.

    Almost any plain yogurt will work for this recipe, but I would avoid using Oui and Fage brand yogurts because they don’t get tart enough for this recipe.

  • 2)

    Add 1 Cup of Milk and ½ Cup + 2 Tablespoons of Sugar to a sauce pan or pot. On medium low heat, stir the milk and sugar until all the sugar is dissolved, this should take about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour in the rest of the milk.

  • 3)

    Add the Yogurt and Buttermilk mixture last, give it a few good stirs with a whisk to ensure the cultures are evenly distributed.

  • 4)

    Pour the mixture into the Instant Pot and seal the Instant Pot with the lid. Use the Yogurt button and set it for 15 hours, make sure that it’s on the “Normal” Yogurt setting. Or use your yogurt maker and set it for 15 hours.

    ***If you have the glass milk bottles you can incubate the yogurt in the bottles, the yogurt ends up being a little thicker so I prefer this method. Fill the bottles with the mixture and place the bottle caps on them. Place the bottles into the Instant Pot. Use the Yogurt button and set it for 15 hours, make sure that it’s on the “Normal” Yogurt setting.

  • 5)

    Once the yogurt is done, take the liner out of the Instant Pot and place it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, try to not disturb the yogurt during this time (don’t stir or transfer to another container)

    If you incubated the yogurt in the glass bottles, remove the bottles from the Instant Pot and refrigerate for 6 hours.

  • 6)

    After it’s been refrigerated, transfer to your bottles, jars or cups. Enjoy with a straw!

↓ Supplies to make this recipe ↓



  • kathryn

    February 9, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Is it necessary to use ultra pasteurized or ultra filtered milk, since this is a cold start recipe?

    1. Van

      February 9, 2018 at 8:44 am

      It doesn’t have to be ultra pasteurized or ultra filtered, you just use regular pasteurized milk for this recipe. I actually tried it with ultra pasteurized and it’s too thick to be a drinkable yogurt.

  • Kat

    February 28, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    Can I make it for 8 hours in the instant pot instead?

    1. Van

      February 28, 2018 at 7:56 pm

      Hi Kat, yes you can – it probably won’t be as tart after only 8 hours so you may want to cut back on the sugar a little.


    March 6, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    Hi! Do you think this would work by just placing the mixture in the oven with the light on? I don’t have an instant pot/yogurt maker but I’ve seen other yogurt recipes recommend that.

    I went to Beijing last year and was OBSESSED with the yogurt there. Truly a treat.!!

    1. Van

      March 7, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      Hi Christina, if you want to try the oven method, heat the mixture to 110F first before whisking in the yogurt and buttermilk – use a thermometer so you don’t accidentally kill the yogurt cultures. Leave it on the top shelf with the oven light on, turn on your oven for 30 seconds every 3 or 4 hours just to keep it warm.

  • Daniel

    March 15, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I use an Annova sous-vide machine to warm the milk gallon jug to 110F. This seems to work well. I go back and forth about cooking the milk to 180 on the stove first for protein. I also use the same Beijing yogurt as a starter from this article, it is the best one. My attempts have been not quite the same as the original qualities, however reading this article it seems I have been missing the buttermilk, so I will try this. Exciting.

    1. Van

      March 15, 2018 at 9:46 pm

      Hi Daniel, when I first tried making this yogurt, I ran into the same issue – I tried it with just milk, sugar and the starter, but it didn’t taste like the original one at all, the flavor was flat and lacking that nice tang that Beijing Yogurt has. I realized that they use cultured milk as one of the ingredients so I tried buttermilk and the flavor is very close to the original now. Good luck with your yogurt making adventures!

    2. Bryan

      April 6, 2022 at 2:08 pm

      Is there a nonperishable substitute available for cultured buttermilk? Lemon juice concentrate? Citric acid? Also, I saw another beijing yogurt recipe use milk, baking powder, and yogurt cultures to make their yogurt (it’s the only other recipe available on google for Drinkable Beijing Yogurt). Are you familiar with it? It seems a lot different from your recipe and uses baking powder for some reason… Never saw that in yogurt before.

      1. Van

        April 6, 2022 at 2:48 pm

        Hi Bryan, you can buy powdered buttermilk, that way you can just mix it up when you need it. I’ve never heard of using baking powder in yogurt before and I make so many different versions of yogurt.

  • Erica

    March 25, 2018 at 11:15 pm

    Can I use sweentend original Beijing Yugurt as a starter ?

    1. Van

      March 25, 2018 at 11:35 pm

      Hi Erica, that works perfectly, that’s actually what I use as my starter.

  • March 27, 2018 at 3:28 am

    Hi Van. Have you tried making this yogurt drink using condensed milk instead of sugar? I have been making Vietnamese yogurt and my kids like the taste. It is probably sweeter using the same formula as Vietnamese yogurt plus the buttermilk. Do you think it will work?

    1. Van

      March 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm

      Hi Ha, I havne’t made it using condensed milk, but I think it would be delicious, you should give it a try, the condensed milk will make it slightly thicker as well.

      1. April 10, 2018 at 5:32 pm

        Hi Van. Thank you so much for your recipe. I’ve made it with condensed milk and it was too thick to drink (just like what you thought). I’ve made it a couple more times with your exact recipe and they are delicious. My kids love it and drink it everyday.

        Have you ever tested your yogurt for probiotic content? Since we consume it everyday, I am wondering how good this is in term of probiotic. Have you experimented with different source of yogurt starter? What is the purpose of cultured buttermilk? Is that just for taste or for good bacteria too?

        1. Van

          April 10, 2018 at 8:06 pm

          Hi Há, I’m so glad your family is enjoying this recipe! I have never tested the probiotic content, I’m not even sure how to do that without a lab. I would guess that this has more probiotics than store bought yogurt from the long incubation time & how fresh it is compare to store bought. You can use other yogurt starters, I have used many different ones – I would avoid using Oui or Fage because they do not get tart enough for this recipe. The buttermilk is to enhance the flavor – I’ve tried making it without buttermilk and the flavor is a little flat. If you found a plain yogurt starter that’s quite tart, you could probably skip the buttermilk.

  • Calvina

    March 28, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe. Can’t this childhood love of mine anywhere in the USA. I am soooo happy to finally be able to make it in my own home.

    1. Van

      March 28, 2018 at 9:40 am

      You’re welcome Calvina! I hope you enjoy it 😀

  • Heike

    April 3, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    If I use bottles, can I use a slow cooker instead of the Instant Pot?

    1. Van

      April 4, 2018 at 8:37 am

      Hi Heike, yes that should be fine. Does your slow cooker have a setting that will keep it around 115F?

  • Katie

    May 6, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Can I use fairlife in this? And since it’s ultra pasteurized, would it end up being thicker too?

    1. Van

      May 6, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Katie, you could use Fairlife for this recipe, but it won’t be drinkable yogurt, it will be quite thick so you can just eat it with a spoon like regular yogurt.

  • Li

    August 18, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    Hi thanks for the recipe. Can I not use Cultured Buttermilk in this recipe?

    1. Van

      August 18, 2018 at 9:35 pm

      Hi Li, you can give it a try without the buttermilk, but use a full container of yogurt instead. I did try it without the buttermilk originally, but the balance of flavor wasn’t right.

  • Helen

    August 20, 2018 at 2:26 am

    Oooh I love this! I remember having the deliciously tart, drinkable yogurt visiting family as a kid in southern China, and never ever being able to find yogurt as good in the US (which is all about the sweet heavy thick yogurts, not for me). You didn’t mention in the recipe; about how long will this keep in the refrigerator? I know that generally the longer you leave yogurt/labne to ferment it just gets tarter rather than going bad, but there must be an upper limit somewhere, right?

    And it would be okay to use a whole container of Beijing yogurt to start in lieu of the buttermilk?

    Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    1. Van

      August 21, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Helen, homemade yogurt usually lasts around 2 weeks in the refrigerator. You can try 1 whole container of Beijing yogurt for the starter instead of the buttermilk, I haven’t tested it yet so I’m not sure of the flavor. I’ll actually try it that way the next time I make it.

      1. Helen

        August 25, 2018 at 2:36 pm

        Hi Van, well I tried my first batch with the recipe as written and the results are bomb! Thank you for sharing how to make this deliciousness. I’m not sure the amount of yogurt I made will last two weeks, since my mom likes it too haha. I’m going to try not to finish it all off and save some of the current batch to start my next batch and see how that goes. Do you do that or start with a new container of Beijing yogurt every time?

        1. Van

          August 27, 2018 at 3:30 pm

          Hi Helen, you can save some of yogurt from this batch for your next one – you should be able to do this 3-4 times before having to buy a brand new starter.

          1. Crystal Nelson

            February 21, 2019 at 3:49 pm

            I am little confuse. I don’t understand 1/2 of sugar plus 2 tablespoons. Please explain. Thank you.

          2. Van

            February 21, 2019 at 4:03 pm

            Hi Crystal, it’s 1/2 Cup of Sugar + 2 Tablespoons of Sugar. Enjoy!

          3. Helen

            January 9, 2021 at 3:18 pm

            Just wanted to update that I have been using this recipe for the last 2.5 years and I am so glad this recipe exists. 😀 It’s a great way to convert the milk my family buys into a format that lasts much longer (and that I’m more likely to consume), and if you don’t mind the yogurt getting steadily more tart, it will last longer than 2 weeks, haha, just keep an eye to wipe or push down any yogurt on the lid or sides of the container since those are exposed to air and more likely to grow mold.
            Also the Trader Joe’s near me has cultured buttermilk, and since it freezes well, I can save it off as bags of pre-measured ice cubes ready for the next batch of yogurt.

            Thank you again for creating and sharing this recipe <3

          4. Van

            January 10, 2021 at 5:01 pm

            Hi Helen, thanks for letting me know, makes me really happy you’ve enjoyed this recipe for that long! Such a good idea freezing buttermilk, mine always goes bad before I have time to use it all.

  • Joyce

    October 8, 2018 at 6:00 pm

    Hi…thanks so much for the recipe….I’m anxious to try it. I’m curious where you buy the Beijing Yogurt…..I haven’t seen it before. I’m glad I can use other yogurts.
    Thanks again, Joyce

    1. Van

      October 8, 2018 at 6:02 pm

      Hi Joyce, you can use any plain yogurt as your starter, but if you want to use the Beijing Yogurt brand – I’ve only seen it at Asian Markets. Hope you like it!

  • Tonni

    November 10, 2018 at 9:07 am

    Thank you soooo much for this recipe. The yogurt came out absolutely perfect. Now I don’t have to venture to the Asian market jut to get the Beijing yogurt. You’ve made me and my kids so happy. Btw, when I put the jars in the instant pot, do I need to add water to the liner or just stick the jars in? I added a bit of water and it turned out fine, but curious to know if it would matter.

    1. Van

      November 11, 2018 at 3:32 am

      Hi Tonni, I’m happy to hear your family is enjoying the yogurt! You don’t need to add water to the pot, just place the jars/bottles in & seal the Instant Pot kid 😀

  • Justin

    November 18, 2018 at 3:17 pm

    THIS IS LEGIT. Tastes just like the clay pot yogurt I had in China back in 2011. Memories flooded back as soon as I tasted it. I’ve been looking for Beijing Yogurt for years and you came in under budget and on time. Love it!
    But I didn’t heat the milk to 180, and I just used an old crock pot (so old the ceramic doesn’t come out of it to wash it!) and tried to keep it around 110 with a meat thermometer. I used a gallon ziplock bag and filled the crock pot the rest of the way with water and just selectively unplugged and plugged it in to keep the temp 110ish. I do own a device that you can plug into manual crock pots to do sous vide cooking, but it’s in storage. So I had to keep an eye on it and check every few hours and cover the crock pot with a towel to keep it constant.
    I’m not sure if the Instant Pot heats everything up, or just warms up to 110 and leaves it there for the time.
    I’ve used the expensive Yoplait to make yogurt and it turns out OK. I use a coffee filter to drain the whey out out that yogurt, but there’s not any with this- is it because of the sugar? If you need to drain whey, put it in a mason jar, put the filter on and a ring to hold it in place. Place it on its side on a plate in the fridge and don’t spill the whey because that stuff stinks to high heaven. I’ve heard you can use it for bread or something, but I just throw that stuff away, because, yuck.

  • michelle

    September 3, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    Hi, do the jars/bottles need to be sealed with the caps in the instant pot, or simply place them loosely on the jars/bottles?

    1. Van

      September 4, 2019 at 4:51 pm

      Hi Michelle, you don’t have to seal the lids.

  • Sam

    May 13, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    I followed the instructions as shown but wasn’t sure about yogurt and tried using Siggi’s Yogurt. My yogurt came out of the instant pot separated with white yogurt looking substance at the top and clear liquid on the bottom. Has anyone come across this problem? Is it a mixing issue?

    1. Van

      June 1, 2020 at 11:50 am

      Simply whisk or blend it up to get it smooth.

  • Ivan

    October 29, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Has anyone tried using powdered buttermilk?

    1. Van

      October 29, 2020 at 6:21 pm

      Hi Ivan, I think it will work – just mix the powder with milk instead of water.

      1. Ivan

        October 30, 2020 at 2:29 pm

        Hi Van, I already went ahead and tried it but with water. While I’m sure using the real thing tastes better, it turned out pretty good!

  • Fiona

    March 31, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    Hi Van!
    I tried this recipe. It was really good, but it was a bit tart for my kids. Shall I cut back on the buttermilk, or cut back on the incubation time? Also, I used regular plain yogurt as the starter, so will it make a difference if I used Beijing yogurt instead?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Van

      April 3, 2021 at 11:48 am

      Hi Fiona, cut back on the incubation time if you prefer it less tart. The starter you use will effect the results, so depending on the yogurt you use, you will get different levels of tartness.

  • Amy

    July 13, 2021 at 12:05 pm

    Thank you sooooo much for this recipe! I was in Chengdu in 1997 and bought a yogurt off someone’s cart and it was the most heavenly tasting thing ever. I’ve been searching for it ever since and had basically given up on ever tasting it again. People kept telling me it must be kefir, and I’d say “no, it didn’t taste like any of the kefirs I’ve tried.” And this is it! The buttermilk does it! I will be making this regularly.
    Thank you again!

  • Charles A Smith

    September 27, 2021 at 9:48 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I had this in Beijing and really loved it (the yogurt and the experience). Would it work to stir the buttermilk in after the yogurt has been refrigerated instead of while it’s in the Instant Pot? My thought was that the bacteria in the buttermilk might be killed by the temperature at which yogurt bacteria thrive.

    1. Van

      September 27, 2021 at 10:03 am

      Hi Charles, you’re welcome! I haven’t tried doing it that way, but I don’t see why you couldn’t add the buttermilk after.

      1. Charles

        September 29, 2021 at 8:02 am

        Thanks, Van. I’ll try that next time. I made my first batch a couple of days ago and it turned out great! Since I used 2% milk, I added ¼-cup of non-fat powdered milk as I was dissolving the sugar. I’m not sure if that was necessary, but it had a good texture and was very drinkable.

        It brought back memories of our wonderful visit to Beijing. This will be in our refrigerator often!

  • Carmen

    December 4, 2021 at 3:13 am

    I have a bunch of old oui jars. Do they need to be covered to make yogurt in the instant pot?

    1. Van

      December 4, 2021 at 11:40 am

      Hello Carmen, no you don’t have to cover them when they’re in the Instant Pot, just cover them when you place them in the refrigerator

  • Jes

    February 6, 2022 at 9:33 pm


    Can I use strawberry with honey Greek yogurt? Will that affect the taste with the buttermilk? Should I omit the buttermilk? This is my first time trying to make any type of yogurt. Wanted to make homemade instead of store bought for my toddler.


    1. Van

      February 7, 2022 at 8:19 am

      Hello, I wouldn’t make this recipe if you’re trying to make regular yogurt for your toddler. It’s best to use plain yogurt as a starter when your trying o make yogurt. Try this recipe instead:

      1. Jes

        February 7, 2022 at 10:34 pm

        Thank you. My toddler likes drinking the yogurt more than eating it lol. I’ll make my first batch with plain yogurt and see how it goes. My area has limited asian store so the Beijing yogurt is not available. Is there any particular brand of yogurt that you recommend?


        1. Van

          February 7, 2022 at 11:00 pm

          You can use any plain yogurt as a starter.

          1. Jes

            March 15, 2022 at 6:12 pm

            This yogurt recipe became a hit with my family. I’m making it at least 2x a week. I’ve added a fruit syrup with the yogurt. The recipe is listed below if anyone is interested.

            Thank you so much for the recipe!

            Fruit syrup:
            1 cup frozen fruit
            2/3 cup water (add more water if needed)
            Blend fruit and water in blender. Put in sauce pan on medium low heat. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice; stir frequently. Let mixture reduce to a gravy consistency. Turn off heat and add honey (or sugar if preferred) to taste (I usually add about 3-4 Tbsp). Let syrup completely cool before adding to yogurt. Use whisk to blend it until smooth.

  • Candace

    April 5, 2023 at 9:19 pm

    Hi, I’m eager to try this but when doing another of your recipes I realized that my ninja foodi deluxe has a built in yogurt setting that folds in cook time, cooling time before the main timer, and I can’t bypass it with my model. The slow cooker function only has high low options and unsure of the temperature. I tried the dehydration function but unclear if that works either (it didn’t turn out right but likely due to the issue mentioned with the yogurt setting since it basically cooked it 2x and I had to throw ice cubes in to cool… Do you have any other methods you recommend? I do have a sous vide too, but not sure how to adapt. Thanks in advance!

    1. Van

      April 16, 2023 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Candace, when the Ninja cooks the milk in the first step, it will create a firm yogurt, not a drinkable yogurt. If you have sous vide, you can put the yogurt in jars and place into a water bath set it the sous vide for 15 hours at 110F

  • Wen

    May 7, 2023 at 5:51 pm

    Is it okay to make this without any sugar? Or add less? Will it still work?

    1. Van

      May 16, 2023 at 10:24 pm

      Yes you can omit sugar, it will be very tart though

  • MAO

    June 7, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    Hi, do you think it’d be alright if I substituted the pasteurized milk with almond milk instead? Or would that impact the texture/taste too much? Thank you very much for this recipe – would like to try it soon.

    1. Van

      June 12, 2023 at 8:41 pm

      Hi, I think it would work fine, this is a drinkable yogurt so we don’t have to worry about it setting firm

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