Using Yogurt Starter Culture to Make Your Own Yogurt

Yogurt has existed in a variety of forms for thousands of years. The soured and fermented milk product has been enjoyed across many cultures, and produced from the milk of many animals. Traditionally made from sheep’s milk, yogurt is now more commonly made from cow’s milk in Western culture, though kefir from camel’s milk and kumiss from mare’s milk is also available in speciality stores.  As the popularity of yogurt has exploded over the past thirty years due to it’s many health benefits, the cost has risen as well, and though many yogurt brands are available in grocery stores and at frozen yogurt shops across the country, with a little practice yogurt can be made and enjoyed easily at home for pennies per serving.  The trick is all in the starter.

Yogurt is produced when various bacteria (such as lactobacillus bulgaricus and lactobacillus acidophilus) present in milk are heated slightly and combine with  yeast cells.  This causes fermentation.  The yeast cells must be added to cow’s milk for the fermentation process to begin, and this is where the starter culture can work it’s magic. Starter for yogurt can be purchased online or in health food stores, and a few tablespoons of leftover yogurt high in acidophilus can also act as a starter, though they may result in a slightly different texture or taste than yogurt made from a packaged starter.

Making Your First Batch Using a Yogurt Starter

Yogurt can be made with skim milk, 2%, homogenized, or even half-and-half cream, but beware the fat content! Buy a package of yogurt starter and read the ingredients carefully. If you want to try making yogurt by using a small amount of yogurt as the starter, heat one quart of milk to 180 degrees F. Let it cool to about 110 degrees F. Stir in a cup of powdered milk and three tablespoons of organic yogurt. Pour mixture into a glass jar, cover, and leave it in a warm place overnight. You can use your oven, set at 100 degrees F if you live in a cool climate or it is winter. In the morning, check the consistency and place in the fridge. Use within the next week.

Tips for Successful Yogurt Using Starter

  • handle all equipment and ingredients gently – yogurt is delicate, particularly when fermenting
  • if you are using a small amount of yogurt as your starter, be sure that it is no older than five days or it won’t work effectively
  • keep 3 tablespoons from every batch to use as starter for your next batch
  • don’t be tempted to use more starter! Too much bacillus will result in sour and watery yogurt
  • your yogurt should firm up and coagulate within 8 hours of mixing. Three reasons it might not is that the temperature of the milk may have been too high, the starter culture was of an inferior quality, or there were antibiotics in the milk.  Try to use organic milk to make your yogurt starter culture.
  • be careful when adding fruit to homemade yogurt. You will achieve the best results by placing warm fruit in the bottom of the glass jar prior to adding the milk and yogurt starter.