Yogurt Starter
~ Start to Ferment ~

A warm welcome. A yogurt starter is important. You can't make yogurt without it.... at least not modern day curd.

The type, quality and amount of culture directly affects the way yogurt:

  • tastes
  • type of lactic acid bacteria present..... probiotics

Whether it's called yogurt culture, starter culture, bacterial culture or yogurt bacteria it's what drives lactic acid fermentation..... the process that changes milk to a delicious curd.

Types of Starter Culture

There are 2 types of starter culture available to use at home:

  1. Fresh yogurt
  2. Dried yogurt powder

1. Fresh Yogurt Starter

Fresh Yogurt Starter

This culture comes from homemade or store bought yogurt.

A homemade starter usually comes from the previous batch.... your own or a neighbors. It should be fresh (less than a week old) so it still contains enough lactic acid bacteria to ferment the next batch.

I confess, in a pinch, I've used yogurt that's 2 to 3 weeks old...... BUT there's the risk of the milk not fermenting properly. Remember lactic acid bacteria decrease with age.

When I use a homemade starter culture, I generally add 1 or 2 Tablespoons extra..... just in case the lactic acid bacteria have declined over successive batches. Your new batch will have the same probiotic bacteria as the starter culture.

A commercial starter culture comes from the container of yogurt you've bought at the store. It should be fresh, unflavoured and not pasteurized after the bacterial culture is added.

The label should state live bacteria or something similar.

2. Dried Yogurt Starter

Dried Yogurt Culture

A dried culture contains bacteria and milk solids. Basically, it's yogurt that's dehydrated and freeze-dried..... and sold in powdered form. It looks like powdered milk.

The process of fermenting milk with a dried culture is the same as with a fresh culture.

It should say on the package whether the culture is thermophilic or mesophilic. If it doesn't..... look at the bacteria listed on the label.

If any of the bacteria are the same as listed in fresh yogurt starter then they're thermophilic.... and should be incubated in warm milk.

Cultures can be either thermophilic or mesophilic.

  • A thermophilic culture is sprinkled on warm milk and stirred in. Thermophilic means the lactic acid bacteria in the culture grow best in warm milk. Fresh yogurt from the store is thermophilic.
  • A mesophilic culture (without heat), is added to cold or room-temperature milk and allowed to incubate at room-temperature. The probiotic bacteria grow best at lower temperature.

Starter Cultures: Fresh vs Dried

Fresh Culture

  • Easy to find..... your fridge or practically any grocery store.
  • Shorter incubation time.
  • Doesn't keep as long.
  • Bacteria decrease with age.

Dried Culture

  • Harder to find..... try health food stores or order it from a catalogue or internet.
  • Incubation time is longer... up to 8 hours.
  • Don't have to worry about spoilage if properly stored.
  • Wider variety of strains of lactic acid bacteria.
  • Can get cultures from different countries like Bulgaria or France.

What's in the Culture?

There are two main lactic acid bacteria used in making commercial yogurt. You can expect to find these bacteria in the brands carried at your grocery store:

  1. Lactobacillus bulgaricus
  2. Streptococcus thermophilus

Usually L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus are added at a ratio of 1:1.

Some of the better quality probiotic and organic brands have additional strains of bacteria:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Bifidobacterium species including B. bifidum, B. lactis, B. longum, Bifidus regularis
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus

By reading the label you can introduce different bacteria..... this will affect the taste and potential health benefits of the curd. As an example, Stoneyfield yogurt lists 6 strains of lactic acid bacteria on its labels.

Do You Prefer Tart or Smooth Tasting Yogurt?

Lactobacillus bulgaricus is mainly responsible for the tart taste and smell of yogurt. It produces more lactic acid than S. thermophilus, the other main lactic acid bacteria.

L. bulgaricus grows best at 115 degrees F (46 degrees C) while S. thermophilus does better at lower temperatures. So.....

Keeping the incubation temperature at 115 F will give a tarter yogurt. Lowering the temperature will encourage the growth of S. thermophilus and produce a milder tasting curd.

You can experiment quite a lot....

  • With different bacterial cultures to get the probiotic mix that's right for you.
  • By adjusting incubation (fermentation) time and temperature you can change the rate of growth of the different probiotic bacteria present.

Whether you're a science buff or a foodie, fermenting milk is interesting. I happen to be both..... so I do LOADS of experimenting with different cultures, methods and recipes. :)

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What Will Help You Make Yogurt?

powdered yogurt culture handy in cupboard
starter kit (culture, thermometer, mason jar)
audio (mp3) instructions
video on how to make yogurt
all of the above
no yogurt culture
no milk
no thermometer
no way to incubate
afraid yogurt won't turn out
no time
all of the above
under 18
18 to 29
30 to 39
40 to 49
50 to 59
60 to 69
over 70

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