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Oct 8, 2006 12:55 AM

Making yogurt without using commercial yogurt or starter

I have been asked how to make yogurt without using any commercial products that can be purchased. In other words, how to make yogurt from scratch.

Searching my library, I've found no help. All recipes include some reference to using "2 TBLS yogurt" or something very similar.

Certainly bread starter can be made from scratch using flour & water without buying additional ingredients. How about yogurt? Does anyone know how to do this using milk, heat and something other than "store-bought" ingredients?


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  1. Much harder than making bread without commercial yeast. I used to know a woman who would make a sort of yogurty thing by leaving raw milk out until it set, but the flavour wasn't what you'd expect from yogurt - you are dependent on the bacteria that happens to occur naturally in the milk. Yogurt is made with a specific bacteria, and you won't necessarily have it unless you innoculate the milk with it. I personally suggest you start with a spoonful of a commercial yogurt you like the flavour of - all natural, active culture - and then you can use your homemade yogurt to innoculate any batches afterward.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Nyleve

      Nyleve, that's not yoghurt - that's inkomazi/amasi AKA sour milk. It's used in a lot of dishes here in South Africa (including Indian dishes that usually take yoghurt), and if you still know the woman it will open up a lot of recipes for you, including this recipe for sour milk brownies:

      1. re: Nyleve

        Actually yogurt from the wild is not that hard to get started IF you know how to get the original starter culture. You can get if fro, of all places, chilies stems. Just place the stems of several chili peppers into milk that has been heated to at least 160° F for 10 min or more (pasteurization temperature) and then keep warm (85° to 105°) until it has set up. The first batch will of course have a spicy taste to it, but subsequent generations will lose that spiciness.

        1. re: VillyCarl

          I think if you had read the whole thread, you would have seen chili stems covered as a source along with picture proof.

          1. re: VillyCarl

            You might be right. I am going to try it. Makes sense, I guess. So ya. Thx!!

        2. The milk would somehow have to get inoculated with wild Lactobacillus bulgaricus or one of the other yogurt bacteria, and remain uncontaminated by any other bacteria that would spoil it.

          Natural sourdough starter made from scratch picks up wild yeast from the air.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Thank you both for your thoughtful answers. I didn't think the request was feasible but wanted to mine the collective wisdom of the Chowhound community in case I was wrong. There was a part of me hoping that perhaps there just might be some elusive wild yogurt-producing bacteria lurking like wild yeast .......

            For whatever reason, the original questioner absolutely does not want to use any commercial products whatsoever and is convinced that she can do this on her own. I'll wish her Godspeed and be done with this query.

            1. re: Sherri

              The bacteria has to come from somewhere, and it may not be just floating around in your kitchen. But whole and malted grains tend to accumulate a surface coating of lactobacillus infection during storage. If you prepared a beer mash but didn't filter or boil it, it will (guaranteed) go sour. That would be a good source of some kind of non-toxin-producing lactobacillus culture. Whether it would make a tasty yogurt is a different question.

              A kitchen in which yogurt is made all the time might have the right cultures floating in the air in adequate quantities... is this cheating?

              What is your friend's reasoning here?

              1. re: noahbirnel

                "What is your friend's reasoning here?"

                To be true to the product is her answer, whatever that means. I've washed my hands of this because it has turned into a game of "Yeah, but ...." on her end with unending excuses for refusing to use anything "manufactured". She wants it "pure, unadulturated" (her words) and "anything bought is cheating".

                Oddly enough, this thinking does not extend to other aspects of her life. I've wished her well in her quest.

                Thanks for taking the time to answer.

                1. re: Sherri

                  If she doesn't want to buy anything, then she should borrow a couple of tablespoons of homemake yogurt from somebody.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    I believe she wants to do it the old fashioned way where you don't have to use any chemicals, but to do that you must use raw milk.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Exactly. Tell her that she is partaking of a long time tradition, the preservation of a transfer of living organisms from one cook to another, the cultivation of life. Or whatever will appeal to her the most. Point is, she needs the right bacteria, and the way to get it is through another yogurt. A kind of mother-child situation. If she doesn't want it "adulterated" with commerce, find someone who makes yogurt at home. Fail to mention this person probably started with purchased yogurt.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yes, but that would also be cheating. Mostly because homemade yogurt from other people has store bought yogurt in it.

                      2. re: Sherri

                        I suspect that getting a good yoghurt starter from the air is a matter of trial and error, with a lot of spoiled batches - basically letting milk spoil and hoping it does so in the right way, and that you've got the right particles floating around your kitchen.

                        But the normal 'natural' way of starting yoghurt is to get a few tablespoons of yoghurt from somebody else.

                2. i use raw organic goat milk and just leave it on my counter for a few days. granted, it's not creamy like how we are used to it in the stores, but it's yogurt.

                  21 Replies
                  1. re: jilly123

                    Nobody here is going to believe this, but the only way that I know of to make yogurt without a yogurt starter is with -
                    You are guffawing now, or at least chortling - maybe snorting perhaps in disbelief: "Yeah right buddy, you're pullin my leg. Ants, what a load of crock!"
                    Let me explain.
                    I am an American living in Turkey (as a translator), where yogurt is a daily staple. I got curious one day and started asking my Turkish friends here how the original yogurt starter was made, and was met with blank looks. Chicken and egg story, right? Yogurt comes from - well, yogurt, naturally.
                    So a Turkish friend and I went online one night, bent on solving this mystery: where the hell do those bacteria come from and where can I get them?
                    Well friends, the answer is right in your backyard.
                    There are two ways to get the bacteria, that we found; one, using the soil from an anthill, or using crushed ant eggs.
                    I cannot vouch however for American ants, I don't know if they carry the same bacteria as ants in Turkey (I am not a biologist, I am a translator and a university academic). But the situation is this:
                    as with regular yogurt making, where you add a pre-existing yogurt culture to milk, you have to heat the milk (a jar's worth). Then, you add the mashed up ant eggs (about 30 eggs will do), or a good pinch of soil from an ant hill. Seal and bundle up, so that the bacteria stay cozy and get to work on reproducing. After a day, open up and there will be a medley of liquid (kind of a whey) and white solids. The white solid, which looks a bit like feta cheese, is your starter.
                    Again heat your milk in a clean container, and this time add a tablespoon-size lump of the starter, and shake or stir a bit. Then seal, wrap and let sit for about 4 to 6 hours. Upon opening, you will find that you have yogurt. Made from ants. You can terrify your friends with this.
                    According to the Turkish web pages we found, the best-tasting yogurt comes from anthill soil.
                    I am pasting below a link to a video. It is in Turkish, so find a Turkish friend to help you work through it. But even if you can't speak Turkish, just watch along and you can pick up on what's going on:


                    I am pasting below another link, which is a text web page which details a study which arrived at the same results. It is also in Turkish, so find a translator:


                    Last night I happened to meet some Austrian biologists here in Istanbul who were baffled by this idea that the yogurt culture is actually carried by ants. Baffled isn't enough. They were flabbergasted. They refused to accept this. I was met by all-around rejection and stern looks. They told me that the yogurt-producing bacteria is actually found in the stomachs of cows. Which may also be correct. In Austria. My German is not good enough to hunt this down, but it could also be an interesting lead, for anyone with good German.

                    In light of the fact that NOTHING in English on the web touches on this subject successfully (that's how I found this web page, in my fruitless search to find an alternative answer), I felt compelled to post this. Cheers, and happy ant-yogurt making.

                    1. re: wyersmd

                      ...And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my favourite post of the year. Thanks!

                      1. re: wyersmd

                        This can't be real. Please be real. Please hounds try and report back. So odd, but yet...

                        1. re: corneygirl

                          ...don't you just want to dig up an anthill and try it?

                          1. re: Nyleve

                            I am happy to see that there has been a positive response to my posting about ant-yogurt. It actually seems like a plausible means of bacteria transference, more so than the cow stomach theory (which I am not saying is not true). I mean, the stomach and the udder, as far as I know (I am no zoologist, but feel confident about this claim), are not connected in a cow. So how would the "contamination" occur? I imagine something like this conversation on a farm way way WAY back in the day:
                            "Hey Ma, daddy and Jose just butchered the cow and gave me this here cow stomach. It's naaasty. Whaddya want me to do with it?"
                            "Look here girl now don't get dumb on me. You know damn well where to put it."
                            (blank stare)
                            "Git now, put it in that barrel of milk, you know we always put it there."
                            (8 hours later on a nice hot day)
                            "Hey Ma the milk looks funny. It's all gooey and smells weird."

                            The ant approach, on the other hand, is much more logical. Conversation between ants:
                            "Hey Frank, I'm dying of thirst man. I've been moving these little particles of dirt for 9 hours nonstop. By the way, why are we moving these particles of dirt?"
                            "Frank, you know how it works. We move particles of dirt, because they need, uh, fresh air. Yeah that's it. That's what the foreman told me. Fresh air. But yeah you're right dude, I'm pretty parched myself."
                            "Hey look, there's a bucket of milk."
                            "Dude I love milk. Let's get us some of that."
                            (Quick clamber to bucket.)
                            "Mmmm, this is goooood."
                            "You bet it is. Hey, Pancho! Hey! Why don't you and Garth and Ahmet come on up here? We're takin a milk break."
                            "You got it boss."
                            (Clamber up bucket. Altogether): "Man, this rocks!"
                            "Hey, watch me, I'm gonna do a cannonball. Whohoo!"
                            "Oh hell man, who turned out the lights."
                            "Dude, I think somebody put the lid on the bucket. We're, uh, in a bit of bind now fellows, I would say."
                            "Yeah, it's gettin hot in here."
                            "Yes, it is a bit toasty. We may die here."
                            "Hey pendejo, you got us into this mess, now get us out of here!"
                            "Pancho watch your mouth."
                            "Hey, the milk is getting kind of gooey."
                            "Righty oh, it sure is. I think we are on to something here boys. I sense some lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecie bulgaricus bacteria about. This is good."
                            "Dude, like I think we might be witnessing the production of a product which the Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent will send to his French ally Francis the First to cure his abysmal diarrhea." (true story)
                            "Cool, I've been kinda splatty myself these days."
                            "Hm yes, there is a bit of a lactic acid build up underway it seems, I believe we are witnessing the creation of - uh, what is it called?"
                            "Hey Ahmet, you're Turkish, would you call this gooey stuff we're probly gonna die in?"
                            "Yo Garth, what's up? I didn't catch that."
                            "What? Yoguert?"

                            (Incidentally, "yogurt" is one of a tiny number of Turkish words that made it into English. Some Turkish researchers claim that the word "mammoth" is also of Turkish origin, but I say that with lots of skepticism in my toothpaste.)

                            I mean, it seems like it could happen pretty easily, some ants carrying the appropriate bacteria could easily find themselves in milk. More so than:

                            "Hey Ma, I'm thiiiiirsty. I want some milk. Where is it?"
                            "What did you off and get hit with the stupid stick? You know damn well it's on the shelf there, in the cow stomach."
                            "Oh right, thanks."

                            Anyways. I look forward to hearing other ways of creating a yogurt culture, I have my doubts that ants are the only way (any German or Austrian biologists around to confirm the cow stomach idea?). I read on an Indian (Indianindian, I mean the country India) webpage that in making soy yogurt the stems of chili peppers can be used to invite fermentation, but that is for soy yogurt. Anyways. I hope to see some alternatives for making the "first" yogurt.

                            1. re: wyersmd

                              Well, the way I heard it, goat stomachs were used as bags by shepherds to carry milk to the fields for their lunch. I imagine one day the stomach hadn't been well cleaned, and the rennet (the enzyme produced by cow/sheep stomachs and used in cheesemaking) combined with the warmth turned the milk into yogurt.

                                1. re: Chris VR

                                  But that's cheese's just so story.

                                2. re: wyersmd

                                  wow...u will be good as a script writer.....keep it up :)

                                  1. re: wyersmd

                                    I'm a few years late but YES i make starter from scratch using actually the little rolled dirt particles from around an ants nest, in 125ml milk. I think it has something to do with the protein in their saliva that they use to roll the little dirt balls, I'm not sure tho. You're right there is NOTHING about it on the Internet so thanks for your post, I was looking for if I had to heat my milk first so thanks for the confirmation.

                                    I learned this method from a Turkish cheese maker living in Australia, this is his blog where you can find the yoghurt starter recipe: homecheesehomecheesemaker.wordpress

                              1. re: wyersmd

                                I should have read further before posting about how my Turkish chef/housekeeper made yogurt from scratch when I lived in Adana. Cross my heart, she NEVER used ants or anything related to them. Just heated the milk and let it sit on the kitchen counter until it was yogurt. I suspect some Turks with their typically sharp sense oh humor are just having fun pulling your leg!

                                Oh, and the substance your Austrian "authorities" speak of that is from a cow's stomach is rennet, and it is used in making cheese, not yogurt.

                                I have no idea whether you can make yogurt by heating and setting out a bowl of hot milk if you use homogenized and/or pasturized milk. We used raw, whole milk.

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  It will only work with raw milk, because the lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus spp.) are killed by pasteurisation. They will in fact be killed by temperatures over 52°C, so the heating needs to be gentle! I have made yoghurt from raw milk both at room temperature (like Filmjölk or Viili) and in a yoghurt maker (where the result is more like a commercial Bulgarian yoghurt.)
                                  A small proportion of attempts to start a culture will fail, in the sense that the milk will spoil rather than form a good yoghurt (more risk at room temperature than in a yoghurt maker), but once a yoghurt of good taste and consistency is achieved, it can be propagated indefinitely.

                                  1. re: wyersmd

                                    "They told me that the yogurt-producing bacteria is actually found in the stomachs of cows. Which may also be correct."

                                    So maybe the cows ingest ants (and the bacterium/bacteria) while grazing?

                                    1. re: MacGuffin

                                      No need for any such indirect route, the yoghurt making bacteria are in the udder of the cow/goat/sheep/camel/mare. [Indeed they are in the human breast and in human mothers' milk, and are likely the main reason that breast milk fed babies are much healthier than formula fed.]

                                      1. re: Pomeso

                                        I suspect that the reason breast-fed human babies are healthier is due to the fact that they're ingesting milk that's intended specifically for human beings.

                                        1. re: MacGuffin

                                          Yes, as long as by "intended" you mean "selected for over millions of years of evolution"!
                                          The bacterial content of milk is an essential part of that selection. After more than a century of the paradigm that bacteria are "bad", we are beginning to realise that we dependent on them for our health an life itself. Only a minute proportion of the bacteria we engage with are capable of causing disease, far more are beneficial.
                                          By the way, it was early found that pasteurising banked breast milk was damaging, and most, if not all milk banks now use unpasteurised breast milk.

                                          1. re: Pomeso

                                            I think my use of "intended" was pretty clear.

                                            1. re: MacGuffin

                                              Apologies if I have given offense. What I wanted to indicate is that, whatever ones understanding of how the living world came to be the way it is, the bacterial component of milk is an integral part of it. There is mounting evidence that it is excessive hygiene, including exaggerated fears of raw milk and the uncooked fermented foods which were staples of our ancestors, that is the root cause of the explosive increase in allergies and the metabolic syndrome in the modern world.

                                    2. re: wyersmd

                                      Fascinating!! LOL. I LOVED the yogurt in turkey (especially with honey added, but not so much when they added powdered sugar).

                                      I want to try this at home.

                                    3. re: jilly123

                                      Yes, it is yoghurt. Raw milk has lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, Streptococcus, and a whole lot more) that have co-evolved with mammals to be part of the composite, multispecies things that all animals, including humans, are.
                                      The process of turning raw milk into yoghurt is made a bit less random by acidifying the milk slightly (and we see on this discussion things like chili, tamarind, ants,..) which serves to select for the acid tolerant lactic acid bacteria, and suppresses contaminating spoilage bacteria. This acidification is only needed the first time round - once a yogurt is going, it provides that acidity when fresh aw milk is added.
                                      The product will be different depending on th source of the raw milk, and the heirloom yoghurts of societies which do fermented milk are those which have the most attractive taste, consistency, and are preserved by being used to inoculate fresh batches of milk.

                                    4. My mother-in-law from India taught me how to make yogurt without a starter.. use a small tamarind (u can get dried at Indian store) and a dried red chili in only a small amount of boiled milk. You let that set, then use that for the starter of the next batch. Repeat steps of boiling small amount of milk and using the new set "starter" until the yogurt smells correctly (about 4-5 times)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jkarra

                                        I just tried this last evening and can report that it seems to work. I say "seems to" because I've only made Generation 0. This evening I intend to use it to create Generation 1. Based on my prior experience with using the stems of fresh red chili peppers, I expect this to be somewhat flavored by the tamarind and pepper until Generation 5.

                                        The tamarind was so huge, I just plunked the whole thing into the cup of milk rather than break it up. The chili stained the milk a bit, so I'm hoping that goes away with subsequent generations.

                                        Slide show here:

                                      2. I realize this is a super old post, but has anyone tried any of these or have any new insight into this subject?

                                        Like this friend above who wanted to do it all from scratch, I too want to know how to make yogurt-- not to be anti-commercial-- but simply to understand the past, to understand how humans cooked, out of curiosity.