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Making yogurt without using commercial yogurt or starter

Sherri Oct 8, 2006 12:55 AM

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?


  1. n
    Nyleve Oct 8, 2006 05:32 PM

    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.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nyleve
      yasminza Aug 17, 2013 11:32 PM

      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: http://you.co.za/amasi-brownies/

    2. Robert Lauriston Oct 8, 2006 07:14 PM

      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.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston
        Sherri Oct 8, 2006 08:14 PM

        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
          noahbirnel Oct 10, 2006 12:15 AM

          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
            Sherri Oct 10, 2006 12:22 AM

            "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
              Robert Lauriston Oct 10, 2006 12:33 AM

              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
                hayley3 Feb 22, 2008 01:54 PM

                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
                  curiousbaker Feb 26, 2008 12:37 PM

                  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.

                2. re: Sherri
                  tastesgoodwhatisit Sep 21, 2009 08:47 PM

                  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. j
            jilly123 Mar 12, 2008 06:44 PM

            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.

            9 Replies
            1. re: jilly123
              wyersmd Sep 21, 2009 03:51 PM

              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
                Nyleve Sep 21, 2009 04:04 PM

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

                1. re: wyersmd
                  corneygirl Sep 21, 2009 10:49 PM

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

                  1. re: corneygirl
                    Nyleve Sep 22, 2009 06:50 AM

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

                    1. re: Nyleve
                      wyersmd Sep 22, 2009 10:14 AM

                      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
                        Chris VR Sep 22, 2009 02:08 PM

                        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
                          wyersmd Sep 22, 2009 10:44 PM

                          That sounds good.

                        2. re: wyersmd
                          bb1616 Jun 15, 2011 04:39 PM

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

                    2. re: wyersmd
                      Caroline1 Aug 18, 2013 01:40 AM

                      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.

                  2. j
                    jkarra Feb 19, 2010 08:23 AM

                    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
                      PatsyWalker Oct 8, 2012 07:11 AM

                      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. a
                      ArchStanton Nov 22, 2010 07:45 PM

                      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.

                      1. o
                        olfashin Jan 23, 2011 01:07 PM

                        I read that yogurt was accidentally made when ancient peoples traveled with raw milk in their natural containers. These containers were canteen like made from or lined with the stomachs of goats or cattle. Like a goat skin bag etc. As they moved around and temperatures were favorable it would ferment into yogurt. Someone figured out how to make more perhaps since they wasted nothing by adding more milk and voila more yogurt! I guess people figured out how to preserve these cultures that come from the natural enzymes produced in these animals stomachs. This is why yogurt has beneficial digestive bacteria or enzymes.

                        1. d
                          dsweedler Jun 30, 2012 11:31 AM

                          The problem with re-using commercial yogurt starters from your favorite yogurt is that they aren't stable over time. You have to go back to the commercial product after every half dozen to dozen batches made by backslopping a little yogurt from the previous batch. Sandor Elix Katz's latest book has more info on the problem of starter stability and so much MORE fermentation info too (pg 188-192, 199 for yogurt starters). Sandor bought two stable cultures and has maintained them for more than a year without losing taste and texture, something you cannot do with any store bought yogurt used as a source culture. Buying a stable culture for yogurt is like buying a sourdough culture from Ed Wood's Sourdoughs International, it has survived countless passages and made many people happy with its flavor and taste. Raising your own live stable and pleasing yogurt culture seems much more difficult that creating a stable sourdough. I would say look for carpenter or wood ant eggs as carpenter ants use cellulose materials to feed an underground garden of bacteria and fungi to make their food. Some of these bacteria will have the genes to digest milk sugar with its unusual combination of galactose and glucose sugars. Bacteria are efficient at breaking down galactose polymers as plants make copius amounts of galactose into plant pectins and arabinogalactans found in plants and vegetables. We eat these plant polysaccharides daily (carrots, onions, lettuce etc.) but cannot completely digest them without bacterial help. The problem with making your own starter culture isn't souring milk, milk will sour all by itself every time. The problem is finding a stable culture that is good tasting with a pleasing aroma. I hope someone in the USA tries the wood ant egg starter and reports back on the results. Sandor outlines other vegetable sources used in India and the Middle East for yogurt starters for the squeamish insectophobes who want to try their hands at a yogurt starter from scratch. Here are 3 sources of stable yogurt starters from Sandor's Art of Fermentation text for people wishing to buy an established old fashioned yogurt starter:

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: dsweedler
                            relizabeth Jun 30, 2012 06:38 PM

                            We made our own yogurt for years. We started with a store bought yogurt and then could manage to use the previous day's batch's cultures for months, and made yogurt daily. The only thing that got in the way, was us travelling. We followed Sam's technique from chowhound where you use scrapings from the top, middle and bottom of our previous batch to significantly greater success than you have suggested above.

                          2. p
                            PatsyWalker Aug 13, 2012 08:53 AM

                            I'm a late comer to this topic but found the link www.culturesforhealth.com to be incredibly useful for understanding about yogurt cultures.

                            Last evening, I heated milk to 180, cooled it to the right range and added stems from red chili peppers. It's still incubating in my Salton. I checked this morning. It had set. When I get home from work, I'll refrigerate it. Am very curious to see if the starter will taste like chili-yogurt or what.

                            I've been making my own yogurt for years and got interested in making my own starter.

                            1. p
                              PatsyWalker Aug 14, 2012 07:21 AM

                              I've just made a "mother yogurt" using chili stems. It came out nearly solid. I'll be making my first batch of yogurt from it on Wednesday.


                              4 Replies
                              1. re: PatsyWalker
                                LisaN Aug 14, 2012 07:32 AM

                                Thats interesting about the chili stems. Let us know how it comes out whether the taste is any different

                                1. re: PatsyWalker
                                  kobesunset Sep 25, 2012 07:30 PM

                                  Thanks for the tutorial. How much milk do you use for the milk/stem mix? And more importantly, once you have the starter what proportions do you use? ie, how much starter to how much milk to make the yogurt? I registered with this site just to ask this question. Would be so thankful for an answer. Thanks in advance.

                                  1. re: kobesunset
                                    PatsyWalker Sep 26, 2012 05:21 AM

                                    I only used 1 cup milk and 12 stems for the starter as I didn't want to waste much milk on an experiement if it failed. This became my zero generation and it had a slight aftertaste of bell pepper (no tang at all from the chili pepper). I only used 1 cup for generation 1 and added 1/4 cup of the starter. Bell pepper taste was less and it was still firm enough for a spoon to stand upright once curdled. Generation 3 had no aftertaste of pepper at all. So I used 1/4 cup of generation 3 to create Generation 4 with 6.5 cups milk. Very smooth; bland and creamy and no longer firm like tofu. I like a bit of tart with my yogurt. I'm now on Generation 11 and this time, it is tart. Don't know why but I did keep a better watch on not allowing the temp go below 104 degrees.

                                    I froze 1/4 cup of Generation 4 to see if I could thaw and re-use as a starter. Haven't used it yet.

                                    I'm also wanting to try the dried tamarind and dried chili pepper I read in an earlier posting here. Haven't had enough time -- it's important enough to me that I want to take notes and watch temps etc.

                                    1. re: PatsyWalker
                                      hayley3 Oct 6, 2012 07:37 AM

                                      My favorite starter culture, yogourmet has become expensive so I found this post...Very interesting it is...and I also found this site, where the person experimented and used only the stems of chili peppers and explains it in detail at Sandor's site.

                                      And thanks to you also Patsy for the detailed report. I like my yogurt tart too.

                                2. Caroline1 Aug 18, 2013 01:28 AM

                                  When I lived in Turkey, in the middle of the last century, when my chef/housekeeper wanted fresh yogurt she just heated milk and let it sit out on the kitchen counter at room temperature over night. The bacteria that makes yogurt was part of the air at that time in that country. After I returned to the U.S., it was too easy to buy yogurt than to try that. I have NO idea whether the required bacteria is in the air in the U.S. or not.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Caroline1
                                    willownt Aug 18, 2013 02:51 PM

                                    Was she starting with raw milk? And was she warming it or bringing the temperature fairly high?

                                    There is a recipe I have seen for making a buttermilk type thing using yeast, in Maura Laverty's book, reprinted here.

                                    1. re: willownt
                                      tonifi Aug 18, 2013 06:18 PM

                                      I LOVE this thread! As to what you said about a kitchen in which yogurt is made all the time, noahbirnel. I knew a woman when I was a kid who SWORE that her Grandma could make yogurt from milk and nothing else, she said that she just 'stirred it with her hands.' Now, the Grandma in question was Greek, she was about 217 years old (okay, but she SEEMED that old to me at the time) and I kind of dismissed the possibility, since Grandma didn't speak a lot of English and I couldn't exactly ask her. Now I kind of wonder if there was some truth to it, if Grandma had been making yogurt for so long in that kitchen, and with those hands, that the cultures were ever-present. I can't even remember the playmate's name after all these years, but I still wonder if it was possible she was telling the truth. I am going to try the chili stem thing a.s.a.p.

                                      1. re: tonifi
                                        bevwinchester Aug 18, 2013 07:52 PM

                                        Just found this thread & I find it very intriguing. I have made yogurt for several years with a purchased freeze dried yogurt starter that I order. But, as of late, I have been having a lot of fails to culture & I am seeking an alternative culture method, or at least one I could find locally ( DFW- Tx. Area).

                                      2. re: willownt
                                        Caroline1 Aug 18, 2013 07:54 PM

                                        As I recall -- but it was well over 50 years ago! -- she used both milk she bought on the Turkish economy and/or milk I bought at the US Air Force commissary that came from Germany and/or Denmark. The base vet told me that the "yogurt bacteria" was in the air. Now, that said, modern American home construction is pretty much designed to keep as much "fresh air" as possible OUTSIDE the house because of pollution, so I have no idea if it still works a half a century and 7,000 miles away. But if anyone wants to give it a shot and it doesn't work, all you've lost is a couple of cups of milk and some time. And no, she didn't boil the milk, just heated it.

                                        When I want the closest thing I can get to the Greek or Turkish yogurts I used when I lived in those countries I buy fat free plain yogurt in large tubs (I like the flavor/bite of Walmart's Great Value brand) and drain it in a collander lined with paper towels for a half an hour or so. Or if you want a pretty good fat free cream cheese substitute just drain the yogurt in the refrigerator overnight.

                                        I have yet to find a commercially prepared American brand of "Greek" yogurt that comes anywhere close to the yogurt I bought when I lived in Greece or in Turkey! Every brand I have tried tastes "off." Floury even. And the texture is wrong.

                                    2. s
                                      swarthykhan Mar 5, 2014 02:21 AM

                                      It is a bit late to answer your post but you can actually make your own starter just using milk and dried chickpeas. Below is how, though it is in Turkish. I think google translate might help you a bit because that translator is not so good with Turkish. If you need help with translation just ask.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: swarthykhan
                                        wyersmd Mar 5, 2014 02:46 AM

                                        Swarthykhan, wow that's great! I hadn't heard of using chickpeas before.
                                        Tesekkur ederim, sitede cok guzel bir sekilde anlatiliyor... Kesin deneyecem! :)

                                      2. t
                                        tonifi Apr 12, 2014 07:47 PM

                                        Okay, it is April, and I am still making good yogurt from the chili-stem yogurt I made back in September...earlier posters are correct in saying that commercial-yogurt as a starter is just fine, but after 3 or 4 generations you start to lose some, oh, structural integrity...it starts to be a bit lumpy or a bit thin...this wild-caught stuff is TOUGH. I have been scooping out a bit with each generation to use for starter, and I did one time have to resort to a frozen jar I had tucked into the back of the freezer (somebody ate my starter...) but I am impressed. The frozen stuff kicked in just as enthusiastically as the non-frozen, though I did make sure it had time to thaw very well before I used it in the new batch. I'd love to hear if someone has used chickpeas, though I will probably pass on the anthill option.

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