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Homemade yogurt makers - what do you use as a starter?

I have recently started making my own yogurt thanks to some of the fine posters here and I'm loving the results! I've been using Stonyfield yogurt as my starter, but I was wondering if anyone had other favorite starters. I prefer a thick, Greek-style yogurt with plenty of tang, and I find that my homemade yogurt, while tasty (and plenty thick once strained) isn't as tangy as Fage or other Greek yogurts. I plan to use Fage as my culture for my next batch, but I was wondering if any one had any other favorite starters? Thanks!

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  1. I purchase a small container of Greek yogurt as starter, when the old is getting peaked. It makes a thicker yogurt.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Passadumkeg

      For years I have been using powdered milk to make yogurt. My MIL was a survivalist and has left us w/ cases & cases of #10 cans of powdered milk. The yogurt turns out very well w/ no powdered milk flavor.

    2. I use Stoneyfield organic, nonfat plain yogurt and mine is incredibly thick--no straining necessary. I could turn the jar upside down for an hour & nothing would fall out--stand a spoon up in it. It is not super tangy but maybe that's because I steep a vanilla bean in the milk while heating. Are you sure you are incubating long enough? I do 12 hours minimum.

      7 Replies
      1. re: sparkareno

        I did 12 hours my first batch, 18 my second - 1/3c. Stonyfield to 1 gal skim milk. If I didn't strain it, it would probably be drinkable - I strain off about a half gallon-3 qts of whey to get to Greek yogurt consistency. How do you get it thick without straining?

        I overdid the straining this last time and made yogurt cheese, LOL. It's still delicious, though not quite as tangy as I would prefer. I will definitely try some different Greek yogurts to see which produces the texture and tang I prefer.

        1. re: biondanonima

          try maria lorraine's recipe. I use 1 qt of milk, 1/2 c of yogurt, some sugar & I can't remember how much powdered milk. I don't think you are using the powdered milk--I like that it adds calcium & protein but I think it also makes it thicker. I end up with the same amount I started with--no whey. Try hers--what do you have to lose? It never fails me. It is at the beginning of the Sucess! thread a little further down.

          1. re: sparkareno

            Oh yes, I remember seeing her recipe. I actually don't mind the straining, as it lets me decide the thickness I want (and have whey for breadmaking), but I may try it with powdered milk at some point, if I can find a convenient source.

        2. re: sparkareno

          I use Stoneyfield - 2 tbls per scant quart of (raw) milk. I let it go about 12 hours. It's really tangy, but not super thick unless I strain it. I use a small cooler filled with mason jars of hot water to incubate. Works like a charm, winter and summer.

          1. re: sparkareno

            I remember reading somewhere that Stoneyfield had the highest amount of active live culture of the commonly found store yogurts.

            1. re: scubadoo97

              Yes, I think I read that too - what I'm wondering is whether the starter plays a significant role in what the finished product tastes like (or its texture, etc.). I went and read the labels on several different types of yogurt the other day and they all list different active cultures, which I assume influences the final product - so it would make sense that if you want your homemade yogurt to taste like Fage, use Fage to start it, etc. I also checked cheesemaking.com to see what types of yogurt starter they carry and there are several, including Bulgarian, tangy and sweet - again, that leads me to believe that the type of cultures influences the flavor of the finished product greatly. I'm going to start experimenting with the various Greek products I can find and see what I like the best - I'll post my results for sure!

              1. re: scubadoo97

                Try Cascade Active 8.....8 cultures, more than Stoneyfield or Nancy's. I use 1/3 cup starter to a gallon of milk.

            2. I had good luck using a spoonful retained from the prior batch -- over the course of a couple of months, it got better and better.

              4 Replies
              1. re: sunshine842

                Sunshine raises an issue that puzzles me. I also use a bit of the old batch to start the next one (I put about 6 ounces in a separate jar and keep it sealed until ready to use). I read somewhere that one should go no more than 3 batches before using fresh starter or the yogurt would be too sour (of course there was no explanation of why this would happen). Naturally, I had to test this, and sure enough, batch 4 (or maybe it was 5) was sour to the point I tossed it out. Anyone else had this experience? What gives? Maybe local bacteria getting into the mix and outperforming the species of bugs in the original starter?

                1. re: Zeldog

                  I can't seem to get beyond one or two serial batches. the yogurt tastes ok but it comes out very runny. I was thinking that it might be a competition thing amongst the bacterial strains in the original starter. Don't most commercial yogurts have more than one strain? maybe the conditions in my homemade yogurt are favoring one particulat strain or another, and the winner makes for a runny product.

                  1. re: gimlis1mum

                    I've had this effect as well. I start fresh every other batch if I'm making yogurt on a regular basis.

              2. I actually use a purchased starter - the yogourmet. I have used it consistently and buy it on amazon. I know it's not as cheap as saving some yogurt, but my yogurt is always consistently good. I cook for 24 hours to consume all of the lactose, and the yogurt is TANGY!

                3 Replies
                1. re: DMW

                  DMW -- could you tell me more about what you wrote above -- "I cook for 24 hours to consume all of the lactose"? I was making my own yogurt for a while, but lately have been having problems. I'm lactose-intolerant and can usually eat yogurt -- but not my own! Should I just let it sit longer? Do you know if I can use powdered milk and still end up OK?

                  1. re: jessinEC

                    Sorry it took me so long to take a look back at the thread. There are many sites for those who have Crohn's (we don't, but I've read the sites in regards to yogurt) and those sites all recommend that people eat a lot of homemade yogurt. Many sitessay that by culturing the yogurt for a full 24 hours the bacteria will consume all of the lactose. This is what I do and neither my husband or I have any issues. These sites also say to use just milk and culture, no powdered milk, so that's what I do.

                    How long do you cook your yogurt for? I am surprised that you would have issues with your own yogurt only because store-bought yogurt tends (depends on brand I guess) to be cooked for less time, thereby potentially leaving lactose in the mix.

                    1. re: DMW

                      Thanks for the response. I have some stonyfield for my starter and will make some tomorrow and try a 24 hour culture time. Will report back on results.

                2. The newest Cuisine at Home has a great article on making your own yogurt. It has persuaded me to try it again. I bought a dry starter this time from Amazon. It was only about $3.00 with shipping for two packs. The article also talked about using a heating pad or slow cooker instead of a yogurt maker. Great article!

                  1. I also use Stonyfield as my starter with a generous 2 Tbsp. per quart of milk. If you maintain a constant warm temperature, you should be able to make your yogurt tangier with an increased length of incubation. For plain old strained yogurt, I might go 16 hours in my oven. For labneh, I just leave it in overnight.

                    I typically strain my yogurt, but I left my last batch in for a very long time and when it came out, it was much firmer than typical, so I saw no need to strain it. However after a couple days in the fridge, it eased up. Not sure if anyone else has encountered the same.

                    1. Well, I made yogurt today and used Brown Cow Greek yogurt as the starter - the container was 5oz so I used the whole thing to a gallon plus two cups of skim milk. Today - delicious Greek yogurt! This batch has a distinctly different flavor and texture than the two batches I made using Stonyfield, and I think I got a better yield as well (although that may have been due to the amount of straining). It's tangier, creamier and just tastes better. No more Stonyfield for me!

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: biondanonima

                        Thanks for this discussion, I'm really enjoying it. I almost always use the last bit of my last batch as a starter and haven't had any problems. I think this one was started with a container of plain Dannon low-fat yogurt, but it' s been so long I don't really remember. That being said, once or twice in the couple of years I've been doing this, my yogurt went suddenly, shockingly, sour the third or fourth day it was in the fridge. Both times this happened, I just started again with a fresh store-bought container. I strain mine to a fare-thee-well, since we like it very thick. I would be interested to hear from biondanonima and others about the different results from different brands of starter. For the record, the only utter failure I've ever had was with Fage as a starter, it just never cultured at all. After two days I had a bowl of sour milk. This was early days, so maybe I did something wrong (temperature or timing), but I've been too chicken to try Fage again. My nicest surprise has been the whey left after draining the yogurt...it's wonderful for breadmaking, baking, pie crusts, and as a liquid component in things like gravy for pot-pie fillings, and white sauce for mac n' cheese. It adds a nice 'tang' to any creamy sauce. I got started using a Slate article "Making Pantry Staples from Scratch' and have evolved to a point where I can do this in my sleep. I can't believe what I've paid for Greek yogurt over the years, when making it is so easy and the results so good.

                        1. re: tonifi

                          Oh yes, the whey is a wonderful bonus! How long does it keep in the fridge? I've been tossing what I can't use the same day but I'd love to keep it for future use!

                          1. re: biondanonima

                            Whey freezes nicely - I toss it in a ziplock bag and throw it in the freezer until I need it.

                            1. re: biondanonima

                              I keep the whey in the fridge for probably up to three months, if I have surplus. Small, very clean containers (I use Ball plastic freezer jars, 8- and 16-ounce); have a high suspicion for disposal if it looks/smells off (has not happened yet). I think the bacilli become less "vivacious" after a month or so, so if using for fermenting, be aware.

                            2. re: tonifi

                              If Fage list live active cultures then it should work or they aren't active or live.

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                Fage does list live active cultures - I am planning to try it next time and will report back.

                                1. re: biondanonima

                                  Ok, Fage experiment underway. I had about 5qts of skim milk and used 1/2c. Fage 0%. Cultured for 24 hours and ended up with yogurt! So, it appears that there were at least some live cultures in my Fage. However, I just put it in the colander to strain and I'm already noticing some differences from my last batch. This batch is very softly set - Brown Cow gave me a firmer set with the same incubation time. We'll see how long it takes to strain.

                                  Also, as per texasgrrl's instructions on the Homemade Fage thread, I don't stir the starter in, just add it in dollops and leave it. Normally the dollops of starter don't show in the finished product, but in this case I could see clearly where they were in my yogurt - they floated to the top and had a different texture than the rest. Haven't tasted it yet, so we'll see...

                                  1. re: biondanonima

                                    Straining is complete - after 5 hours, I have about 7 cups of yogurt. It's a bit softer than my last batch, but I accidentally overstrained that and it was almost cheese-like, so hopefully this is a happy medium. Flavor is tangy, texture seems good although perhaps a bit gooey/elastic (this doesn't bother me, but I do wonder what causes it since it's not something I notice in any commercial product).

                                    1. re: biondanonima

                                      I have heard that bringing the milk up to a certain temp (then cooling and adding culture) is what is necessary to get rid of the gooey/elastic texture. I think it has something do with breaking bonds of some kind. I know the literature says to bring the milk up to 180*, but I just let is get up to a good simmer, then let it cool. This gives me better, more consistent results, than 180*.

                                      1. re: DMW

                                        Yes, there is a lot of discussion on the other thread regarding ropey yogurt and the need to heat the milk to 180 to prevent it. I did heat the milk up to 180 (185, actually), so that's not it. I wouldn't describe this texture as ropey or slimey, either - it just seems to be a little more elastic than regular Fage. For instance, when I stir it, if I lift the spoon, it forms a peak that stretches the way a soft meringue does, even though it's just as thick as Fage. Definitely doesn't interfere with my enjoyment of the yogurt, though. I actually think this is one of my better batches!

                            3. re: biondanonima

                              I made the mistake of trying the new Stonyfield Greek-style "Oikos" yogurt for a starter this weekend - never again. First off, when I opened the container I noticed that the yogurt was NOTHING like the texture of true Greek yogurt - thin and watery - I'm betting that they just repackaged their regular yogurt. It tasted ok though, so I used the whole container to 1 gallon of skim milk. The resulting yogurt seemed much thinner than what I get if I use Brown Cow or Fage, and I had to let it strain overnight to get it to a reasonable consistency. Texture is a bit chalky. I got 4 cups of yogurt and 2+ quarts of whey from one gallon of milk.

                              Oh, BTW - I bought the new Kirkland brand Greek-style yogurt a few weeks ago - it's less than half the price of Fage. It's ok in a pinch, but definitely not the best yogurt I've tasted. Texture is a bit thin as well.