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I just made yogurt starter using red chili pepper stems

I've been wanting to try this for some time. Using a commercial yogurt as a starter is fine but the subsequent generations are much weaker than the original. Ditto for the powdered probiotics. I rarely get more than a generation or two from either.

There's very little on the 'net about your own starter (as compared to creating your own sourdough starter). I came across 2 options: the chili pepper stems and ant eggs. I figured the ant eggs would be difficult to differentiate from dirt, so pepper stems it was.

I did the usual heat milk to 180 and cool to the incubation range. Then I added the stems and incubated for 24 hours.

The results was a very firm yogurt that didn't pour. Usually when the yogurt is still warm, it will pour.

I'm refrigerating it now and will taste it once it's cold. It smells fine and looks good.

If the rather meagre postings I have read about this are true, this should produce a mother starter.

Pics here:

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  1. I had read about this on a discussion of heirloom starters . The fellow writing had used this method and it had not weakened over multiple batches (less than 12 iirc).

    Please continue to update. It will be quite interesting to see how long lived it is!

    1. Hi, PatsyWalker, I'm very interesting in your "starter", Can you put some photo of what kind of stems from red chili peppers are? and How much stems you used it in, how much milk?
      And about the flavour, How it was?
      Sorry for my english, I'm from Guatemala :)

      4 Replies
      1. re: Guinda

        I used Thai red peppers. There's a good photo here:
        I used 12 stems in 1 cup milk.
        I think it's like a good cream cheese, very mild, but with a slight aroma of bell peppers. I haven't done the next generation yet and I want to get some PH paper to see what its PH level is.

        1. re: PatsyWalker

          Small correction: it is pH. But very interesting!

          1. re: Joebob

            Ah, if only my cell phone could be so pedantic. It doesn't like small letters followed by capital letters. :)

          2. re: PatsyWalker

            Thanks PatsyWalker, please tell us, about pH and the flavour!! when you make the 2nd generation :)

        2. This is quite interesting. I live in New Mexico and wonder if New Mexico chile stems would work. Can I use the stems of dried chiles or won't that work?

          2 Replies
          1. re: travelerjjm

            I came across a posting someone made to someone else's blog that her aunt used a dried tamarind and a dried red chili. Can't tell if that's useful until I try it. I think the tamarind may add some sweetness.

            1. re: PatsyWalker

              Most tamarind that's dried is sour, I believe. I'm under the impression that sweet tamarind is eaten as is, not dried.

          2. I'm following this thread because I'm fascinated.... Makes me want to try it ASAP :)

              1. This is an interest concept. The lactobacillus which produces yogurt occurs naturally on the surface of vegetables and is responsible for their fermentation (i.e. kimchi, Kosher dills, sauerkraut). That said, I was under the impression that such fermentation would work only if you first salt the vegetables or brine them to suppress the growth of competing bacteria. It would be interesting to know which bacteria you have cultured in your yogurt.

                15 Replies
                1. re: JungMann

                  I wonder how I could figure out the bacteria? I'm on the 4th generation and there is no tartness at all. The slight after taste of bell pepper is gone. The curd produced is very very firm and almosts tastes like cottage cheese.

                  So I wonder if I salted the stems if that would release the bacteria that cause a tart taste.

                  1. re: PatsyWalker

                    I am wondering if the 24 hr incubation period was too long but it still thickened so I'm not sure. They say you can kill the probiotics if you go too long. Although after the initial fermentation, mine seems to become tarter after refrigeration.

                    1. re: hayley3

                      I've read some more online postings from folks who have tried it. Most people refrigerate when they get a solid curd. I seem to be the only one doing the 24 hours incubation. I picked up the 24-hour habit because I want my yogurt bacteria to have maximum opportunity to get rid of sugar. (There's a diet called Specific Carb Diet that helps folks use diet to assist with Crohn's)

                    2. re: PatsyWalker

                      Re: tartness and coagulation

                      I'm wondering if your culture is missing some of the lactobacilli that give yogurt its protypical tart, tangy flavor. The sauerkraut lactobacilli are l.brevis and l. plantarum, and I imagine those are the lactobacilli on your pepper stems. L. plantarum is found in yogurt but only to a minor degree. The major yogurt lactobacilli are l. bulgaricus and l. acidophilus. In yogurt made with the two latter lactobacilli, tanginess is also a product of ferm time.

                      Your yogurt was so firm I wonder if instead it was a soft cheese, like ricotta or queso fresca, rather than yogurt. Queso fresca is made just as you did -- adding peppers to milk. The pepper stems have an aggressive coagulant on or in them.

                      Very interesting idea and thread, BTW, and one that caused me to do a bit of reading. I read further about the use of pepper stems, ant eggs and ant dung in making "yogurt."

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Your posting will help me check out queso fresca. Thank you!

                        By the time I got to generation 12, the yogurt had become tart. But I have no idea how to test for the yogurt culture.

                        I finally found some ph strips. The culture is showing to be between 3 and 4. Disappointingly, I can't get more accurate than that.

                        1. re: PatsyWalker

                          I noticed that the yogurt starter that I bought has citric acid in it...which could account for the tart taste. I did make the yogurt with chili pepper stems too and it is really mild, like it needs salt or something. I'm going to buy some citric acid and test that theory.

                          1. re: hayley3

                            The citric acid is an artificial way of creating tartness.

                        2. re: maria lorraine

                          The fact that it is coagulating means it had enough lactic acid to be tart. Bacterial strains convert lactose into lactic acid and milk coagulates when there is sufficient lactic acid, and it is the lactic acid that causes the tangy taste, so I've read.

                          1. re: hayley3

                            Tartness is a function of incubation time and culture activity. More active yogurt cultures = more lactic acid = more tartness. More time for the bacteria to do their work = more lactic acid = more tartness.

                            But yogurt's signature tart flavor comes from its definitive bacteria: lactobacilli (bulgaricus, plantarum, sometimes acidophilus) and Streptococcus thermophilus.

                            If those bacteria aren't the ones in your milk, you're not making yogurt.

                            From my reading, pepper stems don't have the prototypical yogurt bacteria. They do have the bacteria to make queso fresca.

                            That's why I'm still wondering if Patsy made yogurt at all -- the extreme firmness and lack of tartness indicate she didn't.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              Is there an accessible method for an individual to learn which bacteria have been cultured? Are they easily distinguished under a microscope? Could a sample be brought to a a local college biology department?

                              I'm quite intrigued by this.

                              1. re: meatn3

                                That's what I'm thinking. Take a sample to a college biology department or to a college with a dairy sciences division. Depends on where you live, of course. Bulgaricus has a distinctive shape, I know.

                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                I made some yogurt with the pepper stems and it had no tang at all, although it was thick. I took 2 tbs of another yogurt that i had previously made with a starter plus some of the yogurt without the tang and used it as my next starter. After incubation it was perfectly tart. And that yogurt has lasted and lasted as my starter ever since. The store-bought starter would start to get thin, but not this. However also I discovered that store-bought starters use citric acid to give theirs that tang. So did I transfer bacteria that made it taste tangier to my starter or was it the citric acid flavor, is the question?

                                1. re: hayley3

                                  Yes, the bacteria caused some tang, but tang is also a result of incubation time, so it's really a combo of both bacteria and hours.

                                  Manufacturers add yogurt bacteria, and then adjust the tang after incubation by adding citric acid to yield a consistent amount of tang. Doing so also reduces the number of hours their product needs to incubate. It's a little like making bread taste like sourdough by adding vinegar to the dough.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    One thing I noticed using the pepper stems is, that the yogurt solidifies without heat, more like a piima or viili room temperature yogurt.

                        3. re: JungMann

                          The lactobacilli used to produce yogurt are very different from those used to product kimchi or sauerkraut.

                          <<The lactobacillus which produces yogurt occurs naturally on the surface of vegetables and is responsible for their fermentation (i.e. kimchi, Kosher dills, sauerkraut).>>

                          Lactobacillus used to produce kimchi = Lactobacillus kimchii, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, Lactobacillus curvatus, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus sake and Lactobacillus plantarum

                          Bacteria used to produce sauerkraut = Klebsiella, Enterobacter, Leuconostoc mesenteroides, other Leuconostoc subspecies, Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Clostridium botulinum

                          Bacteria used to produce yogurt: Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subspecies bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus

                          I don't see any commonality between kimchi/sauerkraut bacteria and yogurt bacteria. Maybe I'm missing something.

                        4. How interesting! Do they have to be pepper stems from the garden, or will and old grocery store peppers work? Do any other fruits or vegetables do the trick?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jvanderh

                            I bought Thai red chilis from the grocery store. Didn't have any garden peppers.

                            A woman posted that her grandmother had used a dried red chili and a dried tamarind to make a yogurt starter, so I tried that. It seems promising. Need to make a couple more generations of it to see if the chili pepper taste will go away.

                            Photos of that attempt here:

                          2. Hi. First of all, I really like your entrepreneurial attitude. I'm all for trying out stuff like this, and I have had periods when I made a lot of various fermented products myself.

                            However, I do have a couple of points to make:
                            How do you know that's actually yogurt in you glass, and not a concoction of various other bacteria and micro organisms? In stores in Scandinavia we have a lot of varieties of "soured milk" such as kefir, Cultura with LLG, "Culture milk", and a extremely viscous variety that I haven't found an english name for but in Norwegian it's called Tettemelk (Långfil in swedish).
                            The latter seems to have an extremely robust bacteria/yeast culture, since you only need to ac a spoon of "Tette" to a carton of milk an leave it in room temperature over night.
                            On the other hand, two specific varieties of lactobacillus needs very spesific temperatures and fermentation time to produce the lush, sweet product we call yogurt. In my experience, not staying within these rules often results in a finished product that is runny, bitter, off tasting and/or harmful.
                            Second, how do you know that there are no yeast or harmful mold spores on your chilies?

                            Also, I don't buy in to the theory that the subsequent generations of bacteria are getting "weaker" when making yogurt with commercial yogurt as starter - unless the commercial product has been pasteurized or otherwise tempered with in a way that are harmful to the bacteria. In a healthy culture, the bacteria will not lose their ability to regenerate. Most likely a culture gets weaker due to presence of other unwanted bacteria, yeast or harmful fungi.
                            When I made yogurt I used the same culture for months, and in my experience it only got better a generation of two away from the commercial starter (I used Tine's "Natural yogurt" for starter. No additives whatsoever.)

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Grunde

                              Honestly I am not positive it's legally yogurt. It has the pH range for it, it tastes like yogurt,and it propogates like yogurt. It does not have the texture of other cultured dairy. But the only reference I have was found in The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. He mentions the chili pepper stems as a method used in India for creating yogurt. A co-worker who was married in India showed me photos of the food prep for her wedding -- one of the photos was pepper stems in milk.

                              1. re: PatsyWalker

                                Do you know the name for this in India?

                                I'm thinking the pepper stems provide a coagulant to make a thickened "cultured" milk, but not the prototype bacteria to make actual yogurt.

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  Well, I don't know..
                                  It's not out of the question that the pepper stems and other plants will only host their own ranges of bacteria on their surface.
                                  Take the infamous Japanese, and pretty gross, delecacy
                                  : Nattoo - which is a nice word for fermented slimy, slimy soy beans. Initially, the bacteria used for this fermentation are found on rice straw. (The sporoes actually survives cooking in a pressure boiler for a number of minutes. Pretty robust strain.)
                                  Another example is the scandinavian "tettemelk". According to traditional belief, bacteria used for this was found on Common butterwort.

                                  1. re: Grunde

                                    Same as how you get wild yeast, aka sourdough - it's from the bacteria and yeasts that hang out on the wheat grains. Pretty nice how this all works to our benefit. :)

                                    1. re: LMAshton

                                      Lots of people who use pepper stems claim their thickened dairy product is yogurt, but I'm not sure. I'm not even sure fermentation has taken place.

                                      Perhaps what's happened instead is simply coagulation. The enzymes in the bell pepper stems -- pectinesterase and polygalacturonase -- may have coagulated the milk like rennet, another enzyme.

                                      The thickened milk may appear to be like yogurt but isn't really -- without the yogurt bacteria and flavor profile. This is my guess based on my reading/skimming quite a few scientific articles so far.

                                      Interestingly, pepper stems also "coagulate" SOY milk so whatever they do doesn't require dairy and may not even be fermentation (bacteria/yeast consuming sugar and producing lactic acid and CO2).

                                      If anyone can find some scientific info on pepper stem "yogurt" I'd love to see it. I've not been able to find a microbiological analysis.

                            2. Hi Patsy, I looked at your pictures and it really looks like queso fresco. I am making water kefir presently but I would like to try this too. BTW/ In making kefir, sometimes people add a slice of lemon or lime to keep the culture environment acidic which the culutre likes. Someone mentioned citric acid (an organic acid) as artificial way to achieve tanginess, however, it simply makes the culture environment more conducive for the bacteria to create it. Perhaps, if you add this ingredient, you will promote the bacteria that creates the sour taste. That may have been the idea behind using the tamarind. There is a small percentage of vitamin C in tamarind and it has been used for scurvy so it make work well here too.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: I_Fortuna

                                <<However, [an acid] simply makes the culture environment more conducive for the bacteria to create it.>>

                                Are you sure about this?

                                I don't think that is correct. The acid is to create the proper protein matrix, but has no effect on aiding the bacteria to create cheese -- more likely it inhibits it.

                                And the acid here is very weak, not strong enough for cheesemaking -- nowhere near the strength of lime juice or ascorbic acid/Vitamin C or citric acid.

                                I have searched and searched and not been able to find anything about the specific bacteria that makes yogurt or cheese found on pepper stems.

                                Which is why I think what was created was some coagulated milk thing, possibly from a natural rennet or other coagulant on the pepper stems -- certainly not yogurt, and possibly not "cheese" at all, even queso fresco.

                                I would love to be educated if you can find some credible sources on the bacteria/enzymes on pepper stems, the beneficial effect of a low pH on cheese-making bacteria, simple cheese/queso vs. coagulation, etc.