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How Much Yogurt Starter Should You Use to Make Yogurt?

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Preview: Read the conclusion of my experiment to determine how much yogurt starter to use when making yogurt. You may be surprised.

If you like to make yogurt, have you ever questioned your process? If you look online, there seems to be a zillion ways to do it. Do they all work equally well?

Recently, I received the following question from a reader,  “How much starter do you really need to make yogurt?”

What follows are the results of my unscientific experiment to determine the optimal amount of starter needed to make good yogurt at home.

How Much Starter Do You Really Need To Make Yogurt?

Are you a questioner?

One of my favorite pastimes in life is questioning why we do things the way we do.

If the reason doesn’t make sense to me, I look for a faster, cheaper, better, or more efficient way to do it.

Before I get too far into this, here is a look at the way I make basic Greek yogurt just so we have a starting point.

A reader’s question

The following question from a reader caused me to wonder if the amount of starter was a tradition or perhaps a cook’s insecurity (if some is good, add more for good measure).

Could this be the reason there is so much discrepancy across the web regarding the amount of starter required to make yogurt?

“I have a question about the quantity of “starter” in my homemade Greek yogurt.  I use 8-9 cups of milk and was told to bring it all to the proper temperature on the stove, then cool down to the proper temperature then…..and, this is my confusion – you suggest 2-3 teaspoons of yogurt (starter)  – when my initial recipe says to add 8 ounces – 1 cup of unflavored Greek yogurt – as my “starter”.  Which is the proper amount of starter to add?  Is it the 2-3 teaspoons or 8 ounces?  Have I been adding far too much?”

I was inspired to experiment.

a comparison of various amounts of starter
I staged an experiment to see how much yogurt I really needed to make yogurt.

Comparing Different Amounts of Yogurt Starter

In the first trial (seen above), I added different amounts of starter ranging from 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 cup for a pint and a half of milk (3 cups).

As you can see from the picture above, they all made yogurt–even the 1/4 teaspoon.

Notice all the whey sitting on top of the yogurt in the green plate row where I added larger amounts compared to the bottom row.

comparison of yogurt made with a lot of starter and yogurt made with small  amount of starter
Left: a large amount of starter from the top-left sample
Right: a small amount of starter from the bottom middle sample

When I dumped the contents of each sample onto a flat plate, the contrast was dramatic!  Look how much smoother and creamier the yogurt looks on the right where only a small amount of starter was added to the milk.

I combined the top row of yogurt samples containing a lot of starter and the bottom row containing much less to make Greek yogurt, my favorite. After straining and whipping, you can see the result below.

WOW! Which one looks more appetizing to you? Surprisingly, the yogurt on the left is still entirely edible and tasted fine even if the texture was not so smooth and creamy.

yogurt samples after whipping
Left: Strained and whipped yogurt using a large amount of starter
Right: Strained and whipped yogurt using less than a tablespoon of starter

Does it matter how long you incubate yogurt?

Then it occurred to me that the time of incubation could also make a difference, so I tried again.

This time I used 1 quart of non-fat milk for each sample and my own yogurt as a starter with amounts ranging from 1/4 teaspoon to 1/4 cup.

I didn’t even try the reader’s suggestion of 1 cup to 8-9 cups as I could already see that was overkill after my first experiment.

comparing yogurt after 4 hours of incubation
After 4 hours (This yogurt sat here for a few minutes so you can see the whey beginning to separate.)

At four hours, they all made yogurt except for the 1/4 teaspoon. It is obviously a little too thin, especially if you want to strain it for Greek yogurt.  

It’s not apparent in the picture, but the 4 tablespoon sample is already not as creamy. I put them all back in the oven to incubate longer.

comparing yogurt after 6 hours
After 6 hours

At 6 hours, there is not much change except for the 1/4 teaspoon sample, which is now nearly as thick as the others.

comparison of yogurt after 8 hours of incubation
After 8 hours

After 8 hours of incubation, the 1/4 teaspoon sample is just as thick as the 1 teaspoon sample and the creamiest. I tasted them all for tanginess and couldn’t tell much difference.

Many yogurt instructions will tell you the longer you incubate, the thicker your yogurt. I’m not so sure.

Except for the 1/4-teaspoon sample, they were all thick at 4 hours and didn’t get any thicker, even when incubated an additional 4 hours.


The answer to the question, “How much yogurt starter do you really need?

For 1 quart of milk, 1 generous teaspoon of healthy starter is plenty. You’ll need about the same for a litre of milk. I use a tablespoon of yogurt for a half-gallon of milk.

You can make wonderful yogurt with only a couple of tablespoons of starter in a gallon of milk. ¼ cup of starter per gallon is maximum for best results.

Amount of MilkYogurt Starter Needed
1 quart of milk1-2 teaspoons of starter
½ gallon of milk 1 generous tablespoon
1 gallon of milk2 tablespoons to ¼ cup

In case you’re wondering, I always use fresh milk from Braums. It makes the best yogurt EVER. I used a previous batch of my own homemade yogurt as the starter (1 week old).

Disclaimer:

Using a different kind of milk, starter, or additives such as powdered milk or gelatin will most likely yield different results. 

Making yogurt is simple, but the results from using various techniques and ingredients can be complicated to predict. Have fun experimenting!

What readers are saying…

After reading your article, I tried adding the amount of starter that you suggested. I must say, I have never had better yogurt!. It was creamy and delicious. Thank you.”
–Sharon


What would you like to read next about making yogurt?



If you have a question or problem you need help with, please write it in the comment section below so I can respond back. You can also email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.

Thank you for visiting!
Paula

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RC

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Thanks for sharing your fun and useful experiment! Is your recommendation for 1tsp per quart for a 4 hour incubation? I’m wondering why you didn’t recommend1/4tsp if it turned out creamier after 8 hrs.

Paula

Monday 19th of April 2021

Hi RC,

I don't like to incubate my yogurt for much longer than 4-5 hours because I like a mild taste. If you only use it 1/4 teaspoon, it will generally take longer, so that's why I went with the higher amount. There is not really much difference whether you use 1/4 teaspoon or 1 teaspoon for 1 quart.

Monica Molinari

Wednesday 17th of March 2021

I was wondering if you have done this experiment using the strained whey instead of yogurt as a starter? I would be curious to see if the quantities of whey starter would be the same as using yogurt as a starter?

Paula

Thursday 18th of March 2021

Hi Monica,

Thanks for asking. Yes I have. You can see it here.

Rita Waldner

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Maybe you mentioned it and I did not see it but what do you use for starter? Is it OK to have the starter sitting in the cooler for a few weeks with a container open to use for next time? I always save and freeze my whey and use it , would you put in the same amount of whey as you would plain yogurt? Your post was very interesting I really appreciate what you shared.

Paula

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

Hi Rita,

Glad you asked. You can use one of several things: 1) yogurt from the store, but it must be fresh; 2) yogurt from your last batch, but it should not be more than 7-10 days old; 3)whey--use a little more but if it's fresh (less than 10 days old) it doesn't take much more; 4) freeze-dried yogurt starter. After many years of doing this, I like the traditional freeze-dried starter the best. It is the most stable starter in my opinion and will last for many months (years?) if you use it every week or so.

Thanks for writing. I think I will add this information to that post. I'm sure you aren't the first person with this question.

Anna

Friday 20th of November 2020

I absolutely love your scientific approach. Thank you so much for sharing your techniques and knowledge! It really helps everyone trying to learn how to live life in the best way.

Paula

Friday 20th of November 2020

Hi Anna,

I'm so happy this post was helpful. Do you make lots of yogurt? Can't wait to hear more about your yogurt adventures

Nifemi

Friday 28th of August 2020

These reviews say have been absolutely helpful.... my question is would a sweetened flavored starter affect the end result?

Paula

Friday 28th of August 2020

Hi Nifemi,

I'm so happy to hear that the reviews were helpful. My readers are the best!

In answer to your question, it all depends on the sweeteners and flavors in your starter. So, yes, it can absolutely affect the end result. Sometimes, you won't even notice if it's just a little sugar and vanilla extract. Beyond that, the results can be unpredictable. It really helps when you don't use a boatload of starter.