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Reader Question: How Much Starter Do You Really Need To Make Yogurt?

If you like to make yogurt, have you ever questioned your process? 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 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 needed, 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 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 really 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.

How much starter do you really need?

For 1 quart of milk, 1 teaspoon of healthy starter is plenty. You’ll need about the same for a litre of milk. I use a scant tablespoon of yogurt for a half gallon of milk. You can make wonderful yogurt with only a couple tablespoons of starter in a gallon of milk.

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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Âms

Tuesday 21st of April 2020

Hello, I'm so glad I found your article because i'm fairly sure it's going to solve my problem. I'm just wondering how much one quart of milk is in grams ? :) thank you!!

Paula

Tuesday 21st of April 2020

According to Google, the answer to your question is 946.35 g.

Sharon

Saturday 18th of April 2020

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. Thanks you.

Linda Jones

Tuesday 24th of March 2020

Thank you so much for this article! I used to make yogurt many years ago and usually used a powdered starter. I just recently started making it again using my Instant Pot with good results. However, after reading your article & using much less yogurt as a starter (a tablespoon or less) and using Braum’s 2% milk, the yogurt I am making now is stellar! It is so thick and smooth with very little whey. And has the perfect taste with just the right amount of tartness. Thank you again for your experiments & sharing your findings with us.

Paula

Wednesday 25th of March 2020

Fantastic! So glad you wrote. What a day-brightener!

Kathleen LaValley

Tuesday 24th of September 2019

Hi. Just made my first batch of yogurt in an MVPower yogurt maker using BiGaia Gastrus Lactobacillus Reuteri as starter in 2 TBsp inulin. Warm water bath. Using this for for pre- and probiotic benefits. It tastes great but is a little runny. I think successive batches should get thicker. My question is 2 jars of 8 look curdled or have whey separation. Are these ok to eat? Are they ok or is their whey ok to use for starter? Thanks. Love your pages. Kath

Paula

Tuesday 24th of September 2019

Hi Kathleen, I did a little research on this different way to make yogurt. Looks like it originated with Dr. Davis of Wheat Belly fame. Right? I have not tried it myself. But to address your question: If they smell OK, the 2 jars that show separation should be fine. Either stir the whey back in or strain it off to make a thicker yogurt (my choice). You can try the whey as a starter. Since I have not made yogurt with this method, I can't say for sure if they whey itself will work. It does usually work with more traditional methods of starter.

Melody Upham

Friday 9th of August 2019

One of the things I've found in making yogurt is that it absolutely makes a difference whether I use regular pasteurized or ultrapasteurized. The ultra *always* comes out runnier no matter what I do and if I turn it into greek yogurt (which I do), there's a lot more whey than when using regular pasteurized. Now, I do use half and half as I'm trying to get the carbs as low as I can go so not sure if this holds true for other types of milk. I use 2 Tbs of Stoneybrook organic plain yogurt as my starter because I've tried different brands and it was the only one that gave consistent thicker results. I'm going to try using 1 Tbs ... still a bit more than you use but it makes me nervous to make too big of a change. Years of making soap taught me that 50 people can make the exact same recipe of soap and get wildly different results even when weighing and carefully measuring. So many variables we can't completely control. Thanks for your time and effort on this!

Chris Bodragon

Sunday 1st of September 2019

I'm sorry, but it's the people who are following the recipe who are at fault for any variation in the result. I am a chemist and I know for a fact that if any recipe is followed to the letter with all the correct temperatures, pressures and levels of agitation, the results should be identical. Having said that, one cannot expect to get exactly the same results from one recipe if one of you is halfway up a mountain and the other is at or below sea level. Did you ever think of that? Guess not.