Sneak Preview: Find out how much starter you need to make the best yogurt based on extensive experimentation. It’s less than you think.
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If you like to make yogurt, have you ever questioned your process? If you look online, there seem 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.
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, I look for a faster, cheaper, better, or more efficient way to do it.
Before I get too far into this, take a look at I make basic Greek yogurt 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 starter is good, add more for good measure).
Could this be why 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.
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 more significant amounts than in the bottom row.
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 starter 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.
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.
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. So, I put them all back in the oven to incubate longer.
At 6 hours, the only change was in the ¼-teaspoon sample. It is now nearly as thick as the others.
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. They didn’t get any thicker, even when incubated for 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 liter of milk. I use a tablespoon of yogurt for a half-gallon of milk.
You can make excellent yogurt with only a couple of tablespoons of starter in a gallon of milk. ¼ cup of starter per gallon is the maximum for best results.
|Amount of Milk||Yogurt Starter Needed|
|1 quart of milk||1-2 teaspoons of starter|
|½ gallon of milk||1 generous tablespoon|
|1 gallon of milk||2 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).
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!
Frequently asked questions about starter:
Yes. Read more about using whey as a starter. However, they whey needs to be fresh. Although yogurt whey is usable for 4-6 weeks, I don’t recommend using it as a starter after 10 days to 2 weeks. The little yogurt bodies start to die off with age.
Yes. The longer you plan to incubate, the less starter you need. If the incubation time is shorter (4-6 hours), the effects of using too much starter won’t be as pronounced.
Either you are incubating too long or using too much starter–could be both.
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.”
If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula