Who knew there were so many types of yogurt starters?! From Greek to Bulgarian to Vegan, the reality is that there are many varieties of yogurt starter cultures to choose from.

All of them contain probiotic bacteria, and all of them will culture various milks, with the proper care. So how do you know which one to choose?

While yogurt starter cultures can vary in taste and consistency, the one you select ultimately depends on your personal preferences. We've outlined the main characteristics of each yogurt starter below to help you decide which one will work best for you!

What is a Yogurt Starter?

A yogurt starter is a carefully balanced blend of bacteria which consume lactose. This blend of bacteria converts the lactose in milk to lactic acid, giving yogurt that classic, deliciously tangy taste.

Lactic acid production lowers the pH of the milk, which allows yogurt to be stored longer and changes the protein structure, giving yogurt its texture. Each yogurt starter has a unique blend of bacteria, which produce different flavors and thicknesses.

Taste

As mentioned above, the characteristic tangy taste of yogurt is due to the acidification of the milk during fermentation. The flavor of yogurt can range from mildly sour to quite astringent and varies with the culture used and the length of culturing time. A longer fermentation time usually yields a tarter flavored yogurt.

Consistency and Texture

Homemade yogurt's thickness and texture can range greatly. The culture used, the culturing temperature and time, and the type of milk used all contribute to the consistency and texture of yogurt.

Yogurt may be thin enough to drink or thick enough to hold its shape on a plate. For a very thick, Greek-style yogurt, draining whey is necessary. Yogurt can also be ropy, creamy, or gelatinous. These variations are due mostly to the type of bacteria in the culture, which you can learn more about in our comparison chart below.

Perpetuation: Direct-Set vs. Heirloom Cultures

Direct-Set = Single-Use Cultures

Direct-set or single-use cultures are added to a batch of milk to produce a single batch of yogurt. With some care, a direct-set starter may be re-cultured two or three times by using some of the yogurt as starter for a new batch. Eventually, however, a new powdered starter must be used. Non-dairy milks generally cannot be re-cultured.

Heirloom = Reusable Cultures

Reusable or Heirloom cultures can be propagated indefinitely. With each batch, some of the yogurt is saved to add to a new batch of milk to make more yogurt. Reusable cultures should be propagated at least once every seven days to maintain the vigor of the bacteria.

Culturing Temperature of Yogurt Starters

Thermophilic Cultures = Heat Loving

Thermophilic means heat-loving. This type of culture is added to heated milk and cultured from 5 to 12 hours. Thermophilic cultures typically produce yogurt that is thicker than yogurt from a mesophilic culture. Thermophilic cultures require a consistent heat source to culture properly. A yogurt maker is most typically used for this, but there are ways to culture without a yogurt maker (one way is to use a crockpot!)

Mesophilic Cultures = Medium Loving

Mesophilic means medium-loving, indicating that a mesophilic culture will propagate best at room temperature (around 70° to 77°F).With a mesophilic culture, there is no need to preheat the milk. The culture is simply added to cold milk and cultured at room temperature, usually between 12 and 18 hours. Mesophilic cultures typically produce yogurt that is thinner than yogurt from a thermophilic culture.

 

Types of Yogurt Starter Cultures


The following chart contains the yogurt cultures sold by Cultures for Health. The different combinations of bacteria produce the specific characteristics of each yogurt culture.

Starter Culture

Flavor & Consistency

Perpetuation & Culturing Temperature

Bacteria

Traditional Flavor

CFH_Traditional_StarterCulture_highres_front

Tart flavor

Thickest consistency

Direct-set (Single-Use)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Bifidobacterium lactis,

Lactobacillus acidophilus,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus,

Streptococcus thermophilus

Mild Flavor

CFH_Mild_StarterCulture_highres_front

Mild flavor

Thickest consistency

Direct-set (Single-Use)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Bifidobacterium lactis,

Lactobacillus acidophilus,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis,

Streptococcus thermophilus

Kosher Traditional Flavor

6811_Kosher Yogurt Starter Traditional Flavor_square

Tart flavor

Thickest consistency

Direct-set (Single-Use)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Bifidobacterium lactis,

Lactobacillus acidophilus,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus,

Streptococcus thermophilus

Kosher Mild Flavor

6810_Kosher Yogurt Starter Mild Flavor_square

Mild flavor

Thickest consistency

Direct-set (Single-Use)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Bifidobacterium lactis,

Lactobacillus acidophilus,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis,

Streptococcus thermophilus

Vegan

Vegan Yogurt Starter Culture

Takes on the flavor of the milk cultured

Thin, will require added thickeners

Direct-set (Single-Use)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Bifidobacterium bifidum,

Lactobacillus acidophilus,

Lactobacillus casei,

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp bulgaricus,

Lactobacillus rhamnosus,

Streptococcus thermophilus

Greek

CFH_Greek_StarterCulture_highres_front

Slightly tangy flavor

Thicker consistency

Heirloom (Re-usable)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Live active cultures

Bulgarian

CFH_Bulgarian_StarterCulture_highres_front

Mild flavor

Thicker consistency

Heirloom (Re-usable)

Thermophilic (Yogurt maker required)

Contains:

Live active cultures

Viili

CFH_Heirloom_StarterCulture_highres_front
Part of the Heirloom-Varieties Pack

Mild flavor

Thick and jelly-like

Heirloom (Re-usable)

Mesophilic (Cultures on your counter)

Contains:

Live active cultures

Filmjölk

CFH_Heirloom_StarterCulture_highres_front
Part of the Heirloom-Varieties Pack

Mild, slightly cheesy flavor

Thick and custard-like

Heirloom (Re-usable)

Mesophilic (Cultures on your counter)

Contains:

Live active cultures

Matsoni

CFH_Heirloom_StarterCulture_highres_front

Somewhat tart

Thick and smooth

Heirloom (Re-usable)

Mesophilic (Cultures on your counter)

Contains:

Live active cultures

Piimä

CFH_Heirloom_StarterCulture_highres_front
Part of the Heirloom-Varieties Pack

Fairly mild flavor

Thin and smooth

Heirloom (Re-usable)

Mesophilic (Cultures on your counter)

Contains:

Live active cultures

What's Next?

Once you've decided on a yogurt starter culture, check out our collection of Expert Advice on Making Yogurt at Home to learn more about homemade yogurt. Be sure you have all the supplies you'll need and read up on the types of milk that work best with your starter culture. If you do need a yogurt maker, those are available too!