Yogurt Starter Troubleshooting FAQ

What should I do with the extra yogurt starter?

Extra yogurt starter should be sealed up (a zipper-style bag works well) and stored in a cool dry place such as a freezer.

How important is temperature when making yogurt?

Temperature is very important for the proper development of the yogurt bacteria. At the proper temperature, the yogurt bacteria will consume the lactose in the milk, multiply quickly, and make yogurt. If the temperature is too cold, a race develops between the yogurt bacteria, which are slowed down due to the cooler temperature, and the milk bacteria, which are multiplying quickly due to a warmer (than the refrigerator) temperature. If the milk bacteria win, they will kill the yogurt bacteria. Even if the yogurt bacteria prevail, the fight with the milk bacteria can damage the culture making long-term use problematic. 

For our direct-set cultures and our Greek and Bulgarian starters, the ideal culturing temperature is 110°F.

For our viili, matsoni, filmjölk, and piimä starters, the proper culturing temperature is 70° to 78°F.

How do I know what temperature my yogurt maker operates at?

Yogurt-making appliances can be used with direct-set yogurt starters as well as our Greek and Bulgarian yogurt starters. It's a good idea to test the temperature of your yogurt maker before using it to make yogurt. To test your yogurt maker, fill the interior container with water (the same quantity and temperature you would use with milk to make yogurt), then operate the yogurt maker per the manufacturer's instructions. Test the water with a thermometer after an hour and then again after 3 or 4 hours. The temperature should stay between 105°F and 112°F.

Do not use a yogurt-making appliance with the viili, matsoni, filmjölk, and piimä starters as it will keep them too warm and kill the yogurt culture.

I want to use my crock pot to make yogurt. Is there anything I need to know?

Slow cookers (crock pots) can be a great way to culture direct-set, Greek, or Bulgarian yogurts but the main concern is ensuring they are not too warm for the culture. Use the method above for testing a yogurt-making machine to determine if your crock pot can maintain the proper temperature.

Do not use a slow cooker with the viili, matsoni, filmjölk, and piimä starters as it will keep them too warm and kill the yogurt culture.

How will I know when my yogurt has set?

Yogurt that has set should be more or less uniform in appearance: one solid mass. There should not be a clear separation of curds and whey (white solid portion for the top half and clear liquid on the bottom half). The yogurt should appear more or less smooth (before being stirred), not lumpy. If you gently tip the container, the yogurt may pull away in a mass from the side of the container (like you would expect jello to do). Please note, sometimes a bit of whey will separate from the yogurt during the culturing process. If clear liquid (whey) is present on top of the yogurt or even a bit on the sides, this is just a normal variation. If the yogurt has fully separated into curds anöd whey, that is a sign of a problem (see below).

Occasionally the yogurt in your initial activation batch simply does not set within the outside time frame. If that is the case, and the yogurt smells good, refrigerate it for 6 hours, then try using that milky yogurt to culture a second batch, using the recommended proportions. If the culture is viable, which it often is, it will make the second batch successfully.

My first batch of yogurt (using the freeze-dried starter) has been culturing for a number of hours but is still the consistency of milk. What should I do?

Greek and Bulgarian Yogurt Starters: Generally speaking, the first batch (from the dried starter) can take anywhere from 5 to 12 hours to set properly. The length of time is due to the hibernated state the yogurt is in as a powdered starter. Subsequent batches will generally set much more quickly. Even if the yogurt is not set after 12 hours, it is still cultured and may be used as starter for the next batch. We do recommend checking your yogurt every 30 to 60 minutes after about six hours so the process can be stopped as soon as the yogurt is set. Be sure to double-check the temperature at which the yogurt is culturing. The most common culprit for long-culturing yogurt is too low a temperature (under 110°F). If your yogurt is staying at 110°F consistently, just give it a bit longer. Up to 12 hours is fine.

Viili, matsoni, filmjölk, and piimä yogurt starters: The amount of time necessary for our countertop yogurt starters to culture is very dependent on room temperature. These starters do require a room temperature of no less than 68°F with 70° to 77°F being preferred. (Be sure to take into account possible temperature fluctuations at night and whether the culture could possibly be in a draft, affected by an air conditioning unit, etc.) Generally speaking, the first batch (from the dried culture) will take anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to set with 48 hours being more common during colder months of the year. Even if the yogurt is not set after 48 hours, it is still cultured and may be used as starter for the next batch.

Occasionally the yogurt in your initial activation batch simply does not set within the outside time frame. If that is the case, and the yogurt smells good, refrigerate it for 6 hours, then try using that milky yogurt to culture a second batch, using the recommended proportions. If the culture is viable, which it often is, it will make the second batch successfully.

My yogurt didn't set properly. It separated into two layers: solid on top and liquid underneath (curds and whey). What should I do?

Separation is generally a sign that the yogurt has overcultured, and the culture may have died. There are several factors that can cause this problem. The most common is exposure to heat. If culturing yogurt is exposed to a temperature higher than the proper range (80°F for mesophilic cultures; 115°F for thermophilic cultures), the yogurt starter is likely to die. Contamination is also a potential issue. In particular a bit of soap or food residue the dishwasher may have missed can be harmful to the culture. 

What to do: Discard the separated batch. Start over using using the backup packet of starter culture.

If for some reason this second attempt produces the same curds and whey result, please contact us. With a live culture, we find that in about 1% of cases, a starter culture will fail for an unknown reason. We suspect in many of these cases the culture may have been exposed to a source of high heat during transit but ultimately we will never know. We are happy to immediately replace the culture. 

My yogurt seems to have set but there's a little clear liquid floating on the top and the sides. Is this okay?

Yes, some separation of whey from the yogurt is fine and is a natural variation within the culturing process. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. A full separation where the top half the jar is a white mass and the bottom half is clear liquid is a problem, however (see above).

My yogurt looks lumpy and curdled. What did I do wrong?

Sometimes overculturing (too long or too warm) can cause the yogurt to curdle or become lumpy before it separates fully. To make it smooth again, simply whisk it. (You can remove some of the whey if you like, or stir it back in.) Check your culturing temperatures to make sure they are in range: 105° to 112°F for thermophilic cultures, 68° to 78°F for mesophilic cultures. A culture that is too old can also cause this problem. We recommend re-using an heirloom culture within 7 days for the best results.

My yogurt is grainy and bitter.

Milk that is too old can produce a bitter or grainy yogurt. Try again with fresher milk.

When can I flavor my yogurt?

Yogurt can be flavored and sweetened after the 6-hour refrigeration period. Please be sure to reserve some yogurt for making the next batch prior to flavoring  or sweetening. (If using raw milk and a pure starter, keep the pure starter unflavored.)

How do I make the yogurt thicker?

There are generally four ways to improve the thickness of the yogurt:

  • Increase the fat content. By using whole milk or a mixture of milk and cream, you increase the fat content of the milk, which naturally increases the thickness to the yogurt.

  • Strain the finished yogurt, removing some of the whey. Using cheesecloth over a bowl or jar allows whey to drain from the yogurt resulting in thicker yogurt. Allow the yogurt to drain for as little as 30 minutes but up to several hours until the desired consistency is achieved. (For ideas on how to use the resulting whey, click here.) Or, use a yogurt cheese maker to strain the yogurt. As an alternative to using cheesecloth, commercially available yogurt cheese makers allow you to strain some of the whey from the yogurt resulting in thicker yogurt.

  • Heat the milk and hold the temperature. Heating the milk to 180°F and holding the temperature for 30 minutes prior to letting the milk cool to 110°F can also increase the thickness of the final yogurt.

  • Add dry milk powder to the yogurt. 1/2 cup dry milk powder can generally be added to several quarts of milk prior to the milk being heated.  

 

                                                
   
Homemade Yogurt


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<td><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">&nbsp;</span> <br />
<p><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Originally a simple fermented dairy product, yogurt now has many variations and personalities. It can be thin and runny, or thick and firm. It can be made from cow milk, goat milk, sheep milk, nut milk, soy milk, rice milk, and from numerous other creamy substances. In some countries the milk of buffalo, horses, yaks, or camels is used.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">For most of this discussion, we&rsquo;ll refer to yogurt in its original form: a fermented dairy milk. This was how yogurt was first developed, and most of the yogurt in the world is made this way.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Essentially yogurt is the product of beneficial bacteria fermenting milk and turning it into a thickened, acidic food that will stay fresh longer than milk itself, and that contains millions of bacteria that are welcomed by the human gut.</span></p>
<h1><br /><strong><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">The History of Yogurt</span></strong></h1>
<p><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">The word yogurt comes from a Turkish word meaning to curdle or to thicken. Today it is spelled yogurt, yoghurt, or yogourt, with yogurt being the most common American spelling.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">It&rsquo;s probable that the earliest yogurt was made by accident in Mesopotamia around 5,000 BC, when milk-producing animals were first domesticated. The milk was likely stored and transported in bags made from the stomachs of these animals, and the digestive juices and bacteria in the stomach linings made the milk coagulate and become acidic. Not only was it a new and interesting food, but the acidity and helped to keep it edible for longer</span> <span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">than if it had just sat out in a bowl or jar.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">There is also some evidence of yogurt being used as a cleaning product and a beauty lotion as early as 2000 BC. The acidity of the yogurt helps clean away dirt and rust, and also helps clear away dead skin and nourish healthy skin cells.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Yogurt was a popular food in the Middle East for thousands of years, and has been a staple of the Eastern European diet. It&rsquo;s now eaten throughout the world, as a main course, a snack, an ingredient in many recipes, and a condiment. It has gained considerable popularity in America in the last forty or fifty years, in keeping with general trends toward organic, cultured, and nutrient-dense foods.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Yogurt can be mildly tart or quite sour, and can be thick enough to stand up on a plate, or thin enough to pour, or anywhere in between. It contains protein and calcium as well as a variety of vitamins. Additionally, the process of yogurt fermentation is very similar to the process of digestion, so it can be easily consumed.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Many people eat yogurt plain, while others prefer to mix it with fruits or vegetables, or to add flavors or sweeteners. It is used in a variety of recipes as a flavor enhancer or leavening, and frequently enjoyed as a refreshing drink.</span></p>
<h1><br /><strong><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Nutritional Content</span></strong></h1>
<p><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Not only does yogurt contain the same amount of protein and fat as the milk from which it is made, it also contains calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. While numerous claims have been made regarding the health benefits and digestibility of yogurt, we don&rsquo;t comment on medical, health, or nutritional qualities of our products. However, a great deal of research on the subject is readily available on the Internet and in dozens of books.</span></p>
<h1><br /><strong><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">How is Yogurt Made?</span></strong></h1>
<p><strong><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">&nbsp;</span></strong><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">True yogurt is made from animal milk. Theoretically, the milk of any mammal could be used to make yogurt.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">With care, yogurt cultures can also be used to ferment and coagulate non-dairy &ldquo;milks&rdquo; such as the creamy liquid obtained from nuts, rice, soy, or coconut. While these products are technically not really yogurt, they can be used and enjoyed just like dairy yogurt, alone or in recipes.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Put very simply, the process of turning milk into yogurt involves fermentation. Certain types of bacteria act on the lactose (milk sugar) that is in milk, and produce lactic acid. The lactic acid lowers the pH of the milk, and causes the milk protein to coagulate and make a firm mass. The acidified milk is an inhospitable environment for destructive bacteria, so the yogurt stays fresh longer than untreated milk.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">The bacteria that does this is called beneficial bacteria, because it supports digestion and is nourishing, as opposed to pathogenic (harmful) bacteria that causes disease. The beneficial bacteria is called probiotic. It&nbsp; is similar or identical to the type of bacteria that lives in the human gut and which is responsible for the process of food absorption. When you use live cultures, the probiotics stay in the yogurt, and the yogurt can then be used as a starter to make more yogurt.</span></p>
<h1><br /><strong><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">Yogurt and Other Fermented Dairy Products</span></strong></h1>
<p><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">There are many different ways that beneficial bacteria can be introduced to milk and make an entirely new food. The main difference between the different fermented dairy products is the bacteria used to make them, resulting in different flavors and consistencies.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;"><em>Yogurt</em> can be cultured with a variety of different bacteria combinations, each of which gives the yogurt a characteristic taste and consistency. There are typically somewhere between the range of two to six different bacteria strains in yogurt, and they are similar to the bacteria found in the intestines.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;"><em>Kefir</em> is a thickened milk made from little clumps of yeast, bacteria, and milk proteins that ferment the milk. There are about thirty different bacteria strains present in kefir grains. It has a slightly sour flavor and sometimes a faint effervescence. Koumiss is a similar product, made from mare&rsquo;s milk.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;"><em>Buttermilk</em> is the name given to the whey that&rsquo;s left over when butter is made, but it more commonly refers to a milk drink made by adding bacteria to low-fat milk, producing a thickened product with a tangy flavor.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;"><em>Sour cream</em> is cream or high-fat milk that&rsquo;s been cultured and thickened. It&rsquo;s very slightly sour, and usually quite thick. It was originally made by letting fresh cream thicken naturally as a result of fermentation from the bacteria present in the cream. When cream is pasteurized and has no natural bacteria present, it must be fermented with added bacteria.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;"><em>Cr&egrave;me fraiche</em> is a European-style sour cream, slightly sweeter than what we are used to in America. It&rsquo;s also made by letting raw cream thicken naturally, or by adding buttermilk cultures to cream. Cr&egrave;me fraiche can be heated without curdling, unlike sour cream.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;">In recipes, you can often substitute one cultured milk product for another and get similar results. In fact, sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a thin, tart yogurt and a thick, sour kefir or a creamy buttermilk!</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: verdana,geneva; font-size: small;"><em>Soft and hard cheeses</em> are also made by culturing milk over a longer period of time. Some cheeses can be easily made by straining the moisture out of yogurt or sour cream, while others require additional fermentation and culturing steps.</span></p>
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