Figuring out which starter to use can seem tricky at first but once you decide on some basics it’s fairly easy. The following figure shows the breakdown of yogurt starter classes.
Note: the Greek yogurt starter on this site is indeed an heirloom starter. This may not be the case for other Greek starters.
First decide whether you want to go after a thermophilic or mesophilic yogurt starter.
- Thermophilic: This is the most common type of yogurt people make in the US. These bacteria like warmer temperatures of about 100 to 114 degrees F. As a result they require a yogurt maker or some means of keeping them at this temperature.
- Mesophilic: These yogurts allow for fermentation at room temperature around 70 to 77 degrees F which means they don’t require a yogurt maker.
Second, figure out if you would like an heirloom or non-heirloom yogurt starter.
- Heirloom: This simply means you make a batch of yogurt, save a little from that batch, and use it to start the next batch. These are nice because you don’t have to keep buying starter. However, you do have to keep feeding your starter every 1 or 2 weeks to keep it alive.
- Non-heirloom: In this case you’ll need to use fresh starter every 2 or 3 batches. These generally produce more consistent taste/texture than heirloom varieties.
Third, your personal preference for taste and texture comes into play. The following table table will help guide you on the taste/texture associated with each yogurt starter.
|Greek||very thick||mildly tart|
|Vegan||creamy (requires thickener)||mildly tart|
|Viili||ropy texture||mild flavor (not tart)|
|Matsoni||ropy texture||slightly tart|
|Filmjolk||thin consistency similar to kefir||slightly tart|
|Piima||very thin and more drinkable than Filmjolk||slightly tart|
For folks wondering what ‘ropy’ texture is check out the following video:
The previous taste/texture table gave general characteristics for each starter. Other factors effecting taste are:
- Lactic acid: This is a byproduct of fermentation and gives yogurt that tart taste. Longer fermentation means more lactic acid and more tartness.
- Straining: Dripping or straining your yogurt removes whey which contains lactic acid. This is why straining will subdue some of the tartness.
- Milk fat: An increase in percent milk fat is a well known method to reduce tartness.
Finally, other contributing factors to texture are:
- Straining: Of course straining will thicken yogurt by removing whey and leaving behind coagulated milk proteins.
- Heating: Pasteurizing milk prior to making yogurt denatures milk proteins and helps then coagulate when cooled. Also, holding milk at a high temperature removes water content via steam and results in a thicker yogurt.
- Milk fat: Using milk with a higher fat content (like whole milk) or adding butter milk results in a creamier, thicker yogurt.