Let’s make yogurt from scratch


Human digestive tract is home to a lot of bacteria and yeast. These micro-organisms are helping us to break down the food  so that mankind can get the vitamins, minerals and amino acids out of food. When these acid loving bacteria and yeast (good guys) are out of proportion with the alkaline loving bacteria (bad guys), problems start to arise. You won’t be digesting your food properly, you won’t be getting enough vitamins and minerals, you feel bloated, gas problems, cramps, feeling tired all the time etc.

You need to restore the balance. Other then giving up on commercially produced food (any ready to eat food that you pay for) and eating a more whole food diet of legumes, 3 colour vegetables, and fruits you must get lactic acid bacteria, pro-biotic bacteria, yeast and their friends into you. One way of doing this is to eat yogurt that you made at home; and I stress “home made“. Also if you are treated with heavy anti-biotic medicine for a while, you need to kick-start your intestine with good bacteria and yeast.

To make yogurt you need a mother culture and this is not the store bought yogurt. Some of my readers may be surprised by this statement and yes that is right, no commercial yogurt that is bought from shops should be used as mother culture when you are making yogurt at home. Sure it will work, sure you will get a yogurt looking product at the end but I do not support this idea.

First of all, the biggest problem of making yogurt at home is to keep the temperature consistent. Rags, blankets, oven etc. is not enough. I strongly recommend a little electric yogurt machine, something like the one below, which you can find on E-Bay, or the shops I have given on my resources page.

Electric Yogurt Maker
Electric Yogurt Maker

This 1 litre capacity yogurt maker is best to keep the temperatures at about 43C. Also with its small capacity, it will not let you sour the yogurt as the yogurt will finish before that happens. With my family of 4, we finish this 1 litre yogurt in 2 days and I prepare a new one for the next day and chuck it in the fridge in the morning. Sure you can make it in 3 litres or larger but it will continue to sour in the fridge if you are not finishing it in time. Do not forget that it is a living thing. It is better to make it in small quantities so that it will be fresh whenever you need it. Alternatively you can buy an extra inner container to make a second batch, if you are expecting yogurt eating guests.

Now let’s look into where we can get our mother culture to make yogurt. We are surrounded by the bacteria in our daily life. Yeasts, moulds, spores and all of their friends are in the air everywhere. We need to harvest  some lactic acid bacteria from a good source to make yogurt. Yogurt is a thermophilic culture as it is made around 43 to 50C temperatures. All mesophilic bacteria during the making die off as the environment is hostile for them and the resources are eaten by the thermophilic ones.

There are several sources where we can harvest these yogurt bacteria. One of them is ants nests. You now that mountain of crumbly soil around the entrances. That is the one we need to gather. Take a little tea spoon and collect about a table spoon of this soil into a sterile specimen bottle. Come on don’t be shy, do it! Oh if they are fire ants, stay away of course if it is not too late. 🙂

Ants Nest
Photo courtesy of http://geoffpark.wordpress.com/

The other source is ant eggs. If you are feeling adventurous, dig around the entrance to hunt some eggs, about a tea spoon will do.

Ant_eggs

Third source is bee larva with its food in the cell. The only problem is the hive should be organically managed. You wouldn’t want pesticides and fungicides in your yogurt.  Ask a beekeeper friend to collect you about a tea spoon in a sterile specimen bottle. The ones in the picture on the left hand side are what we are looking for.

bee larva

Also Kefiran that is strained kefir can be used as a starter. If you are already making kefir at home, strain about 30ml of kefiran and use this as a  yogurt starter. As kefir has a lot of bacteria and yeast in it, yogurt making process will kill some of these mesophilic ones and will leave you with thermophilic bacteria and some yeast only.

kefir

You only need  one of these sources of micro-organisms. If you can get only the soil, it is okay. You may try to make different starters and see how this affects the final taste of your yogurt.

Now here are the steps to a good and nutritious yogurt:

  1. Prepare your yogurt maker.
  2. Fill the inner bucket about 125ml of milk.
  3. If you are using ant’s nest soil, eggs or bee larva, put this into a little pocket of sterile cheese cloth and tie it so that they don’t mix with milk freely. You can add the kefiran directly into the milk.
  4. Add the starter to your milk and don’t stir.
  5. Put the inner bucket into your yogurt maker and replace the lid.
  6. Fill the outer bucket with warm water to create a water jacket around the inner bucket. As we are not using 1 litre of milk, we need a thermal mass to keep the heat inside.
  7. Check regularly after 5 hours and see if the mixture set. If you are using kefiran, it will be faster than 5 hours.
  8. Once your milk sets like a gel, you are good to go.
  9. Strain half of this gel making sure no residue of soil, larva or egg mixed in it.
  10. Use this mother to inoculate 1 litre of milk in your machine again. You can eat this second generation yogurt.
  11. Spread the goodness by sharing your mother culture with friends and neighbours.

Troubleshoot

  1. If the milk does not set, wait a bit longer. Check regularly.
  2. Check the machine if it is plugged and working.
  3. Check the water jacket with a thermometer to see if the temperatures are about 43C.

So, as you see dear reader, now you know an unconventional way of making yogurt. It may seem strange to you in the beginning but these practices are still applied through out Turkey, Middle East, some African countries and Asia. Once you make a yogurt this way, you will see the difference in aroma and taste. I strongly suggest you try all four methods one by one and choose the one that you like the most.

Once you go through couple of generations of your culture, the taste may change slightly as the flora gets stabilised and this is a good thing;  just like sour dough culture. Before you make your concrete decision, use the same culture at least 5 times to see how the taste and texture develops.

Happy yogurt eating.

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Author: Gürkan Yeniçeri

IT, gardening, cooking, smoking, cheesemaking, brewing, sausage making, electronics, sci-fi

24 thoughts on “Let’s make yogurt from scratch”

  1. Hi Gurkan, I attended your yoghurt workshop at the Canberra Environment Centre (which was great!), and I’ve been making delicious yoghurt using the culture you gave us that night (I froze some). Today I tried my first from-scratch starter using local Jersey milk and ants nest dirt… I followed the instructions and what I have isn’t exactly gel-like… half of it looks like yoghurt, but the middle bit (where my cheesecloth bag of dirt was sitting in the middle) is watery (like whey?) with lumpy bits floating (I could email you a picture!). I wonder if it’s still ok to use this to inoculate 1L of milk anyway? Or should I throw it away and try using ants dirt and UHT milk + milk powder maybe? Thanks for your help!

      1. Great, thank you for the advice! I am using it to make 1L yoghurt now and will keep a little of this yoghurt aside to start the next, and so on. Thanks for getting me started on yoghurt-making, I’m hooked 🙂

  2. Hi, this sounds great, but I have one question before I start looking for some ant nests. Does the milk has to be raw or boiled? I would prefer raw if its possible to make yogurt with it.

  3. Hello Gürkan, I was pleasantly surprised to come across this very informative post, thank you!

    I recently started making yoghurt made from raw milk (I haven’t boiled the milk), however, I have enjoyed declious, even thick, yoghurt by using the freeze dried cultures as well as yoghurt from the supermarket. I always use about 500 ml of cream to milk in order to get a thicker yoghurt with little to no whey separation (especially with raw/single or double cream). I do have to leave it to incubate for about 16 hours, however, it is lovely! Yes, it is more of a pouring and drinking yoghurt, whereas yoghurt made with sour cream will produce the much thicker consistency, albeit with more whey separation (in my experience, though I am still experienting). I can confirm, that you can make thick/thin, to suit your tastes and preferences, yoghurt made from raw milk, without boiling it or using a processed/artificial thickening agent. ^_^

    I have been thinking about whether it was possible, and I’m sure it is, to collect or create your own starter culture to make yoghurt and therefore no longer have to buy cultures or yoghurt. Your post seems to have answered my query: yes it is possible!

    I don’t have a yoghurt maker as yet, so I still use my stove and then oven and order warm places in my kitchen to make my yoghurt.

    I am very interested and eager to try the methods you listed above to make yoghurt with natural starter culture sources. I was recently given some Kefir grains and I have fresh Kefir each day, so I think that would be the easiest natural culture for me to use. I just wanted to clarify a few points and I was hoping you would help me please.

    Would I simply collect the strained Kefiran (perhaps 2 tablespoons) and add that to my warmed raw milk and then make the yoghurt? Do I need to do anything to the Kefiran first?

    I can access an organic raw hive near me, so I should be able to get some bee larva. Do I just add it to the milk?

    By using these methods, would I first be creating a mother culture and then using that to make subsequent batches of yoghurt?

    How much milk should I use to create the mother culture? (I will be using the stove to make it and then incubating it in the oven).

    I hope my meaning is clear, and I apologise for my long message, I just wanted to be sure before I launched in to trying these methods.

    Thank you for sharing your knowlegde on this subject!

    Abby

    1. Hi Abby,
      Thanks for your questions. It is good to see people are willing to try these ancient methods.
      Yes kefiran will work. You don’t need to do anything to kefiran.
      Yes, add the bee larva to milk and strain later. I only used the water separated from this process as the mother.
      Yes, you are creating a young mother culture. Spare some from yogurt when the mother culture stocks depleted in the freezer.
      Use only 500ml or 1L milk to make the mother culture. Run this culture couple more times (generations) and when you think it is stable, spare some in the freezer in an ice cube tray.

      Cheers

      1. Thank you for your quick reply. So I would just use milk and boil it, then cool it to 43 C and then add the Kefiran? Once it has incubated and set, then it would be the mother culture that I can use to make yoghurt with, is that correct?

        Do you mean that after making the mother culture using bee larva, I should strain the water (whey?) and use it to make yoghurt?

        Thank you,
        Abby

    1. Gürkan, I made yoghurt using Kefiran today and it was lovely! Thank you so much. I look forward to trying the bee larva next. ^_^

  4. Great post! So hard to find this kind of stuff in Australia.

    Wondering a little about the ants nest method. I’ve since found a few resources on it but a lot are specific to Turkey or the Balkans. Do Australian ants pass on similar bacteria? And any ants? I’m keen to start experimenting regardless – I guess having grown up in a very non-fermenting packaged-food family I have a fear of accidentally poisoning myself just culturing any old bacteria from the backyard (though as mentioned I guess the temperature is one of the safeguards there).

  5. Hi- can you clarify how to get the kefiran? Are you saying that kefiran is kefir whey that I get by straining the kefir e.g. through a cheesecloth?

      1. Thanks… I hope you don’t mind, but just to be sure we’re using the same definitions:
        1) to me, strained kefir would be the thicker kefir left as a result of losing the liquid
        2) khefir whey is the liquid that comes out by straining the kefir

        Which one am I using to culture yogurt? Thanks–

  6. Thanks for your reply. I have new kefir grains and have been “reviving them” after receiving them in the mail. Haven’t yet made a batch to consume. Look forward to making yogurt — thanks for your help.

  7. Hi, thank you for sharing this information. It is empowering. I do worry about soil in the city here, but the bee larvae, or kefiran would be easy to obtain i’m sure. what kind of cheesecloth do you use to strain generally? I’m afraid to buy unbleached muslin from the fabric store…worried it may have residual toxic ingredients from processing.?

    1. Hi Felicitas, Unbleached muslin is okay. Wash with soap and warm water, dry and store. Just before use, boil it for 10 minutes in whey to kill any residual bacteria. Acidity of the whey should leach chemicals if there are any left. Alternatively you can dunk it in vinegar first and boil in water.

      1. Gurkan, seriously – your blog is amazing. I used to make homemade kefir. I was thinking about starting again. there is a woman online who sells kefir scoby – thekefirlady.com i believe. is there any other source you would recommend for purchasing the real deal? Also, kefir to me is a very mysterious scoby, with seemingly unknown origin, and unreplicable. I’d love to hear your perspective on where this mysterious grains come from. all the best.

      2. Hi Felicitas, Kefir scopy is the polysacharide structure that is first produced in a fairly fresh stomach of a grazing baby ruminant. The stomach filled with milk and after a while kefir gems form along the lining. Not entirely sure who discovered it first but nomads of Caucasia would be one of them as they lived with their animals longer than any other culture.
        The most amazing info site is Dom’s at the address http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html
        He also sells to overseas. He is an Australian guy. He claims his is the best strain of kefir and I bought from him once. You only need to buy it once anyway 🙂

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