There are many reasons a home cook might prefer homemade yogurt over store-bought brands. Any household that goes through several cartons a day knows the cost adds up, and cooks who are concerned about what’s in the food they cook can feel more comfortable with making yogurt from scratch. Yogurt starter cultures and milk are all that are required to make a weekly or even daily batch. The cultures are simply live beneficial bacteria that help the milk transform into healthy, delicious yogurt.
Making yogurt doesn’t require any kind of fancy equipment, although cooks who use yogurt for baking, in soups, as dips, or even for desserts might want a dedicated yogurt machine to streamline the process. All that’s required is milk, a glass bowl, a wooden spoon, and a dollop of minimally processed yogurt from the grocery store to use as a starter. With this method, cooks should use unflavored yogurt that contains a range of types of probiotic bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus delbrueckii, or Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Another option is purchasing yogurt starter cultures from a health food store or online. There are a couple of advantages to this. First, the cook has more choices regarding the taste and thickness of the yogurt being made. Specific cultures can create yogurt that is especially tart or very mild in taste. Some folks prefer thicker yogurt, such as Greek style, while others like it more the consistency of buttermilk.
Matsoni yogurt starter cultures originate from the Caspian sea area and create a richly flavored yogurt that is especially good for frozen yogurt desserts. Pima, on the other hand, creates a gentle, buttermilk-like yogurt that is perfect for smoothies and soups. Kosher yogurt starter cultures are also available, and vegans or others who don’t consume dairy products can purchase cultures that work with almond, rice, and soy milks.
Most yogurt starter cultures require that the milk be gently warmed. This is where a dedicated machine comes in extra handy; the cook simply pours in the milk or nonmilk substitute and adds the culture. The machine brings it to the perfect temperature, and a few hours later, the yogurt is ready. There are cultures available for purchase that don’t require that the milk be heated. With these, the cook brings the milk to room temperature, pours it into a bowl, adds the cultures, and waits for the yogurt to reach the right consistency.