What Are Yogurt Starter Cultures?

Cynde Gregory

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.

A bowl of yogurt.
A bowl of 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.

A man making yogurt.
A man making yogurt.

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.

A glass bowl is needed to make homemade yogurt.
A glass bowl is needed to make homemade yogurt.

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Discussion Comments


@JessicaLynn - You could probably find a minimally processed yogurt at a local health food store. I think I would personally use purchased yogurt as a starter if I were making yogurt for the first time. You should see if you like making yogurt and if you like the results of homemade yogurt before you spend too much money sending off for stuff.

I also don't think a yogurt maker is necessary. You probably already have a bowl and a pan in your kitchen. As the article said, that's all you really need to make yogurt. So if you have all that, there's no point in buying anything else!


I think it's definitely important to use a yogurt starter culture with lots of probiotics in it. Probiotics are one of the main benefits of eating yogurt. They're good for your digestion and your overall health. I figure, the more the better!

I think I may make my own yogurt soon, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to order some starter cultures. Most of the yogurt I see at my local grocery stores seems very processed. I don't think they would work very well for making yogurt at home.


I used to make my own yogurt, but lately I feel like I never have time. You can buy quarts of plain yogurt at the grocery store; you don't have control over the consistency of the yogurt that way, but at least you can control what's in it.

I like to add cocoa powder, vanilla, and just a little sugar (not nearly as much as the commercially sweetened brands) to mine, or all-natural jam from the farmer's market.

When my kids were babies, I would give them plain whole milk yogurt with fruit puree in it. Even grocery store brands marketed to babies have added sugar! Not for my baby, thank you.


@John57 - I have had good results when making my own yogurt. Mine easily lasts for up to a week in the refrigerator.

There have been times it has been in there for even longer than that and it was still good - it just tasted a little bit stronger.

It doesn't last long around my house, so I don't usually have to worry about that.

One tip I would give you is to always save a little bit when you make a new batch, so you have a starter for the next time.

Making your own yogurt is not only a fun thing to do, but very healthy for you as well.


I never realized that making your own yogurt was so easy. For some reason I thought you needed some kind of special equipment to do this at home.

After reading this article, I realize I have everything I need to get started making my own yogurt.

I am especially fond of the thick texture of Greek yogurt. I am interested in making my own so I know exactly what is in it and can add my favorite fruits and ingredients.

Is there a way you can make up a big batch of this at one time and separately add specific flavorings later?

I am also wondering how long this lasts in the refrigerator and if it lasts as long as yogurt bought in the store?

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