Yogurt Without a Starter


Yogurt from scratch without a starter (from pepper stems)

That’s right, I managed to make yogurt without a starter, completely from scratch. That means no pre-done yogurt cultures were involved. No expensive heirloom cultures, no store bought yogurt, nothing of that sort, just milk and a very common plant from my garden.

A few weeks ago I started wondering about the history of culturing yogurt. I just couldn’t believe that it was a simple chance. Think about it, the bacteria had to somehow end up in the milk heated up to a precise temperature of 110 degrees. It needed to stay in that milk for a while to develop something we now know as yogurt. Where did the bacteria come from? How did it get preserved and cultivated for thousands of years? What happens if a disaster strikes and there is no store bought yogurt or dry culture to be found? Will the secret be wiped out forever?

On one sleepless night I decided to do some research and get to the bottom of this. Not surprisingly, this topic is a bit obscure and gets mostly discussed in forums where curious people like me get typical answers to go and buy some Yoplait. At least that is where my mobile Google took me. Finally, I stumbled upon this website. Let me tell you, I am definitely putting this guy’s book on my Christmas list. If you are too lazy to click on a link, in a nutshell, this article talks about fermenting yogurt using pepper stems.

I decided to repeat this crazy experiment with some jalapenos. From what I understood, this can be done with pretty much any type of garden pepper. Jalapenos are the only ones I tried so far though.

Conveniently, I had to prepare a pound of jalapenos for dehydration on that same day, so stems were ready for my crazy yogurt-making experience. I washed them and stuck about a dozen into a ceramic dish with 5 cups of milk heated up to 180 and then cooled to 110. I pretty much followed my usual yogurt making routine without adding the starter. My yogurt maker was set to 13 hours.

In the morning, I totally expected to see just some warm milk with floating pepper stems. Instead, my ceramic dish contained slightly spicy yogurt with a hint of jalapeno and some whey. The yogurt split, just as described in the article.

First batch of yogurt without a starter
First batch of yogurt with jalapeno stems sticking out. You can see it’s solid and the whey is expelled.

I tasted the concoction, confirmed that it was edible and sent it to the fridge to strain for a bit. Tons of whey came out. However, on the next morning we indulged in the creamiest, tastiest yogurt ever. The jalapeno flavor turned out to be quite pleasant. I almost started thinking about my own alternative yogurt flavor line, sort of like Brogurt in Raising Hope. My lactose intolerant husband did not report any discomfort at all, and he is pretty sensitive to milk. It was definitely yogurt, not just a yogurt looking milk substance.

The second generation was the true test. Will the culture survive and replicate? Was it just a crazy coincidence? I heat up 5 more cups of milk and mixed in some of my jalapeno yogurt. In three hours I checked on it. The article was right, the yogurt already set! That has never happened before. Usually it takes twice that time. I could not believe my eyes! The dish stayed in the yogurt maker for seven more hours, just in case. Resulting yogurt had tons of whey but firmed up considerably in the fridge. Most of the whey basically disappeared, which is also quite uncommon. It still tastes super creamy, sort of like store-bought yogurt. I simply could not get this kind of consistency with any pre-purchased culture.

Second batch of yogurt from pepper stems
Second batch of yogurt from pepper stems. Nice and thick, amazing consistency.

There you have it, my crazy yogurt making experience. It is so exciting! I also want to try other methods, like chickpeas or sorrel. Not the  gross ones though (check them out in yourself if you are brave enough). Next, I need to figure out how to make buttermilk from scratch. This will get me one step closer to a completely independent cheese production. Did I mention I was obsessed with that too?



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