Five Ways of Making Yogurt

Learn how to make yogurt from an array of methods: chili stems, backslopping, kefir grains, tamarind, and sweetened condensed milk.


Yoghurt … 5 ‘wheys’

1. Yoghurt from chilli stems

An heirloom culture is a lovely thing. But there are ways to make yoghurt without yoghurt, so if that’s you, no worries, we’ll start there first, the place that I arrived at last. I had been in raptures about getting an heirloom culture. Varma watched quietly, letting me go on about it for a few days until he mentioned that’s not how they did it at home.

Varma started with us at The Fermentary on his fourth day in Australia … and on his 600th day working with us, after watching me talk about my yoghurt cultures, he let me know quite casually that he does it another way (or more correctly, his aunty does).

It turns out that in Southern India it is a pretty regular thing to make yoghurt – or curd – using the stems of chillies. A bit of tamarind works too. (I was told that the whole tamarind pod was needed, but I didn’t have that so I just used a dab from a jar I had and it worked!) I’d read something about this method in one of Sandor Katz’s books, but mostly people wrote of it in an experimental tone. Here was someone telling me it was the best way.

This method is so easy it makes all other yoghurt recipes seem a bit superfluous. I’m not sure that we can even call it yoghurt, maybe it’s just a curd? There is an ever so slight chilli flavour to the first batch, but it’s hardly worth mentioning. In fact, my girls couldn’t tell the difference in a taste test, except that the chilli yoghurt is less sour. The fact that it is milder may make it even better than some other yoghurts. And if the chilli is too strong, go ahead and use that batch in a raita or a savoury soup, and start your next batch from it. I have recently found out that dried chickpeas are also a good inoculant, simply add a few instead of chilli stems.

I actually don’t know the science of the chilli method. The reason you will want to make other yoghurts, from a friend’s batch, for example, might be because of the microbial diversity found in the other kind. However, since I can’t give you the breakdown, and if you don’t already have an heirloom starter culture or good yoghurt in your local shop, or a milk kefir grain, then Varma and I give you this!



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