Replicating Fage greek yogurt at home - where can I get this starter?
December 23, 2014 9:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to replicate Fage greek yogurt at home but I'm having trouble finding a yogurt starter with this exact mix of bacteria: L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei. Can anyone suggest a source?
posted by exhilaration to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Did you already try just using some of the plain yogurt from the store as a starter?
posted by leahwrenn at 9:36 AM on December 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: No, I haven't tried using the yogurt as a starter - we're eating a ton of it and we'd like to make it at home without having to buy any more. We've made and strained yogurt at home but we can't get the flavor to match Fage.
posted by exhilaration at 9:41 AM on December 23, 2014

Best answer: As long as the Fage yogurt has no thickeners or preservatives, it should make a fine starter. Whenever I've made yogurt using store-bought yogurt as starter it has come out tasting very close to the original. If you then use your yogurt as a starter, the taste will change with successive 'generations,' but you can get around that by always using the Fage as your starter (freeze a whole container in an ice cube tray and thaw out a few cubes as starter for every new batch). Good luck!
posted by epanalepsis at 9:50 AM on December 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I know you're trying to avoid buying more Fage if you're trying to recreate it; however, you really only need a spoonful or two, so you could make do with only buying one of the tiny single-serve thingies. And then re-use a spoonful of your own homemade yogurt for the starter on the next batch. You can get away with re-using your own yogurt for about two or three batches before you'll have to get a starter with more oomph again.

It doesn't cut out buying Fage entirely, but it does cut your purchasing down to "one single-serve thingy or so per month," which at least reduces the purchase considerably.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on December 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Are you sure the flavor-matching problem is due to the exact mix of cultures, or could it be due to sugar content or other additives (according to the link, they called the company and discovered these were added: sugar, corn starch, natural flavors, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum)?
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:52 AM on December 23, 2014

sugar content or other additives (according to the link, they called the company and discovered these were added: sugar, corn starch, natural flavors, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum)

If it really has that many additives, you will probably not get good results using the yogurt as a starter. In this case, I would start with a culture that's as close as possible (maybe get this sample pack or call the company to ask their flavor opinion, they're very knowledgeable) and then try experimenting with your own additives.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:00 AM on December 23, 2014

Response by poster: Bentobox Humperdinck, the ingredients are right on the side of the container and it doesn't list any of these additives. I'm very confused by that link.
posted by exhilaration at 10:02 AM on December 23, 2014

Those additives are referring to the flavored varieties (and in the case of Fage, the flavored portion is always in a separate contained section of the package) not the plain, which I'm assuming is what is being recommended as a starter here. The plain has only milk, cream, and the bacteria.
posted by cecic at 10:09 AM on December 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: To be completely clear, a container of Fage yogurt is a perfectly good culture of the exact bacteria used to produce that yogurt, and moreover it is probably the cheapest and most easily-accessible one you are going to find. What is a single serving of yogurt, like under $2? And they have it almost everywhere. Put half a gallon of milk on the stove, heat it to 110F, dump in the 8 oz of Fage, and let it sit overnight - you are on your way to a Fage clone. If the taste isn't close enough for you, then the differences may be down to the diet of the cows that produced the milk, which I'm not sure how to address other than trial and error with various milk.

After fermentation, you may have to let it settle in the fridge and pour off the liquid multiple times over a week or 10 days - last time I tried this I was surprised how little yogurt I got per unit of milk. You may end up discarding 50% of the total volume to reach the desired texture if you like it nice and thick.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:25 AM on December 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing the suggestion to get a container of single-serve plain Fage and use that as your starter -- the money and time you spend trying to track down, and then buying, a starter with those exact same ingredients will end up being more than the $1.50/$2 you'll spend on the Fage. I've successfully made (really yummy) homemade yogurt using a single-serve plain Fage and the method Joey Buttafoucault describes.

I'd also recommend making a batch and then doing the math on how much you spent vs how much yogurt you got out of it ... I stopped because the price differential for me wasn't enough to justify making it at home. YMMV, of course, but homemade ≠ cheaper if that's what you're looking for.
posted by zebra at 10:32 AM on December 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Alright, I'm convinced - I'll use an 8oz container as the starter. Would that be enough for 1 gallon of milk?
posted by exhilaration at 10:51 AM on December 23, 2014

Best answer: Yes, that would be plenty. The much bigger concern is going to be maintaining the proper temperature for the yogurt. If you don't have an instant-read kitchen thermometer already, you will need one.

And I want to add my support for using some Fage as the starter culture. I always make yogurt using a container of yogurt that I buy at the grocery store.

Don't be disappointed if you don't get an exact flavor match, though. There are a lot of factors in a yogurt's taste besides the bacteria strains.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2014

Good for you for creating your own! However, I concur with zebra: if you're doing this to save money, consider that one gallon of milk will not make even close to one gallon of yogurt. To achieve FAGE-like texture, you'll need to strain out a large amount of water from what you create. I considered doing this several years ago, and discovered that the best way to have endless cheap FAGE is to buy it at Costco for $6.80/48oz. To make 48oz of strained yogurt, it's possible you'd need two gallons of milk, which would quickly approach the Costco price.
posted by oxisos at 11:21 AM on December 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi! I regularly use Fage yogurt as a starter when making yogurt at home. It works great, though I have invested in a yogurt maker just to make it easier to set the yogurt up without mucking about with ovens or crock pots or coolers. However: flavor depends less on the starter, and more on how you make the yogurt. Longer times = tarter yogurt, for instance. My favorite is using Fage as a starter, whole milk (sometimes even with a little cream mixed in), and left overnight but no longer. Mild, creamy, delicious!
posted by instamatic at 11:39 AM on December 23, 2014

I should say that even though I use Fage as the starter, I don't strain the yogurt to try to get it as thick as Fage. When I look at the macros of Fage, I think that maybe they do something other than just strain it to change the nutritional profile to be so different from the constituent ingredients. That is, super low carb and high protein; I've never bothered trying to duplicate it. It does make great creamy yogurt, though.
posted by instamatic at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2014

Best answer: As I understand it, the problem with using a commercial yogurt as a starter is that the range of cultures typically does not reproduce itself in a stable way generation after generation because commercial yogurt is usually a number of separately cultured strain-specific yogurts mixed together just prior to packaging, but when they're all mixed together in fresh milk, one or very few strains tend to outcompete the others.

Stable cultures can generally be found at local farmers' markets or obtained from fermentation clubs, though.
posted by jamjam at 1:59 PM on December 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everyone telling you to use the Fage as a starter is right on. But just to note, I've never ever been able to get homemade yogurt to taste exactly like the yogurt I used as a starter culture. It's just always different somehow. I'm sure it has to do with the milk, possibly additives, and the lack of precise, factory-quality temperature control, and timing. So good luck getting the Fage taste but you might have to settle for Fage à la exhilaration.
posted by dis_integration at 7:18 PM on December 23, 2014

Response by poster: That's very insightful jamjam, I've never understood why reusing commercial yogurt as a starter only works for a few generations but your explanation makes sense. Based on the responses in this thread Fage will at least work for one additional generation.
posted by exhilaration at 8:14 AM on December 24, 2014

I've used Fage as a starter many times! One tip, though. When I switched from culturing it in the enameled cast iron pan I'd previously used to doing it in wide mouth pint Mason jars (put them in one of those styrofoam coolers with a lid, like the ones they ship mail order meat in), it actually cultured up thicker than it did in the bigger pan! And in less time, too!

My working theory is that whatever matrix is formed by the proteins is more solid/stable across a smaller quantity of liquid yogurt, but what the hell do I know?

Those Omaha Steaks-y containers are the best. They leave very little airspace above the pint jars, and I think it must stay warmer in there, which is why it goes faster, too.
posted by at 5:28 PM on December 25, 2014

I make yogurt at home multiple times a week, and after getting tired of having to buy starter yogurt, got a heirloom culture from cultures for health, which is designed to be infinitely reproducible. They have phenomenal customer service and talked me through a couple of yogurt crises. Don't take this route until you're convinced you really like doing this because it is more expensive, but I like the final product far better this way.

A couple more thoughts:
Heating to about 180, then cooling to 110 makes a thicker yogurt. It also gives your bacteria a better chance at thriving by killing off any competing organisms.
I don't strain it because there's protein in the whey and I dislike the idea of throwing away perfectly good food. However, I'm not above just drinking it off the top if it pools there. What can I say? I have a weakness for acquired tastes.
posted by marylucycraft at 6:47 PM on December 25, 2014

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