Yogurt cultured by Chili peppers

I received this email today from Boaz Shuval, a fermentation experimentalist in Israel, about a fascinating experiment he tried:

One of my favorite fermentations is yogurt making, and I’ve been making my own since 2005. For years I have been using commercial yogurt cultures as starters, and have had to replenish them every few generations. In your book you mentioned the heirloom yogurt cultures, which intrigued me. Unfortunately, the commercial sources of heirloom yogurt cultures do not ship to Israel, where I live. Nor do I know anyone who has an heirloom yogurt culture here in Israel. Therefore, it was with great interest that I read the chapter [in The Art of Fermentation] about plant origins of yogurt.
You mentioned a great deal of possible natural sources for yogurt cultures, some of which, like ant eggs, I was not keen on trying. However, you did mention that in India chili-pepper stems may be used as a source for yogurt cultures. This was something I was willing to try. So, I bought a package of red chili peppers from the store. I heated one liter of whole milk to 180F, and let it cool gradually to 110F (I let it cool slowly, over 2-3 hours). I briefly rinsed the chili peppers, and cut the stems off a dozen. I place the stems in a container, and added the milk. I placed that in my yogurt incubator. After 10 hours, nothing had happened. I decided to let it continue fermenting. After about 13 hours, the magic happened, and the milk had gelled! In fact, it had over-fermented a bit, and split. I had a layer of whey at the bottom, on top of which floated a very thick curd. I cooled it in the fridge, and it tasted like spicy, chili-flavored yogurt. I used one teaspoon of this yogurt to inoculate a fresh batch of milk.
Again, I repeated the same process: heat to 180F, cool to 110F, incubate at 110F-115F. The yogurt set beautifully after about three hours. This is a really fast-setting yogurt culture. The result was a very thick yogurt (this time I stopped the heat on time, so it did not split). I should probably say that it is a yogurt-like product as I don’t actually know what’s in it. Flavor-wise, it tasted very good. It is quite sweet and not very acidic, even thought its pH level does go down to 3.5-4 (I used a pH strip to test).
This yogurt culture so far has reliably made 5 generations of yogurt. My routine now begin at about 6:00 PM, where I heat up my yogurt. I then let it cool gradually over three hours. If, at 9:00 PM, it has cooled too much, I will heat it a little to raise the temperature to 110F. I add a teaspoon of yogurt culture from the previous batch (this I remove after the initial cooling of the yogurt and set aside). I incubate at 110F-115F for three hours, until midnight. By this time, the yogurt has begun to gel, although the gel is quite fragile. I kill the heat from my incubator at this point, and keep it insulated until the morning. By morning time, the yogurt will have beautifully set into a firm curd, and be just slightly warmer than room temperature. I then refrigerate it for several hours, where it continues to firm.
I am very excited about this. Naturally, I was very doubtful that this would even work. I have been sharing it with whomever would listen. I have also given some culture to a friend. I wanted to share this with you, so you could share it with more people than I can. It also makes me wonder what other sources of plants are used to make yogurt. Perhaps different plants can make different flavors and consistencies of yogurt? If you know of some information on the matter, I would greatly appreciate it if you could share it with me.
Thank you again for writing your fabulous new book. It is indeed a fantastic source, possibly the best source, of information about fermentation. It has been the source for many fermentation experiments at my home.
Best,
Boaz
All the (fragmentary) information I know related to this topic is in The Art of Fermentation, plus the experience described in this email. If others have experience with plants as a means of culturing milk, please post here as a response.
Share


^v Click For Comments

36 thoughts on “Yogurt cultured by Chili peppers

  1. A reader who saw this sent me this brief though provocative email: “A friend of mine grew up in a small town in Greece. He told me that if they run out of starter for yogurt making, they get the bacteria from a goat turd; they place a goat turd in the middle of the heated milk.” Fascinating!

    • Re the ‘goat turd’ starter, there was an interesting programme which aired on Channel 4 in the UK last month called ‘Food Unwrapped’. In one episode, they investigated where probiotics in shop bought yoghurt came from and they went to a factory in Finland who supply yoghurt to about 60 different contries. After some digging (and some slightly awkward and uncomfortable looks from the factory workers), they discovered that their bacteria originated from the stomach of a ‘healthy American male’ and yes; obtained from his faeces. However, rather than dump the ‘turd’ into the milk and wait for the magic to happen, they isolated the bacteria from the faeces by centrifugal force in a lab. Lovely!

      Thank you to Boaz for the intriguing idea for a starter with chilli stems. I am trying this method at the moment. This morning, there was little sign of gelling (after 11 hours) but perhaps when I get home this evening it will have become a bit more yoghurty. Would be great if it works for me too.

  2. This is indeed fascinating. That is one experiment I am not itching to try… I have read somewhere that branches of the cornelian cherry tree (cornus mas) can be used to set yogurt. I don’t have access to that tree, but a friend gave me a cherry branch. I thought to myself that they couldn’t be that much different…

    Well, I heated the milk and cooled it to 110F, and placed some (washed) cherry branch pieces in there to incubate. The result was the oddest thing I have ever seen. After a few hours, the milk started to froth. A couple hours after that, the plastic lid came off of the yogurt container (I recycle 1 quart yogurt containers to make new batches). The milk proteins had coagulated around the branch pieces into what I can best describe as a sponge. It was quite porous with a rubbery texture. It had a very odd smell. All of the whey was expelled, and the sponge was literally floating on top. I did not have the courage to taste the odd concoction. I do wonder what I had managed to create… It was like nothing I had every seen before. But, for now, I am back to using my chili-yogurt (which is still going strong. Its flavor has stabilized and it is now pleasantly sour and very firm).

    • Ha! So very cool. I’m going to get my hands on some cherry wood and give a try! I wonder about other kinds of wood, stems and flora filled things…the wild grapes that grow here are always covered in yeats. I bet the grapevines would produce an interesting result.

    • Your experiment with the cherry cutting is intriguing. I wonder what the concoction would have tasted like had you tried it though I’m not sure I would have tried it either :D

      I know that cornelian cherry and “regular” cherry are not the same species. Cornelian cherry is actually part of the dogwood family of trees/shrubs. My understanding is that it’s wood is so dense that it cannot float in water. In fact, I planted an “Elegant” variety cornelian cherry tree three years ago and it continues to grow, albeit, very slowly. It’s about 2 1/2 feet tall at this point and flowered this year for the first time. If I can bring myself to snip off a bit of branch I’ll be sure to report any results.

    • Hello! I am so happy to have found you! This year in our food evolution we leased a share at a local dairy for raw milk. As yogurt is my dairy staple, I wanted to start my own cultures, not from the commercial remnants in the fridge, and too impatient to wait for the Villi cultures just ordered to arrive. Voila! Our Cornelian cherry tree is more than ornamental. I used about 12 inches of twig, cut into smaller 1 to 2 inch pieces. I rinsed the whole twigs quickly before cutting. I heated the milk to 180, cooled to 110. Tossed in the twigs, incubated in a Deni yogurt maker for 18 hours to set. It was delicious, texture a bit grainy, alot of whey. Batch two and three 12 hours of incubation, much creamier, still alot of whey. Think it could be a shorter time, though.

      Thanks for sharing, it is interesting after mining for a few hours this was the only reference found about Cornus mas as a starter. Which led to buying Wild Fermentation and am enjoying it tremendously. I had a vague idea of homemade sauerkraut, remembering Grandpa sitting in his root cellar sampling his work from a 25 gallon crock… 40 years later, off today to make our very first jars of goodness. Thanks so much, Sandor Katz. You are amazing!

      • Batch 4 and 5. 7 hours incubation. No whey, until after dishing up first serving and storing the balance in fridge. Much like the commercial yogurt does. Very smooth and creamy. Delicious mellow flavor. Its getting better each batch. Using about 3 tbs of yogurt for 4 cups of milk.

  3. It would be fascinating to look at these cultures under a microscope or analyze them in some way to see what’s going on there….

  4. I just replicated the red chili pepper stems. I used fresh Thai peppers and tried not to include any of the red skin. It’s now cooling in the fridge. Very very firm.

  5. Not sure why the commercial yogurt has to be replaced after a few generations. Starting with Yoplait I have kept it going for literally dozens of generations.

  6. Wait! I thought peppers didn’t lactoferment so well (on their own)!?!? This being the case, why are they good for creating a starter? Something isn’t adding up.

  7. I also just replicated the pepper stem milk fermentation experiment and was successful. I was online researching appropriate salt-to-vegetable fermentation ratios when I came across this post. I’m making a fermented hot pepper sauce so I had plenty of stems to experiment with.

    I’ve made yogurt before using the commercial culture (yoplait, mostly), but I’m always interested in ways of beginning things from scratch so this was right up my alley.

    I followed your general yogurt making process last night and had an overly cultured product in 12 hours. At 11 hours it was just barely starting to gel, very very delicate. At 12 is was separated with an inch of whey on the bottom. I refrigerated it overnight, and tasted the “yogurt” this morning. It was surprisingly good; mild cream flavor, no sour aspect, and a hint of garden pepper flavor. It had separated even more over the night so I decided to make a non-salted lebnah (sp?) out of it by straining for many hours, and added the strained whey to my fermenting peppers. I figure whatever was on those pepper stems that fermented the milk was certain to help get the peppers really moving along.

    I’ve also just finished a second batch of yogurt using my initial pepper yogurt as the starter. Like you, it was ready in about 2.5 hours instead of 12. I then moved the container to a basin of cold water to wick away the year and quickly slow the fermentation before finally putting it in the refrigerator. I look forward to tasting this second batch. I also look forward to having the yogurt develop some acidity/sourness, otherwise it just doesn’t “feel” like yogurt.

  8. I just tried it too, with pepper stems from my garden, and it worked beautifully! The best tasting yogurt I’ve ever made, I think.

  9. I tried this too. After 12-14 hours, the whey separated and the ‘yogurt’ was floating on top. It had a sponge-like appearance, creamy texture, and an almost fishy smell. Is this normal? I’m wondering if mine has gone bad somehow. I used pasteurized buffalo milk. (Use this with Yoplait when I want very firm yogurt).

  10. I came across a single posting from someone who said her Indian grandmother used a dried tamarind and a dried red chili. I tried this variation and it also works. The original generation had a reddish stain from the chili and a dried husk aroma from the chili pepper. I am now on the 3rd derived generation and the color is normal. It does have a chili-bite to it yet. I’m not going to make a liter of yogurt from it until it loses the chili bite. It has a nice creamy texture and is practically solid.

    I am now on generation 6 of the starter I made from just using chili pepper stems. The aroma of bell pepper is gone. It has attained a lovely tart flavor and is still going strong.

  11. I also replicated this with jalapeño stems and had nearly identical results. I was fermenting the last batch of my peppers from my garden and it seemed a shame to throw away all of those stems. I’m so glad that I didn’t. Right now I’m making a mild (very little sourness but still a little heat) creamy yogurt cheese out of my second batch. I’m really happy with this process!

  12. I get my “starter” which is a real bacteria called bulgaris culture from Juventas Hebe. They have specialized in just growing and selling them in the small they are from. For what I understand they are online now but you can email them: hjuventasb@gmail.com

    They will mail you a small glass container with the instructions and the Lactobacillus delbrueckii which is the real thing!

    Ihope they have their page up now. They sold my grandma the whole kit with the wooden spoon and the cloth to prepare what they call Kefir o Kumis.

    Let me know how it goes.

  13. Thanks for posting this! I tried this but did not follow the steps exactly. The first generation didn’t come out well, but the second generation(using first generation’s culture) came out well!
    1. only used about 6 stems, didn’t rinse or anything
    2. only used 6oz soymilk
    3. microwaved soymilk until hot, then cooled it down, alternatively, could just microwave it until lukewarm
    4. covered stems in cheesecloth, stick in soymilk
    5. incubated using a heating pad for 24 hours, after which little clumps of gel formed
    6. then heated another 6oz soymilk and used a little piece of the clumps in it,
    7. incubate about 6-8 hours and the yogurt came out much better!

    Thanks for sharing!

  14. I am from southern part of India. In our town, if we ran out of yogurt or forgot to store some yogurt for the next batch, we use stems of chili peppers too. when they prepare yogurt in a large scale (like for a wedding party), they use whole dried red chili peppers along with the culture to speed up the process.

    I tried the green chili pepper stems with homemade soymilk and it made soy yogurt successfully.

    http://live2cook.wordpress.com/2008/08/22/the-secret-of-making-soy-yogurt-without-store-bought-culture/

  15. Pingback: [Wanted] Looking for Super Hot chili Seeds plz help - Plant Swap

  16. Pingback: Yogurt from Chili Pepper Stems - Homesteading Today

  17. Pingback: Yogurt stuff | Sacoche a la main

  18. Thanks for this info! I tried it, w/ 3 fresh serrano stems in a cup of rich whole milk. Milk first heated to 180, then cooled to ~110. Dropped the stems in and closed the lid, kept for ~11 hours at 102* F. Solid, sweet curd, tasting faintly of pepper. 2nd gen has no pepper taste – solid, thick, yogurt-like, but only faintly tart. Almost like clotted cream. Anyone know what organisms are at work?

  19. Pingback: How to Make Your Own Yogurt Starter Culture (Without Yogurt) | Pretty Witchy

  20. Pingback: Homemade Starter Yogurt Culture | Adventure to Whole Life

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>