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The secret of making soy yogurt without store bought culture August 22, 2008

Posted by live2cook in Basics.

I pack my homemade yogurt for lunch, daily. If I could not find time to eat it at lunch, I will have it in the commuter rail while coming back from work. A seat near the window and a cup of homemade yogurt. It feels like heaven in a train. I will forget the surroundings and think that the only thing before me is to scoop and eat the homemade perfection. I will enjoy each spoonful as if that was the final thing to taste in this world. When I reach the point where no more yogurt is left to scoop by a spoon, I end up thinking, “May be I should bring more tomorrow”.

Couple of weeks ago while I was enjoying my little cup of heaven, a passenger came and sat near me. She started watching me and I felt little uncomfortable. But continued to eat. When I finished, she asked,”Is that yogurt?”.

“Yes! homemade”, I replied.

“Wow! That’s a good amount of effort to make yogurt at home”, she replied.

“We are used to the routine. I have been making yogurt for the past 6 years in US”, I replied.

“Oh! Where did you get your culture”,she asked.

“From friends. Most of my friends make yogurt at home”, answered me.

“Wow! I wish I had some one to give me a homemade culture for Soy milk”, she said.

“You can use store bought yogurt and use a small amount as culture”, I replied eagerly.

She started to explain that her kid was diagnosed with food allergies recently. He reacted to milk and nut allergies. Even a tiny contact with these will end up in acute conditions. They are learning to find the alternatives and to read the food labels. Couple of weeks ago a store bought product generated some reactions that she is so scared to try any store bought products at least for now. Before this diagnosis the kid used to love yogurt and yogurt based products.

A question she asked influenced me to start the mission that I was talking about yesterday. “How will you make yogurt when there was no way to get a culture to start with?” was that question. I knew a very simple answer, but at the same time I didn’t know whether that would suit soy milk. I couldn’t provide her the answer that day. But, this thought was pestering me for the next few days and I decided to try the process at home. If I achieve at least a tiny bit of success, I can share that through this wonderful media, blog. It might help my friends and readers and their friends and families out there in some way.

The secret ingredient is the stem of chili peppers. If the starter went bad or if we ran out of starter, families in my home town would use the stems of chili peppers to create a new one. I have no clue which enzyme or chemical or miracle that these stems hide in them, but they seem to help. I collected some of these from the Indian green chilies that we used to buy every two weeks.

Green chili pepper stems

Green chili pepper stems

I used a casserole dish called “Hot Pack”, which is an insulated product similar to water coolers/warmers. We can also use ordinary mixing bowl for making the yogurt. But in our new home, the yogurt that I made in a normal bowl gave too runny yogurt. Finally after some experiments, I found this insulated casserole dish solved the problem.

The ingredients I used to make soy yogurt are

2 cups homemade soy milk
20 -25 stems of green chili peppers (Wash well in warm water)

*** In India, We don’t add sugar or salt to our milk while making yogurt.


1 insulated casserole dish with lid or water cooler (If using water cooler, fill the cooler with warm water and cover it until you collect other things or for 10 minutes)
1 2X2 square piece of cheese cloth
thread to tie


1. Heat the soy milk until luke warm.
2. Take the stems in the cheese cloth and tie in to a small pouch. (I left some extra thread, so that I can find the pouch the next day by pulling the thread)
3. Pour the soy milk in the insulated casserole dish. ( If using water cooler. Pour the water out before adding the soy milk)
4. Put the pouch of stems in the milk. Push the pouch to make it sink in the milk.
5. Cover with the lid.

Soy yogurt set after 5 hours

Soy yogurt set after 5 hours

The yogurt should be ready in 5 hours. The yogurt was not sour by then, so I left it for 2 more hours, until it reached my desired sourness. Discard the pouch of stems after the yogurt has been made.

soy yogurt in a bowl

soy yogurt in a bowl

Points to share:

1. After refrigeration of the yogurt, the solids separated to the top. But the taste was good. I didn’t add any thickening agents to my first batch.
2. I used the yogurt in my muffins where they called for buttermilk. It provided the same result as dairy based products. I didn’t taste any bean end tone of soy in the muffin.
3. Adding soymilk or yogurt to pancake batter provided more fluffier pancakes. We make egg free pancakes and I could see the difference in texture while using soy milk.

If you are used to yogurt made from fat free milk, then I would say, this yogurt is a success. If you like the creamy texture of store bought yogurt, we might need to experiment with thickening agents like tapioca starch. This is going to be my next experiment using this first batch as a starter. I will post about my future trials and will link back to this post. So please stay tuned..

This is my entry for Indira’s JFI event hosted by Sia with the theme Soy and I am sending this to Susan’s “My legume love affair – second helping” event too.


1. jyothi - August 22, 2008


thanks a lot for such experimented day to day need yogurt. My husband is very fond of home made yogurt, but i stay in sydney and weather is very cold and i can’t make thick yogurt, so i buy and he don’t like.

i have to try all the things you suggested, thanks a lot for this, waiting for your other experiement on makingg thick curd at home using starch.

2. bee - August 22, 2008

the stalks of chilli peppers have wild yeast. that’s the secret.

if people are not allergic to dairy, they can use a product called yogourmet to make yogurt. it works as well or better than a culture. it is basically a dried culture.

3. notyet100 - August 23, 2008

thnks for sharin this informative post….

4. priyanka - August 23, 2008

an interesting post…alas m not a big fan of soy in any form. loved your black bean crepes and black bean dal…will try it out some time.

5. Vaishali - August 24, 2008

This is such great information. I used to make regular yogurt in my pre-vegan days, but have not yet made any soy yogurt. This is inspiring. Thanks!

6. alpa - August 24, 2008

I’ve never made soy yogurt without a yogurt starter so this is really good to know. I’ve never used a casserole either, I make mine in an indian matka and leave the yogurt overnight in my oven that i first warm up for 5-10 min. Very informative post.

7. Susan - August 27, 2008

Clever and intriguing, Priya!

Thank you for sharing this homey and healthy recipe for MLLA2!

8. Priya - September 9, 2008

This is looks like a perfect solution, I’m going to give it a try soon with regular milk. thank you Priya πŸ™‚

9. Anne - January 3, 2009

Wonderful idea! Wild yeast in chili pepper stems – it makes sense. People have been making yogurt for ages and certainly the early yogurt makers had no access to prefab starters. I wonder what else people originally used?


The real question, then, is what the specific bacteria is and in what quantities when making yogurt using wild yeasts.

10. Mary Margaret - September 3, 2009

My husband used to make all kinds of yogurt back in his hippy days and has described some he made with ground nuts like cashews. He soaked wheat berries in water to make his starter. I think you could soak wheat berries in the soy milk as you have done with the chili pepper stems to make your soy yogurt.

Were you able to make a thicker version of the soy yogurt with something like tapioca?

Thank you.

11. Edna - January 31, 2010

could you make yogurt in a slow cooker?

live2cook - December 4, 2010

Hi Edna,

I never tried to make yogurt in slow cooker. I have two of the insulated casserole dishes and they make perfect yogurt in 4-5 hours.

In one of my favorite blog,”A Year of Slow cooking” , Stephanie has done it successfully. I should try this once.


12. Sree - November 19, 2010

Can we use the stalks of dried chillies instead?

live2cook - December 4, 2010

Hi Sree,

I didn’t try the red chilli. But, I have seen the chefs using whole red chillies to make yogurt for Marriage parties back home.

I will try with red chilli soon and keep you updated.

13. Sunshinemom(Harini) - December 7, 2010

I read about this in Femina long back. I made vegan dahi with cashew curd in the same way. Came out well twice but now the temperature is lower and the curd doesn’t seem to set well.

14. Andrew Conrad Calma - January 8, 2011

thank you for the informative post. i am very much curious on how the early cooks made the yogurt without any starter, and finally you have shared it to us. i will certainly try this one at home. thank you a lot!


Manila, Philippines

15. Chetan pal - January 28, 2011

How difficult is it to make salted lassi with soy yoghurt ?
With the zeera (cumin) and salt added?

16. Imshin - March 15, 2011

I wrap the lukewarm soy milk and culture in a blanket and leave for twelve hours. My mother-in-law taught me about the blanket. She is Turkish-Jewish and when she was a child in the 1930’s and 1940’s in Tel Aviv, her mother made yogurt every day. It was dairy yogurt, but I find the blanket works just as well with soy milk.

17. Liji Nair - May 11, 2011

hi priya..thnx for this wonderful idea.My friends son has been diagonised with celiac disease..which generally means gluten allergy including lactose intolerance.Phew..its really hard on them.This kid loves curd and i was looking desperately for how to make yogurt using Soya milk.thnx once again.Do we have to dry the green chilli stems or can i just use it directly?thnx

18. renata csorba - July 18, 2011

Hi i am Renata i love the idea to make yoghurt without starter for first batch is good then can i take some of the old yoghurt to make next or do i have to use pepperes again?

19. star - September 4, 2011

What about usng lemon juice or a tad of vinegar would’nt that work ?

20. visitacion leticia s. de alban - November 9, 2011

thanks for the information. I will try what you said. Do you by chance know of other starters? I am interested in kombucha starter. I should like to make my own starter. Thanks.


21. jeanie - January 25, 2012

I am thinking maybe agar as a thickener.

22. edna moses - February 11, 2012

just a small question. Are all dried yogurt cultures dairy free?

23. SoyGuy - June 24, 2012

In India, to make yogurt from milk when there was no culture available, a squeeze of lime would break the milk and do the trick. I wonder if the same tactic would work with soy milk. Will try and let you know.

24. Angelika Bertrand - July 4, 2012

I m newto all of this. I have the European Cusine yoghurt maker . I m dairy allergic. I love soy I m waiting for my soy milk maker. hope it comes soon. Right now I have one batch of soy yoghurt running in the maschine. I hope it turns out right. I m wondering, what if some one is allergic to everything that is chillie peppers like my self? What other options do I have for a starter soy yoghurt?

25. Emma - August 13, 2012

I’m glad I found this posting even if it’s 2 years after the original. I’ve been making yogurt for years, usually using a commercial pro-biotic. Last evening I tried it for the first time with Thai pepper stems. It’s still incubating but I can see that it has thickened. If I’m using a hot pepper for the base, will the resulting yogurt have a “hot” tang to it? And if it does have a hot tang, can I use a sweeter bell pepper?

26. Caroline - September 14, 2012

I tried with dried chili stems and dried chili yesterday and it cameout very well..

27. Julianne - October 13, 2012

Great post, thanks for sharing! At what point do you put the casserole into the refrigerator? After step 5? or can you leave this dish outside on the counter for 5 hours?

28. Leticia Velez - November 21, 2012

How exactly can I use a regular mixing bowl? I was thinking of leaving the bowl in hot water (like a double boiler) or leaving it in the oven with the lowest heat on. Please help, thanks πŸ™‚

29. Erik - February 19, 2013

We started our soy yogurt culture using 12 oz. from a 24 oz. store-bought soy yogurt. In a flat-bottomed glass container on the stove top heated by the gas pilot lights alone, we add 1/2 a gallon of Red Silk right out of the freshly opened container to the 12 oz. soy yogurt. The stove top is very hot just above where the pilots are. In about 6 hours it starts to curdle, and by 10-12 hrs. we strain it in a screen strainer, then add back a little of the strained liquid to give the consistency we like. We always pour a little off into a small glass jar to start the next batch. This jar and the glass container we culture in are ‘sterilized’ by microwaving water in them until it boils for about a minute. We top the culture bowl with a plate that is also ‘sterilized’ in the microwave. The plate covers the culture bowl completely, but has a few imperfections so it doesn’t form a seal on the bowl to allow a little oxygen to pass as the culture needs oxygen. We found the red Silk to work the best, or yield the most that is. There is just enough sugar to feed the culture, but none is left at ‘harvest’ time.

30. Rachel - March 20, 2013

Thank you sooooo much for this πŸ™‚

I’m in Thailand and have recently turned vegan so thought I’d eat soy yoghurt instead of the cow’s milk yoghurt I love but can no longer eat. But….when I went looking, there doesn’t seem to be a soy yoghurt anywhere in Bangkok — which is bizarre as there is soy milk everywhere!!!!

Never heard of using chili stems but will definitely try this and attempt to make my own. We certainly have millions of chilis in Thailand πŸ™‚

Thanks again…

31. Emma - April 2, 2013
32. Neelima - May 25, 2013

Hi there
thanks for this wonderful recipe. My husband is vegan and is on dairy free and nut free diet as he is suffering some in born error of metabolism. This yogurt recipe helped me to make pan cakes and muffins . Thank u once again

33. Neelima - May 25, 2013

i would like to share a dairy free, nut free and gluten free banana muffin recipe for those who r denied of all the above for any medical situations like my kid is.
Take 3 to 4 ripe bananas mashed finely with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup oil (any vegetable oil) and 1/4 cup orange or pine apple juice and blend them together . Now take 1 cup rice flour mixed with 1 tbsp baking powder or 1/2 tbsp baking soda and add to the banana mixture well and pour in greased muffin tray and bake for 15 mins in a preheated oven with max temperature.I tried this for my son and he loves it.

34. dolly - June 28, 2013

wonderful idea

35. minita - July 3, 2013

Thanks a ton for this recipe! I tried this with soy milk (Silk-unsweetened milk) and green chilly stems to make soy yogurt for a friend who was coming to dinner. It turned out fine!

36. acupressure - August 15, 2013

Wow this was peculiar. I just typed an extremely long comment but after I clicked
submit my comment didn’t occur.

37. may xay da nang - October 18, 2013

Look at it guy…Jummy! I think this Soymilk is so gooood

38. Tomer - February 10, 2014

You can buy a powered start culture off most cheesemaking supply stores. more reliable and easier to use then “old school methods”

39. lindymcg - May 10, 2014

When I was a student in the 70s we used cardboard box stuffed with torn up newspapers – a urban hay box! – to make both yoghurt and slow cook soups and stews – worked a treat!

40. HealthyWealthy - June 25, 2014

Would it be okay to add sugar or any sweetener to the milk at the beginning before fermenting or after as I like my yogurt sweet. Thank you so much for the information

41. Francis - July 6, 2014

Super posting . . . thanks. I’m going to try it.

Someone on chowhound made diary yogurt this way:


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