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Monday, January 13, 2014

Freezing yogurt to use as starter for future batches (or making yogurt for dirt cheap)

(This link has the full article from 2012, which details how I make yogurt.)

I had a request, recently, for more information on how to make yogurt for dirt cheap. So, I thought I'd share what I do, and what I've found that works for me.

The primary cost is the whole milk. I look for it on markdown -- milk that is close to it's sell-by date. Turning milk into yogurt extends the life of that milk. So, if there's just 1 week before the sell-by date on the milk, I know that I can make it into yogurt the next day and have the yogurt still be good for another few weeks. Traditionally, yogurt-making was a simple food preservation technique. The yogurt contains cultures which produce lactic acid, which, in turn, retards spoilage of milk (see here, article in Mother Earth News).

So, buying whole milk when marked down, due to nearing the sell-by date, is my first step in making yogurt for dirt cheap (most of the time, I spend under $2 for a gallon of whole milk, which makes 3  1/2 quarts of thick yogurt). If I find more whole milk on discount than I need for yogurt-making right away, I freeze the milk and make yogurt at a later date.

My second step for dirt cheap yogurt is free yogurt starter.

I've been making yogurt for 2  1/2 years now, about 2 times per month. For my first batch, I bought one 6-oz container of Yoplait vanilla yogurt for 39 cents. I've been using descendants of that first batch for about 50 batches, now. Based on a price of 39 cents per container of Yoplait, I've saved over $19 on yogurt starter.

What's my secret? I have a method that seems to work for me. I freeze my own homemade yogurt as starter for successive batches.

Some people chain-yogurt (using a bit from each previous batch to make the current batch). I prefer to freeze my starter in quantities large enough to make several batches. The advantage, here, is that if I don't get around to making a new batch of yogurt for a few weeks, I have viable starter waiting for me in the freezer. Yogurt cultures only remain viable in the fridge for about a week to 10 days.

Every 4 or 5 batches, the day immediately following making a fresh batch (after I'm sure it has set), I scoop 6 ounces of yogurt each into 5 or 6 freezer containers.

I label and date each container. Frozen yogurt can remain viable for many months in the freezer, but why push it. This last batch (1/6/14) was made with yogurt dated June 2013. So, I know for sure that my freezing methods work for 6 to 7 months from the point of incubating to the point of using it as starter. I keep these containers of starter in a 0 degree F freezer.

I never let myself use the last container of frozen yogurt, but always keep one in reserve, just in case I do something wrong in the yogurting process.

I've read that eventually the bacterial strains will die out, and I'll have yogurt that doesn't set. But I'm putting this off by freezing several batch-starters at a time. Meaning that I'm probably only about 8 descendants from my original batch made with the 39-cent container of Yoplait.

My yogurt costs me 55 to 60 cents per quart. For our budget, that is dirt cheap.

Update on freezing yogurt starter and its viability

It's March 2019 and I am still using yogurt starter from previous batches. I recently found 3 containers of starter in a 0 degree F freezer, dated June 2017. I successfully made batches of yogurt with that starter. The yogurt is just as thick as my original batches. My hope is that you have as much success with freezing 2nd day homemade yogurt to use as starter as I have.

Another update on freezing my homemade yogurt for use as starter
Here it is January of 2020. I never would have believed this would be possible but I am still using quantities of yogurt as starter which are descendants of that original container of Yoplait, bought in 2012. Yes, I've been freezing small amounts of each batch of homemade yogurt, then using those as starter for subsequent batches. I have never had to buy more yogurt to use as starter. The resulting yogurt is thick and tart -- just the way I like it.

Happy yogurting!


  1. I have not been freezing my starter! I am going to do that! That will save me a lot over the long run, because if I cannot afford to buy milk for a while the starter can go bad, which means wasted food plus buying a new starter. Thanks!

    1. Hi Brandy,
      You're welcome.
      It's been very handy, for me as well. I never know when I'll find whole milk at my price point. So, I may go several weeks without making yogurt, or I may make yogurt twice in one week (that happened just this past week, with 2 gallons of milk found on mark down, and no freezer space for the extra gallon of fresh milk).

  2. I had no idea that the cultures would remain active after freezing - that's great to know - I was often buying new starter.

    1. Hi anexacting,
      I stumbled upon that information just before I made my first batch. I was researching everything I could about making yogurt, as I had attempted once before many, many years ago, without success.
      The frozen yogurt will look very unappealing, when you thaw it. But it still has enough active cultures to set yogurt.

  3. Hi Lili! I'm a regular follower of your blog but this is my first time posting. I was you thaw your frozen yogurt overnight in the refrigerator before using? I use powdered milk for my yogurt and it works great! I have however been buying my starter. I would love to use your method!

    1. Hi Susan,

      That's a good question. If I think ahead of time, then yes, I thaw it in the fridge overnight. But most of the time, I take a container out of the freezer in the morning, and just leave on the counter for a few hours. It's totally thawed by the time that I need it. Just don't use heat to thaw the starter (microwave or stove). Heat will kill off your active cultures, and render your starter useless.

      I'm pleased to meet you, Susan. Thanks for commenting.

  4. You’ve mentioned freezing the starter before and I’ve been following your example ever since.
    What flavor(s) of yogurt do you make? What do you use for flavoring? The photo looks like jelly, maybe.
    Have you calculated how much your dirt cheap yogurt is when you flavor it?

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      We each flavor our own, as we have it. This leaves the plain yogurt still plain so I can use it in cooking, and let's everyone have it their way.
      For flavorings, it depends on what's in season in our yard or picked in the wild (blackberries), or what I have in the freezer. Blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, plum, raspberry. And you're right, for extra sweetening, we use homemade jelly (red currant or crabapple) or homemade jam (blackberry or plum). I make the jellies and jams with fruit grown here or picked in the wild, and sugar. No pectin, unless I have a flopped batch. So, the cost of the jelly/jam is a couple of cents per serving of yogurt.

      A 6-oz serving of plain yogurt costs about 10 to 12 cents. So, a flavored 6-oz serving would probably cost about 12 to 15 cents.

      Has your frozen starter worked well for you? For me, I feel a certain amount of confidence, each time I make yogurt with my own frozen starter. I know that my yogurt was frozen while still very fresh and viable, whereas the stuff in the store could have been sitting there for a long while. Or they could have changed their formula, and it wouldn't work for homemade yogurt. Just suppositions, maybe needless worries.

  5. Hi! Thanks for this post. I just froze a bunch of starter, we'll see how it works in a couple of weeks after I use up the starter that's still in the fridge. You mentioned in your post that you also freeze your milk? I've never done that! How do you do it? (Apart from just sticking it in the freezer) Does it need any special prep? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kelly,
      The only "prep" that you need for freezing milk is to pour off about 1 cup of milk per half-gallon, to allow for expansion during the freezing. Sometimes, milk will separate a little bit during freezing and thawing. I've found that I can shake it up, well, before pouring, and my family has no problems with it. Give it a try and see what your family thinks.
      Have a great day!

  6. Help! I just went through the boil cycle, cooling down now and realize I forgot to thaw my starter. I don't have any fresh yogurt only have a container that's been open for a week, will that still be okay to use?

    1. You have two choices --
      1) you can thaw some frozen starter in a container sitting in another dish of barely warm water, not hot, just barely warm. Change the water to warm, whenever the water gets too cool. Or, 2) you can try your container that is a week old. It may work.
      Good luck! Personally, I would go with trying to thaw the frozen starter. You can always reheat the milk to the right temp.

  7. thanks for this article. it provides the approach for big cost savings with everyday items. i'll definitely try some of these out in my next cycle of yogurt production. thanks.

  8. Since we live out in the country far from markets selling organic yogurt and milk I freeze both. For my starter I found a plain wonderful tasting medium size container, lined muffen pan put about 3 TBS in each then froze. When frozen put in plastic bag. I now have enough starts for several new batches and they take up very little space in freezer.

  9. THANK YOU! I recently started making yogurt again with our Instant Pot and found your method of freezing yogurt starter culture to be very helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to share you knowledge. It was very helpful.

  10. Stephen Inoue,
    thank you for the kind words. I'm happy to share what has worked for me.

  11. Hi! So I have I big container of Dannon plain yogurt that I bought as a starter and I want to use that up before freezing my own for a starter. I only use about 1/4 cup to half gallon of milk, should I just freeze all of the Dannon in 1/4 cup portions and use that as I need it first before using my own yogurt for a starter?

  12. Hi there,
    I've never frozen commercial yogurt to use as starter later. It's viability after freezing would depend on how fresh the yogurt is right now (how long ago it was made). The longer yogurt sits in the refrigerator after the incubation period (which is a warmer temp, around 110-115 F degrees, so bacteria continue to reproduce), the less viable the yogurt is for making a new batch. So, if you're pretty sure the yogurt is fresh, like you just made a batch with this container of Dannon and it turned out well, then I don't see why freezing it in 1/4 cup or slightly more wouldn't work.
    Good luck with this. If you remember, please come back here and let us know if frozen commercial yogurt works for you. I'd be very interested in this info, as would other readers, here.

    1. I will let you know for sure, I hate to waste this big container! Now to find enough small containers for freezing.....:)

    2. If you don't have enough "containers" to freeze and store the extra starter. You can freeze the starter in an icecube tray or cupcake pan. Then pop out the small frozen blocks of yogurt starter and store in heavy ziplock bags, vacuum seal or some other container in the deep freeze. Then just grab a yogurt cube when ever you need it to make a batch

  13. thank you this info is simply incredible! i had stopped making yogurt because i found it a pain to constantly have to go to the store for fear my own yogurt would be too weak as a frugal person i am definitely going to see what other posts you have because finding you randomly with this info has truly made my day!

  14. Hi there,
    I'm glad that this info is helpful!

  15. This is such a great idea to freeze yogurt for starters as cubes! Thank you!

  16. Where I reside you can't find regular yogurt in small containers, only flavored ones. I was surprised to read your mother batch was from a small container of "vanilla" yogurt. I would have thought that the sugar in the vanilla would not only interfere with the culturing process but adulterate the taste of the yogurt. I make yogurt often and I think you just saved me a lot of money. Thanks for sharing your experiences in a well written article. One more thing, please, how much of your frozen descendant yogurt do you use in one gallon of milk. Leo

  17. Hi Leo,
    I use about 6 to 8 ounces of yogurt per 1 gallon of whole milk.
    As for the vanilla and adding flavor to that first batch, I never noticed any flavor as a result of the starter yogurt having vanilla extract and added sugar. I'm glad this information was helpful!

  18. When I thawed mr started yogurt it was runny, like milk, not creamy and thick like it was when I froze it. Is that normal?

  19. Hi there,
    yes, that's normal and will still work as a starter.
    Good luck!

  20. I am so glad to find out we can freeze our starters! That's so great! I am puzzled at the difference of how much is used in each batch though. I use 2T per gallon of whole milk and it turns out beautifully. It's nice to know we have so much leeway.

  21. Instead of freezing do you think we could also dehydrate or freeze dry the starter?

  22. Hi Annie,
    I honestly don't know if home-dried yogurt starter would still be viable. I do know that you can purchase dehydrated yogurt starters, so that would indicate that it's possible. That would be an interesting experiment.

  23. Hi Jean,
    I'm sorry I didn't reply sooner. I thought I did, because I remember reading your comment and think about it as I'm putting away yogurt to use as future starter. I think it is interesting that the amount can vary so much. I've only tried the amount that I once read to use. I agree. It is good to know that the range of variation can be somewhat large and still produce a good result.

  24. Why is my yoghurt runny at certain times

    1. Hi, well, I don't know exactly why your yogurt is turning out runny. But I can tell you what seems to have made a difference for my own batches of yogurt. For my experience -- it's been tight control of the temperatures. I heat the milk to just over 180 degrees F on a cooking thermometer. Then I cool the milk to 115 degrees F before whisking in the starter. And finally, I put 115 degree F water into the cooler where I incubate the yogurt overnight. I do know that active yogurt is somewhat sensitive to temperature. Have you been certain that you're heating the milk high enough to kill of bacteria, then incubating at about 115?
      The other possibility is the milk you're using. If your milk is ultra-pasteurized (in contrast to just pasteurized), I've heard the yogurt won't set up right. The milk should say on the packaging if it's ultra-pasteurized, at least in the USA it has to be stated.
      I hope you can get this figured out.

  25. Dear Lili, I'm very happy to find out your blog. It's a real treasure. Thank you very much for your effort and time to continue this for years. I respect your persistency and hard work.Thank you

  26. I tried freezing my homemade yogurt starter as soon as I made my fresh batch about 2 weeks ago. A week later I decided to make another batch. I thawed the frozen starter in the fridge overnight but I could tell it was only partially thawed when I took it out of the fridge to use. So I whisked it to smooth it out, and combined it with my milk (about 110 degrees).
    Sadly the yogurt failed, I tried to think what I did wrong.
    I've only started making yogurt a couple of times, so it's a learning process for me.
    I thought it can possibly be due to: not completely thawed starter (low temperature) vs warm milk (high temperature) competing too much and the good bacteria died during mixing...
    But it's just my thinking, I really don't know what might've gone wrong.

    I bought store yogurt again to make my yogurt and it worked, now that I see your post here, I'm going to try again with my frozen starter next time.
    Hopefully if I thaw it completely before mixing, maybe it'll work?

    1. Hi Selena,
      I don't know how/what process you're using to make your yogurt in order to say what might have gone wrong. My guess is either the milk wasn't heated high enough (180 degrees F), or the yogurt wasn't incubated at the necessary temperature (about 115 F). The only other thing that I can think of is the type of milk used. I've read that ultra-pasteurized milk doesn't work well for making yogurt. In any case, here's a link to a post I wrote on how I make yogurt. And for me, I follow these directions to the letter and my yogurt has always set.

      You might read through the directions and see how your process differs from mine, and maybe you can determine what might have gone wrong. Good luck with your yogurt-making.


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