Yogurt and Fermented Beverages

Yogurt (also spelled yogourt or yoghurt) is a semi-solid fermented milk product that originated centuries ago and has evolved from many traditional Eastern European (e.g., Turkish and Bulgarian) products. The word is from the Turkish Yogen, meaning thick. It's popularity has grown and is now consumed in most parts of the world. Although the consistency, flavour and aroma may vary from one region to another, the basic ingredients and manufacturing are essentially consistent:


Although milk of various animals has been used for yogurt production in various parts of the world, most of the industrialized yogurt production uses cow's milk. Whole milk, partially skimmed milk, skim milk or whole milk enriched with cream may be used, to lower or raise the fat content as desired. In order to ensure the development of the yogurt culture the following criteria for the raw milk must be met:

  • low bacteria count
  • free from antibiotics, sanitizing chemicals, mastitis milk, colostrum, and rancid milk
  • no contamination by bacteriophages

Other yogurt ingredients may include some or all of the following:
Other Dairy Products: concentrated skim milk, nonfat dry milk, whey, lactose. These products are often used to increase the nonfat solids content. Reconstitution of these milk solids ingredients with water can also be used to standardize the solids-not-fat content, if permitted based on regulations of the legal jurisdiction.
Sweeteners: glucose or sucrose, high-intensity sweeteners (e.g. aspartame)
Stabilizers: gelatin, carboxymethyl cellulose, locust bean gum, guar, alginates, carrageenans, whey protein concentrate
Fruit Preparations
: including natural and artificial flavouring, colour

Starter culture

The starter culture for most yogurt production in North America is a symbiotic blend of Streptococcus thermophilus (ST) and Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus (LB). Although they can grow independently, the rate of acid production is much higher when used together than either of the two organisms grown individually. ST grows faster and produces both acid and carbon dioxide. The formate and carbon dioxide produced stimulates LB growth. On the other hand, the proteolytic activity of LB produces stimulatory peptides and amino acids for use by ST. These microorganisms are ultimately responsible for the formation of typical yogurt flavour and texture. The yogurt mixture coagulates during fermentation due to the drop in pH. The streptococci are responsible for the initial pH drop of the yogurt mix to approximately 5.0. The lactobacilli are responsible for a further decrease to pH 4.5. The following fermentation products contribute to flavour:

  • lactic acid
  • acetaldehyde
  • acetic acid
  • diacetyl

Manufacturing Method

The milk is clarified and separated into cream and skim milk, then standardized with other dairy ingredients to achieve the desired fat and milk solids-not-fat content. The various ingredients are then blended together in a mix tank equipped with a powder funnel and an agitation system. The mixture is then pasteurized using a continuous plate heat exchanger for 30 min at 85° C or 10 min at 95° C. These heat treatments, which are much more severe than fluid milk pasteurization, are necessary to achieve the following:

  • produce a relatively sterile and conducive environment for the starter culture
  • denature and coagulate whey proteins to enhance the viscosity and texture; this effect results from modification of the surface of the casein micelle so that milk thickens in a structurally-different manner than it would in a non-heated acid gel

The mix is then homogenized using high pressures of 2000-2500 psi. Besides thoroughly mixing the stabilizers and other ingredients, homogenization also prevents creaming and wheying off during incubation and storage. Stability, consistency and body are enhanced by homogenization. Once the homogenized mix has cooled to an optimum growth temperature, the yogurt starter culture is added.

A ratio of 1:1, ST to LB, inoculation is added to the jacketed fermentation tank. A temperature of 43° C is maintained for 2-2.5 h under quiescent (no agitation) conditions. This temperature is a compromise between the optimums for the two microorganisms (ST 39° C; LB 45° C). The titratable acidity is carefully monitored until the TA is 0.85 to 0.90% (pH 4.5). At this time the jacket is replaced with cool water and agitation begins, both of which stop the fermentation. The coagulated product is cooled to 5-22° C, depending on the product. Fruit and flavour may be incorporated at this time, then packaged. The product is now cooled and stored at refrigeration temperatures (5° C) to slow down the physical, chemical and microbiological degradation.

Yogurt Products

There are two types of plain yogurt:

  • Stirred style yogurt
  • Set style yogurt - The above description is essentially the manufacturing procedures for stirred style. In set style, the yogurt is packaged immediately after inoculation with the starter and is incubated in the packages.

Other yogurt products include:

  • Sweetened stirred style yogurt with fruit preparation
  • Fruit-on-the-bottom set style: - fruit mixture is layered at the bottom followed by inoculated yogurt, incubation occurs in the sealed cups
  • Soft-serve and Hard Pack frozen yogurt (see Frozen desserts section)
  • Probiotic yogourts: it has become quite common to add probiotic bacterial strains to yogourt (those with proven health-promoting benefits, in addition to ST and LB. These could include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacilus casei, or Bifidobacterium spp. When probiotics are added, it has also become common to add ingredients known as prebiotics, such as inulin, which will, after digestion, aid in the growth of the probiotics in the colon. Inulin, for example, is a polymer of fructose (fructo-oligosaccharide) that is indigestible in the small intestine because we do not have sufficient enzymes to cleave the fructose bonds. However, in the colon, bacterial enzymes can easily release free fructose, which has been shown to positively affect the growth of the probiotic organisms. 

Yogurt Beverages

Drinking yogurt is essentially stirred yogurt that has a sufficiently low total solids content to achieve a liquid or pourable consistency and which has undergone homogenization to further reduce the viscosity. Fat and solids-not-fat can both be standardized. If the desired snf level in the product is lower than it is in whole milk or skimmed milk, then dilution with water of fruit juices may be used, depending on the requirements of the legal jurisdiction. Sweeteners, flavouring and colouring are invariably added. Heat treatment may be applied to extend the storage life, although this would reduce or eliminate the viable yogourt culture organisms. HTST pasteurization with aseptic processing will give a shelf life of several weeks at 2-4°C, while UHT processes with aseptic packaging will give a shelf life of several weeks at room temperature.

Other Fermented Milk Beverages

Cultured Buttermilk

This product was originally the fermented byproduct of butter manufacture, but today it is more common to produce cultured buttermilks from skim or whole milk. The culture most frequently used in Loctococcus lactis, perhaps also subsp. cremoris or diacetylactis. Milk is usually heated to 95°C and cooled to 20-25°C before the addition of the starter culture. Starter is added at 1-2% and the fermentation is allowed to proceed for 16-20 hours, to an acidity of 0.9% lactic acid. This product is frequently used as an ingredient in the baking industry, in addition to being packaged for sale in the retail trade.

Acidophilus milk

Acidophilus milk is a traditional milk fermented with Lactobacillus acidophilus (LA), which has been thought to have therapeutic benefits in the gastrointestinal tract. Skim or whole milk may be used. The milk is heated to high temperature, e.g., 95°C for 1 hour, to reduce the microbial load and favour the slow growing LA culture. Milk is inoculated at a level of 2-5% and incubated at 37°C until coagulated. Some acidophilus milk has an acidity as high as 1% lactic acid, but for therapeutic purposes 0.6-0.7% is more common.

Another variation has been the introduction of a sweet acidophilus milk, one in which the LA culture has been added but there has been no incubation. It is thought that the culture will reach the GI tract where its therapeutic effects will be realized, but the milk has no fermented qualities, thus delivering the benefits without the high acidity and flavour, considered undesirable by some people. 

Sour Cream

Cultured cream usually has a fat content between 12-30%, depending on the required properties. The starter is similar to that used for cultured buttermilk. The cream after standardization is usually heated to 75-80°C and is homogenized at >13 MPa to improve the texture. Inoculation and fermentation conditions are also similar to those for cultured buttermilk, but the fermentation is stopped at an acidity of 0.6%. 


There are a great many other fermented dairy products, including kefir, koumiss, beverages based on bulgaricus or bifidus strains, labneh, and a host of others. Many of these have developed in regional areas and, depending on the starter organisms used, have various flavours, textures, and components from the fermentation process, such as gas or ethanol.