Homemade Plant-Based Yoghurt
Coconut yoghurt, strawberries + hemp seeds
Yoghurt sans dairy + plastic? Ah, yes please!
This project has been a few months in the making, and I’m happy to share a method that works really well for me, but is by no means the only way to make vegan yoghurt at home.
My partner recently watched the awesome doco Game Changers and, after living with a vegan girlfriend for four years, decided it was time to kick the dairy at home (meat was eliminated from our shopping list a couple of years ago). Of course, dairy-free yoghurts are produced a little differently and come with both a hefty price tag and in plastic or glass containers. We decided to try our own to save on both money and packaging. This was after I tried my best to make vegan mylk kefir but, just as the literature says, kefir grain requires frequent revival in animal milk and wasn’t worth continuing. (If you haven't made the transition away from dairy but love ferments, I HIGHLY recommend getting your hands on some milk kefir grains!)
There are various mylks you can use - soy, cashew, coconut - however, due to it’s consistency and high fat content, I use organic coconut cream plus tapioca flour for best texture results, based on my internet and recipe research. This involves using two aluminium cans a week, and a food product that isn’t Australian made. Aluminium is in high demand and well recycled in Australia, still selling for about $1000/tonne. It’s really difficult to find the most ethical option between: vast monocultures of soy beans (Aussie soy isn’t quite the destructive type grown in the America’s to feed stock, but still requires lots of inputs and land-clearing); water-heavy Almond monocultures that risk bee population decline; and imported coconut products from Asia with questionable environmental and social ethics. Plus, there’s still no hard evidence to show that plant-based saturated fat (such as coconut oil and cream) is any less harmful to our health than animal-based sat fats. All that aside, this is the method we’ve chosen, we eat small to moderate amounts per week, and it works really well! I’m yet to try with other mylks but plan to trial with cashew, which I make weekly anyway.
To culture vegan yoghurt (i.e. to add the bacteria which initiate fermentation), there are two main methods - you can buy vegan probiotic capsules and empty their contents into your warmed mylk, or you can ‘backslop’ (one of my favourite fermenting words ever) from a previous yoghurt batch containing live cultures. Backslopping has limitations because many lab-grown cultures don’t have the resilience of multiple strains to last for more than a few ferments - they can weaken over time. I have been lucky, however, to find that the first culture I began with (a store-bought plain coconut yoghurt in a glass jar from the local wholefoods store) has perpetuated beautifully for a few months! If this culture stops working well, I'll buy a new jar and begin again. Probiotics are not my thing and are more expensive.
I use a dehydrator as an incubator because it offers the most accurate temperature control within the required range - my oven’s lowest setting is sadly too hot for yoghurt, at 60deg Celsius. You can actually make yoghurt at room temp (above about 20deg Celsius) but it doesn’t quite ferment the same way, favouring one of two main bacteria strains, and tends to be runnier - it comes down to personal preference and practicality.
Vanilla coconut yoghurt
BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
- Read the info above if you haven't already - knowing more about yoghurt culturing will give you a much better result
- Sterilise two 250ml jars and their lids (I put jars in the oven for 15mins at 100deg Celsius, and boil lids in a pot on the stove in shallow water for 15mins). This is really important!
- Decide how you will incubate your yoghurt. If you have a dehydrator and a lid/bowl/pot to cover it, perfect. If you have an oven that goes down to 42-48deg Celsius, awesome (test with a thermometer). If you have a warm place on top of a coffee machine, water bath or similar, lovely. If you have none, you will need to ferment for much longer (about 24hrs) at room temperature.
- incubator of choice: see above ‘before you begin’
- milk or candy thermometer
- two sterilised 250ml jars and lids
- small saucepan
- cup + spoon
- 1 Tbsp tapioca flour, dissolved in a little water to make a paste (tapioca starch is GF)
- 2 cans organic coconut cream (I use Spiral Foods and find it has the best flavour, some brands have an odd taste I can't get past)
- 1 Tbsp pre-made yoghurt (either your own or store-bought, look for 'vegan cultures' on the label) at room temp OR two vegan probiotic capsules
- Vanilla powder, turmeric, maple syrup, cinnamon etc if you wish to flavour your yoghurt
Sterilise jars (see above). While sterilising, pour contents of cans into saucepan and heat coconut cream on low, stirring intermittently with whisk until reaches a slow simmer. Turn off heat and move pan to bench to cool.
Mix tapioca and a little water in a cup, then whisk into warm coconut cream. Continue whisking intermittently and checking temperature of cream until it reaches 48deg Celsius. While this is happening, have your clean jars cooled on the bench, ready to go.
When your yoghurt has reached 48deg or slightly below (NOT higher than, to avoid killing your culture) add 1 Tbsp of your ready-made yoghurt, or two probiotic capsules, and whisk in well.
Pour warm cream into jars, gently put on lids, and place straight into incubator of choice. Your ferment times are as follows:
- Approx 4hrs at 42-48deg Celsius
- Approx 16-24hrs at 20-40deg Celsius
Taste and smell your now tangy, delicious yoghurt, tighten lids, and refrigerate. You may leave your yoghurt out longer to ferment if you prefer a more sour result, but be sure to refrigerate it after 24hrs for safety. Yoghurt will keep up to two weeks in the fridge - it's easy to tell when it's beginning to grow undesirable microbes by coloured mould and foul smells.
Remember to keep a tablespoon leftover as the starter for your next batch! Keep one in the freezer as a back-up.
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Coloured mould spores on an 'off' jar of store-bought yoghurt (not my own!) Turf/compost this!