Like many people these days, Babyzilla and I are allergic to dairy, soy and most nuts—each one of the most allergenic foods in the world. (We are even allergic to goat milk, too!) So, we’ve been looking for a suitable alternative for one of our favorite probiotic-rich foods: Yogurt.
Yogurt is a very healthy, mildly fermented food which contains one or more strains of friendly gut bacteria. This fermentation process also improves the nutritional quality of any milk you use (coconut, rice, almond, cow, etc.), resulting in about 20% more protein, and lots of enzymes that can help your digestion.
Making your own yogurt is easy, fun, delicious, and cheap—often costing less than 30 cents a cup!
Most people use high-fat, organic coconut milk for this recipe, either in cans or in tetra-paks. You can find this at Whole Foods, better grocery stores or online. However, one major drawback to buying canned coconut milk is that, like almost all canned foods, there is toxic BPA in the lining of the can which can leach into your food.(Here’s where to get canned 100% coconut milk in BPA free cans.)
You can also use 2-3 capsules of any high-quality, dairy-free probiotic that contains bacterial strains called L. bulgaricus, S. themophilus and L. casei.
UPDATE: There are LOTS of great tips in the comments section that can help answer almost any question you might have about making coconut yogurt. Fermentation is both an art and a science, and there is lots of wisdom below.
Homemade Coconut Milk Yogurt
Yogurt maker, box-style dehydrator, cooler with a programmable heating pad, OR other means of maintaining an exact temperature of 110 degrees F.
1-2 Tbsp. unflavored grassfed gelatin, agar agar, tapioca flour, pectin, etc. OR 1-2 cups puréed young coconut meat (Optional if you want thick yogurt fast. Otherwise you can drip it to desired thickness. You will need to experiment a bit with the quantity to get the thickness that you like.)
Fresh organic berries, bananas, nuts, vanilla or other flavorings (Optional)
Sterilize your yogurt containers, mixing spoons and other utensils with boiling water. This will keep bad bacteria from competing with the good yogurt bacteria.
In a saucepan, bring coconut milk to 180 degrees F, then remove from heat. Do NOT boil the milk; watch it closely. (Do NOT microwave, which harmfully alters the chemical structure of the milk). You want to get the milk just hot enough to sterilize it. Your coconut milk must reach 180 degrees or you risk contamination with Burkholderia cocovenenans or other harmful bacteria.
If you are using a quick thickener like tapioca or gelatin, while the milk is still very hot, thoroughly dissolve and mix it into your batch. You will need to experiment a little to find the exact amount of thickener for your taste. (If you are not using a thickener, you can drip the yogurt to desired thickness, but this takes 6-12 hours. See step 11.)
Add maple syrup or honey and stir thoroughly. The sweetener provides food for the bacterial culture and will be mostly consumed by the time your yogurt is done. Without a natural form of sugar, coconut milk will not culture very well.
Cover and cool to 95-100 degrees. If the milk is too hot, it will kill the bacterial culture you are going to introduce. It takes a fair amount time to cool to 100, so go do something else in the house for a while.
Remove about 1/2 cup of cooled coconut milk, and mix in your starter culture. Stir well.
Thoroughly mix the inoculated batch back in with the remainder of the cooled coconut milk.
Pour cultured milk into your yogurt maker jars, or any glass or enamel containers that work for you. Cover and ferment at 105-110 degrees for 7-9 hours. The longer you ferment the yogurt, the less sugar it will contain and the more sour it will taste. Check for taste at 7 hours, but note that if you want all the sugar to be fully consumed by the bacteria, you will need to ferment for at least 8 hours. Some people ferment as long as 18-24 hours!
To keep the correct temperature for the culture, I use my Excalibur dehydrator set at about 105 degrees, and place the containers on the bottom, away from the heating element. You can also use a temperature-adjustable heating pad or crockpot, or put a 60-Watt bulb in your oven and leave the light on. No other heat is needed. Remember, too high a temperature will kill the bacterial culture; too low of a temperature will prevent proper fermentation. You will know you have done it right by the proper yogurt-sour smell and taste.
After 7–9 hours, remove from heat, stir to an even consistency and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. You must refrigerate for the gelatin, tapioca, pectin or agar agar to set.
If you DID NOT use a thickener like agar agar, pectin or gelatin, then you can now thicken your yogurt the old fashioned way: Pour the yogurt into a cheesecloth or a nut milk bag and let it drip for 6-12 hours over a bowl in a cool area. The longer you let it drip, the thicker it will become. What drips out is coconut water, not whey, so add the liquid to a smoothie or discard. Carefully scrape the thickened yogurt from the bag into a jar. (Messy!) Cover and refrigerate.
If your yogurt separates after chilling, either stir it briskly with a spoon, or whip it with a stick blender for a light and fluffy treat.
Stir in fresh berries or other fruit, vanilla, nuts, coffee extract, or any other flavoring you desire. Or simply enjoy plain!
Enjoy daily for maximum health benefit!
Your yogurt should smell and taste sour—like yogurt. If you notice any “off” or foul odors, mold, or hints of grey or pink on the surface, throw it out and try again. This suggests the equipment was not thoroughly sterilized, or that the starter culture died from temps too high or too low, and foreign “bad” bacteria colonized the batch.
Coconut yogurt initially comes out much thinner than cow’s milk yogurt, but there are two ways to thicken it: Add a dissolved thickener like gelatin, agar agar, etc. to your milk before fermentation, or after it is done fermenting, drip all the liquid out of your yogurt the old fashioned way using a cheesecloth, cotton or nut milk bag. This guide to thickening yogurt makes it more clear.
Once fully cooled, your yogurt may separate again, with some of the coconut oil hardening on top and a clear or cloudy liquid on the bottom. This happens especially with homemade coconut milk which hasn’t been homogenized and emulsified with factory machinery. This is usually not a problem, as long as everything else smells and tastes OK. Just mix well with a spoon or stick blender, and enjoy.
The new tetrapaks of coconut milk for drinking and cereal (like So Delicious) are NOT appropriate for making yogurt because they are mostly water and very little fat. Choose a high-fat coconut milk made for cooking.
UPDATE: There are TONS of tips, tricks and advice from readers in the comments section below that will answer just about any question you could have about making coconut milk yogurt. Please check them out!