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, resulting in about 20% more protein, and lots of enzymes and probiotics that can help your digestion.
If you are dairy intolerant, vegan or paleo, you can get all the benefits of yogurt by making it from coconut milk. Making your own coconut milk yogurt is easy, fun, delicious, and cheap—often costing less than 30 cents a cup!
Choosing the Right Coconut Milk
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.)
Another option is to get full-fat coconut milk and cream in Tetra paks or cartons. I prefer to do this because I don’t like the taste of canned coconut milk. But you should know that many of these products contain natural guar gum or carageenan, which can harm the digestive system. (Here’s where to get my favorite additive-free coconut milk in tetra paks.)
Be sure NOT to use the coconut milk “beverages” in Tetra paks. This kind of coconut milk contains many additives and is far too watered down to make good yogurt.
You will need a yogurt starter culture to introduce the fermentation bacteria to the milk. If you’re vegan or dairy intolerant like we are, then you can use a non-dairy yogurt starter. (Here’s where to find non-dairy yogurt cultures online).
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.
- 3 BPA-free cans coconut milk OR 1 liter TetraPak full-fat coconut cream
- 1/4 tsp. non-dairy yogurt starter/probiotic OR 2-3 dairy-free probiotic pills (where to find online)
- 1-2 Tbsp. honey, maple syrup OR coconut sap
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, use an 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 fermenting is done, 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 gelatin, then you can 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!
- Yogurt maker, box-style dehydrator, cooler with a programmable heating pad, OR other means of maintaining an exact temperature of 110 degrees F.
- Candy thermometer - very important! (where to find online)
- Glass or ceramic containers with lids (Do not use metal.) I use these leakproof containers for easy lunchbox packing.
- Nut milk bag - optional if dripping your yogurt (where to find online)
- 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 or cream made for cooking.