Now of course I realize there are now commercially available soy-free vegan yogurts but first, they are difficult to find and second; they are pricey. Also, in my humble opinion, overly sweet but I generally prefer unsweetened yogurt so who am I to ask?
First, I'm sure you are saying...well ok, so you make the yogurt with coconut milk but uhm, isn't the yogurt starter dairy based? The answer is...yes, MOST are but you have a couple of options. One is to buy a carton of So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt (plain) and use it as the starter. I have found it at a few Publix supermarkets, most Whole Foods, some Fresh Markets and about 50% of small health food stores.
The second option is a product called Culturaid by Klaire Labs. This product is dairy, soy, gluten, yeast, soy and corn free. It's basically a vegan probiotic that can be used as a yogurt starter.
Call me lazy but, I just bought a carton of the So Delicous cultured coconut yogurt (also, the store I went to didn't have Culturaid) and used that. Yogurt making is NOT exactly difficult but it is testy. Too much heat and your little friendly bacteria are floating belly-up in a curdled soup of sour smelling coconut milk. Not enough heat and it just won't activate the culture...in which case you still end up with soured coconut milk but its just not curdled. There's a lovely image to contemplate eh?
There are a couple of schools of thought on which coconut milk to use as well. The same company, So Delicious (for whom I would embed a link but their website says under construction) makes 1/2 gallon cartons of homogenized coconut milk and I have used it with good results. However, my favorite brand is and probably will remain Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut Milk
I have tried making my coconut yogurt with the lite version and find it makes a more watery yogurt. Of course the full fat version has twice the fat but... heart healthy medium chain fatty acids concern me far less than commercial yogurt that is full of high fructose corn syrup, artifical colorings and flavorings and vile RBST-laden dairy milk!
A mixture of half lite and half full fat will produce a nice yogurt; a bit on the thinner side but definately workable. In fact, it is nearly identical to the texture of the So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt.
I need to drop a note in here about cheap, off brand and some imported coconut milks. Read the labels. Polysorbate-80 or 60 are commonly seen on the label of these inferior products. These chemicals are by products of petroleum that are used as emulsifiers. If you want to be even MORE grossed out...Polysorbate 60 is a major ingredient in many sexual lubricants. Lets serve THAT up to our kids in artificially flavored/colored snacks like those God-awful kiddie yogurt concotions. Bottom line...the group of DRUGS/CHEMICALS knowns as the polysorbates are literally as abundant as AIR. READ READ READ your labels!
I often recommend a little book that I found entitled Food Additives: A Shopper's Guide To What's Safe & What's Not by Christine Hoza Farlow, D.C. Its just a pocket sized booklet with 8 or 9 hundred of the most common food additives and what is right or wrong with them. I believe it is revised every couple of years to include all the new mutations of this garbage that comes out. *I am not being paid, compensated or otherwise recognized by the author or KISS for Health Publishing. I recommend this book because I believe in knowing what you are eating!
Sorry for the detour onto my soapbox! I believe we were chatting about Vegan Yogurt. So, half full fat and half lite for a thinner yogurt. All full fat for a thicker, richer yogurt. A hint: I make a very large batch so that I can actually strain it through a lined colander AFTER it has cultured. This gives it the texture of store bought Greek Yogurt.
You don't really need a bunch of ingredients. My basic list is 3 cans of Thai Kitchen Organic Coconut milk to every 1 carton of organic cultured coconut yogurt starter. That yields about 6 eight ounce portions of finished yogurt. Feel free to double or triple the recipe though.
Do you NEED a yogurt maker to make yogurt? No...but, you DO need a way to monitor and control temperature. I actually saw an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown did this with a heating pad! I don't suggest doing that unless you have one that has an actual thermostat on it so you can set it for a particular temperature and it will hold steady at that. Frankly though, if your going to spring for a thermostatically cotrolled heating pad...buy a darned yogurt maker!
If you have a gas oven, the heat of the pilot light is generally pretty good for making yogurt. In Florida, most of us aren't that lucky. I've made it in my electric range by warming my oven on the lowest setting then turning it off, turning on the oven light and placing one oven rack on the highest rung (closest to the light). I also cover my yogurt containers with a couple of layers of kitchen towels to help them retain heat. It will actually work if you have a decent range that has good insulation and maintains heat well.
Another kooky method that actually works is placing a baking rack in an electric skillet (they are thermostatically controlled heat) and putting a small amount of water in the bottom. Set to the lowest setting, which is "warm" and then place the yogurt containers on the rack an cover lightly with a kitchen towel. Two issues with this method: unless you want to be up all night checking to make sure the skillet isn't dry and taking the temperature of your yogurt you have to start it at the crack of dawn and incubate it all day. Number two is that you have to take the temperature of your yogurt anyway. You need to maintain a temperature of 110F...much more and the bacteria are belly up and circling the drain! Below 100F and the yogurt won't culture...it will just sour. I have heard that you can also use a slow cooker but again...the temperature has to be checked.
Getting down to the nitty gritty of producing your yogurt begins with a double boiler set up. Now this can be an actual double boiler or a bowl set over a kettle of simmering water...doesn't matter as long as the bottom of the receptacle does not touch the water below. Then proceed as follows:
- Pour three cans of coconut milk into the top of the double boiler. *You can make a richer, thicker yogurt by adding 1/2 cup organic rice milk powder. It will also increase the protein marginally. It must be pure rice milk powder though; not some kind of rice milk drink mix.
- Heat the coconut milk until bubbles begin to form around the perimeter of the bowl and you start to see steam. You should stir with a sterilized metal spoon. Don't want to be introducing any bad ju ju into your good bacteria colony!
- Take the temperature of the coconut milk. It should register at least 180F but not higher than 200F. It should NOT boil. Maintain the coconut milk at this temperature, stirring as needed for approximately 10 minutes. Careful not to let the bottom scorch.
- You should have your carton of yogurt/starter at room temperature. I recommend using plain (not flavored) cultured coconut milk yogurt. Remove the sterilized coconut milk from the heat source and pour into a large bowl. The coconut milk MUST cool to between 110-120F before adding the starter, with 112F being the optimum temperature.
- Temper the starter with about 1 cup of the warm coconut milk in a smaller bowl. Then add the this mixture to the rest of the coconut milk. This is your culture. You need to cover it immediately to prevent any contamination.
- Have your containers washed and sterilized before you begin the culturing process. I recommend glass containers with lids (not metal lids however). Fill the containers with hot water and allow them to warm the containers before filling with your culture.
- Empty the water from the jars one at a time and fill before you emty the next. Place the lids on filled jars immediately.
- Use the incubation method of your choice. Some recipes say incubation is 8-10 hours but I find that it will vary widely. In my experience, the coconut milk yogurt takes longer to incubate than dairy yogurt. After 5-6 hours of carefully maintained temperature (110F), check the yogurt by inserting the end of a sterilized spoon. If the yogurt is firm you may stop incubation and refrigerate. If not, continue until desired texture is reached. Note: Generally speaking, the longer the incubation period, the more tangy the yogurt will be. Homemade yogurt should keep in the fridge for about 10 days.
My favorite method of yogurt consumption...lightly sweetened with a bit of stevia and heavily laced with cinnamon and layered with chopped apples and chunks of homemade granola. Lacking the apples and granola, I generally scarf one down with a packet of stevia and a teaspoon of cinnamon mixed in.
The one I've made for you today is sweeter than I normally prefer but, I served this one as a dessert to a bunch of Vegan skeptics. Needless to say...they were skeptical no more!
To turn my perfectly creamy Vegan Coconut Yogurt into a dazzling dessert simply simmer julienned orange peel in Organic Blue Agave Nectar. Remove from heat and chill until ready to serve. Spoon over homemade Vegan Coconut Yogurt and enjoy!