How to Make Vegan Yogurt
Making rich and creamy homemade vegan yogurt is surprisingly easy and doesn't require fancy equipment. And there are so many advantages to making it yourself: Besides the money you'll save, you get to control all the ingredients, including sugar and other additives. I'll show you step-by-step how to make dairy-free vegan yogurt using coconut milk or any other plant-based milk, using stovetop, slow cooker, and Instant Pot methods.
Step 1. Gather Your Equipment
You only need a few simple tools to make homemade yogurt: a heavy saucepan, an instant-read thermometer, a spatula, and a few clean glass jars with lids.
Make sure to sterilize your jars and lids by first washing them in hot soapy water. Then, place the jars in a large pot and fill them with water to cover. Bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Do this step up to 30 minutes before you are ready to fill your jars, so they stay warm before you fill them with yogurt.
Step 2. Choose a Non-Dairy Milk
For this recipe, I used canned coconut milk, but you can also use any non-dairy milk from nuts, seeds, or grains, or a combination. Using a high-fat non-dairy milk, like coconut or cashew, will result in a very rich and thick yogurt. Using a lighter milk, like almond or rice, will produce a more pourable consistency. Whatever variety of non-dairy milk you choose, try to pick one that is additive-free. Start with 2 (14-ounce) cans of coconut milk or 1 ¾ cups of other non-dairy milk. Coconut milk tends to separate, so whisk the fat and liquid together until it's smooth.
Step 3. Add Thickener
While dairy yogurt relies on naturally occurring bacteria to give it a thick and creamy consistency, vegan yogurt needs a little something extra to get the perfect texture. Two popular vegan choices are agar agar flakes or tapioca starch.
Tapioca starch: If you add tapioca starch directly to the milk, it will form a clumpy mess. Instead, create a slurry by combining ½ cup milk and 2 tablespoons tapioca starch in a small bowl. Mix until smooth, then add the mixture back to the saucepan.
Agar agar: This is a vegan alternative to gelatin. (Agar agar is made from seaweed, while gelatin is an animal-based product.) To use agar agar, sprinkle 2 teaspoons over the top of the milk. Let it sit undisturbed for 5 minutes, until the flakes are rehydrated.
Step 4. Heat the Milk
Using your saucepan and thermometer, gently heat the milk to a 180 degrees F, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the thickener is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes.
Step 5. Cool the Milk
It's important to cool the milk to let healthy probiotics thrive. Remove the saucepan from the stove top and stir the milk occasionally, until it reaches 110 to 115 degrees F. To speed up the process, you can place your saucepan in an ice water bath, and continuously stir until it reaches the correct temperature.
Step 6. Add Probiotics
To get all of those health-boosting probiotics found naturally fermenting in dairy yogurt, you'll have to add them in. Luckily, you can easily purchase probiotic capsules or powder at most grocery stores, health foods stores, or online. Make sure the brand you buy contains live active cultures (such as L. acidophilus or S. thermophilus). Open 4 probiotic capsules and sprinkle the powder over the milk or use 1 teaspoon probiotic powder, then gently stir in (discard the capsules).
Step 7. Add Sugar (Optional)
Adding a little bit of sugar, although optional, can help promote the fermentation process and improve flavor. Stir in 3 teaspoons sugar, until dissolved. Note that rice milk has enough natural sugar that it doesn't require additional sugar.
Step 8. Let It Set Up
Either transfer the yogurt to sterilized glass jars and cover with a lid or cover the saucepan. Let sit in a warm place, about 110 degrees F, until you reach the desired consistency.
Counter top and oven option: Place the yogurt in a warm spot in your kitchen (wrapped in a towel, if your kitchen is breezy), in a gas oven with just the pilot light on, or in an insulated cooler surrounded by warm water. Depending on your environment temperature, culture strength, and other factors, this could take 12 to 24 hours.
Slow Cooker or Instant Pot option: To speed up the process, place yogurt jars in your slow cooker or Instant Pot and fill it with warm water until it comes comes 3/4 up the sides of the jars. Cover the device with the lid and set it to "Warm." Let the yogurt sit until thickened; this could take up to 8 hours.
Step 9. Chill Out and Dig In
Your yogurt may still look a little looser than the container you buy at the store, but don't worry. Once it chills in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours, it will set up nicely. Enjoy your homemade vegan yogurt within two weeks.
Making Vegan Yogurt in an Instant Pot
Add the coconut or other non-dairy milk to a sterilized insert (see instructions above on how to sterilize). Stir in the thickener according to the information above. Push the "Sauté" button and stir the milk until it reaches about 180 degrees F and the thickener is dissolved. Remove the insert and cool the milk to 110 to 115 degrees F. Stir in the probiotics and sugar, return the insert to the Instant Pot and hit "Yogurt." Adjust the screen to read 8:00 hours, close the lid, and let it incubate. Check the texture and reset the timer if necessary, depending on how thick or thin you prefer your yogurt. Transfer the finished yogurt to clean jars and refrigerate.
Making Vegan Greek-style Yogurt
If you prefer a thicker texture, similar to Greek-style yogurt, you can strain out some of the extra liquid in your homemade yogurt. Simply line a strainer with several layers of clean cheesecloth, spoon in your yogurt, and set the strainer over a bowl or in the sink. Let it drain for 30 minutes to several hours, until it reaches the perfect consistency for your tastes. Unlike dairy yogurt, where the extra liquid is known as "whey" and can be used for other recipes, this liquid is just extra water and can be tossed down the drain.
Important Tips for Making Vegan Yogurt
Making homemade vegan yogurt is fun and easy, but there are a few important things to remember:
- Always start with clean equipment and sterilized jars so you don't contaminate the yogurt with harmful bacteria.
- Use the best-quality, additive-free milk you can find, whether it's coconut or other non-dairy milk, for the best taste and texture.
- Make sure to use a thermometer (don't just "wing it") - accurate temperatures are crucial to success.
- If you start to see mold (blue, green, orange or pink) on your yogurt, throw it away and start the process again with clean equipment, fresh milk, and new cultures.
Photos by Jackie Freeman