When people try out veganism for the first time, one food they often miss is yoghurt. After all, it’s such an easy and healthy breakfast, with a few fresh berries scattered on top, that it can be hard to give up. Luckily, many plant-based yoghurts are now available. But if you want to get the creamiest, purest yoghurt made just to your taste, you have to learn how to make vegan yoghurt at home. Good news - t’s easy!April 28, 2022 5:16 pm December 23, 2021 5:59 pm
What actually is yoghurt?
Yoghurt, in the traditional sense, is dairy milk which has been fermented with specific types of bacteria. These sour and thicken the milk, creating the tangy, creamy yoghurt we know and love.
If you’re keen to make your own at home, you’ll need to mimic this process. You’ll also need to make some adjustments to accommodate for the non-dairy milk.
While the bacteria used to ferment yoghurt seem quite at home in non-dairy milks, you will need a bit of help to get the thick and creamy texture.
Luckily, we’ll cover all that below!
Where does yoghurt come from?
A quick-fire fact before we begin: the word ‘yoghurt’ comes from a Turkish word, ‘yoğurmak’, which means to coagulate or curdle.(1)
We’ve been eating yoghurt for anywhere up to an astonishing 12,000 years, and its health effects were noted as early as 6000 BC.
Historians attribute the discovery of yoghurt to tribesmen living in the Middle East. They had domesticated cattle and were consuming dairy, but faced the problem that milk sours very quickly. Thus, they needed a way to store it and help it stay edible for longer.
They solved this problem in an extremely practical – if not at all aesthetically pleasing – way: by storing milk in animal gut bags.
The intestinal juices caused the milk to curdle and thicken, and they discovered that they quite enjoyed eating it. Plus, it made the milk last much longer.(1)
To be sure, it’s an impressive demonstration of early food science. But we’re very pleased that yoghurt is no longer made in animal gut bags.
How is commercial yoghurt made?
Nowadays, yoghurt is made at an industrial scale. To understand how to make our own vegan yoghurt at home, we need to learn a bit about the process we’re aiming to mimic.
First, the producers start with pasteurized milk. It’s very important to pasteurize the milk before making yoghurt because raw milk can contain strains of harmful bacteria.
These include Listeria which can cause food poisoning and is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. As such, if you are pregnant you should avoid any raw milk or yoghurt products. Typically these are only found at non-commercial outlets such as farmers’ markets.
Next, the producers inoculate the milk with friendly bacteria strains. The bacteria involved in making yoghurt are called Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. They work to break down the sugars in the milk into lactic acid (think: tangy) and coagulate the proteins in the milk to make it creamy.(2)
Why is yoghurt good for you?
In some brands of commercial yoghurt, after the fermentation process is complete the yoghurt is heat-treated (pasteurized) to kill all the bacteria off again.
However certain types of yoghurt are well-known for having lots of benefits for your health thanks to these health-promoting bacteria. These are called ‘live’ or ‘bio’ yoghurts. While they are still made from pasteurized milk, they contain live friendly bacteria when you eat them.
It’s perfectly safe to eat live yoghurt as the type and quantity of bacteria present are carefully controlled. What’s more, these two strains of bacteria may contribute to good gut health as they are probiotics.
This means that they may reach your gut alive and help your microbiome to flourish.(3)
However, that’s not all yoghurt has to offer. The original dairy version is full of protein and calcium, too.
So, how do you make a vegan version of yoghurt at home, using natural ingredients, but keeping all of those gut health benefits?
"However certain types of yoghurt are well-known for having lots of benefits for your health thanks to these health-promoting bacteria. These are called ‘live’ or ‘bio’ yoghurts. While they are still made from pasteurized milk, they contain live friendly bacteria when you eat them."
How to make vegan yoghurt
1.Choose your milk
The bacteria involved in producing yoghurt are quite happy to work on any plant-based milk, so the world is your oyster. Choose your milk based on your personal preferences.
The final flavor of the yoghurt will, of course, reflect the milk you’ve used, so bear that in mind. Do you want a tropical coconut yoghurt for your breakfast bowl? Or would you prefer a milder, less sweet flavor to make a vegan tzatziki dip? If it’s the latter, a more neutral flavor such as soy or oat milk will work well for you.
2. Figure out if you need a thickener
Dairy milk is thicker than plant milk and generally contains more protein. As a result, you may find that your vegan version is too thin unless you compensate with a thickening agent.
While that might sound scary initially, a thickening agent can be as simple as adding a few spoonfuls of tapioca starch. (If there’s any left over, use it as part of a gluten-free flour blend!)
Generally speaking, it’s the nut milks that really need the thickeners. So, if you’re a beginner, we recommend shelving the almond and cashew milks for another time and starting out with oat, soy or coconut milk. These usually do not need a thickening agent.
3. Grab your bacteria
Deliberately adding bacteria to your food will feel odd at first – after all we’re constantly trying to avoid them getting in there! However, rest assured that these little guys are going to be doing all the hard work for you.
There are a couple of ways to source the bacteria you need for homemade vegan yoghurt.
The easiest and most foolproof way to do it is to use a commercial live vegan yoghurt as your ‘starter’. A few spoonfuls will inoculate your milk and get the fermentation process going. Plus, you already know that you’ve got the right type of bacteria.
Another way is to use a vegan yoghurt starter, which you can grab at health food shops. These usually come in powder form and contain all the bacteria you need.
A quick glance at Google will reveal that lots of home yoghurt makers use probiotic supplement capsules as their starter. While there are plenty of lovely-looking recipes out there, in our option it’s better to stick to a natural yoghurt or starter.
This is because firstly, it’s not the intended use of these capsules and secondly, we always recommend whole foods over supplement capsules for reasons of transparency.
4. Make your yoghurt
To make your vegan yoghurt, pour your milk into a saucepan and heat until simmering. Take it off the heat and allow to cool until lukewarm, then add your starter. Mix it in thoroughly.
Now, transfer your milk mix into a sterile glass container, such as a large mason jar. Pop it in a warm, dark place and leave it. A yoghurt maker is an excellent choice as you can carefully control the temperature, making the process extra safe.
After about 12 hours, come back and check on it. It should be thickening up nicely. Give it a taste test: is it tangy enough for your liking? If not, leave it for another few hours and check again later.
Once you’re happy with the flavor and consistency, move your jar into the fridge. Leave it to cool right down for a few hours, and then it’s ready to go.
Yes, it really is that simple!
Even better, you can now use your vegan yoghurt as your starter for the next batch. Simply save a couple of spoonfuls back and use this as a starter when you make your next load of yoghurt,
A few ideas for how to use your homemade vegan yoghurt
First and foremost, congratulate yourself for having become a domestic god/goddess and produced your own homemade vegan yoghurt.
Next, how to use it!
The most obvious way to enjoy vegan yoghurt is in a breakfast bowl. We love to take inspiration from Greece and pile our yoghurt with crisp walnut halves and honey or maple syrup.
A handful of blueberries and raspberries scattered over your bowl makes an antioxidant-packed breakfast. Top with our crunchy puffed amaranth granola. Or, go a step further and transform your yoghurt into our multilayered chia pudding parfait with wild fruit.
But don’t limit yourself to breakfast bowls; there are plenty of other ways to use your vegan yoghurt. Why not create a cooling raita with fresh cucumber to serve alongside a curry? Or how about a tzatziki to accompany some fluffy pittas?
A spoonful of your yoghurt will add probiotics to smoothies and shakes. Or dollop on top of spicy dishes to cool them down. Did we mention that yoghurt was versatile?
Adding flavorings to your yoghurt
Now you’ve mastered the basic recipe, it’s time to get creative with your flavors.
The blender is your friend.
For example, turn your plain yoghurt into a strawberry yoghurt by blending your mixture with fresh strawberries until smooth.
If you’re finding that fresh strawberries are adding too much water to the mix, try cooking them down first or using jam.
Make a refreshing lemony version by adding lemon zest to your milk as you heat it to a simmer.
Or make a purée of wild berries and stir it into your finished yoghurt once cool.
Our favorite vegan yoghurt recipes
Still feel like you need a bit of guidance for your first foray into yoghurt making? Turn to our favorite recipes which will teach you how to make vegan yoghurt like a pro.
A Virtual Vegan has a silky smooth and spoonable recipe for vegan yoghurt made with coconut milk and cashews.
If you’d like to make a nut milk-based yoghurt, The New York Times has a classic and super simple recipe made with cashew milk.
Small Footprint Family offers a recipe for coconut yoghurt with a bit of extra thickness from agar agar (or you can even use coconut meat).
Final vegan yoghurt making tips
Many people turn to making yoghurt at home in an effort to avoid the additives and preservatives present in commercial yoghurt. If that’s you, then make sure you’re also using good quality, organic ingredients to make your yog.
This ensures that it won’t contain any nasties such as chemical pesticides, genetic modifications or artificial ingredients.
Once you’ve made your yogurt, store it in the fridge as you would normally to slow any further bacterial growth. While homemade yoghurt can keep for quite a long time, keep an eye on it and discard it if you notice any unwanted changes in smell or flavor.
If you’ve ever left a commercial yoghurt out for too long, you’ll know exactly what we mean by an ‘off’ smell!
Finally: enjoy the fruits of your labour! Making vegan yoghurt at home will save you money and, once you’re practiced, will take up only a few minutes of your week. Plus, it’s more sustainable, healthier, and gives you the chance to be creative with the flavors you love!
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