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.