This plant-based coconut yogurt creamy, smooth, and tangy – just like a real good yogurt should be. I’ve never tasted any store-bought coconut yogurt, but really enjoy the one I now make at home. I like serving it with some fresh fruit, my grain-free granola, or on top of pancakes. But it’s delicious on its own for breakfast or just a quick snack as well.
As a child, I loved yogurt. No, not necessarily coconut yogurt. Regular full-fat yogurt with sweetened fruit “on the bottom” and sugar everywhere in between. There were also a lot of flavors to choose from – from all kinds of fruit to chocolate. If they didn’t have the flavor I wanted, I would just buy French vanilla and add some real chocolate or fruit to the yogurt.
The trouble came when I turned 16 and my high-school “friend” told me that I should lose some weight. Of course, as a teenage girl, very conscious about my body image, I decided to drastically change my diet. First, I limited my caloric intake to 1,000 calories a day regardless of my super active lifestyle (very unhealthy!). Second, I cut out all sugar out of the my diet. Now, this was hard. No more chocolate, no more mom’s homemade apple pies, or even my favorite sweetened yogurt!
As hard as it was, I was very determined to stick to my plan. I researched low-calorie foods, and refused to eat anything that had more than 0% fat on the nutrition label. The choices were quite limited so you can imagine how excited I was when I found out there was such a thing as 0% fat yogurt. Well, my excitement faded very quickly when I opened one of the yogurt containers and found out it looked nothing like my favorite fruit-sweetened full-fat yogurt.
I had no idea how I was gonna eat a whole serving of the watery, tasteless concoction called reduced fat yogurt, but I did. Determination is a powerful thing. At first, I hated the consistency and the taste. But after a few weeks, the taste of plain yogurt actually grew on me and I began to crave it. I guess there really is such a thing as an acquired taste.
So when I became a vegan, one of the things I missed dearly was plain yogurt. Luckily, I found a great alternative – plain coconut yogurt.
Tips for Making Coconut Yogurt
I do have to say that I’ve never had any failures with homemade coconut yogurt (perhaps because I’ve been preparing fermented foods since I was little). But, I’ve heard from many people that homemade coconut yogurt might take a few trial and errors if you have no experience with fermenting. So don’t get disappointed if your homemade coconut yogurt doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time you make it.
Fermenting is a little bit of art an as well as science. Sometimes batches simply don’t work out. Sometimes, what works for one person, may not work for another. So, play around, find what works for you, and go with it.
The criteria for choosing canned coconut milk for yogurt are very different from the criteria for making coconut whipped cream.
- Your coconut milk doesn’t have to separate into cream and liquid. You’ll want to use the entire can anyway so it’s actually easier if it doesn’t separate. However, be sure to use canned coconut milk and not the coconut milk “beverage” available in the cereal aisle. This kind of coconut milk is too watery to make good yogurt.
- Instead of choosing the purest coconut milk, go for the one that contains guar gum. Guar gum prevents separation and creates a smooth texture.
Regular dairy yogurt relies on bacteria to give it a nice tangy flavor, thicken it up a bit, and provide it with some beneficial probiotics. Because coconut milk has a completely different structure, we need to use high-quality probiotics to achieve the same result. I use probiotic capsules that are certified vegan and gluten-free – Renew Life 50 billion probiotic capsules are my favorite for this recipe. If you choose a different brand, make sure that it contains a few of the following strains: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactis and Streptococcus thermophilus. You can also add a few tablespoons of store-bought coconut yogurt with live cultures.
For a thicker, I use agar agar. In case you aren’t familiar with agar agar, it’s a natural plant-based gelatin derived from red algae. It’s flavorless and has a firmer, less giggly texture than gelatin. Agar comes as a powder, flakes, and bars. I like the powdered form the best because it’s the easiest to use (it’s easy to measure and dissolves quickly). Out of all the thickening agents that are out there (cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, pectin etc.), I like agar the most because of its high fiber content (80%), incredible nutritional value, and low caloric density. Also, agar agar doesn’t tend to “pearl” easily.
Adding a natural sweetener is optional, but I always recommend it. Sweetener provides food for the probiotics so it helps the coconut milk ferment properly.
There’s no fancy equipment needed for making homemade coconut yogurt. However, there are a few guidelines when it comes to equipment suitable for fermenting:
- No metal – reactive metals, like copper or aluminum, are not recommended for fermenting. As things ferment, the PH (the acidity level) becomes lower, which means it becomes more acidic. Fermenting in metal vessels can be dangerous as the more acidic your ferment becomes, the more metals will corrode and leach into your ferment. Stick to glass or stainless steel instead.
- Sterilized – it’s important to have a clean surface and sterilized equipment to help keep bad bacteria and mold away.
Your coconut milk must reach 180° F to prevent contamination with Burkholderia cocovenenans or other harmful bacteria. You don’t really need to monitor the temperature much. If your coconut milk reaches a gentle boil, that’s fine. In fact, some thickeners require boiling temperatures.
To create a favorable environment for the good bacteria we’re going to introduce into the coconut milk, you need to cool the coconut milk down to 100° F. If you emptied the probiotic capsule into hot milk, the bacterial culture would die.
Ferment the yogurt in a stable environment – your coconut milk should be fermenting at 105-110° F. To ensure that your fermenting environment isn’t too cold or too hot, you can use any of the the following appliances:
- Yogurt maker.
- Dehydrator (place the yogurt container on the bottom, away from the heating element).
- Crock-pot (follow these directions).
- Instant pot.
- Cold oven with the “trouble” light turned on (using a 75-watt light bulb). If you use this method, stick a thermometer into the oven as well and make sure that the temperature is truly 105-110° F. This method works for my oven really well, but every oven is different.
- Cold oven with temperature-adjustable heating pad.
Once your temperature is right, cover the yogurt with a piece of cheesecloth or a very thin cloth to prevent any dust or debris getting into the yogurt, but still allowing air to flow freely. The time for fermentation will depend on how big of a batch you’re making. A smaller batch will ferment faster than a bigger batch.
When the coconut yogurt is properly fermented, you’ll need to refrigerate it for the agar agar to thicken. If you don’t refrigerate it, it won’t set properly.
If, after refrigerating, you find that your yogurt isn’t as thick as you’d like it to be, drain it. This is how Greek-style yogurt is made. Greek yogurt has been drained of excess liquid, is thicker and more decadent, and often less tangy. To make thickened yogurt, simply line a strainer with a few pieces of cheesecloth (you can also use a nut milk bag), pour the yogurt into it, cover it, and refrigerate the whole ensemble for at least a few hours, or until the yogurt has the consistency that you are looking for. The longer the yogurt drains, the thicker it will become. When the yogurt is ready, scrape it carefully from the cheesecloth into a jar and put it back in the fridge.
- Your coconut yogurt separates – separation is absolutely ok. You can just stir the yogurt when you’re ready to use it. My coconut yogurt has never separated, but it might happen because of an insufficient amount of guar gum in your coconut milk. Separation is also very typical when using homemade coconut milk for making this yogurt.
- Your coconut yogurt smells or tastes bad– the coconut yogurt should taste and smell sour/tangy, just like regular yogurt. If it smells weird, tastes odd, or has a hint of grey or pink on the surface, throw it out. It has most likely been contaminated with bad bacteria. This can happen if:
- Your utensils weren’t properly sterilized and wrong bacteria got introduced into the coconut milk.
- The probiotics (= good bacteria) died from temperatures too high or too low, and bad bacteria took over.
- Your coconut yogurt is too thin – coconut yogurt is naturally very thin (pretty much drinkable). So if you don’t use any added thickener, such as agar agar, it will not thicken up. You can also make a fairly thick yogurt without using any thickener at all. Instead of using the whole can of coconut milk, just use the extra-thick creamy layer that rises to the top. To do this, refrigerate the can of coconut milk overnight, open up the can, and scoop the layer of thick white cream off the top.
- Your coconut yogurt isn’t getting sour – failure to sour is usually either not enough starter, not hot enough to culture, or the starter died—either because your temperatures got too hot or because it was dead to begin with. Unfortunately, a dead starter is not uncommon at all with store-bough probiotics.
I hope I gave you enough information and options here to help start you down the fun road of trial and error. However, don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. And of course, leave a comment if you have any more tips for making homemade coconut yogurt I haven’t covered.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Cookware Set (Calphalon, Stainless Steel) | 2. Mixing Bowls (Set of 3, Pyrex, Glass) | 3. Mesh Strainers (Set of 3, Cuisinart, Stainless Steel) | 4. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel) | 5. Measuring Cup (2 Cups, Glass) | 6. Nut Milk Bag (12″x 12″, Ellie’s Best, Nylon)
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- 1 (13.6 oz) can full-fat coconut milk*
- 2 capsules probiotic
- 1/3 tsp. agar powder**
- 1 tsp. maple syrup (optional)
- 2 cups fresh fruit (I used strawberries and blackberries)
- 2 Tbsp. unsweetened apple juice
- 1 tsp. maple syrup
- pinch fine sea salt
Sterilize your yogurt containers, mixing spoons and other utensils before getting started. You don't want to introduce any bad bacteria into the yogurt. You can use a dishwasher or just hot water and soap will do.
Shake the can of coconut milk well before opening so the cream and the liquid blend. You could also pour the content of the can into a blender and blend until the coconut milk becomes homogeneous.
Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil. Add the agar powder. Stir to help the agar powder dissolve as the coconut milk boils. Allow the ,ilk to bubble gently for 60 seconds (2 minutes if using agar flakes). Remove it from heat.
Stir in the maple syrup and let the mixture cool down to about 105ºF (40ºC) for proper fermentation, Empty the probiotic capsule into the coconut milk and stir well until completely smooth (you could also use a blender to do this).
Pour the coconut milk into a clean (sterilized) 2-cup glass jar and cover it with cheesecloth (to help keep the yogurt clean but allowing it to "breathe"). Put the jar to a place with a constant warm temperature of about 105ºF (40ºC). I usually keep mine in a dehydrator for anywhere between 8 to 24 hours, depending on how tangy I want the yogurt to be. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use any of the other kitchen appliances listed in the "Tips" section.
When the yogurt has the proper yogurt-sour smell and taste, put it into the refrigerator for a couple of hours to set. The coconut milk yogurt may separate a bit when stored in the fridge, so stir it well before serving.
Store leftover coconut yogurt covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Place fruit and juice in a small saucepan and bring to medium heat. Once it starts boiling, use a spoon and start gently mashing some of the fruit (so it releases some of its juices).
Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and transfer to a clean jar or container to cool thoroughly. Store in the fridge.
To assemble the parfait, add a layer of the berry sauce into glass, then top it with a layer of the coconut yogurt, and continue alternating these two layers until your glass is full. Then top the yogurt parfait with some fresh fruit and grain-free granola.
*I used Thai Kitchen coconut milk.
**You can also use 1 tsp. agar flakes instead of the powder.