coconut yogurtCoconut milk yogurt is the most sought-after dairy-free yogurt on the market. It’s lusciously smooth, creamy, tangy, and coconutty. No wonder homemade coconut milk yogurt is so popular. This coconut yogurt recipe is vegan (dairy-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, nut-free, and refined sugar-free.

Coconut Yogurt vs Dairy Yogurt

Coconut yogurt is fairly easy to make. It’s actually very similar to how you’d make dairy yogurt. However, the final result differs in both flavor and consistency.

Flavor

If you’ve ever had coconut yogurt, you’ve most likely noticed that it’s more tart and tangy than regular dairy yogurt. This is because coconut milk has different macronutrient structure than dairy milk. Coconut milk contains no sugar (it’s mainly fat) whereas dairy milk contains about 5% of natural sugar (lactose). So, when culturing coconut milk, it’s necessary to add a sweetener to promote culturing.

Consistency

Coconut milk doesn’t thicken the same way dairy milk does. You only have to look at the ingredients list of any commercially made dairy-free yogurt for proof of this – every single one will contain a thickener as well as a stabilizer. As I already mentioned, plant-based milks don’t have the same carbohydrate, protein, and fat structure as dairy milk, so they behave fundamentally differently when inoculated with a starter culture. Dairy yogurt relies on bacteria to thicken the yogurt and give it a tangy flavor. Coconut milk relies on bacteria to give it a tangy flavor as well, but the bacteria alone aren’t enough to naturally thicken it.

There are two ways to fix that:

  • Use agar: most store-bought coconut yogurt contain some type of starch (tapioca starch, rice starch, or potato starch) and pectin. Starches are completely unnecessary to make dairy-free yogurt. There is a better way to thicken coconut yogurt (more on that later). Pectin is slightly different because it’s a gelatinous substance. The structure of pectin is somewhat similar, from a macroscopic perspective, to that of agar. However, the advantage of agar is that it’s a bit more consistent in its structure and provides the perfect growing medium for many microorganisms, including bacteria.
  • Use coconut cream: you can make thick yogurt without using any thickeners at all. Instead of using the entire can of full-fat coconut milk, just use the thick cream that rises to the top. The downside of using only coconut cream is that the yogurt has the consistency of incredibly rich and creamy yogurt. If you like thinner yogurt, use the entire can of coconut milk. If you like thick yogurt, scoop out the cream first and add only the amount of liquid you like. I don’t like the consistency of coconut yogurt made from coconut cream only, but feel free to give it a try if you’d like.

coconut milk yogurt

Tips for Making Coconut Milk Yogurt

Ingredients

There are two types of coconut yogurt – raw coconut yogurt (from young fresh coconut flesh) and pasteurized coconut milk yogurt (from canned coconut cream). This version of coconut yogurt is the later.

  • Coconut milk: I know this will be frustrating, but every brand of coconut milk will yield different consistency of coconut yogurt. The most important thing is to use canned full-fat coconut milk. Coconut milk in a carton (from the refrigerated section) or even canned light coconut milk will not work because they doesn’t contain enough fat. Another consideration is gums, such as guar gum or xantham gum. Gums are thickeners as well as emulsifiers meant to make the coconut milk creamier and more homogenous. I am personally not a fan because these additives can interfere with the culturing process. I also recommend avoiding brands that use sulfites and BPA-lined cans. My favorite brands are Aroy-D and Thrive Market – both have a great consistency and contain nothing but coconut and water.
  • Agar: to give the coconut yogurt a slightly gelatinous consistency, I use agar (extracted from red algae). Agar is sold as flakes, powder, bars, and strands. The powder – which this coconut milk yogurt recipe calls for – is the least expensive and the easiest to work with.
  • Probiotics: it wouldn’t be yogurt if it didn’t contain live cultures. You can either use probiotics or plant-based yogurt starter. The advantage of using a yogurt starter is that it contains cultures specifically found in yogurt. If you go with probiotics, look out for probiotics with lactic acid forming bacteria. At a minimum you want Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles strains. Other good bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis. 
  • Sweetener (optional): bacteria need something to feed on to allow the culturing process to take place. In traditional dairy yogurt, the bacteria consume milk sugar (lactose). Coconut milk has very little naturally occurring sugar, so it’s best to add a little bit. Maple syrup, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, date paste, etc. all work. That being said, I have made coconut milk yogurt without any sweetener in the past and had no issues. However, to be safe, I recommend adding at least a little bit. Note: the final yogurt will not contain any (or very little) sugar since the bacteria will feed on it.

coconut milk yogurt ingredients

How to Make Coconut Milk Yogurt

Making dairy-free yogurt is a fairly simple process, but there are some common things that can go wrong. If you’ve never made yogurt at home, here is the step-by-step process.

  1. Mix the coconut milk and agar. Pour a little bit of the coconut milk into a medium saucepan and mix in the agar powder. (If you add the agar into the entire amount of milk, the agar will kind of just float on top and won’t mix in properly). Once dissolved, add the rest of the coconut milk and mix until well combined. 
  2. Boil the coconut milk. Heat the coconut milk over medium heat to 190°F/88°C and hold the temperature for 5 minutes. Heat will not only activate the agar, but it will also sterilize the milk and prevent bad bacteria from cultivating. 
  3. Cool the coconut milk. Remove the coconut milk from the heat and let it cool to 110°F/43°C. If the coconut milk is warmer than 110°F/43°C, it might kill the yogurt bacteria. I like to transfer the coconut milk into a sterilized glass jar, so it cools down faster. 
  4. Add the sweetener and live cultures. Once the coconut milk reaches 110°F/43°C, you’re safe to add the live cultures. Using sterilized non-metal utensils, stir the sweetener and live cultures into the coconut milk. Metal self-sterilizes, i.e., it kills bacteria, including the good bacteria, so avoid metal bowls and utensils. Make sure the starter culture is well mixed in, so the good bacteria are spread throughout the coconut milk.
  5. Let the coconut milk culture. Cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth, and let the coconut milk culture at a consistent temperature for a few hours. The time will depend on the strength of the probiotics, the number of strains the probiotics contain, and the temperature at which the milk is culturing. I used 50 billion probiotic capsules with 20 different bacterial strains, and let the yogurt culture at 77°F/25°C for 18 hours. The longer you let the coconut yogurt culture, the tangier it will be. 
  6. Refrigerate the yogurt. Once the coconut yogurt reaches the tanginess you like, place it in the refrigerator to stop the culturing process. As the yogurt cools, it will thicken.

How to Serve Coconut Milk Yogurt

I typically have plain coconut milk yogurt for breakfast with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of grain-free granola or muesli. Another great add-in is this high-protein cereal with chia seeds. 

If you don’t like plain yogurt or want switch things up a little, there are many ways to flavor plain yogurt and create exactly the kind of taste you want. Here are some of my favorite ways to flavor yogurt to get you started:

  • Layer ½ cup pureed fruit with 1 cup yogurt.
  • Swirl 3 Tbsp. jam into 1 cup yogurt.
  • Add a sweetener, such as maple syrup, date syrup, or coconut nectar, to taste.
  • Stir in 3 drops of extract – vanilla, lemon, orange, cherry, and strawberry are my favorite- per cup of yogurt + sweetener to taste.
  • Mix in 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder + 1 Tbsp. maple syrup per 1 cup yogurt.

Make sure you add any of the flavorings after the yogurt has finished culturing so you don’t upset the bacteria.

How to Store Coconut Milk Yogurt

  • Refrigerating: transfer the cultured coconut milk yogurt into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
  • Freezing: coconut milk yogurt does not freeze well.

dairy-free yogurt

Coconut Milk Yogurt Troubleshooting

As I said, making homemade yogurt is a fairly simple process. But if you have a failed batch and want to know why, read on.

  • Thin yogurt: there are a few reasons why homemade yogurt might have not thickened properly:
    • Low-fat coconut milk: the fat content of the coconut milk should be around 20%. The lower the fat content, the thinner the yogurt.
    • Too little agar: agar powder is the main ingredient that causes the coconut yogurt to thicken. If you don’t add enough or use a different form of agar, the yogurt will turn out thinner. 
    • Incorrect thermometer readings: first of all, the agar needs be cooked at a constant temperature of 190°F/88°C for about 5 minutes. This is what activates agar, causing the yogurt to thicken. The starter culture causes the coconut yogurt to thicken as well. If the coconut milk is warmer than 110°F/43°C when you add the cultures, the cultures might not survive. So, use a thermometer when making yogurt.
  • Separation: it’s normal for the yogurt to separate since it doesn’t contain any emulsifiers. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but if it does happen, just stir it.
  • Weird smell: coconut yogurt should taste and smell like coconut. It will be tangy, but it shouldn’t smell bad and/or taste spoiled. It also shouldn’t fizz or expand. If any of that happens, the yogurt has gone off and I recommend discarding it. Here are a few reasons why homemade yogurt might have gone bad:
    • Inactive culture: whether you use probiotics or a yogurt starter, the cultures need to be active. Bacteria activity decreases over time, so the fresher, the better.
    • Not enough good bacteria: in the initial stages of culturing, there are both good and bad bacteria competing for dominance. If there is insufficient amount of good bacteria, the bad bacteria will outnumber the good ones and the yogurt will spoil.
    • Too low or too high incubation temperature: the temperature for yogurt bacteria to grow properly is around 110°F/43°C. Temperature that is too high inactivates bacteria; temperature that is too low prohibits growth. This doesn’t mean that the temperature has to be exactly 110°F/43°C, but it’s ideal. I don’t own a yogurt maker, for instance, so I usually just use my oven set to bread-proofing cycle, which is 100°F/38°C. In the summer, I might just let the yogurt culture on the kitchen counter.

More Dairy-Free Yogurt Recipes

  • Raw coconut yogurt: if you love the flavor of coconuts, I highly recommend trying the raw version of coconut yogurt. It’s very coconutty, a little nutty, and slightly sweet. The texture is incredibly smooth and the consistency is surprisingly yogurt-like (even without any thickeners).
  • Almond milk yogurt: another great dairy-free alternative to regular yogurt. Almond milk yogurt is just as thick, creamy, and tart as coconut yogurt, but it’s made from blanched almonds. 

If you try any of these recipes, please, leave a comment and rate the recipe below. It always means a lot when you do.

coconut milk yogurt
5 from 2 votes

Coconut Yogurt

Prep Time: 18 hours 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 6 (1/2-cup) servings
Coconut yogurt is the most sought-after dairy-free yogurt on the market. It’s lusciously smooth, creamy, tangy, and coconutty. No wonder homemade coconut yogurt is so popular. The recipe is vegan (dairy-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, nut-free, and refined sugar-free.

Ingredients
 

Instructions
 

  • Mix the coconut milk and agar. Pour a little bit of the coconut milk into a medium saucepan and mix in the agar powder. (If you add the agar into the entire amount of milk, the agar will kind of just float on top and won’t mix in properly). Once dissolved, add the rest of the almond milk and mix until well combined. 
  • Boil the coconut milk. Heat the coconut milk over medium heat to 190°F/88°C and hold the temperature for 5 minutes. Heat will not only activate the agar, but it will also sterilize the milk and prevent bad bacteria from cultivating. 
  • Cool the coconut milk. Remove the coconut milk from the heat and let it cool to 110°F/43°C. If the coconut milk is warmer than 110°F/43°C, it might kill the yogurt bacteria. I like to transfer the coconut milk into a sterilized glass jar, so it cools down faster. 
  • Add the sweetener and live cultures. Once the milk reaches 110°F/43°C, you’re safe to add the live cultures. Using sterilized non-metal utensils, stir the sweetener and live cultures into the coconut milk. Metal self-sterilizes, i.e., it kills bacteria, including the good bacteria, so avoid metal bowls and utensils. Make sure the starter culture is well mixed in, so the good bacteria are spread throughout the coconut milk.
  • Let the coconut milk culture. Cover the jar with a piece of cheesecloth, and let the coconut milk culture at a consistent temperature for a few hours. The time will depend on the strength of the probiotics, the number of strains the probiotics contain, and the temperature at which the milk is culturing. I used 50 billion probiotic capsules with 20 different bacterial strains, and let the yogurt culture at 77°F/25°C for 18 hours. The longer you culture the coconut yogurt, the tangier it will be.
  • Refrigerate the yogurt. Once the coconut yogurt reaches the tanginess you like, place it in the refrigerator to stop the culturing process. As the yogurt cools, it will thicken (you can always add a splash of water and give it a stir for a thinner consistency)..
  • Store. Leftover coconut yogurt keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Notes

*I used 50 billion probiotic capsules with 20 different bacterial strains, including Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium lactis.
**Nutrition information is approximate and many contain errors. Please, feel free to make your own calculations.

Nutrition

Serving: 1of 6, Calories: 150kcal, Carbohydrates: 2g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 15g, Fiber: 0g, Sugar: 1g