Friday, February 7, 2014

Adventures in Vegan Yogurt Making: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started and (Hopefully) Have Success

I’m brand new to Vegan yogurt making. In fact, I received my first yogurt machine only two weeks ago. But I’ve spent some time researching Vegan yogurt making over these past few weeks, and I wish that all of this information had been in one place. So, I’ve made an attempt to lay it all out here for you, in case you are inspired to make your own Vegan yogurt. I sure hope you do, it’s amazing what happens with a little knowledge and some guts.

Before I get started, I need to thank Debby, The Healthy Librarian (, my muse, guide and mentor. Without her, I would never have known that I could make my own Vegan yogurt, nor would I have known how, nor had the guts to actually try it. So, Debby, a big giant "Thank you!" to you.

Stuff you will need:

  1. Alternative milk, 1 quart (4 cups). Of course you could make more, but all of the proportions in this blog post apply to 4 cups of milk. If you do decide to double the amount of milk, you will need to double the amount of thickener, but not the amount of Vegan Yogurt Starter/Culture (stick with one packet).
  2. Vegan Yogurt Culture/Starter
  3. Thickener
  4. Candy Thermometer
  5. Measuring cup (a two cup liquid measuring cup works perfectly)
  6. Measuring Spoons
  7. Medium saucepan
  8. Whisk
  9. Yogurt Machine, or your oven, dehydrator, crock pot, or brand new Instant Pot--Whatever your method, it is imperative that you test it out before making yogurt to ensure that you can achieve a steady temperature of between 108 and 112 degrees. You can do this with a water test and a thermometer. Just let your method run for hours, testing the water every hour or so. It turned out that my first Cuisinart machine was defective and I didn't know it until after three failed attempts at yogurt making. I was so frustrated! Then I ran the water test and found out that my machine was running at 125 degrees, killing the yogurt culture! Uuuuuuuggggggghhhhh. I replaced my machine with a new one and ran a new water test. My second machine worked fine and guess what? My first attempt at making yogurt in it was met with success.

Milk Choice: 

Choose an unflavored variety of alternative milk with the least number of additives possible. 

The higher the fat content of the milk, the thicker the final product will be.

Organic Soy Milk-the fewer ingredients the better, see the label—this can be as simple as filtered water and soybeans. Eden Soy Organic and Unsweetened has the highest fat content, which makes better yogurt. West Soy (sold at Trader Joe's for about half the price of the EdenSoy) has less fat, but it's a good second option.
Oat milk
Coconut Milk--Coconut milk yogurt can be made with canned, boxed, or homemade coconut milk.
Almond Milk--edited to note: there is a great recipe for yogurt made with homemade almond milk here. My friend Debbie from yoga class made it and said that I must include it in this blog post!
Hemp Milk
The rumor is that rice milk does not work as well as the others because the finished product separates. If that doesn’t bother you, you can shake or stir it before serving.

Thickening options: 

The more thickener you use, the thicker the final product will be. The consistency can approach that of Greek yogurt when you use the maximum amount of thickener.

The following thickeners should be added in the method as described in steps number 3 and 4 below:
2-4 Tbsp organic cornstarch (3.5 Tbsp seems to be the magic number)
2-4 Tbsp flax seed
2-4 Tbsp arrow root
2-4 Tbsp tapioca flour
1-2 tsp guar gum

The following thickeners can be added directly to the simmering milk and whisked vigorously:
½-1 tsp agar agar powder (According to Cultures for Health, the way to use Agar is as follows: For every 3 to 4 cups milk, dissolve 1/2 teaspoon agar into 1/2 cup of water. Bring the agar and water mixture to a boil. Allow the mixture to cool sufficiently prior to adding it to the heated milk (just before adding the culture).)
½ -1 tsp xantham gum
soy lecthin granules--use a mortar and pestle (or a small grinder) to reduce 1/2 tsp-1 tsp granules to powder
¼ tsp liquid soy or sunflower lechtin

Starter/Culture Options:

Cultures for Health Vegan Yogurt Starter FYI, this is not a certified Kosher product, but the ingredients are as follows: Rice maltodextrin, live active bacteria (Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp bulgaricus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Streptococcus thermophilus).

Whole Foods carries a Vegan Yogurt starter on their shelves. The brand is called Yogo.

But you can use store bought yogurt with live and active cultures as your starter. 1 Tbsp to ½ cup of any store bought Vegan yogurt (soy or coconut, etc.) should work as well as a packet of starter. More is not necessarily better. I have read that 1 Tbsp might actually work better than mare than that because the bacteria like to have a lot of room to breathe.

Sweetening/Flavoring Options:

Maple Syrup
Fruit Preserves
Fresh fruit
Frozen fruit

There are five stages of yogurt making:


  1. Make sure that everything you are using to make the yogurt is very clean. You can even go as far as pouring boiling water on everything, or dipping everything into a large pot of boiling water, but it doesn’t seem necessary.
  2. Remove one packet of Vegan Yogurt Starter from your refrigerator or freezer or between 1 Tbsp and ½ cup of plain Vegan yogurt (soy or coconut, etc.) from your refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
  3. In a medium saucepan, pour 1.5 cups of your alternative milk of choice. Begin heating on LOW temperature. You do not want the milk to scald (burn) or boil. If it does, you must toss it out and start over, so keep that heat on low. The milk should simmer between 150-180 degrees. Use your candy thermometer to ensure that the temperature does not go over 180 degrees.
  4. While the milk is warming, place your thickener into a small bowl with ½ cup of the milk from the carton (the room temperature milk). Whisk until thickener is totally dissolved. This is your slurry.
  5. Pour slurry into the saucepan with the simmering milk and whisk. Continue to heat and whisk until you start to get some thickening, similar to a light gravy or sauce. Once again, do not bring to a boil. Once thickened, remove from heat.
  6. Pour the remaining room temperature milk from the carton into the saucepan with the thickened milk and whisk. 
  7. OPTIONAL: And this is totally optional folks, you could let the milk simmer here for a while to get really thick. Whisk it from time to time. It all depends on how thick you want the final yogurt to be. If you want a Greek yogurt consistency, this could be the way to go. Once thick, remove from heat.
  8. LET THE MILK COOL: You can speed up the cooling process by placing the saucepan onto a bowl of ice water. The ice method makes a huge difference in the amount of time this whole process takes, I highly recommend it.  Using your candy thermometer, measure the temperature of the mixture. 
  9. TRANSFER THE MILK: When the temperature of the milk mixture is under 110 degrees, pour the milk into the plastic container of your Cuisinart yogurt machine. If you are not using the Cuisinart, see Note 1.
  10. Stir the milk with the whisk to make sure that the temperature is consistent throughout the milk. Measure again and if the temperature is in fact under 110 degrees, whisk in the Vegan Yogurt Starter or your desired amount of plain vegan yogurt.
  11. Keep the mixture warm at 108-112 degrees for 6-9 hours.
·         The longer the culturing time, the more sour the yogurt will be. I have found that I can culture my yogurt at 8-9 hours in my Cuisinart Machine to achieve that yogurt taste.
·         A yogurt machine does the warming work at a constant temperature for you.
·         If using store bought Vegan yogurt as your culture, it may take longer than 8 hours (maybe even up to 12) for the yogurt to reach your desired taste.
·         If you do not have a yogurt machine, see instructions for other options below.

  1. After 6-9 hours of culturing (you set the exact time on the Cuisinart), the Cuisinart machine will begin the cooling process automatically (the Cuisinart machine is the only machine that will switch from warming to cooling for you, without you needing to be both awake and at home for this step,, which is why people pay the big bucks for it). If you are not using the Cuisinart, simply place the yogurt into your refrigerator (with an airtight lid) for a minimum of 5 hours and up to 8-12 hours. The yogurt will thicken a lot during the refrigeration step.
  2. Optional sweetening and/or flavoring the yogurt can be done only after it has completely thickened and cooled, but you will be surprised at how delicious it is plain!

NOTE 1: If you are not using the Cuisinart machine, when the milk reaches 110 degrees, stir in the starter right in the saucepan. Then transfer the mixture to whatever container(s) you are culturing the yogurt in. You can make yogurt in any container that you can keep warm. Oftentimes with other yogurt machines, this will be small individual containers. But you can use mason jars, bread pans, etc.

Culturing yogurt without a yogurt machine:

  • In an electric oven: Turn on the light in an electric oven, then wrap the yogurt in a dishtowel and put it inside the oven.
  • In a new Instant Pot:
  • In a dehydrator: keeping the yogurt in a dehydrator on the lowest temperature setting (no higher than 110 degrees) with the shelves removed for 6-8 hours
  • In an insulated cooler: wrap the jar in a dishtowel and put it in an insulated cooler with the cover on.
Note: “You can test the temperature of each of these methods ahead of time by heating some water to 110°F and holding the jar of water for the required number of hours using the method of choice. Test the water temperature periodically to ensure that the incubation method will hold the warmth properly.”

Optional: Strain the Yogurt

To achieve a very thick yogurt (which you might need for certain dips or recipes) or cheese, you can even go the extra mile and strain the yogurt after the cooling step. You can strain the yogurt through a cheese bag or coffee filter, or use this gizmo (which I did purchase and LOVE!)

which will let a good deal of the excess water drip out, leaving you with a thicker yogurt. With the method that Debby taught me that I have outlined above, the yogurt comes out so thick that you might find it to be similar to Greek Yogurt.

Edited to note:

Optional: Making Vegan Yogurt the Easy Way

It was brought to my attention that yogurt could be made very simply by just adding one packet of Vegan yogurt starter to a box of soy milk, closing the cap, shaking the milk, pouring the milk into the container of your yogurt machine, turning the machine on and viola! In 8-9 hours Yogurt! (Well, after the 8-9 hours the yogurt needs to cool for many hours, but you get my point.) No pots, no whisks, no heat, no time . . . nada! So I did it. And it does work. So if all this seems daunting to you, just do it the simple way! The difference will be that the end result is not nearly as thick as what happens when you use the method detailed in this blog post. You might still love it! But now that I am used to the thicker Vegan yogurt, I'm going to say that it's worth the extra time and clean up to make the thick yogurt. I just loved it and since I started making it a day has not gone by that I haven't eaten homemade Vegan yogurt. What a wonderful addition to my diet.

3/13/14, edited to add:

Making Larger Batches of Yogurt in Your Cuisinart:

A few people have asked me about making larger than 4 cup batches (of alternative milk) yogurt at a time. One standard box of alternative milk is 4 cups, so that's the standard recipe a lot of the time for Vegan homemade yogurts. I'm happy to report that I made a batch last night with 1.5 containers of soy milk (6 total cups) and it came out perfectly in my Cuisinart. I increased the thickener, in my case from 3.5 Tbsp to 5.25 Tbsp of organic cornstarch. I did not use any more than one packet of Vegan yogurt starter. That is very important to note: you do not need more yogurt starter. 

The batch came out just as well as my smaller batches have, and I have to say that I don't think I will go back to making 4 cup batches. With 6 cup batches I can make yogurt less frequently and also have enough yogurt during the week for things like Vegan Tzatziki and Vegan Raita to go with out dinners. Score!
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