Humans have been making yogurt for thousands of years as a means of preserving milk. Now that we have reliable refrigeration, we tend to buy yogurt in a colourful tub at the grocery store and enjoy it more for the tangy and sweet flavour, as well as the beneficial probiotic bacteria. Homemade yogurt is great place to start experimenting if you’re interested in making your own fermented foods. It only requires two ingredients and a little patience, and you can keep making batch after batch with ease by saving some yogurt from each batch to culture new milk.
So why bother making your own yogurt when there are vast aisles dedicated to every type and flavour imaginable? The unfortunate thing about most big brand store-bought yogurts, especially the dairy-free varieties, is that they are filled with all kinds of unnecessary ingredients like added sugars, gels, thickeners, artificial flavours, colours, and preservatives. Since yogurt is marketed as a “health food” with probiotic benefits for your digestive system, I think a lot of people are misled into believing that their favourite brand of yogurt is a super nutritious everyday snack or breakfast choice, when in reality many of them are filled with as much sugar as ice cream and contain more gums and thickening agents than actual milk. Now, I’m definitely not hating on sugar or ice cream, but I do think truth in advertising and making informed decisions are important in foods that we choose to consume every day under the assumption that they are beneficial for our health!
In terms of the probiotics, not all yogurts are cultured with bacteria that is considered to have probiotic benefits, so it’s important to know that not all commercial yogurts are considered probiotic. If there are probiotics in the yogurt then you should see each bacteria strain listed by its Latin name, the quantity present in the serving size, and you should also see cfu (colony forming units) listed, which means the bacteria is alive. Many popular brands that do market themselves as contributing to healthy gut flora do not contain enough active bacterial cultures per serving size to make any sort of impact on digestive health. For example, you’d have to eat 8 or more servings of Danone’s Activia yogurt in order to consume the therapeutic dose of probiotics shown to provide digestive health benefits. So, if you are eating yogurt for the probiotic benefits and happy dancing bellies you see on commercials, you may want to reconsider! Here is an article written by a Canadian registered dietician outlining more about the probiotics in commercially prepared yogurt.
If you love eating yogurt then making your own is worth trying because it could not be simpler! Not only will you get the health benefits of a truly probiotic-rich food, but you will be able to control the quality of ingredients used as well. Once you’ve made your yogurt it’s easy to add in your own fresh fruit, fruit preserves or jam for flavour, or some honey or maple syrup to sweeten to your taste. You’ll also save yourself some money, because other than the initial costs of purchasing probiotics, it’s much cheaper to make good yogurt at home than it is to continually buy one.
While probiotic yogurt can be easier to digest than just drinking straight up milk, I find that cow’s milk yogurt doesn’t always agree with my stomach and I know many people who are also sensitive to dairy products. So, I chose to make a dairy-free coconut milk yogurt because I really enjoy the flavour of coconut milk. The process is basically the same as you would use for making dairy milk, so if you’d rather make a dairy version then I’ve also included substitution notes in the recipe instructions. I’ve bought coconut, soy, and almond milk based yogurts in the past, and while they do have a tangy “yogurt” flavour, the ingredients lists are usually a mile long because of all the stabilizers and thickeners that need to be added to achieve a thick, creamy consistency. To keep things simple and ingredients minimal, I’ve used coconut cream instead of coconut milk in my recipe, which results in a thicker yogurt without the need to add any additional starches or gums. The yogurt does have a mild coconut flavour though, so if you don’t like coconut then you may want to opt for cow’s milk instead. If you choose to use cow’s milk, the fermentation process usually thickens up 2% or whole milk quite nicely. I always recommend using full fat coconut milk and dairy milk products. Don’t buy into the myth that “fat makes you fat” and lose out on the flavour, texture, nutrients, and satisfaction that fat provides!
If you prefer a really thick yogurt texture (similar to Greek yogurt), you can strain the excess liquid out of the yogurt also once it’s made by placing a fine mesh sieve over a bowl, lining it with cheesecloth, and scooping in the yogurt to strain overnight.
I hope that this post has empowered you with a little information to use the next time you’re shopping in the yogurt aisle, and once you read the recipe you feel inspired to give this little home fermentation experiment a try!
- 2 14 oz. cans coconut cream* (you can also use 2% or whole cow's milk if dairy isn't an issue for you)
- 4 probiotic capsules or 4 Tablespoons prepared yogurt*
Sterilize the jar(s) you'll be using to store your yogurt in by filling them with boiling water, then letting them air dry, or running them through the dishwasher. You can use a 1 quart jar or multiple smaller jars, the fermentation process will be the same.
Prepare a warm place to allow your yogurt to ferment. The ideal temperature range for making yogurt is 110°F to 115°F. Depending on the climate you live in, you may be able to do your fermentation right on the countertop in a warm spot in your kitchen (i.e. if its summer and you don't have A/C, or next to the stove/oven if it's on). You can also create a warm environment by turning on your oven to it's lowest setting for 5-10 minutes, then turning it off completely (you can keep the light turned on so that it stays slightly warm). If you have a dehydrator you can use that as well to maintain a steady, warm temperature. You want to maintain a nice warm environment for the bacteria to proliferate (not too hot though otherwise you will kill off the bacteria!). I have a cheap yogurt maker I bought for $20 at Stokes years ago, so I use that because it's easy and I know the proper temperature will remain controlled for the entire fermentation time. If you plan on regularly making your own yogurt and have the cupboard space then it could be worth the investment, but you definitely don't need any fancy equipment!
Bring your coconut cream (or cow's milk) to room temperature. You can also heat it up to just boiling, then cool it back down to 110°F to 115°F (I recommend doing this if you choose to use cow's milk as it will result in a thicker, creamier yogurt, but it's not necessary if using coconut cream). What's important is to not start with cold ingredients because that will affect how well the bacteria are able to begin fermenting the milk.
Carefully open up the probiotic capsules and whisk the powder inside together with the coconut cream (or cow's milk) until combined. Discard the capsule. If you are using prepared yogurt instead, then allow the 4 Tablespoons of yogurt to come to room temperature and then stir it into the coconut cream.
Transfer the coconut cream + probiotic mixture into your sterilized jar(s) and seal them tightly with a lid. Place the jars in your warm environment and leave it alone for 12-24 hours to ferment. I like to give mine a full 24 hours to develop a good tangy flavour and thicker texture, but you can start tasting after about 10 hours and stop when it tastes good to you. Just make sure you use a clean spoon every time you go to taste it so that you don't introduce any bacteria from your mouth into the yogurt.
When you're ready to stop the fermentation, place your jar(s) in the refrigerator to chill for at least 6 hours. Initially the yogurt may still seem fairly runny, so it is important to chill the yogurt completely to allow it to thicken up. The flavour will also improve with refrigeration.
Once chilled, give your yogurt a good stir and enjoy it as is, top it with fruit, granola, preserves, honey, maple syrup, etc., or use it in a smoothie or other recipe! Homemade yogurt will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge, and it will continue to become more sour and tangy as it ages. Don't forget to save a bit of this batch to start your next batch!
*If you can't find canned coconut cream, then you can make your own by refrigerating a 2-3 cans of full fat coconut milk overnight, then scooping off the thick white cream that rises to the top of the can. You can use the liquid that is left for smoothies, soups, or curries.
*Choose any probiotic capsule available at the health food store that contains: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Bifidobacterium lactisand Streptococcus thermophilus. If you choose to use prepared yogurt instead of probiotics to culture your milk then you can either use homemade yogurt from your previous batch, or your favourite plain store-bought yogurt made with active bacterial cultures.