Thursday, November 24, 2011

Making non-dairy yoghurt

One of the things on my 5 Things I Would Like To Make list was non-dairy yoghurt. After some months of experimentation, I am pleased to finally have some things to report. Not all good things, mind you, but things nonetheless.

If you dislike yoghurt then I'm afraid this post may not be the one for you. However, if you do, and/or if you might want to make yoghurt yourself one day, I hope some of the following may be of use.

The background

Why did I want to make yoghurt at all? After discovering that gelatin was in almost all of the commercial yoghurts sold in Australia, I switched a few years ago to favouring the natural pot-set yoghurt varieties. Comparing typical commercial yoghurts with natural pot-set yoghurts (Jalna is a particular favourite) is like comparing a Mars bar with quality dark chocolate. They aren't the same at all, and whilst the latter in each comparison is probably an acquired taste, I well and truly acquired a preference for pot-set.

The problem with this switch is that, over time, it became harder and harder to find my preferred brands. Where pot-set varieties were available, they were increasingly of the flavoured sort, and I was having to invest more and more effort to track down the type I liked. Driving to a supermarket with the specific goal of buying yoghurt was getting a little frustrating.

This supermarket inconvenience corresponded with my experimentation with reducing dairy, and so the idea of making non-dairy yoghurt was born.

For reference, I shall note here that a 500g tub (0.5L) of natural pot-set yoghurt usually cost in the vicinity of $4, or a little higher, when bought from the supermarket. Let's see if we can beat that $8 / 1L benchmark, and achieve just as good a result...

The first step - cheating

Although my goal was to make non-dairy yoghurt, I actually started at the other end of the spectrum. So much so that instead of making non-dairy yoghurt from scratch, I was making dairy yoghurt from a sachet. It doesn't sound quite the same does it?

I invested in an EasiYo yoghurt maker, which is effectively a 1L jar and a larger thermos-type thing in which the yoghurt sits while it is fermenting. These cost about $20, and the EasiYo products seem to be available in a number of shops in Western Australia (in my case, I found that Big W had the biggest range of yoghurt sachet options, designed to go with the yoghurt maker).

To my slight embarrassment, I picked the 'Skimmers' EasiYo sachets as what seemed like the closest to the yoghurt I usually buy. I would have preferred a different name, but there you go. There are plenty of flavoured options too, if you prefer something with a better title and/or with added sugar and flavour (there is also a Greek-style option).

The ingredient list of the Skimmers variety is nice and short: pasteurised skim and whole milk solids (98%), from free range cows, and live lactic cultures.
There is no real challenge in making this yoghurt. You pour a sachet into the 1L jar, fill it half way up with cold water, put the lid on, shake, continue filling the jar up with cold water, shake again, fill the thermos thingy up half way with boiling water, put the 1L jar in the thermos, put the lid on, and wait.

You can wait anywhere from 8 hours until (reportedly) 24 hours - I've settled on about 12 hours as my favourite time frame to get the yoghurt nice and thick.

The verdict on this cheating option? Perfection in a bowl. Seriously. And despite how easy it is to make, there is still a strong sense of satisfaction at making the yoghurt yourself.

A 3-pack of sachets costs $9.95, so the cost for 1L made this way is $3.32. In other words, less than half of the price of commercial yoghurts.

The second step - still on dairy

It took me a little while to work my way up to my non-dairy aspirations. After trying out the sachets, I thought I would try doing things 'properly', using skim milk powder and a yoghurt starter.

Brydie talked about this recently, using the same EasiYo containers. My approach was virtually identical to hers, with 1.5 cups of milk powder and about 2 tablespoons of yoghurt as the starting ingredients. You mix those up with water, in the 1L jar, and then go through the same process as with the sachets.

I used skim milk powder for this rather than full-cream, and I think a mixture of the two may work slightly better than skim alone. My verdict on this, when made with skim milk powder, is that it wasn't quite as thick as the 'cheat' option (or the store bought varieties). Whilst it was still delicious, I was left preferring the sachet overall.

This does have the advantage of being very economical though, coming in at about $1.50 - $2 per 1L - and I suspect that using some full-cream milk powder would make it thicker if desired.

The third step - choosing a non-dairy option

When I was finally ready to enter non-dairy territory, I was faced with the challenge of choosing precisely what non-dairy option to pursue. I knew I didn't want to make soy yoghurt, as I like to vary things away from soy whenever possible (given it is the default non-dairy option available commercially). For those who are interested in making soy yoghurt, though, some links are at the end of this post.

The non-dairy milk comparisons I blogged last month were actually part of this decision-making process, as I wanted to start with a milk that I liked the taste of and (ideally) which contained reasonable amounts of protein and calcium.

Based on those comparisons, I decided to try protein-enriched rice milk and coconut milk yoghurts.

The coconut milk didn't have the protein or calcium content I was hoping for, but I thought the slightly higher fat content might be useful for yoghurt-making, and I knew that others had made coconut milk yoghurt successfully before.

The fourth step - rice milk yoghurt

For this, I mixed about 1/4 cup soy vanilla yoghurt (as a starter) with nearly 1L of the Vitasoy protein enriched rice milk pictured above - enough milk to fill up the 1L jar, when mixed with the starter yoghurt. The 1L jar went inside the EasiYo thermos half filled with boiling water, and was left to ferment away.

I actually left this for over 14 hours, as I found it didn't thicken as readily as the dairy variety. Even with the slightly longer standing time, the final product was still, if I'm honest, more like drinking yoghurt than yoghurt. Very good with cereal, but not so much in a bowl on its own.

Whilst some separation of liquids is normal with pot-set yoghurt (as the whey separates from the yoghurt), this was also more marked with the rice milk variety:

I do wonder whether spooning off the top whey layer would have made the overall product thicker, but I  just kept stirring the two layers back together. I think the separation is probably related to the amount of yoghurt starter, which is somewhat of a moving target when making yoghurt at home. In this instance I may have used a little too much soy yoghurt at the beginning.

All in all? The tart yoghurt taste was there, and it was thicker than regular rice milk, but it wasn't at all like dairy yoghurt. With that said, I did like it, and will continue to play around with this to try and get the proportions right and reduce the whey-yoghurt separation.

This option works out to be about $3 per 1L. Still big savings!

The fifth step - coconut milk yoghurt

I had such high hopes for this. After my experience with the rice milk yoghurt being a bit too thin, I added 1 tsp agar-agar flakes to the ingredient list, in an attempt to thicken the final product. The agar went into the 1L EasiYo jar with 1/4 cup soy yoghurt starter and just under 1L coconut milk, to ferment in the thermos in the same way as above.

Sadly, this was a dismal fail. In every sense possible.

The whey-yoghurt separation was so pronounced that the 'yoghurt' was extremely odd to look at and far too off-putting to even taste:

Not quite what I was looking for.

I'm unsure if the problem here was not enough sugar for the yoghurt bacteria to breed on - as the coconut milk was lower in sugar than some of the other non-dairy options (and than regular milk) - or whether it was the soy yoghurt starter. I know that some people use commercial powdered yoghurt starter to make yoghurt at home, which I guess is similar to what comes mixed into the EasiYo sachets. 

I do wonder if that would work better than guessing at soy yoghurt quantities, especially as it would also be a 'purer' source of the live cultures. Also, I don't know if soy yoghurt and coconut milk go together particularly well, and if not, trying to combine them here may not be sensible. Unfortunately, I've not been able to find the powdered yoghurt starter and am reluctant to order it online when it may not prove to be any use.

All in all, then, this did not inspire me to pursue coconut yoghurt! It was also rather an expensive mistake, considering the $5 price tag per 1L carton of coconut milk (albeit still cheaper than store-bought yoghurt). I know that coconut milk yoghurt is possible, but I may take a break to re-gain confidence before trying it again...

The sixth step - reflection

Interestingly, after this process of experimentation, I went back to the EasiYo sachets (I had two left) and fell in love with yoghurt all over again. After trying the slightly thinner options that came from skim milk powder and rice milk, the EasiYo result was noticeably thicker and more enjoyable. 

As the sachets don't require a yoghurt starter to be on hand (useful given that I'm happy to have a few days off between yoghurt batches, and don't really want to keep buying soy yoghurt to start things off), and the ingredient list is short enough to seem 'almost' from scratch, I suspect that this cheating option may in fact remain my default. It isn't dairy-free, in fact quite the opposite, but this may be a time where I need to acknowledge that real milk does have its place.

With all of that said, I will continue trying rice milk yoghurt and if I ever see powdered yoghurt starter I will re-commence experimentation. I'm certainly glad I went through this process and I love the fresh taste, the reduced cost, the reduced packaging, and the ability to have the resulting yoghurt plain or mixed in with any flavours or add-ins as desired.

For other references on yoghurt making, I collected the following bookmarks -







  1. I've known a few people who really like the EasiYo option. I love the idea of making my own, but I really don't eat yoghurt very often, so I have to weigh up having another thing in my tiny kitchen or buying it. For now, I will just keep buying pot set when I have a yoghurt craving, but if I ever end up with kids that like yoghurt I may just change my mind. Thanks so much for this post, it was an excellent review of the options.

  2. Fascinating! I go through phases with yoghurt. Sometimes I'm all "hurrah yoghurt you are delicious and so good with my crunchy granola!" and other times I'm more like "ew yoghurt you are like congealed mucus in my mouth don't you sully my granola with your strangeness!"

    Mostly, though, I just desperately miss Oikos and Chobani from the States.

  3. P.S. I apologise for mentioning mucus on your blog.

  4. Great research! I go through phases with yoghurt - though not love hate like hannah - more like I buy it one moment and then forget about it for a while - have you had commerical vegan yoghurts that you like? I am not sure I have tasted any. I also wondered how soy milk would go in yoghurt - we have had soy milk about the house a lot lately as well as dairy and E and I have noticed it makes quite a different in the porridge that we are making a lot lately but bonsoy was good in the soy condensed milk

  5. Thank-you Kari, this is such a helpful post! I have been wanting to buy a yoghurt maker and had my eye on one which is a lot more expensive (about $90). As I have never much of a yoghurt person I couldn't really justify the price. The main reason I want to make my own is to use in marinades and cake recipes so I wouldn't really use it that often. The EasiYo is a much better price so I'll have to look out for it. And I'll definitely refer back to your post for some yoghurt making tips! :-)

  6. My mom gave me a container of homemade dairy low-fat yogurt today... before that I had never tried it. She skimmed the extra whey off which made it pretty thick like greek yogurt. I don't have the time to invest in yogurt making when I'm in school.. perhaps on break?

  7. I made soy yogurt in an EasiYo for a while, I think I have a few blog posts about it. I could never get it nice and thick, so for a while had it poured over cereal for breakfast. Then the separation started to gross me out a little, and I went off the whole process.

    Anyways, you can use pro-biotic capsules as a starter - just find a chemist who sells them in a fridge, so you know they're more likely to be active. I used 1 capsule per litre. And you can get regular or dairy-free.

  8. The Easi Yo people make a great Low Fat variety - which has more fat in it than the Skimmers and tastes thicker and creamier. I don't think I could go non dairy - I'm a bit of a poddy cow!

  9. Apparently Chobani yoghurt is coming to Woollies, but I haven't seen it yet.

  10. Thanks Lisa - I'm glad it was useful even for an occasional yoghurt eater. The EasiYo thermos is quite bulky, so that is definitely a kitchen consideration.

    Regarding using it up, when you make yoghurt from scratch it is meant to last at least 2 weeks, which I find is often longer than the expiry dates at the supermarket. Mind you, if you don't want 1L at once you still don't want 1L at once, even if it lasts!

  11. I had to google these to find out what they were, and now I desperately hope they do come. Especially the Oikos frozen yoghurt options! I could do with more of those...

  12. You are forgiven :) Even though I may now associate mucus with yoghurt...which would really be very bad. But I think as long as I steer away from green yoghurt (I'm feeling a little nauseous now) I should be fine :P

  13. Thanks Johanna. Regarding commercial vegan options, most recently I have tried the Vanilla Creme Soy Life tubs and they are ok; but in truth I don't like soy yoghurt much and I've not seen any other non-dairy options about. Something about the flavour just doesn't quite work for me, even though I don't mind soy milk.

    I remember when I was lactose intolerant as a child we went through lots and lots of brands to find one I'd eat, and there was one I ended up liking, called SoYo. They seemed to stop making it about 10 years ago and I haven't seen it yet, which is a shame as they also had lots of flavours. The Soy Life tubs are tolerable (and there are a few other soy brands I've not tried), but I think part of the problem is that all the ones I have had in the past and more recently are flavoured, thin-ish in texture, and not very tart. If those things don't bother you, though, they might be worth a try?

  14. I'm so glad it was of use! The EasiYo system is incredibly easy, and it doesn't even need a power plug so it's easy to put away when not in use. I've see them at Coles and Big W, and I suspect they're in other places too :)

  15. Ah, interesting! I should have skimmed the whey! Thanks for that tip - useful to know.

    Definitely try it when you're on break, if you have time :) It's rather fun.

  16. Oh I'm sorry I missed your posts - I hadn't seen them (possibly before I discovered you :) ). It's interesting to hear that you also had the thinner-than-ideal problem (it seems to characterize non-dairy yoghurts unless a thickener is used), and the separation issue. The pouring over cereal was my solution for the rice milk yoghurt too, so perhaps that's where non-dairy works best.

    Also, thank you so much for the pro-biotic capsules hint! That is incredibly useful. I'll check out chemists.

  17. I'm starting to think I can't either - this yoghurt experimentation may have brought me back to the real thing, at least for yoghurt :) Thanks for the low fat EasiYo tip, I have to branch out to some of the other natural flavours.

  18. Oh lord, I wasn't feeling sick until you said the green thing! *wobbles*
    Also, Chobani yay!!! Next step, caramel oikos :D

  19. That was such a good post Kari. Lots of thought and research put into it. I love the sounds of coconut milk yogurt, but wow that separation is huge! I wonder if using some coconut cream would up the fat content and make it easier to thicken?
    I should play more with the easiyo I think...
    Thanks for the link back too :-)

  20. That's a good idea (re. the coconut) - especially as some of the recipes out there are using coconut milk made from actual coconuts, rather than the packaged stuff. Adding coconut cream might do the trick. More EasiYo experimentation needed at my place too!

    Also, thank you - and you're welcome :-)

  21. I've been making my own yoghurt for several months now, and I'm pleased to say that I made coconut milk yoghurt yesterday quite successfully, and it was even fairly thick! However, I did add a tsp each of gelatin and arrowroot, as well as a little honey. It's also worth noting that I used a commercial yoghurt starter. The yoghurt was a little thin when it came out after 12 hours, but it thickened significantly in the fridge.
    So, all in all, this combination seems to have worked quite well, and it tastes delicious!

  22. You gave me the nudge I needed. I've been thinking about trying out the easiyo maker, and when I saw it today 25% off I had to get it.

    I've started with the low-fat greek sachet. Going to wake up tomorrow and taste-test :)

    1. Oh, excellent! I hope you enjoy it :)

    2. It exceeded my expectations! Love it. Thanks :)

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  24. This post was so great! Im keen to make my own dairy free(and vegan) yoghurt from coconut cream and I have just brought an easiyo. I have ordered a dairy free culture from green living Australia but just read someones comments about the probiotics (genius!) so maybe will try that while i'm waiting. I am also concerned about the thickness so im going to try and experiment with adding agar powder or queen brand plant based "jel-it-in". I have also seen the suggestion to use pure pectin on another site which could also be good as a thickener. I'll let you know how I go when i have some results :)

    1. Oh, super! Please do let me know. I confess to being a bit lax with my own efforts of late, but I would still love to master homemade vegan yoghurt one day. You may inspire me to get back into it :)


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