Make your own non-dairy, gluten-free (even soy-free!) vegan yogurt without a machine, thermometer or hard-to-find ingredients. This inexpensive and simple technique will bring yogurt back into your diet.  

I haven’t eaten much yogurt since we went vegan several years ago. Non-dairy yogurts are expensive, and often have flavors that just don’t seem quite right. Buying enough for family of six, and then watching most of it go to waste–tossed out in half-eaten school lunches or downright rejected as “yuck”– gets old fast.

Though I’m pretty resourceful in the kitchen, memories of my own mother’s yogurt attempts include thermometers, machines, special cultures and weird ingredients. I’m the kind of cook that never makes anything the same twice. If I can’t wing it, it’s probably not going to turn out well. (No soufflés at my table…)

Truthfully, I haven’t missed yogurt. It was never an essential staple anyway. But as it’s time to begin making lunches for school again, I decided to see if I could do better than the commercial brands. After all, there is nothing that I buy from the store that I prefer over my own efforts. Convenience is what I buy in stores– delicious is homemade.

I just assumed it would be complicated. I ordered the yogurt maker, a thermometer and the special vegan cultures. I followed the recipe and my stop watch like a Girl Scout. It was surprisingly good from the first try. And the kids were excited.

But familiarity breeds laziness, and each batch I made became less by the book and more off the cuff. And it was still good. So I started paying attention to my forgetfulness and making notes of my results. I divided each batch into mini-science experiments (did you know I used to be a high school chemistry teacher?) and compared different ingredients and methods.

And there are quite a few! Unless you need commercial grade yogurt, you really can’t go wrong. If you enjoy making things your own, and you don’t mind eating the delicious spoils of your own trial and error, then this vegan yogurt recipe is for you.

Here’s what you do:

  • Choose your milk
  • Thicken
  • Flavor
  • Culture
  • Set
  • Refrigerate

Choose Your Milk: 
A walk through the non-dairy milk isle offers an overwhelming amount of choices. Gone are the days when it was soy milk or nothing! And that’s great! Options now include unsweetened, original, vanilla, chocolate and organic versions of soy, rice, almond, coconut and hemp milk. Consider:

  • If you can buy organic, do. This guarantees it’s free of pesticides and GMOs (especially important with soy!). Interestingly, it’s usually the same price.
  • “Unsweetened” is perfect if you want plain yogurt. Otherwise, you’ll add sugar of some kind anyway. “Original” is what I usually go with, as it has less added flavor than “vanilla”.
  • Soy is the only plant milk high in protein (8g/serving). Consequently, it’s the only milk that will curdle to a visible extent. The tart and tangy taste of traditional yogurt can be recreated in other ways, however, so if you want soy-free, move on without concern.
  • Oat milk has 4g protein/serving, and is a second-best for curdled flavor.
  • Rice and hemp milk are lower in protein (1g/serving) and higher in calories than coconut and almond, but they taste great! Note: I’ve not found the ideal recipe for rice milk; it separates. This doesn’t have to be a problem, just shake it before opening the lid. But if you’re looking to impress, use an alternative.
  • Good news…mixing and matching of all of the above is allowed.
  • I find the best deals at the big box stores. Look for the non-refrigerated boxes, often in the baking isle or natural grocery section. Meijer Organics have several varieties and are often on sale for $1.50/box. Stock up and go once a month or less.

Thicken:

There are many thickeners that work, and you probably have several in your kitchen. See directions below for specific directions for flax seed, arrow root, tapioca flour, agar agar, xantham gum, guar gum, soy lecithin granules and soy and sunflower lecithin.

Flavor:

Add fruit, flavors and sweeteners of choice as it cools and blend well. If working with frozen fruit, make sure it’s room temperature or even slightly warmed. But simple is good too. I like oat milk yogurt (original) just as it is.

Culture:

Yogurt by definition is fermented; this is what makes it tart and creamy. Vegan yogurt is no different. Bacteria must be added to the milk to initiate this reaction. For the best and most consistent result, you’ll need to purchase a culture designed to grow in plant milk. I use a vegan variety from Cultures for Health, and have had fantastic and consistent results.

Can you do it without a specially ordered culture? Yes, but it’s not an exact science. I tried several experimental runs with my OrthoMolecular Probiotic, and found that using one serving size (one capsule) per 1 qt batch of plant milk produced results similar to the commercial culture. But brand efficacy will vary. My only advice is to start with less. Too much will result in soupy and even bitter flavor.

You can also add similarly flavored store-bought vegan yogurt that hasn’t expired. And keep it going if you make it regularly. Use 1/3 cup as a starter for the next 1 quart batch.

Set:

Once the bacteria culture is added to the milk, it needs to set in a warm environment (approximately 110 degrees is ideal) for 6-8 hours. Tartness and thickness increase with time, so if you prefer neither, remove it sooner.

A yogurt machine is perfectly designed for this process. I love mine, if only for the 5 oz serving cups that fit nicely into lunch boxes. If you are going to buy one, look for an automatic shut off. This eliminates the “oops” factor.

But if you have an alarm clock (yes, you do! look on your phone!) and don’t need an extra appliance, your oven is quite capable of handling the job. Simply turn on the light and cover the vegan yogurt with a cloth. It might take a little longer to set as it’s not as warm; the bacteria won’t propagate as quickly. Increase the set time up to 9 hours, but no longer. Beyond that, it turns yeasty and “burpy”, with a sour flavor.

Refrigerate: Once it’s set, put an air tight lid on the container and refrigerate. This will stop the culturing process. As long as it tastes good, it’s safe to eat. The vegan yogurt will continue to thicken as it cools in the fridge. Be patient!

Directions:

1. Pour one 32-ounce box (or a total of four cups combined) of desired plant milk into a sauce pan.

2. Bring to a boil. Add thickener. Return to boil, whisk for 2-3 minutes, and remove from heat.

  • flax seed– Dissolve 2-4 tbsp in a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • arrow root– Dissolve 2-4 tbsp in a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • tapioca flour– Dissolve 2-4 tbsp in a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • agar agar powder– Add 1/2-1tsp directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.
  • xantham gum– Add 1/2-1 tsp directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.
  • guar gum– Add 1 – 2 tsp to a small amount of water before adding to the boiling milk.
  • soy lecthin granules– Use a mortar and pestle (or a small grinder) to reduce 1/2 tsp-1 tsp granules to powder. Add directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.
  • liquid soy or sunflower lechtin– Add 1/4 tsp directly to boiling milk. Whisk vigorously.

4. Sweeten with favorite flavors. Mix well. I recommend finishing with a hand-held mixer or a quick puree in the blender.

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  • Chocolate, Peanut Butter Banana: 1 tbsp cocoa powder, 3 tbsp peanut butter (or peanuts if using a vitamix) 1 banana (frozen is fine)
  • Banana, Coconut, Orange: 2 bananas (frozen is fine), 1/3 cup coconut, 1 peeled orange or lemon
  • Cinnamon Pear: 1-2 pears, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp each of nutmeg and clove
  • Other: 1 cup fresh or frozen fruit, 1 tbsp sweetener (optional)

5. Allow mixture to cool for about 1 hour. (If you add culture when it’s too hot, it will die.) If you are using a thermometer, it needs to be between 90-115 degrees. If you are using your finger, consider that a delightfully hot bath is somewhere between 100 and 105 degrees. If it feels hot to your finger, but not hot enough to need to pull your finger out, it’s perfect.

5. Add culture packet, 1/4-1/2 cup of commercial yogurt or a single serving of a pro-biotic. Mix well. Divide into desired containers as needed and place in yogurt maker or other warm (90-110 degree) environment. Leave the individual lids off the glass jars for your yogurt maker. If using oven, cover container(s) with a towel, turn on oven light.

7. Check in about 6-8 hours. If using the oven, 7-9 hours is necessary.

6. Sometimes the consistency isn’t perfect; various milk, thickener, flavoring, and temperature combinations all interact different. Occasionally, I need to add a little of “this” or “that”, or even just re-blend it. If separation occurs, but it tastes ok, just give it a shake before you serve it. And enjoy the fact that there are no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, antibiotics or hormones in that little cup of awesome.

6. Store in refrigerator in an air-tight container. It will firm up even more as it cools.

How to Fix a Failure:
There are several reasons vegan yogurt might fail to thicken:

  • Too much or too little culture was added
  • The culture was expired or improperly stored
  • The culture was introduced at too high of heat, or inoculated at too low of heat

But for whatever reason it fails, as long as it tastes ok, it can still be eaten. Simply bring back to a boil and add more thickener. It may not have the pro-biotic benefits to your digestive tract, but it need not go to waste. Allow it to cool and store in fridge.