Homemade Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt (without a yogurt maker!)

February 04, 2014 February 04, 2014/ Morgan

Oh unsweetened vegan yogurt! There have been so many problems with really getting ahold of this stuff in the store. And some brands I’ve tasted have been HORRENDOUS. Really. I threw away a huge tub of some stuff because I could not even stand more than one bite of it. 

So making some at home was on my list of things to do. I was scared though. Daunted! It seems so complicated and I don’t have a yogurt maker to make it easy for me. I looked at many methods of doing without one and some seemed more promising than others. You could use your pilot light in your oven to keep it warm (don’t have that!) or you could use your crockpot (I tried that before we were vegan with regular milk and it was a HUGE FAIL EVERY TIME.) The last one I had was the cooler method – and guess what? WORKED GREAT!!! So easy too!  

Now we’ve been enjoying vegan yogurt with all sorts of things. With breakfast (I put some on my Waffles with fruit. YUM!!) We also had it with oatmeal. AND what I really wanted it for – Indian Food! I stirred some into my curry for the most delicious creamy curry I’ve had in a long long time. (I’ll be posting that later today and I’ll update with the link here!)

Doesn’t that look amazing with just some tart yogurt and sweet fruit? I cannot wait until summer when the farmer’s market is full of fresh berries. I will be eating many tart vegan yogurt parfaits around then, I tell ya! 

I also made it into the BEST vegan sour cream ever. I’ll post about that later too but I just basically strained some yogurt and then cultured it for several hours on my counter. Perfectly tart thick vegan sour cream without any crazy weird crap in it like the stuff you see in stores! 

Fair warning – this is going to look super complicated and like too much work. Go fix yourself a nice cup of hot tea and come back. Okay, hello again! It is actually a very simple process but I have written it out as detailed as possible so that you can feel confident when going forward in this. It’s actually a very fun and rewarding process! Try it out!

What you’ll need: 

  • 1 quart of unsweetened soy or almond milk (make sure that it has NOTHING in it but soy or almonds and water. I buy my unsweetened soy milk at Trader Joe’s You can use homemade too!) 
  • an instant read thermometer – Yes, it’s necessary. It’s worth having around, trust me! 
  • Probiotic Cultures in capsule form. These will be found in the refrigerated section of your bigger grocery stores in the health food section or at specialty health food stores. You will need one that contains at LEAST these two strains for a familiar tasting yogurt – Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Lactobacillus acidophilus (my first batch did not have both of those and it still looked and tasted great though!) It needs to have a total of around 50 billion cultures per capsule (or you can use one with less cultures but you will have to use more capsules.) Here is one that I recommend. OR you can stir in 1/4 cup vegan yogurt (preferably unsweetened) into your milk at the same time that you would add the powdered cultures. (Note – you can also buy Vegan Yogurt Starter – my only problem with this is that once you use it you cannot use the resulting yogurt to start another batch.)
  • a large glass container for your yogurt to culture in. I use wide mouth quart sized mason jars. 
  • a large heat proof container to hold hot water in. I used the metal insert for my churn ice cream maker. A pan or pot would also work well. You could also use another mason jar, just be careful when pouring hot liquid into it. I like to heat the jars up with hot water first before adding hot liquids to them. 
  • a large insulated cooler
  • a towel or two

Here’s my cooler set up before I put the yogurt starter in.

Here’s my cooler set up with the hot water and yogurt inside ready to incubate!

  1. Get your cooler ready. Place one towel inside that is large enough that it can cradle the container that you are setting the yogurt in. Make sure there is room for the second container that will hold the hot water. I just set mine down inside and poured hot water into it so I didn’t have to mess with moving around a container without handles full of boiling water. 
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil with just enough water to fill your water holding container. Once it starts to boil you can pour it into the container inside your cooler. Close your cooler now to trap in the heat that is being released.
  3. Pour 1 quart of unsweetened soy or almond milk into a pot and turn the heat up to medium. You want to avoid scorching or overheating your milk so make sure that you are stirring it often. Get out your temperature gauge and heat the milk up to 110 degrees. This takes virtually no time it seems. If the temperature goes over that’s fine, you’ll just have to wait for a bit while it cools down.
  4. Pour the heated milk into the really clean container you are going to be culturing in. Check again to make sure that the temperature is at 110 degrees. If it is higher it can kill off your live cultures and that means no yogurt. 
  5. Open up the capsules for your live cultures aka probiotic and whisk them into the warm soy or almond milk. Remember you want around 50 billion cultures for each batch. That may mean using more than one capsule to get the equivalent.
  6. Put a lid on the (soon to be!) yogurt and place into the cooler.  Close it and put it in a place that cannot be messed with (mine was in a back corner of my kitchen.)
  7. Set a timer for 6 hours and walk away. 
  8. After 6 hours has passed go and check on your culture. Gently lift it out of the cooler, close the lid of the cooler and open up your culture. Is it still liquidy? How does it taste? Is it still sweet or has it started to sour? If it is still just a thin liquid and does not smell or taste like over soured yogurt you need to put the lid back on and put it back in the cooler. I typically check every 2 hours after that. Sometimes my cultures take over 12 hours (!!!) to turn into yogurt but it tastes fantastic, smells good and is sufficiently sour. 
    2/11/2014 -Note: Currently all of my cultures are taking 14-16 hours. HOLY MOLY. I start it in the early evening and then let it go overnight. It tastes fantastic every time though. If you check on your yogurt and it seems like nothing is happening just keep it warm and keep checking on it!
  9. Refrigerate your yogurt for several hours before eating. This seems to help improve the flavor. 
  10. If you’d like a thicker yogurt you can strain it with a yogurt strainer, nut milk bag, cheese cloth in a colander or even a clean lint free tea towel. Use the strained off whey in cooking to add a nice sour flavor to things like pancakes, waffles, or even stir it into your overnight oats (just replace the liquid with some whey!) Note – I always strain my yogurt and the texture is beyond fabulous! It’s downright addictive! 
  11. OH NO! TROUBLE? Is your yogurt not doing what you want? Is it seperated into curds and whey? Does it smell super sour but has not firmed up? Click here for an entire post on troubleshooting a batch of yogurt that didn’t go your way. One of the suggestions for fixing it is to add gelatin – DON’T DO THAT! That’s an animal product. Instead you could thicken it with 1/2 teaspoon of agar-agar powder per quart but that needs to be heated kept at a simmer for several minutes. You could do that with just one cup of your culture and then stir it all together with the remaining 3 cups of culture once you have simmered the agar for 2-4 minutes in liquid.

I’m sure you’ll have some questions so feel free to ask in the comments! I am by no means a vegan yogurt expert but I’ll do my best to answer you (or help find the answer somewhere else!)

February 04, 2014/ Morgan/