Your gut runs a lot more than you might think – it goes far beyond just digesting your food, thanks in part to the millions of microorganisms that call our digestive tract home.1 More and more science is being discovered on how it works, but the potential is everywhere. From digestive health to immune health, there are more and more reasons to keep our gut bacteria in harmony.2,3 Probiotic cultures are one of the best ways to do just that…
When it comes to probiotics, you can introduce good bacteria into your body through food. And cultured coconut yogurt is a tasty option – and one you can make yourself. A few jars of this vegan-friendly option are a great way to turn a meal into a probiotic boost.
Yogurt Without Dairy? How Can It Help?
You may be taken aback, at first, when it comes to yogurts. These are dairy products! Why would vegans want to go through the troubles of having a substitute? Well, for one, yogurt’s taste, texture, and versatility make it a great addition to any meal. In addition, there may be a scientific reason to have a non-dairy yogurt in your culinary arsenal.
There are lots of other fermented foods that contain probiotic strains, including:4
However, when it comes to science, yogurt is considered the king of probiotic foods. Studies show that consuming probiotic yogurts can help with digestive issues and potentially even stimulate brain activity.5,6
And good news: while these studies focus on probiotic dairy yogurts, dairy isn’t the active ingredient here – it’s the probiotics! As a result, vegan yogurts can be just as supportive of gut bacteria – plus, they’re great for people with cows’ milk sensitivities, or people who just don’t love the taste of traditional dairy yogurt. The key is making sure you have the right ingredients.
Knowing Your Ingredients
It’s important to understand how regular yogurt is made to put together non-dairy yogurt. In dairy yogurt, bacteria is added to milk in order to thicken it, leading to the texture we associate with yogurt today. For coconut yogurt, you’re going to need the following items:
Coconut Cream/Milk: Coconut cream is made by simmering coconut meat in water. When you strain out the solids, you will see several different components. The thick, semi-solid coconut cream is what is left on top. Coconut milk is made the same way. Thicker coconut milk rises to the top, while the thinner kind stays at the bottom.7 Note that different recipes call for cream or milk. One will make for a thicker yogurt, while the other will be creamier – but both are delicious. Just make sure you use UNSWEETENED coconut cream or milk, not the kind with tons of added sugar.
Probiotic Capsules/Yogurt Starters: These two are put together because, just like coconut cream and milk, they are two different ways to approach the same issue – getting probiotic bacteria in your yogurt mix. A yogurt starter is a carefully curated blend of bacteria that consumes lactose in milk-based yogurts. It has a distinct taste and texture.8 These same bacteria strains will go in your cultured coconut yogurt. And you may be able to find vegan yogurt starters at a local health food store, as well.
Another option is to use probiotic capsules, and stir their contents into your yogurt mixture. There’s a tradeoff at work here. For one, it’s a lot easier to pick up a bottle of probiotic capsules from your local health store. However, you need to be a discerning shopper. Yogurt starters are made with carefully curated bacteria. With probiotic capsules, some of the curating falls upon you. Here are some common ones to look for:
- Bifidobacteria animalis
- Bifidobacteria breve
- Bifidobacteria longum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus reuteri
What these all have in common is that they are bacteria that naturally live in the body, and are common additions to probiotic foods and products.9,10
In the case of vegan yogurt, you’re probably going to have a runny product, at least at first. However, you need to pay attention to the thickeners you use. For example, gelatin and pectin, two common options, are not vegan! Make sure to use alternatives like agar agar or tapioca starch to try and get that consistency.
Putting Things Into Practice
If you’re into kitchen gadgets, a yogurt maker can make things pretty easy, acting as an incubating environment for your yogurt starter cultures. But if you don’t have one, you can make cultured coconut yogurt – it’ll just mean a few extra steps.
Here’s how to put it all together:
2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk
2 teaspoons agar agar flakes, or 2 tablespoons tapioca starch
4 probiotic capsules, or 4 tablespoons store-bought coconut yogurt
Warm/prep whatever space you plan to incubate the cultures. Your yogurt needs to be at 110°F for 4-6 hours.11 This can be done in an oven, thermos, or even a slow cooker if you don’t have access to a yogurt maker. Sterilize some jars at this point, as well. This can be done by putting them in a pot filled with hot, but not boiling water. When the jars are completely submerged, bring the water to a boil for around 15 minutes.
1. Pour your coconut cream/milk into a saucepan, and add your thickener of choice. Sprinkle in one teaspoon of agar agar flakes, but don’t stir them in. For tapioca starch, take some of the coconut cream/milk out, dissolve the starch into it, then put it back in.
2. Warm the coconut cream/milk until it starts to simmer. Whisk it, then turn the heat to low. Let the milk cool until it is warm to the touch.
3. Add your probiotics. If using a yogurt starter culture, follow the package’s instructions. If you are using a probiotic capsule, twist it open and pour in the powder contents. Dispose of the casing.
4. Pour your yogurt into sterilized jars. Let them sit in a warm area for 12-24 hours. This would be a yogurt maker if you have one, which you could program for however long you want to give the cultures to incubate.
5. Chill the yogurt for at least 6 hours.
6. Keep refrigerated, and use within two weeks.12
Cultured Coconut Yogurt In Review
Creating a few homemade jars of cultured coconut yogurt is a great, vegan-friendly way to boost your health. The nice thing is that there are several ways to put this wonderful item together, and none of them are particularly difficult. Whether you want to grow the cultures yourself, or simply add them to yogurt from a yogurt maker, any path is effective. Whether you have it as a healthy snack or breakfast staple, coconut yogurt can really hit the spot!