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What Starter Can I Use to Make Dairy-Free Yogurt and How Do I Make It?

Posted on by Alisa Fleming in Ask Alisa, Nutrition Headlines with 16 Comments

Kelly's Dairy-Free Cashew YogurtQ: Liz – I am interested in making my own dairy free yogurt, but am not sure what “starter” to get. Also, I would prefer not to use soymilk, but rather almond/ rice or coconut milk … any recipe ideas?

A: Alisa – First, it is important to understand what a “starter” is. Starter culture itself is merely bacteria. It doesn’t contain ingredients such as milk. However, the bacteria must be grown on a medium, and that medium is often dairy. For most dairy-free or dairy-low consumers, this will not be a problem, since the bacteria or starter is completely removed from the medium before use. Nonetheless, if you are dealing with a severe milk allergy, have any concerns about trace dairy, or are strictly vegan and want to ensure there was no dairy used in the making of the product, look for a dairy-free or vegan label, and then contact the company to verify their processes.

Some may wonder, “Why even add the starter?” Starter culture is what gives yogurt its characteristic tang, and those friendly bacteria known as probiotics. While you can make a mock yogurt using something tart and acidic such as lemon juice, it won’t contain a good dose of that healthy bacterium.

Now, there are three things that are commonly used as a starter for homemade yogurt:

So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Yogurt - Review

1) Another Yogurt – You can actually use a finished yogurt as the starter for your next batch. If you’ve never made yogurt before, a store-bought version will also work. There are many brands of dairy-free yogurt currently on the market, including ones made from coconut milk, nuts, oats, soy, and rice. Though these can be expensive, you only need one to get your first batch on the go. From there, you can simply save a little bit of yogurt from your first batch and use it as a starter for the next. This concept works well, even if you do your first batch with one of the other two starter options …

2) Starter Culture – You can actually purchase yogurt starters. Ther-Biotic (from Klaire Labs) and Custom Probiotics are touted as dairy-free. Ther-Biotic is the brand I use; you can read about their hypoallergenic policy here (they reportedly do not use dairy media to create their probiotics). Of course, always check with the manufacturer to ensure ingredients or processes have not changed.

3) Probiotic Capsules – Many brands of probiotics come in capsule form. To use as a starter culture, simply open the capsules and pour the contents into your yogurt. Again, probiotics are simply bacteria, and removed from their “host,” which may be milk-based. Nonetheless, where dairy is a strong concern, make sure to look for brands labeled as “dairy-free” or “vegan” and double check with the manufacturer on their processes.

You can technically use any milk alternative to make yogurt, not just soymilk, but the results will vary. Some won’t thicken as well as others. To compensate, some recipes use thickeners like agar flakes, gelatin (not appropriate for vegans/vegetarians), or starches. Also, higher fat “milks” (such as coconut milk) will produce a creamier end result. To note, homemade yogurt typically differs a bit from store-bought, but making it from scratch does allow you to tweak your yogurt to taste. Finally, if at first you don’t succeed, definitely try again. Very few people have complete success on their first batch of yogurt. It takes a bit of practice to get it right, but once you do, the financial and edible rewards are great.

For dairy-free yogurt recipes to work from:

  • I have recipes for Soy Yogurt, Coconut Yogurt, and Cashew Yogurt in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook.
  • My friend Kelly has a great recipe posted for Cashew Milk Yogurt (pictured above) that uses probiotic capsules and offers a good guideline for how many you will need.
  • The wonderful Cybele Pascal outlines how to make Sunflower Seed Yogurt using homemade seed milk and a dairy-free probiotic capsule.
  • Living Without Magazine offers a recipe for Coconut Milk Yogurt using a starter culture.

Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.

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About Alisa Fleming

Alisa is the founder of GoDairyFree.org, Senior Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.

View all posts by Alisa Fleming →

Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living

16 Comments

  1. Heather BMarch 16, 2013 at 8:02 pmReply

    Hi! I’m new to yogurt making and I seem to keep getting an egg smell and slight egg taste when my yogurt is done, I’m using Thai kitchen coconut milk, sugar Knox gelatin and bioK probiotic capsules. Any ideas why I’m getting this eggs smell and taste? Thanks :)
    Heather

    • Alisa FlemingMarch 26, 2013 at 7:02 amReplyAuthor

      Hi Heather,

      That doesn’t sound right. Perhaps all of the equipment you are using is not completely sterile?

  2. Virginia MaddockMarch 29, 2013 at 3:49 pmReply

    can you please post a bigger picture on your page so i can pin it to my pinterest board for future reference? thanks. :)

  3. Melissa BraunApril 9, 2013 at 8:15 pmReply

    Do you have any recipes, websites or references you could point to for a yogurt made with rice milk? My son is allergic to diary, soy, seeds, legumes, peanut, tree nut and coconut. I used to buy him Riceria, but they closed down. I am really intimidated of the prospects of making yogurt, especially one with rice milk as I have not read positive things about making yogurt with rice milk. Thanks for being such a great resource!!

  4. LeaSeptember 15, 2013 at 7:39 pmReply

    I have a 9 month old baby that I breastfeed, I have recently discovered that she is dairy sensitive. I have been feeding her a baby yogurt daily and noticed that she has had terrible gas and not sleeping well. There really are no alternatives for babies in the market so I have thought of making yogurt from breastmilk. My question is how and what would I use to ensure that it is as dairy free as possible, nutritionally dense but not too harsh on her little tummy?

    • Alisa FlemingSeptember 15, 2013 at 9:00 pmReplyAuthor

      Hi Lea, I’m not sure what your actual question is. I would imagine that yogurt made from your breast milk would be as nutritionally complete as you an offer. You would simply need to follow a yogurt recipe using breast milk instead of cow milk. If you are not consuming dairy, then in theory, there wouldn’t be any dairy passed on to your child. I must disclaim that I am not a physician, and can’t advise on your child’s diet. I would consult your pediatrician about any nutritional concerns.

  5. Phllyfootb7October 14, 2013 at 11:53 amReply

    Just tried cashew milk yogurt in my yogurt maker…. Are you able to tell me why it’s so sour?

    • Alisa FlemingOctober 14, 2013 at 6:14 pmReplyAuthor

      Perhaps too much starter or acid? Did you add sweetener?

  6. DanielleOctober 24, 2013 at 8:11 pmReply

    I am wanting to make coconut milk yogurt for my 12mo. but I don’t want to have to make it everyday, so how long will a batch last???

    • Alisa FlemingOctober 26, 2013 at 8:28 amReplyAuthor

      Hi Danielle,

      I can’t confirm exactly, but it should last a week.

  7. BonnieMarch 19, 2014 at 2:46 pmReply

    I would like to make coconut yogurt in an electric yogurt maker. My machine heats and then automatically switches to cool after fermentation. My recipe says to ferment for 24 hours to ensure highest possible live cultures. I need to avoid dairy and soy and so think a probiotic capsule is the best starter for me.. Can you tell me how much probiotic to add? Can you also suggest which strains might work best? I have capsules ranging from 16 billion to 60 billion. Thanks!!

  8. vanApril 15, 2014 at 6:52 amReply

    Hi Alisa, is it true that if making vegan yogurt (using almond milk) one must use a non dairy probiotic?
    I made 2 batches of almond milk yogurt using 2 capsules of megalife probiotics and neither has that sour taste, and i left the first batch to ferment for 8 hours & the second set for 11. Also I used organic store bought unsweetened almond milk… pacific is the brand i think. I didnt add sugar to milk either.
    Would so love some advice. Thanks.

    • Alisa FlemingApril 19, 2014 at 5:59 pmReplyAuthor

      Hi Van, if you want it to be completely dairy-free / allergen-safe, then yes, it is best to use a dairy-free probiotic. In terms of how it would affect the results, I’ve never heard of this. However, non-dairy milk does not tend to sour as well as dairy milk.

  9. helloJuly 21, 2014 at 3:06 pmReply

    Van, the reason they say that you must use a non-dairy grown probiotic when making vegan yoghurt is that it won’t be considered vegan otherwise – there is no effect on the end result whether the bacteria was grown on dairy or anything else.

    Almond yoghurt is known to be the hardest to make. The ideal temperature for fermenting most yoghurts is about 40 Centigrade, if I remember correctly. Unless it’s the summer and you live in a hot place, ambient temperature will not be enough to thicken yoghurt at home. This is especially true for almond yoghurt, which is the most difficult to thicken. You might need to buy a yoghurt maker.

    Also, certain bacteria are better for making yoghurt than others. The bacteria in probiotics tablets are for health, not necessarily yoghurt making. Hope this helps :)

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