Most of the information below on how to substitute yogurt for dairy-free and vegan diets is excerpted from my book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook. However, I’ve also added product reviews and a few fun recipes that are here on the website.
Quick Ideas to Substitute Yogurt
Easy Buttermilk Alternative
This works very well for marinating and cooking purposes, and is also recommended when yogurt is called for in baked goods, dressings, and sauces. 1 cup of Buttermilk Alternative can be substituted for 1 cup of yogurt.
This seems to be a dairy-free wonder food. Allow a can of full-fat coconut milk to settle (about 1/2 hour). The coconut cream will rise to the top and can easily be skimmed off. Depending on your needs, coconut cream can substitute yogurt nicely using a 1:1 ratio. Be aware that Coconut Cream is a much higher fat alternative than the others listed.
Homemade Dairy-Free Yogurt
Some people love to make their yogurt at home. It can be much more economical, some think tastier, and it seems to be a fun project. Replace soy products for the dairy products in any yogurt recipe, and you have your own homemade soy yogurt. Try one of the recipes from the links below, substituting soy milk for the dairy milk, soy milk powder for the milk powder, and store bought soy yogurt (as a simple starter culture) for the yogurt wherever necessary.
To simplify the process even further, many people recommend purchasing a yogurt maker. The Aroma 8-Cup Digital Yogurt Maker and the Euro Cuisine Electric Yogurt Maker have both received rave reviews and are reasonably priced. I like these types of yogurt makers a bit better since they use separate jars to make individual servings with ease.
Pureed Silken Tofu
Medium Firm Silken Tofu will puree into a nice consistency, and may substitute yogurt using a1:1 ratio. Obviously, this sub is only for recipes, and since it does lack the tartness of yogurt, it is most suitable for “heartier” dishes.
Sour Cream Alternative
This works well as a straight substitute for yogurt in salad dressings and dips. Use one of our Sour “Cream” recipes for a simple option.
Store-Bought Dairy-Free Yogurt
Soy-, coconut- and even rice-based yogurts are popping up all over the place, and they contain that same great “healthy bacteria.” For the most part, dairy-free brands work well as equals when you want to substitute yogurt. Some brands have received rave reviews, and others, well…let’s stick to the ones with rave reviews. Check our product reviews for some opinions and our Product Lists for some brand suggestions.
Recipes: Homemade Yogurt Alternatives
Dairy-free yogurt is becoming so popular that it can even be found in many small towns. Unfortunately, it can be expensive, especially for the soy-free options, so many people like the option of making their own versions at home to substitute yogurt. Yogurt takes a little bit of time to make; not actual working time but time for it to sit and ferment. Yogurt is a cultured product, much like cheese. Overall, it is a very easy and economical to make.
Before you begin there are a few things to make sure you have on hand and a few things to know and understand about the process. Most of what you need you will be able to find in the grocery store.
You need to begin with starter yogurt. Starter yogurt is yogurt that has been made with active live cultures; this is the friendly bacteria that will turn your milk into yogurt. You can buy a small container of yogurt at the grocery to use for this purpose. Make sure that the container says Made with live cultures or something of this nature. You want to buy plain yogurt, not flavored. Each time you make yogurt you will need some starter. You can use your own starter, but over time it looses its potency and your yogurt will not turn out. So I always begin with store bought yogurt. You can freeze your starter yogurt in ice cube trays so that it is convenient to have on hand.
As far as tools for making yogurt go, you will need a thermometer. A candy thermometer bought from the grocery store will work just fine. You will need a large pot to heat up your milk and then something to incubate your yogurt for about 12 hours. The temperature of the yogurt must stay between 90 and 110 degrees during this incubation time.”
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:
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 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.
Products: Yogurt Alternatives at the Store
Below are the products we’ve had a chance to taste-test and review here on Go Dairy Free. For a more extensive list of dairy-free yogurt options available, get one of our No Dairy Product Lists; they include thousands of dairy-free foods.
- Almond Dream Almond Non-Dairy Yogurt
- Coconut Dream Non-Dairy Yogurt
- Coconut Grove Organic Coconut Milk Yogurt
- CocoYo Dairy-Free Yogurt and CocoKefir Probiotic Drink (DISCONTINUED)
- CoYo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative: Pure, Low-Sugar, Dairy-free Luxury
- Good Karma Probiotic Flaxmilk Beverages
- GoodBelly StraightShot Dairy-Free Probiotic Drink
- GrainDrops Organic Dairy-Free Probiotic Beverage
- Kite Hill Almond Milk Yogurt
- Silk Dairy Free Yogurt Alternative: Move Over Yoplait!
- So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Yogurt
- So Delicious Dairy Free Greek Coconut Milk Yogurt
- Trader Joe’s Soy Yogurt (DISCONTINUED)