The very first time I dabbled with the dairy-free lifestyle was back in 2014. When my daughter was born, she was pretty quickly diagnosed with a Milk and Soy Protein Intolerance (MSPI, for short), meaning that even the slightest bit of cheese or tofu eaten by me would come through my breastmilk and cause her incredible stomach upset. Thankfully, most babies grow out of MSPI relatively quickly—Juni was done with it by her six-month mark—and go on to happily eat grilled cheese sandwiches.
But that six months sans dairy really helped teach me something about my own body—it really functions better when I’m off the cow juice. Ever since I stopped eating dairy for Juni’s sake, I’ve been very careful to limit my own intake—and that meant I started experimenting with dairy-free alternatives to my favorite dairy products. That’s how I discovered the amazing versatility of cashew cream. And that’s why I started making my own dairy-free Instant Pot coconut yogurt.
Making yogurt in the Instant Pot (dairy-free or otherwise) is so incredibly fool-proof. If you’ve ever been intimidated by making your own yogurt before, the Instant Pot is your answer. It makes it so hands off and so simple—it’s honestly almost easier than just going to the store to buy premade coconut yogurt.
And my gosh, can you save some serious cash by making your own yogurt at home—especially the dairy-free stuff. At our local grocery store, a five-ounce cup of coconut milk yogurt runs about $1.99. You can make an entire quart—32 ounces worth—of Instant Pot coconut yogurt for less than $4. It’d cost you $12.74 to buy that much pre-made! And when you go through as much yogurt as we do, that adds up fast.
Another (huge) added benefit: you can control everything about your yogurt—the thickness, the tanginess, and most importantly to me, the probiotic levels. Most store-bought yogurts are barely fermented at all—some sources say that yogurt from the store can be fermented for as little as one hour! One hour does not get you much healthy bacteria, but you know what does? Using your Instant Pot to ferment for 24 hours or more. Yogurt that is fermented for 24 hours has more healthy probiotics per cup than any over-the-counter probiotic pill—we’re talking billions of good guys helping to keep your gut happy! And it’s way more delicious than popping a pill.
The one caveat with Instant Pot coconut yogurt—it’s never going to get as thick as cow’s or goat’s milk yogurt without some help. That’s because coconut milk just doesn’t have the lactose and proteins that transform the texture when fermented. If you love good thick yogurt like I do, I highly recommend using any or all of these three ways to get there:
- Use the right coconut milk. Full fat coconut milk from the can (not “Lite” coconut milk or the coconut milk from the refrigerated cartons) is going to give you the thickest, creamiest yogurt. In fact, if you can find straight up coconut cream (this is what I usually use), you’re going to get the best results.
- Go for a long ferment. Yes, coconut milk won’t thicken like cow’s milk during fermentation, but it will thicken some. The baseline time I recommend to turn your milk into yogurt is eight hours—but that’s not going to thicken your yogurt at all. If you set your fermentation time for closer to 24 or even 36 hours, you’re going to get a naturally thicker yogurt.
- Use a thickener and chill. This is absolutely optional, but I usually thicken my yogurt using unflavored beef gelatin (I’ve also had good results using agar agar for a vegan version). I just add enough to give it a little bit of body—and not turn it into yogurt Jello—and then I chill until completely cold.
It might take you a bit of experimentation to figure out the right combo that makes your family happy. But once you land on it, you’ll never go back to buying yogurt again!
When you’re making your yogurt, you will need to inoculate your batch with either yogurt starter culture or pre-made plain yogurt from the store. I’ve done both, and they both turn out beautifully. If you choose to use a yogurt starter, this Yogourmet starter is my absolute favorite*. It has very specific strains of bacteria that are great for your tum-tum—my naturopath has actually recommended I eat yogurt only when it’s made with the strains in this yogurt starter to protect my gut health. (*Please note: this starter contains skim milk powder. If you’re looking for a completely dairy-free way to start your batch of coconut yogurt, you’ll want to use a different starter or a dairy-free yogurt with live active cultures like we mention below!)
The way easier (and cheaper) route is to use premade yogurt as your starter. Just take three tablespoons of whatever plain yogurt you’d like (dairy, soy, coconut, almond—all fine) that has live, active cultures in it—and whisk that in to innoculate your batch of yogurt. Then, when your batch is done, reserve about 1/4 cup of it to make your next batch. You’ll never have to buy yogurt again! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Of course, you absolutely don’t have to have an Instant Pot to make yogurt. You can do it in the slow cooker or on a heating pad (my preferred method pre-Instant Pot) or even under the light in your oven—basically, any way you can consistently keep your yogurt around 100°F for 8-36 hours while it ferments will do the trick. The Instant Pot just makes keeping the temperature there SO FLIPPING SIMPLE. It removes all the variables and just makes for perfect yogurt every. single. time. Happy yogurtmaking!