By Katherine Sacks, Epicurious
Lately, everybody seems to be on a coconut kick. What started as an obsession with coconut water has led to a market packed with coconut products, everything from milk and butter to flour and sugar. Dairy-free coconut alternatives, such as ice cream, cheese, and yogurt, have become a godsend for those with dairy allergies.
And while some coconut products are great—I regularly use coconut oil to sauté and bake with, and I love the creamy taste of coconut-packed popsicles—commercially produced coconut yogurt can have an unappealing grey-ish color and chunky jello-like texture. And at $2.60 for a single serving, it’s also pretty pricy stuff. (Traditional yogurts are about $1 a pop.) Which made me wonder—in a world of all things coconut, is there a better alternative to yogurt than the store-bought stuff?
There sure is. But there are tons of different recipes and techniques, each one different. Luckily for you, we parsed through the madness to develop this simple approach, turning a bag of shredded coconut (plus some pectin) into a week’s worth of coconut yogurt breakfasts.
We focused in on these three elements:
GET GOOD COCONUT FLAVOR
Some recipes call for canned coconut milk, some use boxed cream, and others suggest chilling cans and using only the firmed-up cream layer that rises to the top. That last suggestion seemed wasteful; the boxed type can be hard to find; and the canned stuff, even organic and wholesome looking varieties, has a slight metallic taste that we find very off-putting. In the end, I took a page from our coconut milk custard, using a homemade coconut milk made by puréeing unsweetened coconut flakes with water.
GET IT THICK
Coconut lacks lactose, the ingredient that causes dairy to thicken up. In order to replicate the consistency, recipes call for everything from agar (a vegetable derived thickener) to gelatin. Our preferred method is pectin, for both its texture (smooth and creamy) and its somewhat common availability (look for it in the baking or jamming section of your grocer).
GET IT TART
You can purchase dairy-free cultures online, and for serious enthusiasts looking to make coconut yogurt regularly, this is the way to go. But you can also follow the typical DIY yogurt routine, and use a small portion of store bought coconut yogurt, as long as it includes live cultures in the ingredients list (that’s the bacteria that helps create a sour funk). To activate properly, the culture needs a warm-but-not-hot environment to let the bacteria form. If you have a yogurt maker, great. If not, you can easily create this environment; either leave the yogurt in a pot of hot water with the lid on or in an oven with a pilot light.
Putting all these elements together, our yogurt turned out creamy, tangy, and delicious enough to please any yogurt fiend, dairy-free or not. And the total price for this delicious concoction: $1.50 for a six-ounce serving, a dollar less that you pay for the commercial stuff. A cheaper and better flavored option? We’re totally behind that, every time.
RECIPE: HOMEMADE COCONUT YOGURT
3 ½ cups unsweetened coconut flakes
2 teaspoons pectin powder (such as Pomona’s)
4 tablespoons store-bought coconut yogurt with live cultures
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
3 (8-ounce) or 2 (16-ounce) glass jars with lids
Working in 2 batches, purée coconut and 4 ½ cups hot water in a blender on high with vent open or lid slightly ajar covered with a towel (hot liquids can splatter) until smooth, 4–5 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Using a small ladle, spatula, or wooden spoon, press as much liquid from coconut as possible. You should have approximately 3 ½ cups of milk. Discard solids or reserve for another use (see headnote). Rinse blender.
Blend pectin and 1 cup coconut milk in blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Heat the remaining coconut milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high until an instant-read thermometer registers 140°F. Stir in pectin mixture and return to 140°F. Remove from heat and cool until thermometer registers 110°F. Whisk in coconut yogurt and vanilla, if using, pour into jars, and seal.
Fill a large stockpot with water and heat until thermometer registers 115°F. Remove from heat, carefully place sealed jars in pot, and check water level—the jars should be submerged enough to cover all of the yogurt. Cover pot and let culture at least 12 hours and up to 1 day. Transfer jars to the refrigerator and chill at least 6 hours—the yogurt will become thicker as it chills.
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PHOTO BY CHELSEA KYLE