Alternative Milks for Making Yogurt
Technically, milk refers to a white secretion used by mammals to feed their young. The milk from cows or goats (and, less frequently, sheep, yak, or water buffalo) is generally referred to as “dairy milk.” However, the term “milk” is also used to describe any creamy white product extracted from plants and used as a substitute for or alternative to dairy milks.
Most alternative milks can be purchased commercially, but usually have additives that can interfere with fermentation. Whenever possible, you should use milks without additives or preservatives.
Making Your Own
It is fairly easy to make your own alternative milk.
Rice milk can be made with brown or white rice. Milk made from brown rice will be a little thicker. Put 1/2 cup of rice in a pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low heat and simmer for about an hour. The rice will be quite soft at this point. Cool the rice a little, then put it in a food processor and puree. Strain the puree through a cloth bag to get the rice milk. The remaining pulp can be discarded, or added to recipes for thickening.
Soy milk is made from white soy beans (not green ones). Soak 1/2 cup of soybeans for 8 to 24 hours in water with a little sea salt added, changing out the water a few times during the soaking. Drain off the soaking water, and put the soaked beans in a food processor with water just barely covering them, then process for 2 or 3 minutes until the beans are very finely ground. Heat a quart of water in a large pot. (The water should fill the pot about halfway.) Add the ground beans to the pot of water, and cook over medium heat, for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. The mixture will foam up as it heats. If it gets close to the top of the pot, sprinkle a little cold water over it to make it subside. At the end of the cooking, you’ll have a mixture that looks like watery oatmeal, as the fibrous part of the soybean separates from the milk. Cool the mixture, then strain it through a cloth bag. (The leftover fiber is called okara, or u no hara, and can be dried or frozen for use in cooking, or as fertilizer.) Soy yogurt made at home has a slightly grassy flavor compared to soy yogurt bought commercially.
Nut milk can be made by first soaking a cup of nuts overnight in water with a little sea salt added. Drain off the soaking water, then put the nuts in a blender with a quart of clean water. Puree this mixture thoroughly, then strain through cheesecloth to get the nut milk. (The ground nuts can be used as a flour substitute in baking, or in a large variety of recipes. They freeze well for longer life.)
Using Alternative Milks for Yogurt
Most yogurt starters are grown in dairy milk, so for individuals with extreme sensitivity to dairy, the small amount of exposure could be problematic. For those people, or for people who want to avoid dairy for other reasons, we offer Vegan Yogurt Starter, which is entirely plant-based.
If you do choose to use a reculturing type of yogurt, you will need to maintain a separate quantity of dairy-based yogurt that can be used as a starter culture.
Because most alternative milks have less sugar than dairy milk, it can help to add some sugar to the culture to promote fermentation. (It provides more food for the bacteria.) For soy, nut, or coconut milk, approximately 6 to 8 grams (1.5 to 2 teaspoons) per cup would give the milk the same sugar profile as dairy milk. Rice milk is already fairly high in sugar, so it wouldn’t necessarily help to add more.
The yogurt from alternative milks can be made thicker with the addition of thickeners such as cornstarch, arrowroot, gelatin, or agar before or after culturing.
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