For those who are dairy intolerant, cultured dairy products like yogurt and kefir are a big no-no. This is hard for some to accept, especially when they first come to realize they can no longer have dairy.
There are a lot of dairy alternatives out there, but many of them are highly processed. Coconut, on the other hand, is a nourishing whole food full of good fats that has been eaten by traditional societies for thousands of years.
Once you’ve come to love coconut itself, you may want to experiment with cultured coconut products. You can receive all of the benefits of kefir and yogurt without the dairy that you may find hard to digest.
Coconut Water Kefir
Coconut water kefir can be made from either fresh coconut water from a young coconut or pasteurized coconut water found in aseptic containers from a health food store. Besides the opening of the fresh coconuts, the process is the same.
How to open young coconuts: First of all, be sure that you acquire young coconuts which should be light in color rather than the older coconuts which will be the brown fuzzy ones many are used to seeing. Once you have your coconuts, take one and hold it down firmly, pointy end facing your knife hand and your other hand holding the coconut on its side. Use a serrated knife to saw off the husky at the pointy end until a couple of square inch area is removed or until the inner light brown husk is showing.
Very carefully saw off the top half inch which should create a lid revealing a 1 to 2 inch hole with the white coconut inner meat exposed. When you are halfway into cutting off the lid, turn the coconut so that the lid faces upward so as to not allow the coconut water from leaking out.
How to Make Coconut Water Kefir
Coconut Milk Kefir
If you desire a more milk-like cultured product then a cultured coconut milk product is what you’re after. (Coconut water kefir is not a rich, creamy beverage like coconut milk kefir is.)
Some people who have tried milk kefir actually prefer coconut milk kefir’s flavor. That is because coconut has a natural sweetness to it that tames the somewhat stronger flavor that the kefir cultures can impart.
Coconut milk kefir is a bit thinner than yogurt and can be drank straight up or used in smoothies or various parfaits or desserts.
How to Make Coconut Kefir
A note on choosing coconut milk: You can use homemade fresh coconut milk, canned, or boxed coconut milk. We do not recommend brands with additives and sweeteners as they can be hard on the kefir grains. Guar gum, which is a typical additive, does not seem to be problematic.
To make Coconut Kefir, just place the milk kefir grains in coconut milk, give the coconut milk a quick stir with a non-metal spoon, cover loosely (a towel works great) and allow the coconut kefir to culture on the counter for 12 to 24 hours. After 12 hours, check the coconut kefir every few hours (as possible) so you can remove the kefir grains once the coconut kefir reaches the desired consistency. If your home is on the cool side, it can take a few hours longer for the milk kefir to culture.
Sometimes kefir grains will require an adjustment period so the first batch of coconut milk kefir may not culture as desired. Simply use the non-kefired coconut milk for cooking and place the kefir grains in new coconut milk. An adjustment period isn't uncommon whenever kefir grains are switched from one type of milk to another (cow to goat, pasteurized to raw, dairy to coconut, etc.).
Milk Kefir Grains can be cultured in coconut milk regularly but should be allowed to culture in cow or goat milk for 24 hours once every few weeks to revitalize.
Dairy Free Option: While using Milk Kefir Grains is the most effective way to make Coconut Milk Kefir, there is a truly dairy-free option for those who cannot use Milk Kefir Grains. Add 1/4 cup water kefir (finished kefir, not the Water Kefir Grains) to 2 to 4 cups of Coconut Milk. Cover loosely and allow to culture for 24 hours.
Ideas for Using Coconut Milk Kefir:
Coconut Milk Yogurt
Finally, you can make coconut milk yogurt. Coconut milk yogurt is naturally thin, so it requires a bit of extra tinkering, but for those who love (and miss) yogurt this might just be your ticket.
Step 1: Choose the Coconut Milk
Coconut milk yogurt can be made with canned, boxed, or homemade coconut milk. We do recommend choosing an unflavored variety with the least number of additives possible.
Step 2: Choose the Thickening Agent
Coconut milk is not particularly thick when made without a thickening agent such as tapioca starch or gelatin. Since it has a different chemical structure than animal milk, it simply behaves differently when cultured. Without the added thickening agent, coconut milk yogurt will generally be rather runny and more similar to the consistency of kefir. If using a thickening agent isn't an option but you still prefer thick yogurt, it is also possible to strain some of the liquid from the coconut milk yogurt by placing the finished yogurt in a tea towel or similar tight weave fabric and allow the mixture to hang over a bowl to drain some of the liquid resulting in thicker yogurt.
Step 3: Choose the Yogurt Starter
Some varieties of yogurt starter culture at 110°F through the use of a yogurt maker or similar device. These are known as thermophilic yogurt cultures. Examples of thermophilic cultures include direct-set (a.k.a. one-time use) variety yogurt starters, some heirloom-variety cultures such as Greek and Bulgarian varieties, and commercial yogurt with live active cultures from the grocery store used as a starter culture.
Other varieties culture at room temperature on the counter without a yogurt maker, these are known as mesophilic yogurt cultures. Viili, Filmjolk, Matsoni and Piima are all examples of mesophilic yogurt cultures.
Please note, if using an heirloom-variety (perpetuating) yogurt as the starter culture (Greek, Bulgarian, Viili, Matsoni, Filmjolk, Piima), be sure the yogurt used as the starter culture for making the coconut yogurt was made with cow or goat milk. Yogurt made with coconut milk using an heirloom-variety starter cannot be used as a starter culture for future batches of coconut milk yogurt. The structure of coconut milk is too different from animal-based milk and the bacteria will not be strong enough to perpetuate effectively.
Click here for more information on the various types of yogurt starters.
Step 4: Make Yogurt
There are several ways to make coconut milk yogurt at home. Which method you choose will depend on the type of yogurt starter you are working with.
Making Coconut Milk Yogurt with a Thermophilic (heated) Yogurt Culture
Heat the coconut milk to approximately 115°F. As the milk cools to 110°F, mix in the thickening agent of your choice. If adding tapioca starch or flour, whisk the starch into a small amount of milk and then mix that portion of milk into the larger portion of milk and mix well to combine. If adding gelatin, sprinkle the gelatin into the milk and mix well.
Once the milk has reached 110°F, add the yogurt starter and mix well to combine.
Incubate the mixture at 108° to 112°F for 8 to 24 hours. Please note, coconut milk generally takes a few hours longer to culture than when making yogurt with animal-based milk products. If a sourer yogurt is desired, use a longer culturing period. While a yogurt maker is generally the easiest way to culture thermophilic varieties of yogurt, if you do not own a yogurt maker, here are a few alternative ways to keep the yogurt at the right temperature:
Once the yogurt has set (solidified), allow the yogurt to cool for an hour or two until it reaches room temperature. Place the yogurt in the fridge for 6+ hours to halt the culturing process. The yogurt will also thicken further as it chills.
Making Coconut Milk Yogurt with a Mesophilic (non-heated) Yogurt Culture
Measure out the milk. If adding tapioca starch or flour, whisk the starch into a small amount of milk and then mix that portion of milk into the larger portion of milk and mix well to combine. If adding gelatin, sprinkle the gelatin into the milk and mix well.
Add the yogurt starter and mix well.
Incubate the mixture at 70° to 78°F for 18 to 24 hours (some people have good luck with 36-48 hours for a sourer yogurt). Please note, coconut milk generally takes a few hours longer to culture than when making yogurt with animal-based milk products.
Once the yogurt has set (solidified), place the yogurt in the fridge for 6+ hours to halt the culturing process. The yogurt will also thicken further as it chills.
So, whether you are dairy-free or just looking for something a little different, try these cultured coconut products. They are rich in healthy fats, probiotics, enzymes, and delicious flavor.