How to: Vegan Yogurt (Oat & Hemp)

There are lots of vegan “substitutes” out there, which makes being vegan without feeling like you are giving things up seem easier than ever. Unfortunately, many of them just taste bad and come in wasteful packaging.

Vegan yogurt doesn’t have to be complicated and can be made with only one specialty ingredient: probiotic capsules. This recipe is a soy-free, nut-free treat. It takes some planning because of the long incubation time, but is very low effort.

This is going to be one of those annoying preamble posts with lots of information about how the recipe was developed and some of the reasons behind why it works, so if you are just looking for the good stuff, go ahead and jump to recipe.

Problems with existing recipes

There were two roadblocks we faced with most vegan yogurt recipes. The first one was cost. Many recipes call for nut milk, coconut milk, or specialty soy milk without any added ingredients. All of these are very costly. The second issue with most common recipes is that those expensive ingredients come in wasteful packaging and involve intensive farming practices and lots of transportation.

oats and hemp hearts in a blender
Golden hour grains

This recipe was developed with the goal of a low-packaging and local-ish ingredients. Both oats and hemp hearts are grown in Canada, and by making the milk at home from bulk purchased ingredients, we reduce the shipping and packaging impacts.

Fat + Protein + Heat= good yogurt

Oats themselves do not have the fat or protein content that matches dairy milk and therefore is not normally recommended for yogurt production. We added hemp hearts for a little boost of both fat and protein, but were still disappointed by the thickness this produced.

The revelation came when we stumbled across this recipe where the author cooked the oats. While that recipe still contained added thickeners, we knew we could match the makeup of dairy milk more closely with the hemp hearts and would avoid having to add starch or xanthan gum, neither of which we really keep on hand.

Greek style dairy yogurt contains a higher protein content than other types of yogurt (PDF link) which improves the texture (i.e. makes it thicker without added thickening products). Dairy milk is cooked to pasteurize the milk, but the other reason is to denature the proteins in the milk, which makes them more available to the lactic acid created during the culturing process. This results in a thicker yogurt.

I’m not sure exactly sure what is causing the thickness of the yogurt in this recipe. Cooking the oat and hemp milk creates a thick product that doesn’t thin out in the yogurt making process, whereas thickening the product with products like chia seed does not retain its thickness after culturing (we tired!).

When we cook the oats we are swelling the starch, not interacting with the proteins – which you might recall aren’t very abundant in oats. There isn’t a lot of information available about denaturing the protein in hemp hearts and what that would mean for yogurt making, which I suppose isn’t a big surprise. One paper suggested that for solubility it should not be heated above 80C, but we didn’t find any problems with solubility.

Fat content is important for the texture of dairy yogurt as it impacts the viscosity and impacts the rate of pH decrease in fermentation. The suspension of the fat globule in liquid provides the smooth texture in milk and yogurt. It is not clear how the fat from the hemp hearts interact in the process or if they are even in an optimal form. We had some success adding a tablespoon of coconut oil to the milk (at the blending stage) which improved texture, but this addition didn’t keep with the goal of being local. The recipe works without it just fine.

Flavor

Yes, this does taste like oats and hemp and not dairy yogurt. Adding sweeteners and fruit make a pretty convincing substitute for dairy, but the intent with this product is more for adding to smoothies for thickness and tang, so the flavor of the individual servings of yogurt isn’t as important to us.

The post’s featured image shows the yogurt with a homemade cherry/blueberry/wine sauce. We’d love to hear about how you jazz it up in the comments below!

Helpful hints

Yogurt making was a very scary and confusing process the first few times we tired. This section contains some helpful hints to demystify the process.

Make sure the milk is blended completely and strained well – We use a nut milk bag, but anything that is very fine will work. We want to let the released starches, fats, and proteins make it into the milk, but avoid any chunks.

Don’t freak out if your starter separates – This is normal. You don’t cook the milk for the starter, so there is nothing binding the solids to the liquids. Once you culture the cooked milk it will stay together much more easily, although you still might need to stir before eating, just like with dairy yogurt. The image below is from a lower solids batch than the ratios used in the recipe, but the message is the same: separation is normal.

Left: cultured milk; Right: uncultured milk

Yes, you really do need to whisk it while cooking – the oats thicken up really quickly, and if you don’t whisk it you will get chunks. Even with whisking we found a ring of cooked oats on the pot along the edges. We just scraped that off and whisked it back into the mixture.

Thick!

Just put the jars in the Instant Pot, no water needed – This idea scared us! But you need to realize that all the Instant Pot is doing is keeping the jars warm and covered. The bottom of the pot won’t burn, we promise! I wouldn’t put a lid on the jars, but otherwise it’s pretty safe.

You don’t need an Instant Pot to make this yogurt, but it helps – if you can find a way to keep the jars between 43°C-46 °C you’ll be golden. Other yogurt making appliances work just fine.

You don’t have to make this in jars – but the cleanup is so much easier if you do. We have an abundance of glass canning jars, so that is what we choose to use. Alternately, just dump the ingredients in the instant pot and scoop out later.

Vegan Oat and Hemp Yogurt

This is a step-by-step instruction for vegan oat & hemp yogurt, all the way from making your own oat milk and starter. Once you have a starter going, the recipe time cuts in half.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Incubation Time1 d 4 hrs
Total Time1 d 4 hrs 15 mins
Course: Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: probiotic, Vegan
Servings: 4 1/2 cup
Calories: 83kcal

Equipment

  • High-Power Blender
  • Nut milk bag
  • Large bowl
  • Glass Jars
  • Instant Pot
  • Stove
  • Saucepan
  • Whisk

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 3 tbsp hemp hearts
  • 2 cup water
  • 2 ea vegan 30 billion active culture probiotic capsules (Aim for 60 billion, the number of capsules isn't important)

Instructions

Making the oat & hemp milk

  • Place the ½ cup oats and 3 tbsp hemp hearts and 2 cups of water in the blender.
  • Blend on high for approximately 2 minute, or until smooth.
  • Pour contents into the nut milk bag and strain into a large bowl.
  • Divide the milk into two batches, one ½ cup for inoculation, and the rest to be covered in the fridge until the 2nd inoculation.

1st Inoculation

  • Pour the reserved 1/2 cup milk into a glass jar.
  • Open the probiotic capsules and pour contents into the milk. Stir until dissolved.
  • Place uncovered glass jar into the instant pot. Close the lid and select the yogurt setting. Incubate for 14 hours.
  • After inoculation the milk should smell tangy. It will have separated, but that's okay. Place in the fridge until ready to perform the second inoculation.

Preparing the oat & hemp milk for yogurt making

  • Place the refrigerated oat milk into a sauce pan over medium heat and whisk constantly.
  • Once the mixture reaches the thickness of thick cake batter remove from heat.
  • Allow to cool to room temperature.

2nd Inoculation

  • Pour the inoculated milk into the cooked milk and whisk until combined. If you prefer a much thicker yogurt, use less inoculated milk (half).
  • Pour mixed liquid into glass jars.
  • Place uncovered glass jars into the instant pot. Close the lid and select the yogurt setting. Incubate for 14 hours.
  • Once the incubation is complete, remove the glass jars. The contents should have a tangy smell and be thick. Some liquid may have separated, but this can be fixed by stirring. Cover with a lid and refrigerate until very cool to see the final thickness.

Flavoring

  • Once cool and thick, flavors and fruit can be added to the yogurt.

Notes

  1. Two inoculations are not necessary, but results in a better flavor. If you are going to skip the first inoculation, be sure to add the probiotics to the cooked milk after it has cooled to room temperature, or the probiotics will die and the yogurt will fail.
  2. You must cook the milk in order for this recipe to thicken. 
  3. Reserve approximately a quarter cup of unflavored yogurt to be the starter of the net batch. Treat like the inoculated milk and add to the cooked and cooled milk for additional batches. 
  4. Yogurt and starter will remain good in the fridge for approximately 10 days. 
Nutritional information for 0.5 cup unflavored: 
  • 83 calories
  • 7 g carbs
  • 5 g fat
  • 4 g protein
  • 1 g sugar
vegan yogurt
Don’t mind me, I’m just a pinable image!

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