A few weeks back, I published a recipe for homemade Greek-style yogurt. The recipe is simple, and the results are healthy, as far as I’m concerned. But some readers have pointed out that dairy-free yogurt can be a healthier option, and it is the only yogurt choice for those with animal milk-related allergies.
Before taking a stab at making my own dairy-free yogurt, I wanted to explore the options available at Bay Area grocery stores. Soy milk yogurt has been around for quite awhile, and I’ve never found one that I’ve liked. Today, we have many more options, made primarily from coconut and/or almond milk. It is these yogurts that I set out to taste. Five out of the six options are available at large grocery stores like Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl. The sixth, my favorite, is an artisanal yogurt made in San Francisco, and is only available at Bi-Rite, through Good Eggs, and at a couple of local coffee shops.
But even though I was able to pick a favorite, none of these yogurts really do the original much justice. Almost all of the yogurts had a strange texture, unappetizing color, and/or off flavor. My favorite yogurt only comes in strong floral or herbal flavors, which I also do not find particularly appealing. (Plus it is extraordinarily expensive.)
The moral of the story? The non-dairy yogurt market is ripe for innovation. I don’t doubt that there are creative dairy wizards in the Bay Area who could make a coconut or almond milk yogurt that would actually compete with the real stuff. I’ll try making my own, of course, but a convenient, affordable and tasty store-bought option should exist. So consider this a challenge, San Francisco.
The results, from best to worse, below:
This San Francisco-based company makes flavored yogurts, paired with flavored granola for single-serve breakfasts. Flavors are floral and herby — think lavender, basil, and lemon. Each yogurt is made with close to 100% organic ingredients and is high (14 grams per serving) in fat. But the key to this yogurt’s success is its blending of coconut and almond milk, which gives the yogurt a texture close to products made from cow’s milk. (From my limited experience, it seems that yogurts made entirely from almond milk need far too many stabilizers to thicken and coconut on its own needs to be watered down in order to cut its richness.)
Crunch Culture is made in the thinner, “European” style, much like Strauss dairy yogurt. It is rich, pourable and creamy. Despite the presence of a number of stabilizers and thickeners (tapioca flour and agar agar in the yogurt and gellan gum and carrageenan in the almond milk), the yogurt is smooth. Crunch Culture’s cultures themselves are on the mild side, and the yogurt lacks any distinct tang. Still, the flavor of the almond and coconut is apparent, even behind the intense lavender notes in the “Flower Child” option. I would certainly eat this yogurt again, but would be happier if Crunch Culture added a “plain” flavor to their lineup and reduced or eliminated the sugar. (Almonds and coconut are naturally sweet. Why add sugar?) The only other drawback is the price — at close to $5 for a single serve container, Crunch Culture is outrageously expensive, even for a local, organic product.
Made by the folks who brought us Almond Dream yogurt and milk (see below), Coconut Dream is a decent attempt at coconut milk yogurt. It is not exactly good, but could be serviceable in a yogurt emergency, should you find yourself in such a catastrophe. The yogurt is fairly low in fat (4 grams per serving), despite the use of coconut cream to produce the yogurt base.
Coconut Dream is heavy on the stabilizers; it contains a potent blend of cornstarch, tapioca maltodextrin, pectin, locust bean gum, and tapioca fiber. The result: a strange, jello-like texture. To make up for all of those additives, the yogurt also contains 14 grams of sugar (yikes!) and what appears to be a lot of water. Because of that water, Coconut Dream doesn’t taste much like coconut at all — instead, it is much more akin to gelatinous, sweetened coconut water. There’s a little tang hiding in there, too, but it tastes of lemon rather than cultures. No matter, the watery blandness makes it easy to ignore any off flavors, making Coconut Dream the only other brand that I would consider eating again.
Fans of Almond Dream almond milk are likely the key market demographic for this yogurt. It is the milk in all its sweet, artificial almond glory, rendered in a gelatinous, starchy form. Unlike the milk, however, the Almond Dream yogurt comes in an unsettling puce color. It lacks both creaminess and that distinct yogurt-y tang.
Out of all of the yogurts in the line-up, So Delicious makes the most vibrantly white product. There are no funky colors here. At 7 grams of fat per serving, the yogurt is on the richer, creamier side, and has the appearance of a silky smooth texture. But appearances can be deceiving — it is impossible to get past the starchy, grainy texture in each bite. In addition to the typical stabilizers, So Delicious also fortifies its yogurt with potassium and vitamin B, only upping the graininess. The labeling touts its wholesomeness, but its abundance of sugar (organic, natch) almost completely overpowers the slightly artificial coconut flavor.
So Delicious’ almond milk yogurt is worse. Like the Almond Dream yogurt, it comes in a sad shade of brown, with a shockingly firm texture. One could pass off the firmness as a stab at Greek-style yogurt, but it still is far from appealing. And, like its So Delicious counterpart, this almond milk yogurt is overpowered by starchiness. There isn’t much almond flavor present to make up for the awful texture; instead the yogurt manages to be sweet, sour and totally bland all at the same time.
Surprisingly, the yogurt with the shortest ingredient list managed to be the worst in the line-up. Coconut Grove doesn’t add too much to its yogurt — tapioca, arrowroot, guar gum, and coconut sugar — but this mix just doesn’t work. Blame the coconut sugar; it has a bizarre musty flavor that translates to a totally funky yogurt. Plus it lends the yogurt itself that same awful brown color as the almond milk varieties. And once again, the yogurt is far too sour; it tastes of lemon juice and nothing like coconut.
The bottom line? If you can eat it, stick to yogurts made from cow, goat or sheep milk. Or else you’ll want to come to terms with spending money on the good stuff from Crunch Culture. That, or learn how to make your own. I’ll be doing the latter. Stay tuned.
- Crunch Culture is available at Bi-Rite and GreenLid in San Francisco, Equator Coffee in Mill Valley, Woodland Market in Kentfield, and Good Eggs in the Greater Bay Area. $4.99 for 7 ounce package with granola. $6.49 for 16 ounce jar.
- Coconut Dream Yogurt is available at Berkeley Bowl. $1.39 for 7 ounce container.
- Almond Dream Yogurt is available at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. $1.69 for 7 ounce container.
- So Delicious Coconut Milk is available at Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, and Bi-Rite. $1.49 for 7 ounce container.
- So Delicious Almond Milk is available at Whole Foods and Bi-Rite. $1.50 for 7 ounce container.
- Coconut Grove is available at Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. $1.99 for 7 ounce container.