It turns out that the package of yogurt starter had a troubleshooting guide in it that I missed the first time around. Apparently overheating the culture does cause the whey-like separation I got when trying to make the hemp milk yogurt. Well. Now I know. Operator error. Got it.
So, armed with this knowledge, I made another attempt at vegan yogurt. I used rice milk this time, kept the batch small, and used my typical incubation method. I carefully went through the process of heating the rice milk, adding the starter culture, and incubating the mixture. Oh, who am I trying to kid? I put the rice milk on the stove and measured its temperature carefully for about 5 minutes before my boys had so-called “needs” and distracted me. *Sigh* At least it didn’t boil over this time.
After 24 hours of incubation, the result was another mediocre batch of yogurt. The tart yogurt-y taste was more fully developed this time, probably because I didn’t kill the culture so quick. However, there was still that funny sweetish taste, too. (Sweet-ish, not to be confused with Swedish.) The consistency of the finished product was pretty much the same as rice milk, perhaps slightly thicker.
Here’s my theory. It’s pure speculation, but it sounds real good. I think that the bacteria ate all the sugars they could, but I’m not sure that all the sugars in the rice milk are digestible to these bacteria, so that leaves the strange sweet taste – the undigested sugars. Also, I don’t think there’s enough protein and fat in rice milk to cause the mixture to thicken up any. You’d need to add gelatin or agar agar or something to thicken things up to something resembling commercial yogurt.
There is some good news, though. I now have a cultured (fermented) rice beverage, kind of like kefir. I’m not a fan of drinking it straight, but I mixed it with some freshly pressed juice, and it was a super-refreshing beverage. The combo was actually quite a bit better than either beverage alone. Not quite “Calgon, take me away!” good, but probably the best beverage I’ve had in the last several years. Seriously yum-tastic.
I’m getting a regular supply of goat’s milk again, so I think my adventures in making vegan yogurt are over for now. I’m going to give Jaye the rest of the starter culture, as her family uses almond milk, and I’m curious to see if it makes a difference. Stay tuned for the continuing saga!