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People make yogurt by fermenting coconut milk. Why has no one ever made cheese?

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    Coconut milk is not milk. It has a similar consistency and colour to milk, hence the misnomer.
    – dotancohen
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:27
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    @dotancohen In English it's correct to call non-dairy milks 'milk', see e.g. english.stackexchange.com/questions/478302/…
    – dbmag9
    Dec 16, 2021 at 13:06
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    Liberal use of language aside, there exists a material secreted from mammary glands. That material can be made into cheese and yogurt. Other materials, though they have similar consistency and colour, can not be made into cheese or yogurt. Even if they are referred to by the same word as that used to refer to the mammary gland secretions due to their consistency and colour.
    – dotancohen
    Dec 16, 2021 at 13:19

1 Answer 1

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Your question is based on wrong assumptions. Depending on your preferred definition, they have made both coconut yogurt and coconut cheese, or they have never made either.

If you choose a strict definition of "yogurt" and "cheese", then it is biologically not possible to make yogurt or cheese from coconut milk. Yogurt is made by fermenting dairy milk with certain strains of lactobacillus (or a few other bacteria species), which digests some of the lactose in milk, and denatures the proteins to a certain degree, resulting in the well-known texture of yogurt.

Coconut milk is chemically totally unlike dairy milk. If you add lactobacilluis to it, it cannot establish a colony, because the environment is totally wrong for it. You cannot ferment coconut milk with yogurt cultures.

Update: somebody commented that one can ferment coconut milk. I still wouldn't see this as yogurt. First, it is unlikely that it is done with yogurt cultures. Second, I would be more inclined to see the result as related to kvass or to boza, than as related to yogurt. Third, fermented coconut milk won't have the fine denatured protein mesh that gives yogurt its texture, it will have to be thickened by other means to become yogurt-like, as described in the next paragraph.

In recent times, some food producers have started making non-dairy yogurt replacement, some also using coconut milk. In that case, the lactobacillus is fermented in a medium in which it can establish a colony (I don't know if the coconut products are already added at that stage or not), and different plant-based ingredients are used to achieve a substance which has the optic appearance and the spoonable texture of yogurt, but does not taste like yogurt. Chemically, it is quite different from yogurt, but for many eaters, especially those starved for yogurt due to a restrictive diet, it is a good enough substitute.

There are also plant-based cheese substitutes, and in recent years, they have also gotten rather close in texture to real cheese, especially if you are not picky about closely imitating an exact type of cheese, but are only looking for something that melts nicely on a casserole or provides the right tang and saltiness in a salad designed with Feta in mind. A lot of these also use coconut-derived products as part of their ingredients.

But note that both of those types of product are 1) not actually yogurt (or cheese) but substitutes that have slightly similar sensory properties, and 2) are not made with the same method as cheese or yogurt. Since coconut milk does not behave like dairy milk chemically or nutritionally (in that case, nutritionally from the point of view of a lactobacillum), you cannot follow the same process as for dairy milk and get the same result. That would be like providing honey bees with cat food and expecting them to produce beeswax and honey.

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    +1 for last line, and the mental image of some extremely angry bees. Dec 14, 2021 at 16:00
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    @DanR.: at some point you have to make a decision on what the definition of something is. As described, yogurt is dairy milk + certain strains of bacteria. If you have something that has neither of those two defining ingredients, you just don't have yogurt, even if you create some other substance with superficially similar properties. It's similar to the idea that you can't make vegan mayonnaise, as mayo by definition requires egg yolks. Even if you create a mayo like substance, it's not mayonnaise. Dec 14, 2021 at 17:50
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    @leftaroundabout there is a clear cut definition for milk: the liquid produced by the mammary glands of a mammal. That's why true vegan cheese or yogurt is impossible, only simulacrum. Dec 14, 2021 at 23:24
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    @whatsisname we were talking about plant milks, which are a thing. (Of course certain agricultural organisations would like you to think otherwise.) Dec 14, 2021 at 23:42
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    @RossPresser Depending on your bee-species and what you consider cat-food, that last line is just wrong: phys.org/news/2021-11-bees-dead-meat-eating-vulture-sport.html
    – Ivana
    Dec 15, 2021 at 0:09

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