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Is coconut yogurt a waste of money?
January 10, 2013 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Coconuts are rich in lauric acid, which is converted into monolaurin in the body, and has strong antimicrobial properties. That being said, how do friendly probiotic strains of bacteria survive in coconut yogurt? My inquiries to the manufacturer (So Delicious Dairy Free) have gone down a black hole.

Please assume I know very little about microbiology. Lengthy explanations, analogies, website links, etc. are much appreciated.
posted by invisible ink to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oops. I bungled the first link. It should go here: Lauric Acid.
posted by invisible ink at 9:25 PM on January 10, 2013


The nutrition listings say that it contains both coconut milk and live active cultures. I don't know how that's the case specifically, but I know that those are claims the company couldn't make if it weren't true.

This website implies that you can't make a coconut-milk based starter from batch to batch using traditional yogurt cultures. Which might be because of the antimicrobial aspect. It's possible that it's not antimicrobial enough to kill everything on contact, but it is antimicrobial enough to kill the cultures over time.

I'm not sure what that means for coconut milk yogurt's probiotic properties. If I were you, I'd buy coconut milk yogurt because you enjoy eating it, and not because of probiotic properties.
posted by Sara C. at 9:56 PM on January 10, 2013


Coconut milk kefir exists. After the initial adjustment period of 2-3 cycles, my kefir grains seemed to be continuing their normal growth rate. Though IME kefir grains do seem to be a fair bit hardier than yogurt cultures.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Laurelic acid is roughly equivalent to a soap - sodium laurelate is the sodium salt of laurelic acid in exactly the way the sodium acetate they put on salt and vinegar potato chips is the sodium salt of acetic acid. While it has some antimicrobial properties, I wouldn't call it STRONGLY anti-microbial (and will point out that most of the links that do are trying to sell you something). The papers linked from Wikipedia (with western blots and gels and culture counts and stuff) show some effectivity but lack brushed steel fonts with cross hairs.

The other thing to consider is, well, Raid kills roaches dead (well, that's what it says on the can) but I promise you that it is woefully inadequate in case of polar bear attacks. Bacteria are no different than the animal kingdom in terms of their varying resistance to different attacks. One paper lists a number of bacterial species that laurelic acid will put an end to but notes that it doesn't appear to have any effect on E. coli (usually a friend) or Salmonella enteritidis (not on your side).

THE PAPER would be one by Isaacs et al from 1991, but I'm having trouble finding it in a flood of things with titles like, "Complete Natural MRSA Treatment System".
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:10 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Th lauric acid in coconut oil is part of triglyceride molecules and very probably has no antimicrobial action until it's released from those molecules by hydrolysis in your intestines:
Lauric acid, as a component of triglycerides, comprises about half of the fatty acid content in coconut oil... [from your first link]
And even then may have little contact with the microbes there:
Triglycerides are emulsified by bile and hydrolyzed by the enzyme lipase, resulting in a mixture of fatty acids and monoglycerides...
posted by jamjam at 12:07 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lauric acid isn't bleach, loads of microbes are very resistant to even high concentrations of it. The live cultures in your coconut yoghurt don't even really need to go about the business of actually living, to count towards being able to legally say there are live cultures they just need to sit there and wait, which is much easier for microbes to do that replicate in the presence of toxic stuff.

Regardless though, even if these cultures were sterile by the time you ate them, that wouldn't make the yoghurt a waste of money. In the last 20+ years of extremely active research, no one has yet to demonstrate that they have a culture of anything that will actually affect the health of either healthy or sick volunteers when given live that doesn't also have the exact same effect when given dead. Paradoxically though, even dead many probiotic cultures have statistically significant positive effects on both healthy and sick volunteers. The most plausible theoretical model for why this is the case that I've come across so far is that probiotic cultures, live and dead, serve as especially effective food for feeding the cultures you already have.

TL;DR: They're almost certainly alive but it almost certainly doesn't matter.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:27 AM on January 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


Incidentally, if there are any scientific papers that you would like access to or explanations of feel free to memail me with a promise not to distribute them and an email address I can send a PDF to; for the purposes of this academic discussion that we are currently having of course.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:30 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


They don't actually claim that the bacteria is live when it reaches you and I bet they don't know or care (since it's not relevant to any potential health benefits, which are unlikely to exist anyway). I looked at the manufacturer's website and it actually says "Formulated with 10 Active & Live Cultures", and even then only on the drinks (not on the pots). Well yeah, of course they use live cultures in the formulation, that's how yoghurt works. You put live bacteria into the milk, their metabolic activity changes the milk, the bacteria die at some point along the way (sooner or later, whatever). Then after you eat them, they pass through your gut possibly having transient effects as they do so, and they never colonise or grow in there regardless of if they were live or dead when you first consumed them (this has been well established by the probiotics researchers by now).

If the bacteria were dead during formulation then there would be no yoghurt, so that sentence is essentially meaningless and is just in there to sucker in the people who still don't realise that probiotics don't need to be alive to do anything. The manufacturer's also smart enough to not make any health claims they can't back up, the most I can see is "designed to enhance your overall sense of well being." Eating something tasty that you like is enough to do that so again it doesn't mean anything. And given they don't mention which strains they use, the few strains with any proven health benefits (which only happens in certain diseases) are specific and often patented, and they don't make any health claims anyway, again we're back to they don't know if it does anything and they don't care. They're just jumping on the probiotic bandwagon for marketing purposes because the kind of person who drinks coconut stuff for health is likely to also like that kind of thing. Which is fine, nothing they're saying is misleading.

So no, your yoghurt is not a waste of time at all assuming you like it. Eat it and enjoy the enhanced sense of well being, just don't expect anything beyond that.
posted by shelleycat at 12:47 AM on January 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


If the bacteria were dead during formulation then there would be no yoghurt, so that sentence is essentially meaningless and is just in there to sucker in the people who still don't realise that probiotics don't need to be alive to do anything

There's plenty of "yogurt" out there that doesn't use active cultures. It's basically just artificially thickened flavored dairy pablum. Go-gurt is a good example of this sort of "yogurt".

That said, what you're looking for when you shop for yogurt isn't copy on the front about "formulated with live and active cultures". What you're looking for is the ingredients list, which for good yogurt will not only say "active cultures" but specify which cultures were used.
posted by Sara C. at 1:49 AM on January 11, 2013


"If the bacteria were dead during formulation then there would be no yoghurt, so that sentence is essentially meaningless and is just in there to sucker in the people who still don't realise that probiotics don't need to be alive to do anything"

Also, interestingly, pretty much no yoghurt and very few commercially sold fermented products sold with live cultures have any of the original cultures used to ferment the product still alive in them. Batch fermentation is inherently a reasonably unpredictable process and typically the variation in live cell density at the end is to high to be acceptable, where all of the individual batches that end up at the high end of the spectrum would spoil much faster with to many live cells munching away at it to quickly, while batches at the low end would have to few cells to honestly claim it as alive. The typical way to deal with this is to pasteurize or otherwise kill the original cultures and then add a standard amount of cells back in. Often this is the same culture but not always.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:23 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what that means for coconut milk yogurt's probiotic properties. If I were you, I'd buy coconut milk yogurt because you enjoy eating it, and not because of probiotic properties.

Seconding this - you can buy probiotic supplements in most drug stores now. I'd get a supplement (they generally have more than whole-milk yogurt does, even) and just eat what you want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on January 11, 2013


If it were that strong, it would also kill the good bacteria in your digestive tract. While coconut is wonderfully healthy, if you really want powerful probiotics, you've got to ferment your own at home. And yes, you can make coconut yogurt at home. There are several recipes, tutorials, and videos online. The Paleo Mom's recipes tend to be very reliable.

If you are going to get commercial supplements, make sure it's broad spectrum. I really like Bio-Kult, but it's not cheap. Neither is So Delicious yogurt.

Cultures for Health is a really good online source for kefir grains* and yogurt starters. Their online chat is really helpful.
*or you can get someone to just give you some grains.
posted by Neekee at 9:15 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The typical way to deal with this is to pasteurize or otherwise kill the original cultures and then add a standard amount of cells back in.

I didn't know that and it is interesting to me. But it's also fairly irrelevant to this particular product because the point I was making above is that the manufacturers don't say in any way if there are live cultures in there when you buy it, or even at what point there were some or how they were used or *anything*. "Formulated with" is a really ambiguous phrase, to the point of meaninglessness almost. As someone with experience doing research in the food industry this is really clearly a marketing phrase to me, not a scientific one.

It's basically just artificially thickened flavored dairy pablum.

Where I come from this wouldn't be allowed to be called yoghurt, but I guess Your Food Labelling Laws May Vary.
posted by shelleycat at 11:05 AM on January 11, 2013


the manufacturers don't say in any way if there are live cultures in there when you buy it, or even at what point there were some or how they were used or *anything*

Of course they do. Read the ingredients list on the Nutrition Information section of the packaging. It'll mention live active cultures in the ingredients list, and which specific cultures were used.

I've been able to create plenty of self-propogating yogurt starters from commercially purchased yogurt, so clearly it's possible to get yogurt that still contains live and active cultures.
posted by Sara C. at 11:35 AM on January 11, 2013


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