Lactose intolerance be damned, Erin Asaad just couldn’t quit yogurt. Yet the dairy-free varieties she tried all came overloaded with sweetness—making them useless for the Middle Eastern food she liked to cook. “You can’t make a savory dish with an ingredient that has twenty grams of refined sugar,” she says.

A long-time cook and food blogger, Asaad took matters into her own fermenting bowl to find a substitute. She discovered that coconut milk, a favorite of hers, happened to have the perfect neutrality for a light and tart yogurt—the nuttiness never overwhelmed the fruit, curry or anything else she threw at it. Coconut is also rich in vitamins and minerals and nourishes skin and hair. And as an added bonus, coconuts are naturally organic; there’s no need to douse the shells in pesticides, because what bug’s going to bust in? 

Asaad knew she was onto something when friends of friends started offering to buy her yogurt. By late 2015, she made it all official by launching Kokonut, a name designed to plant a flag in people’s minds. “I wanted to have fun with the word, but I also wanted us to be THE coconut yogurt,” she says.

Tweaking traditional yogurt flavors, Kokonut comes in strawberry rose, blueberry lavender and bourbon vanilla. For bolder taste buds, Asaad has developed a ginger-lemongrass yogurt and a seasonal pumpkin-spice version. She has other adventurous varieties in the works, and ideas beyond straight-up yogurt in a cup, such as a coconut-yogurt ranch dressing that her husband “drinks by the gallon.” “We want to expand into areas that don’t have a lot of dairy-free options,” she says.

Asaad started selling Kokonut at Texas Farmers Market at Lakeline and Mueller and soon expanded to the Barton Creek and SFC farmers markets. She also has a growing list of stores carrying her products, including Juice Society, Mañana Coffee & Juice and Royal Blue Grocery. So far, she’s been able to make every batch herself in an industrial kitchen, and she uses only ethically farmed coconuts from Thailand and the Philippines. But there’s one stage of production she’s had to outsource: breaking the shells. “It can be labor-intensive,” she says.

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By Steve Wilson • Photography by Katie Johnson