breakfast © by janineomg

 

I’d been seeing “Greek-style” yogurt for quite some time before I actually tried it. My first thought was why the heck did I wait so long? This stuff is tasty. It’s thick, uber creamy, tart, and satisfying. Apparently, I’m not the only one licking my spoon. 5 years ago Greek-style yogurt was a $60 million business in the US. Fast forward to 2011 and sales are predicted to be $1.5 billion. Everyone wants a piece of the action and yogurt giants, Dannon and Yoplait,  are scrambling as tiny player, Chobani, sky rockets to #1 with 10% market share in all yogurt.

Yogurt is often called a “superfood” and for good reason. It’s high in protein and the live cultures (probiotics) and helpful bacteria help maintain the healthy flora in our gut. A recent long-term study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that yogurt was inversely associated with weight gain. The more yogurt the participants ate, the less they gained weight. The popularity of yogurt shows no signs of slowing down as just last year, The Dairy Council of California named yogurt as the food trend of the decade. If you haven’t tried Greek-style yet, you’re missing out. Here is a helpful Q&A on this special variation of yogurt:

Do people in Greece really eat Greek-style yogurt?

Absolutely. As I was doing research for this article, I remembered that I have a friend who is from Cyprus, an island near Greece. I decided to get the yogurt low-down from Marcos and sprinkled his insight throughout.

 ”… in Greece and Cyprus yogurt is more a part of the meal than a snack or a dessert. For example, it would be rare (if not unthinkable) to be served a bulgur dish without it being topped with yogurt. In many cases a sizable tub of yogurt is simply put on the table for people to serve onto a side of their plates, the same way that you’d take a portion of salad from the bowl in the middle…”

So exactly what is Greek-style yogurt?

The simple explanation is “strained yogurt.” Contrary to popular belief, Greek or Greek-style yogurt does not refer to where the product is made but rather the method used.  For thousands of years, people in the Mediterranean and other cultures around the world have enjoyed yogurt as a diet staple. Here, a memory of the yogurt of Marcos’ youth:

“When I was growing up, yogurt came in nice pint-or-so clay tubs, more shallow than deep, covered with a sheet of paper held around the rim with a rubber band. The yogurt itself had a thick skin of cream on top. You always spooned your portion out vertically, it would be bad manners to spoon a horizontal layer off, because if you were first you’d be getting all of that yummy topping, and what makes you so special?”

How is it made?

Traditionally, Greek yogurt was made with sheep’s milk. These days it is made by taking plain cow’s milk yogurt and straining it through muslin, cloth or other material to remove the watery whey. According to the Fage website, it takes approximately 4 pounds of milk to produce 1 pound of Fage Total Greek Yogurt. There are varying degrees of straining and and resulting thickness. The more straining, the less liquid and the thicker the yogurt.

“…In Greece they go ape with straining. I once bought some from a corner deli and they spooned it from their tub ONTO WAX PAPER, which they proceeded to ‘wrap’ and hand to me. It was like buying a chunk of cheese (and the concentration of flavor and ability to fill you up are comparable to cheese)…”

- Marcos recounting an experience buying yogurt in Greece

Instead of fully straining the yogurt, some yogurt companies use additives (thickeners, gelatin, stabilizers) to create the texture associated with true Greek-style yogurt. Read our next blog post so you’ll be able to tell “authentic” ones from the “fake” varieties.

Is Greek-style yogurt better for me than regular yogurt?

There are a variety of reasons why Greek-style yogurt has the edge on regular yogurt. For simplicity, we’ll compare plain yogurt. They both have approximately the same number of calories, but the Greek version can have up to double the grams of protein. In addition, it contains an average of half the carbohydrates and half the sodium of the regular variety. Greek-style does contain more saturated fat, but we here at Be Food Smart don’t believe saturated fat is the evil it has been made out to be (do some research and check out this article by Dr. Andrew Weil). The bottom line is that all that straining does have a positive effect on yogurt. The brand and specific variety does make a difference in terms of health, so read our next blog post where we’ll compare all the major brands.

Can I make Greek-style yogurt myself?

Yes! If you have regular yogurt, all you need to do is strain it to create Greek-style yogurt. For optimum results, use a whole-milk or at least low-fat yogurt to start. Here is the advice from my resident “expert” Marcos:

“…here’s a tip, whether you buy it or make it, if you like strained yogurt it’s a snap to do it: just let your yogurt sit in a fine strainer thing (coffee filter, cheese cloth..) until you get the degree of thickness you want. And, don’t toss the strained liquid! You can add it to recipes or simply dunk it, with some salt, pepper and mint…”

As Marcos notes, you can also make your own yogurt. I’ve never done it myself before, but there are tons of websites devoted to how to make your own. I found this one which looked very comprehensive and easy to follow: How to Make Your Own Yogurt. Using raw milk? It might be helpful to read this post from the Weston A. Price Foundation on the heating options and various methods.

I’m intrigued. What should I look for at the store?

Curious about non-fat vs. full-fat, plain vs. flavored varieties, and the ingredients in all the popular brands? Stay tuned for our next blog post where we’ll show you which brands are best and what to look out for when buying Greek-style yogurt.

Sources:
Food Navigator USA
 Ad Age
Business Insider
NPR
US News Health