In my lifetime, I’ve seen yogurt become a health-conscious-treat phenomenon in the ’70s, a frozen health-conscious-treat (usually loaded with unhealthy toppings like crushed Oreos or M&Ms, basically overriding any possible health advantage over regular ice cream) phenomenon in the ’80s and ’90s and, today, an industry that seems to just throw as many different styles of yogurt it can come up with against the wall (figuratively) to see what sticks.
And because of the “It’s super-healthy!” marketing (exclusively targeting women), people fall for it. Maybe the yogurt industry has earned the right to go marketing-crazy with its products — it can’t be easy to take a food product made through the process of bacterial fermentation of milk and make it hugely successful. (“Bacterial” anything has got to be a hard sell.)
Visit the yogurt section at your neighborhood grocery store today and you’ll find yogurt for kids (like the liquidy, drinkable Danimals products), lazy people (Gogurt, which you squeeze into your mouth … because if you use a spoon, you’ve got to get the spoon, then wash it afterwards; who has the time?) and people who aren’t quite ready to go super-healthy (does there need to be a “Boston Cream Pie” yogurt?). There’s also Activia, which, I gather, helps ladies poop. (You’re just going to have to take Jamie Lee Curtis’ word for it.) And extra-health-conscious people who cook can allegedly use yogurt in recipes to replace everything from butter and mayo to eggs and cooking oil.
Right now, “Greek yogurt” is a supermarket phenomenon. I’ve watched from afar as the standard bad-body-image-promoting/guilt-inducing commercials have increased over the past couple of years. According to a Slate article on the dairy crisis in New York state, in 2008 a Greek dairy company called Fage was the first to open a plant in America, kicking off the craze. New York is home to most of the U.S. Greek yogurt makers’ factories, but it requires so much milk that even politicians have expressed concerns that it is sapping the state’s dairy supply.
When I hear “Greek yogurt,” I think of tzatziki sauce, the delicious, salty/sour condiment used in Greek cuisine (different types of yogurt are used in all sorts of international foods, sans the “fruit on the bottom” or “fattening dessert flavoring” aspect). So as I set about taste testing a few Greek yogurt options from the supermarket, I was prepared for that flavor to be, if not prominent, at least slightly evident.
Here’s the big secret, for those who haven’t tasted “Greek yogurt” — while some claim it’s creamier (maybe, barely), less sweet and more sour, it really tastes practically exactly the same as regular supermarket yogurt. If you don’t like the standard brands of yogurt like Yoplait and Dannon, don’t think that you might enjoy Greek yogurt. It’s the same damn thing, at least in terms of taste.
I sampled a strawberry-flavored yogurt from Dannon’s Oikos line of Greek yogurt, a mango-flavored offering from early U.S. Greek yogurt pioneers Chobani and a “key lime” version from Yoplait’s Greek division. (Even store-brands have gotten in on the action; Meijer has its own line.) While all were very good (especially Chobani’s), I was left wondering how it was any different than the yogurt I ate growing up.
So what is the big deal about Greek yogurt? Like regular yogurt, it’s low (and sometimes non-) fat, low calorie and a good source of calcium (though, because it’s strained, it has less than the usual yogurts). According to a 2009 article from U.S. News and World Report, Greek yogurt boasts the added health benefits of being higher in protein and lower in sugar and sodium. Regular yogurt also has more cholesterol than Greek yogurt.
A Harvard study cited in the article and published in the New England Journal of Medicine claims both kinds of yogurt can assist in staving off weight gain — if you stick to it. Daily yogurt eating, according to the study, can help you lose a whopping one pound every four years — thought that’s credited to how the bacteria works in your body. Tape worms are probably even more effective.
To be truly healthy, it’s recommended that you avoid the products that have flavor and make sure you buy the non- or low-fat versions. And plain, non-fat yogurt is just plain disgusting — it’s almost like eating non-fat sour cream straight from the container.
So if you find yourself loading up your cart with yogurt on a regular basis, you’ll certainly see some benefits, health-wise. But — be it Greek or otherwise — be sure to get the grossest kind available (flavorless) for the best results.
The differences between the various kinds of supermarket yogurt are minimal, but thanks to the deft marketing departments at yogurt companies, Greek yogurt is now all the rage and shows no sign of slowing anytime soon.
CONTACT MIKE BREEN : [email protected] or @CityBeatMusic