Now… everyone knows, I love my Greek yogurt.
I do everything from eating it with cranberries, cashews and almonds to mixing it with curry and peanut sauce (pronounced “SAWSE”) and slathering it on a Thai burger like mayo.
So…needless to say, a scowl formed on my face when I saw the following:
Other companies have watched Greek yogurt take over nearly a quarter of the total yogurt market in just the past five years. They wanted to get into this profitable market segment, too, but they didn’t have those machines.
So they called in food scientists like Erhan Yildiz, who is head of research on dairy products at a company called Ingredion. He knows yogurt — he’s Turkish, too. Yildiz and his colleagues set about finding a way to make it without those expensive straining machines.
They measured the firmness and thickness of those Greek yogurts, and also some attributes that you may not have heard of — “residual mouth coating,” “meltaway” and “jiggle.”
“This is almost like fingerprinting a product. That combination of key attributes really identifies what that product is all about,” he says.
To duplicate the Greek yogurt, they started with regular yogurt, then added different versions of starch, obtained from corn or tapioca. As they tweaked the quality and quantity of added starch, they kept measuring those key attributes. “If you can measure something, you can manipulate it,” says Yildiz.
They arrived at a solution, a “formulated” Greek yogurt that Yildiz says comes pretty close to the original strained version. It’s on store shelves now, although Yildiz isn’t allowed to say exactly which yogurt manufacturers use his new ingredient.
But you can figure it out. During a recent visit to Safeway, I found that Fage’s plain Greek yogurt contained no added thickeners. Safeway’s Lucerne brand of Greek yogurt, however, contained milk protein concentrate (something that’s commonly obtained from the leftover whey at cheese factories) and organic cornstarch. Yoplait’s Greek yogurt also contained milk protein concentrate.
Yildiz sees nothing wrong with this. Authentic Greek yogurt, he says, is what you make of it.
But Chobani’s Ulukaya calls such products cheap imitations. “That ruins the expectation in the consumer’s mind of how pure and simple this product is.”
He says the problem is there’s no legal definition of Greek yogurt, any more than there’s a legal definition of, say, a Greek wedding. “There’s no protection around it. You could make a bowl of macaroni, call it Greek yogurt, and nobody could do anything to you. Which is sad!”[source]
In the traditional sense, Greek yogurt is little more than yogurt culture and milk protein. A brief glance at the ingredients label for either of the more popular Greek yogurt brands will tell you that. But how’s it made?
Ohio State University nutritionist Julie Kennel Shertzer explained to me that both Greek- and American-style yogurt are made by fermenting milk with live bacteria cultures—the only difference is that Greek yogurt is strained to remove the liquid whey, hence its thicker consistency. (The Greek yogurt company Fage has a good explanation of the process here.) Both are nutritional superstars: They’re excellent sources of calcium and good sources of protein, their bacteria cultures aid digestion, and the unsweetened low- and nonfat varieties are low in calories. But according to Shertzer, Greek yogurt does have a few nutritional advantages over regular yogurt: “Since it’s a more concentrated product, it packs a few more grams of protein per serving,” she says. It’s also a bit lower in sugar and carbohydrates, since lactose, a form of sugar present in all dairy products, is removed with the whey. [source]
What makes Greek yogurt so great is that it is a concentrated source of protein that isn’t as heavy on the system as milk or cheese, and isn’t as cumbersome – or pricey – as sustainable animal meat can be. High protein, low carbs, low (in some cases, no) fat, easily manipulated source of creamy texture? Extremely clean, by our standards? Come on… don’t mess with my heart like this.
What can we do about avoiding “milk protein concentrate” in your Greek yogurt? Check your labels. If it says anything other than milk and, maybe, [insert list of cultures]? Proceed with caution.
(You can also make your own Greek yogurt, but even still… considering how you have to start with some of the cultures from another yogurt, I think you’d still need to be careful with which one you start off with.)