Greek yogurt has gained tremendous popularity over the past several years. Plain Greek yogurt is supposed to be higher in protein and lower in sugar and has a thicker consistency than plain regular yogurt. People have really fallen in love with it!
I was first introduced to Greek-style yogurt in 1996, while living in Amman, Jordan. A container of lebneh (similar to Greek yogurt) was a staple in my refrigerator and I loved the cool, creamy, tart flavor, especially when paired on a fresh, warm piece of pita bread. It made a delightful breakfast or after work snack.
In recent years, lebneh/Greek yogurt/strained yogurt/yogurt cheese have become immensely popular with the American public. While there is no legal definition of Greek yogurt (there is for plain yogurt but not Greek), it traditionally has been plain yogurt which has been strained of the liquid whey resulting in a much thicker, tarter, creamier substance. It can be eaten similar to plain yogurt or used in place of sour cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese in recipes.
Since this product has become popular, you will notice more and more ‘Greek' yogurts at your local grocery store. I have looked at the labels of some of these and have been confused at the protein and sugar content. Much of the hype of Greek yogurt is that it contains more protein and less natural natural sugar than regular, plain yogurt (generally a good thing!) As I have researched the brands, I found that many contained the same amount of protein and sugars on their nutritional panels. Hmmm…what is going on?
This is where reading ingredient labels comes in handy. According to an NPR article, the food industry has used food science to add thickeners to plain yogurt to make it have the same consistency as Greek yogurt. These thickeners are generally milk protein concentrate and/or cornstarch. Cornstarch (provided it is organic/nongmo) is not particularly harmful. Milk protein concentrate is a cheap, ultra-processed, powdered form of dairy protein that seems to be very unregulated.
Regardless of which thickeners are used and how you feel about these thickeners, to use them to create a Greek-style yogurt seems a bit deceiving to me. These yogurts are not strained of the liquid whey to get a true Greek yogurt. They are cheap products formulated to fool consumers into thinking they are getting Greek yogurt. There is even currently a class action lawsuit against Yoplait for this very deception.
What should you look for when you buy Greek yogurt? While Greek yogurt is very easy to make, if you are going to buy it, READ ingredient labels. Ideally, plain Greek yogurt should contain items such as milk, cream and live cultures, (* added 8/25/12, such as lactobacillus acidophilus, streptococcus thermophilus, etc.*) (organic dairy, if possible). Flavored yogurts will contain additional ingredients; be sure you know what they are!
What should you do with this information? I strongly believe that learning about and becoming aware of what ingredients are in our food gives you the knowledge necessary to make a choice about how you spend your food dollar. Then you can make an educated decision on what to buy.
Personally, I would avoid Greek yogurts thickened with cornstarch and milk protein concentrate as you are not getting the benefits of Greek yogurt just the ‘feel' and ‘consistency' of Greek yogurt!
I love to eat homemade Greek yogurt, plain, with fresh berries and a drizzle of raw honey (maybe with some chia seeds sprinkled on top). How about you? Do you eat Greek yogurt? What is your favorite brand and how do you eat it?