I love yogurt and apparently I’m not the only one. Have you checked out the yogurt shrine–er, section–at your local grocery store lately? The selection is staggering! (I would say it almost rivals the toothpaste aisle.) More recently, Greek yogurt has crept into American food culture and has finally become readily available in most locales. But what is this stuff? How is it different from ‘regular’ yogurt? And is it worth the extra money?
Simply put, Greek yogurt is strained yogurt. In fact, before the stuff was stocked at my local grocery store, I’d occasionally make it by hanging plain, natural yogurt in a few layers of cheese cloth. (Yes, I know. Kinda crazy.) What is being strained out, you ask? A yellowish liquid called whey. As a result, Greek yogurt is very thick and creamy.
Not all brands are created equal and many vary considerably in their nutritional content. Calorie content might be as little as 100 calories per serving and I’ve seen as high as 310 calories. Why? Some have zero fat and others are on par with premium ice cream. Similarly, some have zero added sugar and others turn this yogurt into a dessert. Protein content can vary from 8 grams up to a whopping 21 grams per serving. To find the right brand and variety for your needs, just check out the nutrition facts label. A low-fat, plain Greek yogurt can be a great choice for someone looking to add protein without bouncing the calorie budget, while a full-fat, sweetened variety could be an efficient way to boost energy intake for a person struggling to get in enough calories.
Regardless of variety, all Greek yogurts on the market contain active and live cultures, meaning they contain those healthy bacteria that are so important for gut health and immunity. They also contain calcium, though less than standard yogurts (unless otherwise fortified). Some may also be fortified with vitamin D, but usually not.
Greek yogurt is super versatile and can be eaten alone, used in cooking, or as a substitute for other high-fat dairy products, like sour cream or heavy cream. For cooking and substitution, plain (read: unflavored, unsweetened) varieties are best. Also remember that fat-free dairy products are more likely to curdle or break at high temperatures or when acids are added. A gentle hand is best; when mixing Greek yogurt with other ingredients, carefully fold using a rubber spatula. Avoid vigorous mixing or whisking as this tends to loosen up the thick and creamy texture.
Here are a few of my favorite uses for Greek yogurt:
- Mash up a mix of your favorite berries (use thawed frozen berries in the off-season). Add a couple drops of vanilla or almond extract and fold together with the yogurt. Top with toasted and sliced almonds and a drizzle of honey.
- Making homemade fruit or veggie dip? Use low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Make a quick and satisfying pasta dish using a multi-grain pasta (try Barilla Plus!), pre-made pesto, and Greek yogurt (fold the latter two together and then add to your cooked pasta).