Until recently, plain yogurt has been a hard sell. Its naturally tart and tangy flavor was perceived as too sharp or too sour for most Americans. Greek yogurt, with its creamy and luxurious texture and milder flavor, is converting yogurt naysayers into yogurt lovers, and in the process has revolutionized how we think about yogurt.
Greek yogurt is simply yogurt that has been strained. In the rest of the world, including Greece, it is called “strained” or “hung” yogurt, referring to the fact that it is traditionally hung in cloth to drain. Because much or all of the whey and water is strained out, the yogurt has double the milk protein of regular varieties. And because nearly all of the lactose, or milk sugar, is strained out, it is lower in carbohydrates than unstrained yogurt.
Even so, Greek yogurt contains a greater amount of fat and more calories than unstrained yogurt. According to Nikolaos Katerelos, spokesman for the Hellenic Food Authority in Athens, strained yogurt made with cow’s milk must have a minimum 5 percent fat content (in Greece, fat is not considered the inherent problem it is in the United States).
Here, Greek yogurt tends to be available in 0 percent or 2 percent fat. Two exceptions are the traditional or classic versions made by The Greek Gods and Fage; these also include cream. Fat and calories in strained yogurt made with whole milk and cream are nearly double that of unstrained whole-milk yogurt. The calorie difference in strained and unstrained nonfat and low-fat yogurts is slight, whereas the amount of fat, when present, is double.
The Greek yogurt craze just keeps growing. Nicki Briggs, spokeswoman for Chobani, the leading producer of Greek yogurt in this country, says sales of its 32-ounce, 2 percent fat plain yogurt are up 231 percent from a year ago.
To capitalize on consumer demand, the number of companies producing Greek yogurt has mushroomed. Not all containers labeled “Greek yogurt” or “Greek-style yogurt” are of equal quality. Straining adds a step to production and requires the use of more milk, so some producers add milk and/or whey protein concentrate and make high protein claims on the packaging. Or they add thickeners, such as cornstarch, pectin, and others, to simulate the texture of Greek yogurt.
To easily identify traditionally produced Greek yogurt, read the ingredient list; it should contain milk and bacterial cultures only.
Or make your own. You need a thermometer, a warm place, and patience.