We spoon up so much yogurt at breakfast, lunch and dinner that we spent $7.3 billion on the tart stuff last year.
Its creamy texture and good-for-your-gut benefits are draws. So are the varieties: full fat, nonfat and low fat; organic and conventional; honey sweetened or plain, fruit on the bottom or swirled throughout.
Among these cultured denizens of the dairy case, it’s Greek yogurt that’s getting the most attention.
Retail sales in the United States of this thicker-than-regular yogurt increased more than 50 percent in 2012 to reach $1.6 billion, according to Packaged Facts, a Rockville, Md., market researcher. And those numbers have pretzel, salad dressing and cereal-makers jumping on the Greek yogurt bandwagon.
Greek yogurt’s appeal is easy to understand. It’s deliciously thick and creamy, it plays well in recipes, its ingredient list is simple (milk plus live cultures) and its tartness dovetails with our fondness for fermented foods (pickles, beer, etc.).
“There’s been a lot of marketing with the Greek yogurts. And people like the thick texture of the Greek variety,” says registered dietitian Sarah Krieger, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokeswoman. “If you’re using Greek yogurt in cooking, basically you can use it anywhere that sour cream is used.”
Subbing Greek yogurt for sour cream in many recipes cuts calories and sodium, while delivering more protein. “If you’re making a cold soup that uses sour cream, I would swap it out for nonfat Greek yogurt,” she says. “You’re getting more nutrition with the Greek yogurt.”
Nutritional differences between Greek and regular yogurts are due in part to the number of times each is strained. Regular yogurt is strained twice to remove the liquid whey; Greek yogurt is strained three times, which makes it thicker and sometimes tarter.
“Regular yogurt has more whey, that is more of the liquid where most of the lactose is found,” says Krieger. “So when the whey is removed, you’re left with a higher concentration of protein. That’s why you’ll see more protein in nonfat Greek yogurt than of the same amount of regular nonfat.”
It’s also why lactose-intolerant people find yogurt, and especially Greek yogurt, easier to digest.
Greek yogurt’s acidity works well as a marinade for meats and poultry.
“It’s great for baked fish or chicken. If you’re using it instead of mayonnaise, you’re actually using less fat and you’re adding a little bit of protein and a little bit of calcium,” says Krieger, who spreads yogurt on lean, white fish fillets and tops them with a mixture of dried herbs and bread crumbs before baking.
“With yogurt, almost anything goes, the possibilities of cooking with it are infinite,” according to The Yogurt Cookbook: Recipes From Around the World by Arto Der Haroutunian (Interlink Books, $35), which suggests using it in place of cream, milk, buttermilk and sour cream.
“It makes an excellent marinade and goes well with vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, cheese and grains,” writes Der Haroutunian, whose book boasts 200-plus recipes, including a garlic sauce (yogurt mixed with a crushed garlic clove, finely chopped green onion, a bit of salt and dried mint) for serving atop fried — we like grilled — slices of zucchini or eggplant.
Greek yogurt, like regular yogurt, can be temperamental in the presence of heat. If you’re using it in cooking, it will curdle if you cook it over high heat, says Krieger, who suggests using low heat or stirring Greek yogurt into sauces at the end of cooking for texture and creaminess.