The other week after dinner, my mom opened her refrigerator door and pulled out a container of blueberry-flavored yogurt instead of her favorite dessert, a miniature Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar.“This is my Noosa!” she exclaimed, then proceeded to eat more than half of the 8-ounce container before putting the rest back for the next day. My 76-year-old mother is crazy for this “Australian-style” yogurt, which she now buys at the Kroger or Target in Denton. This is a woman who has never eaten much yogurt period — Australian, Greek or otherwise. Turns out, there’s an international invasion in the yogurt aisle of most mainstream grocery stores.Russian-, Bulgarian-, Icelandic-, Asian-, Australian-, and Greek-style yogurts are popping up next to all-American brands like Yoplait and Dannon, all trying to keep up with the growing wave of consumers like my mom, who’ve enthusiastically embraced yogurt as part of their diet.“In 2003, 18 percent of the U.S. population consumed yogurt at least once in a two-week period,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for NPD group. “Today that number is 32 percent, up 14 points. That’s huge.” Curious, I grabbed a grocery cart and went to find out what was going on in the local yogurt world.I hit the Kroger and found Mom’s Noosa, along with Chobani, Fage and Greek God Greek-style yogurts, Liberté Greek yogurt, and the Muller Greek-style brand, originally made in Germany but now manufactured in the U.S. by Quaker. Muller came in individual size containers and in square ones, too, with caramelized almonds in one and granola in the other, so you can stir these in at the last minute. It’s not all Greek, but a lot of it is.“It wasn’t until Chobani came along that Greek took hold and became a trend,” says Robert Novotny, specialty foods director at the Central Market Dallas Lovers Lane store. “Greek’s been in fashion the last four to five years, and it’s now towards the end of its life cycle.” How did this happen? How did the U.S. go from happily buying frothy, whipped Key lime pie-flavored yogurt to the far tangier, less sugary yogurts with hard-to-pronounce names? Most likely, it was boredom.“Americans love novelty,” said Balzer, “but novelty in new versions of what we already know.”Yogurt’s versatility and portability also makes it desirable to its biggest consumers, women and children. “You can eat it for breakfast, lunch, dessert, and you can get it any way you want,” said Balzer. “It’s one of the easiest foods you can eat — look at the label, there are no cooking instructions.” That plus the health benefits — yogurt is packed with protein, calcium and often added probiotics, which are good for digestive health — made it an easy choice for consumers looking for a change. Differences in how they’re madeBut with brands styled after yogurts from Bulgaria to Southeast Asia, how does a customer know what to choose? Here’s a quick primer on what gives yogurts their native accents:All yogurts are made from milk that has been fermented with bacteria cultures. What happens after that is how they differ. • Greek and Icelandic styles are then strained to remove the whey, lactose and natural sugars. This makes them higher in protein and calcium and with fewer carbohydrates. • Kefir is a drinkable yogurt, originally from Eastern Europe. • Asian-style yogurts, like Tarte, are cooked to caramelize the milk’s sugars and have a smooth and creamy texture that’s like a dessert pudding.When active bacteria cultures are added to yogurt, this gives it an additional probiotic benefit, making it great for digestive health. This kind of yogurt is also easier to digest for those who are lactose-intolerant. As is the newest crop of yogurts, made from sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, soy milk, coconut milk and almond milk. Some are super-tangy, whereas others have an almost undetectable tang. Yogurt also can be so thick you can stand your spoon in it, creamy like a pudding, or watery-thin. One is not better than the next. It really depends on what you like and what you’re used to. I usually buy a store brand of Greek yogurt, which is medium-thick, and add Kefir to this to create a consistency that’s something slightly thicker than a milkshake and less than a pudding. I add my own fruit and honey so I can create a super-chunky, slightly sweet yogurt. I usually also add chia seeds and muesli, so it’s a pretty substantial meal. Heather Dickie, a local graphic designer, said she tried “at least 10” yogurts before she found her favorite, a blueberry-acai Greek yogurt from Fage, which had just the right taste and texture she was looking for. She eats one every morning for breakfast.“If it’s too liquidy, I’m not interested. If it’s thick like cottage cheese, I’m not interested. Fage is thick and has body but it isn’t clumpy. Plus, I love blueberries,” she said. I always have full-fat Greek yogurt on hand and buy it in the largest containers available. Besides spooning it into a bowl with fruit, or adding it to smoothies, I use yogurt instead of sour cream and buttermilk for ranch and other dressings, in cakes (French yogurt cake is one of the first recipes children there learn to make), to make raita, and to marinate chicken or lamb for Indian food. Turns out I’m in the minority of yogurt buyers. Super-sweet flavors reminiscent of the ’90s aside, flavored yogurts are still the biggest sellers, with unflavored, plain yogurt at about 10 percent of overall sales nationwide.Most popular are low-fat and zero-fat yogurts. Perhaps to try and tempt more men, there’s a new yogurt called Powerful Yogurt, a protein-amped yogurt in a black plastic container with a bull’s head as its logo and red flames in the background.“Find your inner abs,” the label reads. I see this and wonder if yogurt is about to jump the shark. Said Balzer, “Anything that grows this fast will peak out.”
Yogurt ‘Olympics’ — results of a taste test of international styles
I tried two flavors of Asian Tarte yogurt , the original and the green tea and honey, which I liked a lot, despite my preference for unflavored yogurts. The green tea flavor was there, but subtle, and the honey wasn’t too sweet.
The Bulgarian-style yogurt by White Mountain Foods in Austin comes in a jar, and it is tart and sour because of the Bulgarian cultures. This yogurt only comes unflavored and isn’t as thick as a Greek yogurt. I tasted this and a friend of mine did, too. He loved it. I did not. Which goes to show you: There’s not just one yogurt for everyone.
Liberté Greek yogurt reminded me of the yogurt that I ate almost daily when I lived in Paris. I liked this one’s velvety texture and light tang. With a bit of vanilla and sugar, this one would make a great frozen yogurt.
Siggis is an Icelandic-style yogurt that’s super-thick and creamy — because there’s cream in it. It reminded me of a good-quality sour cream. I’d eat this one on top of a fruit pie.
My mom’s right. Noosa Australian-style yogurt is yummy. It’s light, and the flavors don’t taste artificial. The honey-flavored one wasn’t overpowering or too sweet, and I liked it. I loved the passion fruit-flavored yogurt because its taste was unique and the seeds gave it a great crunch.
Traderspoint Creamery’s yogurt comes in recyclable or reusable 5-ounce glass jars. I loved the low-fat vanilla. It tasted like a less sweet vanilla pudding, with its yogurty tartness firmly in the background. I’d eat this as a dessert.
Not for everyone, Capretta Goat Yogurt (plain) tastes like a creamy, pourable goat cheese, and would be lovely over a bowl of fresh sliced figs. I preferred this one over some other goat yogurts I tasted for its smooth, almost subtle flavor. I preferred the plain over the strawberry.
Locally, Lucky Layla Farms from Plano makes cute 8-ounce drinking yogurts. I tasted the Layla Pure, a medium tangy, no-sugar-added yogurt in blueberry. It had lots of fresh blueberry bits throughout. I’m not a big fan of flavored yogurts (I find many to be too sweet and artificial-tasting), but I’d buy this one by the case.
— Ellise Pierce