Last week I went to the store looking for “regular” plain, nonfat yogurt. Not a particularly unusual grocery item, I figured that there would be several brands to choose from. But that wasn’t the case. There was very little choice among the “regular” yogurts. In their place, I found the shelf crowded with literally dozens of types of Greek and Greek-style yogurts.
The statistics bear out my experience. Since 2008, the share of the U.S. yogurt market occupied by Greek yogurt has gone from 4% to 44%. And that’s big bucks for Greek yogurt makers. Between 2008 and 2013, annual U.S. sales of Greek yogurt skyrocketed from $60 million to $1.5 billion.
This huge increase in the popularity of Greek yogurt made me wonder – what really are the differences between Greek and “regular yogurt?
Speaking of the differences among types of yogurts, beware of the label “Greek-style.” Typically it designates yogurt that is artificially thickened, with gum extracts or other thickeners, so it looks and acts as though it is thick like real Greek yogurt, but it has additives that you might not want to eat or at least might be surprised to find in your yogurt.
4 Big Differences between “Regular” and Greek Yogurt
First – taste. Greek yogurt is always thicker and usually tangier than “regular” yogurt. Which you prefer is a matter of personal taste. But keep in mind that differences in fat content and in what milk is used also change taste. If you are deciding between Greek and regular, try different brands and if you’re ambitious, try homemade versions created using different types of milk and yogurt cultures. Also note that some brands of Greek yogurt are so viscous they have been termed “wet cement” by detractors, while others have a consistency closer to slightly thickened regular yogurt.
Second – cost. Greek yogurt is considerably more expensive than “regular” yogurt. For example, at my local Whole Foods, the 365 house brand of “regular” fat free plain yogurt is $3.49 per 32 ounce container (10.9¢ per ounce) while the same size and brand of Greek yogurt is $5.99 (18.7¢ per ounce.) The same size container of Fage brand is $6.99 (19.8¢ per ounce.)
Third – nutritional content. If you compare the same amounts of regular and Greek yogurts, the big nutritional differences are in calcium and protein. Regular yogurt contains more calcium and less protein than the same brand of Greek yogurt. How much more calcium or less protein depends on which brand and what type (nonfat, lowfat or full-fat) you compare. So there is a trade-off between calcium and protein when deciding between regular and Greek yogurt. There are other nutritional differences, but they are much smaller and more variable between brands.
Fourth – environmental impact. Both “regular” and Greek yogurts are made with milk and a bacterial culture, a “good” bacteria. The culture ferments the lactose in the milk sugar and then the liquid, called whey, is strained off. In the case of regular yogurt, the straining is done twice. By contrast, for Greek yogurt, the straining is done three times. It takes roughly 3 times as much milk to make the same amount of Greek yogurt as compared to regular yogurt and Greek yogurt creates much more whey. Although there are uses for the whey by-product from all the Greek yogurt being commercially made (principally feeding it to livestock), whey is acidic (roughly as acidic as orange juice) and improper disposal creates environmental problems for rivers and stream beds.
Are there other differences between regular and Greek yogurt that you care about? Which type of yogurt do you prefer?
Next week – how to make your own yogurt and how to save money by turning “regular” yogurt into Greek yogurt at home.