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Like Greek Yogurt? Be sure to read the label to know if you are getting the real deal

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A supermarket's dairy case with shelves of yogurt
Enlarge Benjamin Morris

America's food companies are masters of technology. They massage tastes and textures to tickle our palates. They find ways to imitate expensive foods with cheaper ingredients.

And sometimes, that technological genius leads to controversy.

A case in point: Greek yogurt, one of the trendiest foods in the country right now — "the Jeremy Lin of food products," says the Los Angeles Times. Some yogurt companies are climbing onboard the Greek yogurt bandwagon with new ways to achieve that characteristically thick Greek yogurt texture. And traditional makers of Greek yogurt don't like it one bit.


Among the critics is Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the company Chobani and perhaps the country's No. 1 cheerleader for Greek yogurt.

Hamdi is Turkish, but Greece and Turkey share a common tradition of yogurt-making, as it turns out. Seven years ago, he founded Chobani. Today, it's America's biggest maker of Greek yogurt.

Ulukaya says the secret of his success is simplicity. "We want to make yogurt the way it was meant to be," he says. His yogurt, he says, is exactly the same as what his mother made by hand back home in Turkey.

Except that now, he's making 1 million pounds of it every day in a factory in upstate New York.

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the yogurt company Chobani, says making Greek yogurt using thickening agents is cheating.
Dan Charles/NPR

Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of the yogurt company Chobani, says making Greek yogurt using thickening agents is cheating.

He takes me to the factory, a jungle gym of stainless steel pipes and tanks and loud machinery. One room is full of machines that spin the yogurt and squeeze out the liquid to strain it.

Ulukaya treats these machines like trade secrets. He won't let me take a picture of them. They're a critical piece of his booming business, "and it's not easy to get them," he says. "It takes a year to get them. So you have to plan ahead in order to make it."

Which brings us to the problem facing the rest of the industry. Other companies have watched Greek yogurt take over nearly a quarter of the total yogurt market in just the past five years. They wanted to get into this profitable market segment too, but they didn't have those machines.

So they called in food scientists like Erhan Yildiz, who is head of research on dairy products at a company called Ingredion. He knows yogurt — he's Turkish, too. Yildiz and his colleagues set about finding a way to make it without those expensive straining machines.

They measured the firmness and thickness of those Greek yogurts, and also some attributes that you may not have heard of — "residual mouth coating," "meltaway" and "jiggle."

"This is almost like fingerprinting a product. That combination of key attributes really identifies what that product is all about," he says.

To duplicate the Greek yogurt, they started with regular yogurt, then added different versions of starch, obtained from corn or tapioca. As they tweaked the quality and quantity of added starch, they kept measuring those key attributes. "If you can measure something, you can manipulate it," says Yildiz.

They arrived at a solution, a "formulated" Greek yogurt that Yildiz says comes pretty close to the original strained version. It's on store shelves now, although Yildiz isn't allowed to say exactly which yogurt manufacturers use his new ingredient.

But you can figure it out. During a recent visit to Safeway, I found that Fage's plain Greek yogurt contained no added thickeners. Safeway's Lucerne brand of Greek yogurt, however, contained milk protein concentrate (something that's commonly obtained from the leftover whey at cheese factories) and organic cornstarch. Yoplait's Greek yogurt also contained milk protein concentrate.

Yildiz sees nothing wrong with this. Authentic Greek yogurt, he says, is what you make of it.

But Chobani's Ulukaya calls such products cheap imitations. "That ruins the expectation in the consumer's mind of how pure and simple this product is."

He says the problem is there's no legal definition of Greek yogurt, any more than there's a legal definition of, say, a Greek wedding. "There's no protection around it. You could make a bowl of macaroni, call it Greek yogurt, and nobody could do anything to you. Which is sad!"

Now, there is a legal definition of yogurt. It's a "standard of identity" of yogurt, put out by the Food and Drug Administration.

It says, for instance,that yogurt has to be made from milk and bacterial culture. But that standard is 30 years old, and its interpretation has been the subject of debate. The version that was originally published in 1981 did not allow the addition of thickening agents. But after the industry protested, the FDA "stayed" that section of the regulation.

Most yogurt companies say that you can add starch or concentrated milk protein to their product and still legally call it yogurt, although a newly filed class-action lawsuit disputes this interpretation.

As for whether the yogurt is Greek, though — that seems to be a question for the philosophers.

This week we’re doing a deep dive on the very popular, Greek-style yogurt. The first post, Greek-style yogurt 101,  was dedicated to explaining what Greek-style yogurt is, why it’s different than regular yogurt, and how to make it at home. The second post was all about what to look for at the grocery store including fat (we’re pro-fat around here), flavors, and additives. Today, is all about the brands. We took 9 popular brands and compared everything from price to additives.

*Taste was not compared in this study*

The Results

The brands below are listed in order from best to worst. We looked at the following information to rank the yogurt:

PROS/CONS: We considered position on both growth hormone rbST and GMOs, number of additives and thickeners used, whether or not it contains milk protein concentrate, whether a full-fat option is offered, non-sale price of single serve container (we visited 3 stores in Santa Barbara, CA. to compare), and availability of organic ingredients.

FLAVORS: We’ve listed out all the available flavors for each brand (as listed on company website or on the containers)

PLAIN: A list of the ingredients of the plain varieties

ADDITIVES: A list of additives contained in the various varieties from this brand. We did not include the ingredients of the “base/plain” yogurt here as they are already listed above. Also not included is the main ingredient specific to the flavor. For example, you will not see “strawberries” for Strawberry Chobani yogurt here, only the additives in addition to strawberries.  Note that not all the additives listed here are found every container. Coloring agents, thickeners, and preservatives vary based on the specific flavor.

#1 – FAGE

Fage earns the top spot in our brand comparison. It has all the fat varieties (full, low and non), offers flavors within each fat option, uses very minimal additives, and no rbST.  This is true Greek-style yogurt at it’s best. All Fage  (“fa-yeh” for anyone wondering) flavors are stored in a separate container which is attached to the main plain yogurt container. Fage does not post their ingredients online, but we called their customer service for the information and checked all the varieties we could find at the grocery store. Price: $1.89 – $1.99/single serving container.

PROS: no milk protein concentrate, no thickeners in plain varieties, no rbST, many full fat and low fat options, separate flavor container which is great since you can add as much or as little as you like.

CONS: no organic option offered, on the more expensive end at almost $2 per individual container

FLAVORS: plain in Total Classic, Total 2%, and Total 0%; strawberry, peach, cherry, honey, blueberry, cherry pomegranate, blueberry acai, mango guanabana, strawberry goji

PLAIN: Grade A pasteurized skimmed milk and Cream (only in Classic varieties), Live active cultures (s. thermophilus, l. bulgaricus, l. acidophilus, bifidus, l. casei)

ADDITIVES: sugar, corn starch, natural flavors, lemon juice concentrate, xanthan gum

#2 – VOSKOS (and YO GREEK with Granola)

Voskos and Yo Greek are owned by Sun Valley Dairy. Voskos offers all fat options (full, low, non) and also has a non-fat organic version.  While it appears they use many thickeners, most varieties only include one thickener (they use different thickeners for different flavors). Kukos for having a “No GMO” stance in all their products. Would be great if they offered a full-fat organic variety. Most fruit flavors are blended into they yogurt.  Yo Greek is non-fat, flavored yogurt which has a separate container for granola. Voskos Price: $1.49/single serving container.

PROS: no milk protein concentrate, no rbST, no GMOs, all fat options in Voskos (full, low, non), no thickeners in plain versions, organic option, low to mid price range

CONS: may not be as widely available (of the 3 stores we visited, it was only found in one store), most flavors are blended into the yogurt so you don’t have the option to “use” less of the sweet stuff

FLAVORS: Voskos: original plain, low-fat plain, non-fat plain, organic non-fat plain, organic honey, organic vanilla, honey, blueberry, vanilla bean, blueberry, exotic fig, strawberry, apricot-mango, peach, Greek honey.  Yo Greek: strawberry+granola, vanilla+granola, honey+granola, blueberry+granola

PLAIN: non-fat & low-fat versions - Grade A pasteurized skim milk,  full-fat version – Grade A pasteurized skim milk, cream, nonfat milk. In all versions – live & active probiotic cultures

ADDITIVES: Voskos: evaporated cane juice, corn starch, fruit juice concentrate, tapioca starch, annatto extract, red cabbage, locust bean gum, citric acid, pectin, natural flavors.  Yo Greek: naturally milled cane sugar, corn starch, natural flavor, pectin, locust bean gum, citric acid, Granola ingredients: whole rolled wheat, milled cane sugar, rice flour, corn starch, sunflower oil, brown rice syrup, almonds, salt, natural flavor


The beauty of Stonyfield is that it is all certified organic which means organic fruit, no rbST, no antibiotics and dairy cows fed organic feed. It’s a bummer that they only offer non-fat varieties. Fruit on the bottom. Groupe Danone is parent company (they own 85% of Stonyfield). While both Stonyfield and Dannon share the “Oikos” name, they use separate yogurt formulations. Price: $1.99/single serve container.

PROS: no milk protein concentrate, the only all-organic brand (no rbST, no GMOs, no pesticides), thickener only used for fruit varieties

CONS: No full-fat or even low-fat option offered

FLAVORS: non-fat plain, strawberry, peach, honey fig, blueberry, honey, vanilla, peach mango, super fruits, chocolate, caramel

PLAIN: Cultured pasteurized organic nonfat milk, Cultures (s. thermophilus, l. bulgaricus, l. acidophilus, bifidus, l. casei.)

ADDITIVES: with the exception of the natural flavor, all ingredients are organic – pectin, sugar, annatto, juice  concentrates (black currant & elderberry), carob bean gum


Chobani is currently the number one yogurt in America with a whopping 10% market share. It’s safe to say that consumers were tired of the all the crappy yogurt, took one bite of Chobani and were hooked. Chobani lost points for not offering a full-fat variety (Stonyfield edged out for 3rd place for being all-organic). The flavored varieties feature fruit on the bottom. Price: $1.59-$1.99/single serving container.

PROS: no milk protein concentrate, no rbST, low fat option, no thickeners in plain variety

CONS: no full-fat option offered, no organic variety

FLAVORS: non-fat, low-fat, plain, low-fat, black cherry, lemon, blueberry, honey, raspberry, peach, pomegranate, strawberry, vanilla, mango pineapple, strawberry banana

PLAIN: Cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, cream (in low-fat varieties only), live and active cultures: s. thermophilus, l. bulgaricus, l. acidophilus, bifidus, l. casei.

ADDITIVES: fruit on the bottom – evaporated cane juice, cherry juice concentrate, pectin, locust bean gum, natural flavors, tumeric, locust bean gum, fruit & vegetable juice concentrate.


Athenos is easily recognizable at the store due to it’s unique, ultra-flat shape. Like Fage, Athenos offers a separate flavor container. After a bit of searching on their (very cool) site, we learned they are owned by Kraft Foods. As with several of the other brands, they use very few additives, but only offer non-fat varieties. Price: $1.59/single serving container.

PRO: no milk protein concentrate, very few additives and thickeners (only in fruit portion), no rbST, separate flavor container which is great since you can add as much or as little as you like

CON: only non-fat varieties offered, no organic variety offered, may not be as widely available (of the 3 stores we visited, it was only found in 1 store)

FLAVORS: non-fat plain, pineapple, black cherry, peach, honey, blueberry, strawberry

PLAIN: Cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, contains live and active cultures (l. bulgaricuss. s. thermophilus)

ADDITIVES: sugar, water, corn starch, natural flavor, lemon juice concentrate, pectin, citric acid, black carrot juice, cranberry juice concentrate


The Greek Gods yogurt is independently owned. They have two fat options, but even their plain varieties contain a thickener.  Price: $1.99/single serve container.

PRO: no milk protein concentrate, two fat options (full and low) offered, no colorants used, no rbST,

CON: pectin found in even plain variety, no organic variety, flavors are blended into the yogurt so you don’t have the option to “use” less of the sweet stuff, unless their website has an error, no actual strawberries are found in their Honey Strawberry variety

FLAVORS: plain, honey, honey strawberry, vanilla honey, honey blueberry, pomegranate, fig, vanilla-cinnamon orange

PLAIN: full-fat version: Pasteurized grade A milk, Cream, Pectin, non-fat version: Pasteurized grade A nonfat milk, Inulin, Pectin, Both: Active cultures (S.Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L.Acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, L.Casei)

ADDITIVES: natural flavor, pectin, cultured whey, inulin, sugar/pure cane sugar/evaporated cane juice


Dannon Oikos has two varieties: Non-Fat with fruit on the bottom and Traditional (only in key lime, strawberry, raspberry) with flavors stirred in. They share the same parent company as Stonyfield, Groupe Danone. While both Stonyfield and Dannon use the “Oikos” name, they have  separate yogurt formulations. Price: $1.29/single serve container.

PRO: no milk protein concentrate, inexpensive, traditional (fat) option offered, no thickeners used in plain varieties

CON: natural flavors, no full-fat plain option, lots of thickeners and other additives in all flavored varieties, we could not find a statement on rbST use, so we have to assume they use milk with hormones and antibiotics, no true organic variety since Stonyfield has it’s own formula and is a separate company

FLAVORS: non-fat plain, black cherry, strawberry, peach, blueberry, honey, vanilla, peach, key lime, raspberry

PLAIN: nonfat – Cultured grade A non fat milk, traditional – Cultured grade A milk, both: contains active yogurt cultures

ADDITIVES: sugar, fructose, modified corn starch, natural flavor, carrageenan, black carrot juice concentrate, malic acid, guar gum, potassium sorbate, sodium citrate, vitamin D3, carmine, annatto extract, sodium citrate, turmeric


Yoplait Greek, owned by General Mills, only offers non-fat Greek yogurts. Due to the fact that Yoplait does not show their ingredient list online, this may only be partial information based on what we could physically see in the store. The price point is really the only positive attribute to this brand. Due to their use of milk protein concentrate, they fell to the bottom end of the list. Fruit on bottom. Price: $1.29 – $1.39/single serving container.

PRO: inexpensive

CON: use of milk protein concentrate, no low-fat or full-fat offered, several different thickeners used in flavored options, no organic variety, we could not find a statement on rbST use, so we have to assume they use milk with hormones and antibiotics

FLAVORS: non-fat plain, strawberry, blueberry, honey vanilla, key lime, peach

PLAIN: Cultured pasteurized grade A nonfat milk, milk protein concentrate, contains live cultures

ADDITIVES: sugar, corn starch, kosher gelatin, pectin, locust bean gum, natural flavor, vitamin A acetate, vitamin D3


We’ve all seen Jamie Lee Curtis talking about her stomach issues on the Activia commercials. This popular label, parent company is Groupe Danone, by the way,  has jumped on the bandwagon with it’s own Greek yogurt.  Due to their use of milk protein concentrate and numerous thickeners, they fell to the bottom of the list. Fruit flavors are blended into the yogurt. Price: $1.39/single serve container

PRO: inexpensive

CON: use of milk protein concentrate, no plain variety offered, lots of thickeners, carmine coloring, no organic variety, flavors are blended into the yogurt so you don’t have the option to “use” less of the sweet stuff, we could not find a statement on rbST use, so we have to assume they use milk with hormones and antibiotics

PLAIN: no plain variety offered, however their “base yogurt” consists of Cultured grade A pasteurized non fat milk, water, sugar, fructose, milk protein concentrate. Contains active cultures l.bulgaricus, s.thermophilus and bifidobacterium)

FLAVORS: vanilla, blueberry, strawberry, pomegranate berry

ADDITIVES/INGREDIENTS: modified corn starch, maltodextrin, modified food starch, malic acid, potassium sorbate, sodium citrate, vitamin D3, natural flavor, carrageenan, carmine, black carrot juice concentrate, vegetable & fruit juice concentrate

 All small images by Be Food Smart – Sorry for the low cell phone quality! Main image from Fage website.

by on Jul. 19, 2012 at 6:34 PM
Replies (81-81):
by Boudica on Dec. 18, 2014 at 9:14 PM
1 mom liked this

Like Kale.

Heh. I remember when all that stuff got used for was garnish on a salad bar lol

Quoting momtoscott: To me, all yogurt is disgusting, just like mayonnaise and salad dressing. But it is funny how food fads come and go.
Quoting fnpdocgrrl:

I'll never understand the countrywide obsession with greek yogurt.  I find it disgusting.

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