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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
is almost like fingerprinting a product. That combination of key
attributes really identifies what that product is all about," he says.
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.
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.
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.
Chobani's Ulukaya calls such products cheap imitations. "That ruins the
expectation in the consumer's mind of how pure and simple this product
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.
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.
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 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
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
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
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
# 3 – STONYFIELD ORGANIC OIKOS
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
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
#4 – CHOBANI
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.
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
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,
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
#6 – THE GREEK GODS
Gods yogurt is independently owned. They have two fat options, but
even their plain varieties contain a thickener. Price: $1.99/single
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
#7 – DANNON OIKOS
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
#8 – YOPLAIT GREEK
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.
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
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
#9 – ACTIVIA GREEK
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
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.