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Whether it be tangy and plain or fruity and sweet, yogurt in general has experienced a remarkable boost in popularity.
Photo by Hiltrud Schulz | Courtesy of Interlink Publishing
Yogurt is a great substitution for higher fat ingredients such as sour cream, whipped cream and cream cheese.
Photo courtesy of Interlink Publishing
“The Yogurt Cookbook” refers to yogurt as “the food of the gods.”
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I’ve called my mother for plenty of food and cooking advice over the years, so it’s only fair that she occasionally comes to me with culinary questions.
Recently, I opened an email to find this message from Mom: “What is the difference between Greek yogurt and regular yogurt and why is it all the rage now?”
It is a great question and a topic I have been researching. But Greek yogurt is only one corner of a much larger picture: Whether it be tangy and plain or fruity and sweet, yogurt in general has experienced a remarkable boost in popularity.
Harry Balzer, vice president of the marketing research firm NPD Group, recently went so far as to declare yogurt “the food of the decade,” pointing to the fact that consumption of this creamy dairy product has more than doubled over the past 10 years.
Now, according to the group, almost one in every three people in America eats yogurt on a regular basis. Contributing to this growth is not only the Greek yogurt craze, but also the awareness of yogurt’s digestive health benefits and the fact that companies are flavoring and packaging the product in new ways.
This newfound adoration for yogurt would probably have been both amusing and heartening to the late food writer and all-around Renaissance man Arto Der Haroutunian. In “The Yogurt Cookbook,” which first published in Great Britain in 1983 and was just published for the first time in the U.S., the Syrian-born Haroutunian notes that people of the Middle East have been using yogurt in myriad culinary ways for centuries.
In his 1983 introduction to the cookbook, Haroutunian referred to yogurt as “the food of the gods” and noted that it was gaining a following in the West.
“I believe that of all the Middle Eastern ingredients and forms of cooking, yogurt is by far the most exciting,” he wrote, “not only in what it already offers, but because there are countless variations and new uses will continue to be discovered in the years to come.”
Greek vs. regular
The introduction of beneficial bacteria to milk causes the fermentation and coagulation that result in yogurt. In factories, these bacteria are added to make yogurt, but someone likely discovered the process by accident eons ago and realized it was a great way to preserve milk.
Yogurt can easily be made at home by introducing a small amount of plain yogurt to warm milk and letting it hang out for several hours. In cultures where large amounts of yogurt are consumed, families usually set aside a little “starter” from each batch to make the next batch. This process can be repeated for years or even for generations.
Yogurt made with whole milk is very rich, but using low-fat or skim milk results in the many light versions on store shelves today.
The difference between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt is that the former contains more whey (that watery stuff you see on the surface when you open it). Greek yogurt is strained more than regular yogurt, resulting in a thicker and more concentrated product.
Greek yogurt is higher in protein, lower in carbohydrates and lower in sodium, so it is generally considered healthier. Because of the higher protein content it can stave off hunger longer, and that’s why my mother, like many consumers, now likes it for breakfast.
But it is also tarter, so it can be an acquired taste. It is tempting to buy sweetened flavored varieties of Greek yogurt to offset the tanginess, but be aware that it can result in a high sugar content.
Yogurt eaten straight out of the cup or tube accounts for most of the recent market growth, according to the NPD Group. Three-fourths of yogurt consumption is in the home, where most choose it for breakfast. But the versatility of yogurt also makes it a common choice for lunch, snacks, dessert and even dinner.
Cooking with yogurt
To fully appreciate yogurt’s flexibility in the kitchen, it is instructive to turn to Haroutunian’s book.
His recipes from around the world include hot and cold soups, dishes bound or topped with yogurt, yogurt sauces, meats marinated in yogurt, and baked goods moistened with yogurt in the mix.
These are all classic uses for this ancient food, but yogurt also makes a healthy substitution for more fattening ingredients. Consider using yogurt in place of mayonnaise in potato salad and other salads, using a dollop on desserts in place of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, or topping spicy dishes such as chili for a cooling effect.
Cooking yogurt destroys its beneficial bacteria, but that shouldn’t stop you from turning to it as a lighter option in dishes that call for heavy cream or cream cheese. Just keep in mind that yogurt will curdle if it is boiled or added to a boiling dish.
To avoid this, Haroutunian recommends stabilizing the yogurt first by adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of flour into a little water, then stirring it into the yogurt. Alternatively, you may beat one egg into the yogurt before cooking with it.
In addition, he recommends tempering the yogurt by stirring a few spoonfuls of the hot liquid into the yogurt before slowly stirring the yogurt into the dish. Some recipes may call for adding yogurt at the end of the cooking process after the food has cooled.
It is also important to avoid using aluminum pans when cooking with yogurt or storing yogurt dishes as they will react with the acid in the yogurt.
One fun and tasty experiment with yogurt is making yogurt cheese, which sounds complicated but is ridiculously easy. To make yogurt cheese, I lined a colander with a clean tea towel, set the colander over a bowl and dumped a quart of plain yogurt inside the towel-lined colander.
After sitting in the refrigerator overnight, an entire cup of whey had collected in the bowl, the towel was soaked with whey and the yogurt had become almost as thick as cream cheese. If yogurt cheese drains long enough, it can be thick enough to slice with a knife and eat with crackers, nuts, dried fruit, honey and other accompaniments.
The flavor of my yogurt cheese was slightly more concentrated than yogurt but mild enough to form the base for any number of sweet or savory spreads. Yogurt cheese can also be used to make pasta and casserole dishes creamy, or even to make a light cheesecake.
Countless recipes for making yogurt or cooking with yogurt exist on the Internet and in cookbooks, but this is the perfect ingredient for creative experiments in your own kitchen. Perhaps you’ll discover one of those new uses that excited Haroutunian three decades ago.
On the blog: How do you prefer your deviled eggs? Take my poll at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
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