Highly Cultured

Find probiotic-packed products from around the world in the dairy aisle.

Artisan-farmed, creamy, buttery, savory and sweet: I adore yogurt. Pasteurized products are prized in my refrigerator, while others are wary of the wholesome breakfast fixture—and for good reason. According to National Public Radio, turning 1940s America onto the then-tangy, fermented taste of yogurt wasn’t an easy sell.

Fast-forward to 2015, and fro-yo and its Greek counterparts are fashionable foods. Forget the sour, sans fat yogurt of the past.

A new generation of globally farmed dairy fare is worth spooning into. Outside the U.S., naturally unsweetened blends are celebrated and embraced, and modern science backs the benefits of probiotics (good bacteria) in yogurt. In fact, in 16th-century France, an Ottoman sultan’s physician cured King Francis I’s digestive woes with yogurt. Plus, rich Persian food is often paired with the probiotic to “flush fat.”

While yogurt is commonly curated from cow’s milk, adventurous eaters appreciate goat milk’s lower lactose, and sheep’s sharper flavor. Buffalo’s packs more thickness and fat, and some variations verge on drinkable (kefir) or liken cream cheese (quark). Moreover, manufacturers are getting creative, producing more tantalizing mixes with natural sugar: Beet, carrot and sweet potato included.

While fruit-bottomed and honey-topped sales skyrocketed in recent years, dipping a spoon into an unusual yogurt, flavor or no, is sensuously satiating. Accenting yogurt with uncommon toppings, and using it in recipes, only heighten its appeal. Pick up Cheryl Sterhman Rule’s Th e Yogurt Culture, and discover endless meat glazes, spice blends, soups and entrées fashioned from the sugarless or honeyed stuff. If salmon marinated in yogurt with tarragon isn’t making your mouth water, then perhaps its healthful containers will.

Branch away from—but don’t entirely dismiss—fruity Fage, and give these cosmopolitan dairy characters a try.


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Photo courtesy Noosa Finest Yogurt

ASIA – While the Far East isn’t associated with milk and cheese, per NPR, Japanese citizens consume 70-percent more yogurt than Americans every year. Tarte Asian Yogurt (tarteyogurt.com) is one brand fusing Southeastern Asia’s tart tanginess into spoonable cups. Light and subtly sweet, Tarte touts smoothness and ample protein. A product of colonial French Indochina, classically French creaminess mixes with Asia’s traditional tang, making this Asian yogurt amusingly appetizing. After gently slow-cooking milk to caramelize natural sugar, Tarte is left unstrained, boosting essential electrolytes (potassium and magnesium).

No chalkiness or sourness here. While the plain is utterly delightful, the Vietnamese goody comes in curious flavors, Pomegranate & Gogi and Green Tea & Honey among them. How it stacks: twice the calcium of leading Greek; twice the protein of standard yogurt; 1:1 protein-to-sugar; no preservatives and nothing artificial.

AUSTRALIA – Meet your morning best mate. The Aussie affinity for live, active cultures makes a delightful dairy good in noosa finest yoghurt (noosayoghurt.com). The creamy culinary creation is the byproduct of an Aussie ex-pat, who dreamt up the luscious leche combo on Australia’s Sunshine Coast—after tasting a tub packed with simple ingredients: layered yogurt and fruit purée. Distinctly different, Australian dairy is downright rich, slightly sweet and a powerhouse of nutrients. Unlike standard American ‘gurts, Aussie-style uses a slow-cooking process for texture, and gentle culturing for appetizing authenticity. (Most American counterparts are made unnaturally thick, courtesy stabilizers or sweeteners.) No fake fatteners in sight: Northern Colorado cows create noosa’s crisp, velvety consistency. Modern noosa is a delight cocktail of whole-milk yogurt, clover-alfalfa honey and fruit, puréed to perfection. Breaking down the tasty blueberry tub, inside, you’ll find: 1 1/4 cups whole milk, 1/2 teaspoon honey, 1 1/2 teaspoon cane sugar and approximately 80 wild blueberries. Pack in probiotics, and then spoon into delight from Down Under.

FRANCE – With France’s affinity for producing some of the world’s finest cheeses, it is only fitting they make marvelous yogurt. With dessert-like lightness, per French tradition, yogurt is a culturally common, health-conscious way to end a meal. Cloud-like and oh-so-luscious, St. Benoît Creamery (stbenoit.com) in Sonoma County, California, creates small batches of organic, French-style yogurt from Jersey cow milk. Packaged in tasteful glass jars, this airy, farm-to-table fare upholds handcrafted European history: St. Benoît yogurts are hand-made using artisanal methods inspired by the monasteries of Saint Benedict, or St. Benoît, in France. Its texture comes cultured in good bacteria sans thickeners. True to its terroir, a French word describing food of a place, Frenchmen yaourt reflects the character of the land from which it came. Yogurt consistency changes with the seasons—e.g., cows produce thinner yogurt in January—assuring it’s 100-percent farm fresh.

In fact, the plain contains whole organic Jersey milk and living cultures. That’s it. Whole, locally grown fruits—peel and all—come cooked within the flavored varieties. You’ll even spot bits of zest in the lemon one. No “yogurt jams,” frozen purées or imported produce in sight. Just mix and enjoy as Mother Nature and the French monks intended. Bellwether Farms (bellwetherfarms.com), another crafty creamery in Sonoma, fashions yogurt with French flair—from sheep’s milk. Its homogenized sheep’s yogurt is sweeter than goat’s, tastier than soy, richer than cow’s, and for lactose-evading friends, is a saving grace. Bon appétit.

GERMANY – Say guten tag to a divine Deutschland import. Elli Quark (elliquark.com) is modeled after German quark: a flavor-some dairy starlet sans added sweeteners. Founder Preya Patel Bhakta spooned through Germany’s quark while honeymooning in Europe and brought the foreign goody back to the U.S. Impressionably unique, elli is actually fresh cheese masquerading as atypical yogurt in the dairy aisle. Milder and creamier than its standard, elli packs fewer calories and more nutrients per ounce, and possesses a superior protein-to-carb ratio. In fact, quark is one of Europe’s earliest cheeses, originating centuries ago.

Named after the German Goddess of Old Age, elli lives up to the female deity who took down Thor, courtesy her vitality. The fresh fromage boasts a texture likening yogurt, but is less sour and packs 14 percent more protein. Bananas foster and other seasoned varieties use fresh fruit and natural sweeteners, and are 95-percent lactose free. Can you say, lecker?

HAWAI‘I – Yes, Hawai‘i is making yogurt, thanks to Doni Chong. Chong, a vivacious kama‘aina, is the woman behind Happy Heifer Hawaiian Yogurt (happyheiferyogurt.com). She is also at the forefront of urban farming on O‘ahu, cultivating yogurt with wholesome goods. Inside Chong’s small-batch, hand-blended yogurt, taste enticing low-fat milk from Big Island’s Island Dairy. In fact, Happy Heifer uses 75 percent locally sourced ingredients—well exceeding the 51 percent “local”-label requirement—including fresh-pounded poi from Hakipu‘u. Considered Greek for its double-straining methods, Happy Heifer is thick and creamy. With 24 delicious varieties, and counting, standouts include Poi and Apple Banana and Dragonfruit Almond Berry. According to Chong, “All sweet yogurt contains cultured and pasteurized milk, live and active cultures, cane sugar and natural flavoring.” Non-sweetened savories pack lemon juice, natural flavoring and dried herbs as organic sugar substitutes. Happy Heifer also dishes out fresh-garlic and lemon-infused yogurt dips, such as Kale Basil Pesto and Creamy Cucumber Mint. ‘Ono indeed. Find its yogurts at Always Aloha Fresh (alwaysalohafresh.com) in Kailua.

ICELAND – You don’t have to be a Viking to appreciate Siggi’s (siggisdairy.com) Skyr (pronounced “skeer”). Skyr is a thick, creamy, high-protein yogurt from Iceland boasting a more than 1,000-year heritage. The now New York-made wonder began in 2004, when Siggi’s founder, Siggi, started crafting the yogurt of his home country. A strained, fat-blasting yogurt, Siggi’s is formed by incubating skimmed milk with live, active cultures. About 75 percent of the whey—water naturally found in milk—is strained away, making a cup of Skyr require two-four times the amount of milk than regular yogurt, resulting in a thicker, more concentrated yogurt with less than three percent lactose. Furthermore, Skyr packs two-three times the protein, and flavorful variations utilize agave nectar or cane sugar and real fruit. Quirky cups include Orange & Ginger and Lignonberry & Strawberry. In fact, you’ll spoon up specks of Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean in Siggi’s otherworldly vanilla. Find Siggi’s in fat-free, 4% milk fat, 2% milk fat and filmjölk (Swedish drinkable yogurt). While taste differs tongue to tongue, skyr took top honors for deliciously satisfying thickness, simple ingredients and nutrients.


Toss out those faux crème-brûlée Yoplaits. They’re so last year. Although the modern-day yogurt aisle is part-dessert/part-cocktail menu (piña colada, anyone?), manufacturers and medical professionals are insisting it’s time to cut the sweets.

There’s a satiating, more healthful dairy fixture in town. A trend taking the dairy aisle: Consumers are starting to choose savory and un-sugared containers over confectionary counterparts. And dressing up plain Greek with roasted pine nuts, sesame seeds, garlic, onions and extra virgin olive oil makes a surprisingly scrumptious treat. Not only are consumers surprised by savory yogurt’s appeal, but also appreciate its nutritional benefits.

“Yogurt is a very a healthy food when made the right way: without any added sugars, preservatives or thickeners,” share Angela and John Fout, co-founders of NYC’s Sohha Savory Yogurt (sohhayogurt.net).

The ingredients in Sohha’s Lebanese-style yogurt are simple: milk, cultures and sea salt.

“One primary benefit is when it’s strained naturally, the protein content is high,” say the Fouts, adding that Sohha contains 18-20 grams of protein and only 4-6 grams of sugar. “[Sohha] is delicious with nuts, oils, bread and, of course, honey and fruits. More people are moving away from sugar and using yogurt in a savory way.”

Use smooth, savory blends like Sohha for crudité dips, chip toppers or stand-alone. Or, transform it into tzakiki or Indian raita sauce. “When I was a kid, if you’d told me I was going to eat plain yogurt, I would have told you, ‘You’re nuts!’” John says— who now insists, “It’s delicious!”

And with a growing percentile of yogurt-makers claiming no-sugar or reduced-sugar just within the past year, while sweet may be far from absent for sugar-loving Americans, savory continues to pick up speed in supermarkets across the country.

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