Flipping through an old cookbook my mom used religiously during our childhood, I landed on a dog-eared, batter-stained page that revealed our family's favorite recipe for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
One of the cake ingredients was a half-cup of yogurt. In those days, there were only a couple of varieties — plain or fruit blended, so it was a no-brainer about what type to use in that recipe. Today, the yogurt aisle is a dizzying wonderland of fermented milk from bovines, ovines and caprines, along with non-dairy substitutes with various fat contents, textures, flavors, sweeteners, and gut-friendly live cultures to dial up digestion along with the immune system.
Here's a line-up of yogurts to give you the most out of this probiotic delight.
That's Greek to Me: The Greek yogurt craze has swept throughout the country capturing one-third of the yogurt market, tallying nearly $2 billion in annual sales.
After traditional fermentation methods the yogurt is then strained through a filter, usually made of muslin to remove the liquid whey, leaving a super thick, silky smooth texture with a distinct tartness, much like sour cream with benefits. This denser yogurt boasts more protein than its conventional counterpart, less sugar, along with fewer carbs and lactose making it gentler on the gut for digestion. Greek's also a probiotic powerhouse packed with immune boosting live active cultures (L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus).
The yogurt's decadent consistency makes it an ideal substitute for fatty mayonnaise, heavy and sour creams, custards and ice creams. Scoop a dollop on a steamy baked spud, blend in a yam soufflé or a redskin potato salad. Whip up spinach, crab or artichoke dips, and tzatziki sauce. Grill wild caught salmon with a sprinkling of fennel seeds, and slather of Greek yogurt. Drizzle tarragon yogurt sauce over grilled chicken or veggie kebobs. Do a riff on fettuccine alfredo and creamed soups. Blend in smoothies, milkshakes, and batters of all kinds for a moist, scrumptious texture.
Nothing to Balk About: Balkan- or set-style yogurt is typically prepared with raw whole milk in small, individual-size batches, and like Greek yogurt is strained, giving it a thick velvety texture with a good protein and probioitc load. Alas, Balkan also has a high fat content, so use portion control.
Getting Stirred Up: Swiss-style also called stirred yogurt ferments in a large vat, and is then stirred and often blended with fruit. This yogurt, while creamy, is thinner in texture, and almost drinkable.
Say Cheese: Labneh, a Middle Eastern spread that resembles sour cream in texture is a type of yogurt cheese traditionally served on pita bread with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of fresh mint leaves.
I'll Drink to That: Of Eastern European origins, Kefir, a fermented dairy beverage is slightly sour and refreshing, packed with billions of colony-forming units. Drink it straight up for a quick antioxidant oomph.
Get your Goat: For those that don't do moo milk look for yogurt made from the milk of goats, sheep, yaks and camels. Since goat milk closely resembles the composition of human milk fewer allergies are triggered, while the smaller fat globules, lower levels of lactose (sugar in milk) and Alpha-S1 casein (protein in milk) make it more easily digestible.
Rich and gamy sheep's yogurt has a load of milk solids and lactose (even more than cow's milk) that might be difficult to digest. So steer clear of this one if you have gut issues.
Copycat Cultures: For vegans and those with dietary restrictions, allergies and lactose intolerance non-dairy yogurt options include those made from almond, soy, and coconut milks. These contain the same probiotic digestive benefits as their dairy counterparts with a lighter consistency. Almond is rich in magnesium and Vitamin E, coconut has a good amount of anti-fungal lauric acid to calm intestinal candida, while soy is high in protein and calcium, but choose organic to avoid GMOs.
Skyr's the Limit: Iceland's traditional strained yogurt called skyr, believed to have roots in the Viking days is lusciously creamy and thick with a distinct sharp flavor. While low in fat and sugar skyr has a rich store of protein and cultures. Mix with fresh berries, slivered almonds, and orange blossom honey, add a spoonful to granola, or whip up a savory white gazpacho for a refreshing chilled change-up.
••• Recipe: White Gazpacho
• Ingredients: 1 cup plain Skyr or Greek yogurt; 1/2 cup ice water; 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; 1 handful fresh cilantro; 1 garlic clove; 2 Persian cucumbers; 3 Roma tomatoes; 1 sweet red pepper; 1/2 small red onion
• Method: In blender, puree ingredients and chill. Serve with grilled flatbread.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org