All About Yogurt
Yogurt has been produced for at least 4,000 years. Legend says that an angel taught Abraham how to make yogurt.
Yogurt is a cultured milk product, made by adding certain "good" bacteria to milk, skim milk, and/or cream. It wasn't always easy to come by. Making your own was a lengthy, complicated process.
Today, yogurt is available at stores and supermarkets as well as health food stores all across America.
Following are some tips on reading the labels on yogurt cartons.
- Contains active yogurt cultures means that the bacterial cultures are still present in the yogurt because it has not been heat-treated. Check to see that they are not stabilized with starch or gelatin. U.S. Government regulations require a minimum of two cultures, but some yogurts have as many as five distinct cultures.
- Whole milk yogurt must contain 3.25-percent to 4-percent butterfat, the same as whole milk.
- Low fat yogurt contains the same amount of butterfat as the low fat milks from which they are made. This amount can be between 0.5-percent to 2-percent butterfat.
- Nonfat yogurt or fat-free yogurt must contain less than 0.5-percent butterfat. If the label also says "lite" or "light," it may indicate that the yogurt has been sweetened with aspartame rather than a natural sweetener.
- Made with active cultures means that the yogurt was probably heat-treated, thereby killing the active cultures that produced it.
- "Certified organic" yogurt has been made from milk produced by cows raised under strict organic standards, including an organic diet, no routine treatments with antibiotics or growth hormones, and a healthy growth environment.
- Sundae-style yogurt has fruit at the bottom of the container, topped with plain or flavored yogurt.
- Blended yogurt, also called Swiss pudding or custard style yogurt contains pureed fruit or other flavoring ingredients, and a starch or gelatin to give the mixture body.
In the 1970's, few Americans had ever tasted yogurt. Today the average US. consumer eats about five pounds of yogurt per person in a given year. Europeans are eating twice that amount Yogurt is thought to improve our immune system defenses, reducing the risk of colon and breast cancer. There is no doubt that yogurt is a good source of calcium. Plain yogurt has 400mg per-cup more than a cup of skim milk. Yogurt is also rich in protein (8g per cup) and contains as much potassium as a banana, as well as riboflavin (vitamin B2), phosphorus, and magnesium.
Cooking With Yogurt
When cooking with yogurt, the sweeter flavor of plain low fat yogurt is your best bet because nonfat yogurt has a thin, slightly sour taste. As with other high-protein, high-acid foods, spare the heat. Use low cooking temperatures and short heating periods for best results. Whenever possible, add the yogurt at the end of the cooking period, just in time to let the yogurt mixture come up to serving temperature. If the yogurt is added at the start of the cooking period, you can avoid separation or curdling by stirring a stabilizing mixture of flour or cornstarch blended with a little water into the yogurt.
To keep a thick consistency, it helps to not stir yogurt into other ingredients-instead, fold the yogurt into the mixture. When substituting buttermilk with yogurt, thin the yogurt with a little water or milk to the right consistency. When using yogurt for baking, add 1/2-teaspoon baking soda for each cup of yogurt used.
Use plain low fat yogurt as a substitute for sour cream; you'll save 280 calories per cup. Yogurt can also be used as a partial substitute for mayonnaise (use 50-percent yogurt, 50-percent mayonnaise).
Yogurt becomes sharper with age. Stored at a refrigerator temperature of 35 to 45-degrees, yogurt will keep fresh for up to two weeks. The fresher when used, the better the flavor and consistency.
Greek yogurt has a thick, creamy texture and a nice, tangy taste. But when it comes to yogurt, there are plenty more reasons you'll want to "go Greek". It's rich in calcium and good for your bones. In fact, one serving supplies nearly one-fourth of a person's daily calcium needs, and the fat free variety is packed with twice as much protein as regular yogurt. Fat free Greek yogurt is also high in Probiotics, cultures that can help ease irritable bowel syndrome, a condition that affects mostly women. And even though the evidence is inconclusive, some experts say probiotics help boost immunity - a plus during the flu season. Have at least three servings of dairy a day: Fat free Greek yogurt is a good choice. It's a healthy swap for high-fat sour cream.
Yogurt and Lactose Intolerance
Yogurt with "live active cultures" is well tolerated by the majority of lactase-deficient individuals, even though yogurt's lactose content can vary widely. Because very high or low temperatures inactivate the bacteria, pasteurized yogurt and frozen yogurt are less likely than fresh yogurt to improve lactose digestion. Lactose digestion and tolerance are similar for frozen yogurt and ice cream but may be tolerated by lactose-intolerant individuals. Pasteurized yogurt, cultured buttermilk, and sweet acidophilus milk are tolerated at least as well as regular milk.
Note: Lactase in yogurt does not improve the digestion of lactose in other milk and milk products consumed at the same time as yogurt.
Tips for Buying Yogurt
- Check labels for "live and active cultures".
- Buy plain low-fat yogurt and add your own fruit. This saves money and calories.
- Try kefir, a fermented "milkshake" with the same expected benefits as yogurt.