You probably don't know who Daniel Carasso was, but the European entrepreneur -- who died in 2009 at the age of 103 -- changed the way we eat. He built a humble family business into a global empire by selling fermented milk; we know it today as Dannon yogurt. And in the 60-plus years since Carasso bought a Bronx plant and began selling unflavored yogurt in the U.S., the market for this tangy dairy product has bloomed from a niche health food to a daily staple for millions of Americans, who consume almost 12 pounds per person these days.
That's a lot of yogurt. And not surprisingly, the U.S. is still considered a growth market for yogurt sales. As if there aren't enough brands and styles of yogurt for sale already... So how do you choose the best yogurt? We decided to take a look at the reviews (there are oodles of them) and find out.
There are more styles of yogurt than you can shake a spoon at: regular style; custard style; French, Swiss, Australian, Icelandic and Greek style; not to mention yogurt made with goat's milk, sheep's milk, soy milk and more. For the purposes of this blog, we're going to look at two of the most popular yogurt types: regular and Greek style.
Tasting yogurt: the reviews and the tests
Some sources, like Food & Wine magazine, compared both Greek-style and regular yogurts; others, like Good Housekeeping and Bon Appetit magazines, chose to focus only on one type. Most reviewers opted to taste plain or vanilla-flavored yogurts, such as Cook's Illustrated, while a few decided to go with fruit-flavored varieties, including SeriousEats.com, which reviewed strawberry yogurt. In all, we looked at reviews from 16 newspapers, magazines and websites; together, these sources reviewed more than 20 types of yogurt, giving us a good pool of taste tests to work with.
Choosing the best Greek-style yogurt
A decade ago, most American yogurt lovers had no idea what Greek-style yogurt was. Then a Greek company called Fage (pronounced fa-YEH) began selling their Total yogurt in the States, and the Greek yogurt craze began.
What's the appeal? It's thick, rich consistency, say many consumers. Greek-style yogurt is strained to remove the excess whey (the liquid that gives yogurt its runny consistency), making it far thicker than regular yogurt, not to mention higher in protein and lower in sugar and lactose. That straining process also skims some of the calcium and tends to concentrate the fat content, so read the label carefully if you're watching what you eat.
Today, Fage is made in the U.S., and competing brands like Chobani, Greek Gods, Athenos and others fill the dairy case. But when it comes to choosing the best Greek-style yogurt, most experts name Fage, though they don't agree on what type is best. Some, like Consumer Reports, favor Fage Total 2% plain; others, like the Food Network and Cooking Light magazine, favor the fat-free variety. The foodies as Epicurious.com, on the other hand, recommend the full-fat Fage plain yogurt.
Regardless, tasters love Fage's tangy taste and super-creamy texture -- even their fat-free yogurt. As one Epicurious reviewer said of their full-fat version, "I could snack on this Greek goodness without a drop of honey--that's how incredible it is."
Choosing the best regular yogurt
Of course, not everyone likes their yogurt so thick you can eat it with a fork. Given that traditional yogurt remains a big part of the overall market, you'd think that there would be some consensus about the best brand. Unfortunately, our research failed to uncover much agreement among tasters as to the best traditional-style yogurt.
The closest to a consensus choice is Dannon's stalwart low-fat Fruit On The Bottom yogurt, which gets the nod from TasteOfHome.com, Food & Wine and Consumer Reports. Reviewers praise it's smooth texture and chunky bits of fruit in particular, though tasters at SeriousEats.com (which also recommend it), are more reserved in their praise, calling it "the quintessential supermarket... yogurt."
A couple other brands also earn a mention or two, including Liberte Mediterranee, a full-fat, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt. Both SeriousEats.com and Slate.com name this Canadian yogurt to their list of recommended yogurts, though SeriousEats editors are more enthusiastic than Slate's reviewer is. If you'd prefer an organic, fat-free yogurt, Stonyfield Farms' Organic French Vanilla is recommended by Food Network blogger Toby Amidor and foodie blog The Daily Dish. It also earns a "good" rating from Consumer Reports, though it's at the bottom of that list.
More links about yogurt
A number of sources offer interesting yogurt-based recipes worth trying. Two favorites: The New York Times' Well blog suggests some healthy Mediterranean-themed dishes, while Food Network's Alton Brown demonstrates how to make cheese from yogurt in a video.
The health benefits of eating yogurt are well known, but in case you need any convincing, WebMD.com discusses this food's many advantages and backs it up with science. The editors at Prevention magazine and Health.com, meanwhile, both offer nutrition tips for choosing yogurt that's not too high in fat, calories or sugar.
Want to know more about the nutritional content of Greek-style and regular yogurt? U.S. News and World Report's health bloggers published an excellent article in September that breaks down the nutritional content of both.
And last but not least, Good Housekeeping offers tips for removing yogurt stains, should you spill some.