Although yogurt has been produced for at least 4,000 years (legend says that an angel taught Abraham how to make it), it hasn’t been that popular here in the United States until relatively recent years. Yogurt is a cultured milk product, made by adding certain “good” bacteria to milk, skim milk, and/or cream.
When I first started cooking with yogurt some thirty years ago, unless you lived in a large East or West Coast city or had access to a well-stocked health food store, you had to make your own yogurt-a time consuming task of fermenting milk with certain bacteria in an electric yogurt maker or in custard cups in a pan of 110°F water for up to eight hours. Nowadays yogurt is available at stores and supermarkets as well as health food stores all across America.
When buying yogurt, read the label carefully. Here are some pointers to deciphering the label language:
Contains active yogurt cultures means that the bacterial cultures are still present in the yogurt because it has not been heat-treated. Look further to make sure that they have not been 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.
Heat-treated yogurt means that the yogurt has been heated to kill the bacterial cultures, thereby extending the shelf-life of the product.
Whole milk yogurt must contain 3.25% to 4% 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-can be between 0.5% to 2% butterfat.
Nonfat yogurt or fat-free yogurt must contain less than 0.5% 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.
Other ingredients sometimes added to yogurt include other dairy products, such as nonfat dry milk solids; sweeteners such as sugar, honey, and aspartame; colorings; and stabilizers such as starch, gelatin, or pectin.
Although in the 1970s few Americans had ever tasted yogurt, today the average US. consumers eat about five pounds of yogurt per person in a given year-Europeans eat twice that amount. Said by some to cure everything from arthritis and ulcers to digestive problems and yeast infections, yogurt may, indeed, improve our immune system defenses, thereby helping to reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer. As its specific heath claims are being debated, it is a fact that yogurt is a good source of calcium (plain yogurt has 400 mg per cup-more than a cup of skim milk). Yogurt is also rich in protein (8 g per cup) and contains as much potassium as a banana, as well as riboflavin (vitamin B²), phosphorus, and magnesium.
Persians used yogurt to insure clear skin and sparkling eyes. It was also used as a soothing ointment for sunburn. When I worked with the internationally famous health food expert Gayelord Hauser, he recommended mixing yogurt and strawberries in a blender to use as a cosmetic mask. Yogurt facials have a bleaching action, good for toning down freckles. The logic can be explained by the high protein, calcium, and acid content of yogurt as being very beneficial to the skin.
Yogurt by another name in other countries:
When cooking with yogurt, we like the sweeter flavor of plain low fat yogurt as most nonfat yogurts have a thin, slightly sour taste. Draining off the whey of nonfat yogurt improves its flavor, but it still can’t make as memorable a dish as a low fat yogurt. 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 (2.5 ml) 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% yogurt, 50% mayonnaise).
Yogurt becomes sharper with age. Stored at a refrigerator temperature of 35°F to 45°F, yogurt will keep fresh for up to two weeks. The fresher when used, the better the flavor and consistency. Making yogurt cheese is a good way to use up aged yogurt.
(makes about 1 cup)
Not really a true cheese, yogurt cheese is merely thickened yogurt with the whey drained away. It’s a staple in our refrigerators since it makes a wonderful substitute for fresh cheeses, such as cream cheese. Yogurt cheese is used throughout the Mediterranean as a spread for breakfast breads.
When you add minced fresh herbs, you get a great low-fat substitute for French Boursin cheese. You can buy a yogurt cheese drainer at a specialty cookware shop, or we find that a coffee filter or a double thickness of cheesecloth inside a fine sieve works just as well.
You’ll want to experiment with different brands of yogurt until you find one that pleases you. Be sure that the yogurt you use does not contain any added gelatin or other thickener. The following recipe is reprinted from our cookbooks: The Joslin Diabetes Gourmet Cookbook (Bantam Books) and The Joslin Diabetes Quick and Easy Cookbook (Fireside: Simon & Schuster).
|2||cups plain low fat or nonfat yogurt|
- Line a sieve with a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Suspend the sieve over a deep bowl. Place the yogurt in the filter and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow the whey to drain out. When the yogurt has the consistency of a soft cream cheese, scrape the yogurt away from the filter and transfer it to a plastic container.
- Discard the liquid in the bowl and refrigerate the yogurt cheese. Use within 1 week, discarding any accumulated liquid before using.
|Per 1 tablespoon (15 ml) serving made with low fat yogurt:||12 calories (19% calories from fat), 1 g protein, <1 g total fat (0.1 g saturated fat), 1 g carbohydrates, 0 dietary fiber, 1 mg cholesterol, 10 mg sodium|
|Per 1 tablespoon (15 ml) serving made with nonfat yogurt:||11 calories (2% calories from fat), 2g protein, 0 total fat (0 saturated fat), 1 g carbohydrates, 0 dietary fiber, 0 cholesterol, 10 mg sodium|