Yogurt is a dairy product made by culturing milk and/or cream with friendly bacteria known as "live and active cultures." In the U.S., yogurt is made with two specific cultures: L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus. These living organisms metabolize some of the lactose in the milk into lactic acid, thereby changing the consistency of liquid milk to a creamy-textured yogurt with a slightly tart taste.
Enjoyed around the world for some 4,000 years, fruited yogurt makes a wholesome breakfast or snack, but plain and vanilla varieties can work wonders in all kinds of kitchen recipes from marinades and dips to pancakes and baked goods.
There are three main types of yogurt, with fat content being the major difference between them.
Whole milk yogurt, with at least 3.25% milk fat, is richest and creamiest. It's an excellent choice for dipping sauces, quick breads, muffins and other baked goods.
Lowfat yogurt is made from lowfat, reduced-fat or part-skim milk and contains between 0.5 and 2% milk fat. It's less rich than the whole milk variety, but it works well in a wide range of recipes as the difference is hardly noticeable.
Nonfat yogurt must contain less than 0.5% milk fat and is often marketed as "light" yogurt. Made from skim milk, nonfat often has a watery or grainy texture, so it's not recommended for dishes that should be rich, moist and creamy. It's best for eating out of the carton, or as a tangy marinade for grilled meats.
Buying and Storage Tips
When buying yogurt, check the date on the carton to make sure you're buying the freshest available. Also look for labels that state "with active yogurt cultures" or "with living yogurt cultures."
At home, refrigerate yogurt and use it within one week after the "sell by" date.
Yogurt is an amazingly versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Keep a few cups of plain and vanilla on-hand to mix into dips and spreads, bake into muffins and cakes, or use as a simple garnish for soups and desserts. In many recipes, yogurt can be a healthy alternative to higher fat ingredients like sour cream, mayonnaise, oil and cream without compromising taste or texture.
- Mix yogurt (cup for cup) into your favorite muffin and coffee cake recipes that call for sour cream.
- Replace the oil in chicken, fish and pork marinades with yogurt for a tangy twist.
- Top bean soups, chili, baked potatoes and tacos with a dollop of plain yogurt instead of sour cream.
- Replace half the mayonnaise in potato and macaroni salads with plain yogurt.
- Top cakes, puddings and mousses with vanilla yogurt instead of whipped cream.