It is amazing people still get excited about yogurt considering it has been around since 6000 B.C. Neolithic herdsmen discovered that storing milk in animal skin containers curdled the liquid, thickening it and giving it tart flavor. But judging from the supermarket shelf space and commercial airtime devoted to the latest iteration — thick and creamy Greek-style yogurt — interest in this ancient dairy product has never been stronger. Analysts estimate that one in three Americans eats yogurt regularly.
There are a lot of reasons yogurt has been beloved since before the dawn of history. First of all, it tastes great. Yogurt has a tangy flavor that many people enjoy. And it contains enzymes that help absorb nutrients. It has healthful bacteria linked to a strong immune system. And it is brimming with other good things: protein, calcium, B vitamins and minerals, including zinc, potassium and phosphorus.
Yogurt is made in sterile metal vats. Milk is mixed with acidophilus, a healthful bacterial culture. The bacteria feed on sugars in the milk, producing lactic acid, which gives yogurt its characteristically tangy flavor. An extra step is required to make Greek yogurt. Before it is packaged, it is strained to remove the liquid whey, giving it a less watery consistency than American-style yogurt. It has more protein and less sugar because it drains away with the whey.
Consumers and nutritionists love Greek yogurt, but not all environmentalists do. It takes 64 ounces of milk to produce 16 ounces of Greek yogurt, more than twice as much as what goes into American-style yogurt. It’s not the most economical use of milk, and one reason why Greek yogurt is so expensive. So far, manufacturers have not figured out how to use the large volume of strained whey that is a byproduct of the process.
You can make your own Greek yogurt and repurpose the whey. Line a strainer with cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Then, dump plain American-style yogurt into the strainer and let the excess liquid drip into the bowl. After a few hours, you will have thick, creamy Greek yogurt. Use the cloudy liquid that has collected in the bottom of the bowl in a favorite bread dough recipe. Its milk sugars will give your bread a very mild sweetness and beautiful golden color.
For the baker, Greek yogurt adds richness and flavor without a lot of fat. Swap it for an equal amount of sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese in cake, muffin and quick bread recipes, and you will get a significantly lighter result with no loss of quality. I used a cup of Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in a one-bowl cake recipe. I got a moist, sturdy, tasty cake that is good for snacking or for brunch when served with fruit and more yogurt on the side.