Greek yogurt is to yogurt what sour cream is to cream. It’s thicker, creamier, richer, and more flavorful. Making Greek yogurt is relatively simple — you just strain the whey out of plain yogurt. Voila! The resulting thicker yogurt is now called “Greek yogurt.”
Not too long ago, Greek yogurt was only popular in ethnic food circles. The vast majority of shoppers in the U.S. didn’t even know what it was. But as our grocery store selections of yogurt expanded, so did our cultural familiarity with Greek yogurt.
Now, thanks to food industry behemoth General Mills, most of us can find Greek yogurt in our neighborhood grocery stores.
Lured by the extra flavor and the promise of twice the protein of regular yogurt, you may have bought this week’s product: Yoplait Greek Yogurt Honey Vanilla.
Here’s what the manufacturer claims:
“It’s time for a better snack. Each cup contains 2x protein of regular yogurt and a thick creamy texture to help satisfy your hunger.”
Yoplait Greek Yogurt: Ingredients
- Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk,
- Milk Protein Concentrate,
- Kosher Gelatin,
- Lemon Juice Concentrate,
- Natural Flavor,
- Locust Bean Gum,
- Vitamin A Acetate,
- Vitamin D3.
Yoplait Greek Yogurt: DECODED
In a real Greek yogurt, you should have only two ingredients: milk and live, active cultures. You’ll notice that this is all wrapped together in the first ingredient on the Yoplait Greek Yogurt label — Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Nonfat Milk. Everything after that? Completely weird additives for an authentic Greek yogurt.
Before we dissect those, however, let’s beat a dead horse. It’s about the milk used.
Believe it or not, I’m not put off by the fact that the milk is pasteurized. That’s how I make yogurt at home. I heat the milk up to kill off competing bacteria before I reduce the temperature and introduce the bacteria that will culture the milk to create yogurt. Granted, my home pasteurization is far more gentle than most commercially available pasteurization processes. But, when you’re trying to make a specific yogurt or cheese, you often want to begin by gently killing off any competing bacteria present.
I’m not even put off by the fact that the milk is skimmed. I like a cream-top yogurt, but many people don’t.
No, what disturbs me about this milk is that it’s 1)not from pastured cows, and 2)not labeled as antibiotic or growth-hormone free. That right there’s a deal breaker for me.
So, what the heck is milk protein concentrate? I wrote about milk protein concentrates (MPCs) back in 2009. Here’s what I had to say:
MPCs are basically a cheaper, foreign alternative to non-fat dry milk (NFDM) usually coming from water buffalos or yaks in places like China, India, Poland, and Ukraine. MPCs are created when milk is ultra-filtered through a process which drains out the lactose and keeps the milk proteins and other large molecules intact. Unbelievably (or believably, depending on the level of your lack of trust in the FDA), MPCs are not in the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe category and are therefore not approved as a food ingredient in the US. (source)
Of course, this doesn’t actually prevent MPCs from being in just about every commercially produced dairy product out there. It’s not actually illegal to use MPCs in food, even though they’re not approved food ingredients. (What can I say? It’s just the way the laws are written.)
They can be legally imported into this country because — get this — they’re an ingredient in a lot of glues!
What about that Kosher Gelatin, Pectin, and Locust Bean Gum? The presence of these thickeners are another dead giveaway that this yogurt is not authentic Greek yogurt (in which yogurt is made and then strained to create the thicker texture). Rather Yoplait appears to be making regular yogurt, then adding MPCs to make it creamier and add protein, and finally adding thickeners to make it … thicker.
Of these thickeners, the only one that really gives me pause is the kosher gelatin. To my knowledge, there’s only one brand of commercially available kosher gelatin that is processed in such a way to reduce the presence of free glutamic acids (otherwise known as MSG). This good brand of gelatin is even made from grass-fed cows! It’s Great Lakes Gelatin. So, chances are excellent that the gelatin in Yoplait Greek Yogurt is, in fact, a hidden source of MSG. (And, it probably came from farmed tilapia fed GMO-corn.) Yikes.
And yet again, we have a food label touting the infamously ambiguous natural flavor. Remember, the FDA’s definition of a natural flavor leaves the door open for anything that originated in nature before it was processed in a laboratory. It could be hiding MSG, unwanted sugars, or any other strange chemical concoction. In this case, given the “Honey Vanilla” flavor of the yogurt, the “natural flavor” probably contains honey flavor and vanilla flavor. These food industry flavors can be derived from just about anything — including wood pulp and the macerated castor sac scent gland of a beaver.
Last but not least, we get to the added vitamins. Why add vitamins? Could it possibly be because of how adulterated and denatured this so-called food is already? As always, I much prefer to get my vitamins from real food, rather than as synthetic food additives.
Yoplait Greek Yogurt: THE VERDICT
So, what should you use instead?
Of course your first option should be to make your own homemade yogurt and strain it yourself. This way, you can control the type of milk used and limit the additives. It’s surprisingly easy to make yogurt at home, even without fancy yogurt makers. You just need to pick up some starter cultures (super cheap) and then keep those cultures alive (also super easy if you make yogurt frequently).
Alternatively, if you absolutely must buy store bought Greek yogurt, stick with certified organic brands to ensure the yogurt is made from milk without antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMO-feed.
Also, be sure to buy PLAIN yogurt, as the flavored varieties (even of the organic Greek Yogurts) tend to include questionable ingredients.
And finally, make sure there are only two ingredients listed: the milk, and the live-active cultures!
Want Your Labels Decoded?
In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!