Decoding Labels: Yoplait Greek Yogurt

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.

Yoplait Greek Yogurt is a far cry from a real Greek yogurt, however.

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,
  • Sugar,
  • Kosher Gelatin,
  • Pectin,
  • 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).

(Where to buy yogurt starter cultures.)

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!

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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40 Responses to Decoding Labels: Yoplait Greek Yogurt
  1. Sarah
    March 14, 2012 | 2:52 pm

    Loving this series!!

  2. Karen Joy
    March 14, 2012 | 3:40 pm

    I noticed this VERY SAME THING and blogged about it at least a year ago, though not in as much detail as you. :) My own verdict was that it was normal Yoplait, to which additional milk protein and thickeners added. YUCK.

  3. randon
    March 14, 2012 | 3:47 pm

    Go to your nearest middle eastern marke and get some labneh (or labne). It is the real stuff.

  4. Bliss Doubt
    March 14, 2012 | 4:15 pm

    I love reading this blog, and Yoplait has never been a trusted brand for me. I don’t eat much yogurt anyway, but I used to point a cynical finger at their pink lid breast cancer campaign, all the while failing to say one word about bovine growth hormone in the dairy supply being implicated in breast cancer. It seemed to me to be height of hypocrisy.

    In 2009 I think Yoplait finally swore that, going forward, it would only source its milk (no mention of MPC) from farmers certified not to be using bovine growth hormone on their cows. I think the law, powered by Monsanto lobby, prevents Yoplait putting anything about that on their labels.

    • KristenM
      March 14, 2012 | 4:19 pm

      It doesn’t prevent other Yogurt makers from putting GMO-free on their labels. Don’t both Nancy’s and Voskos brands (their non-organic versions) say they’re rBGH free on their label?

      • Bliss Doubt
        March 16, 2012 | 9:00 am

        Currently I believe some states are prevented labeling and some are not.

        I googled and got this quickly:

        http://www.non-gmoreport.com/articles/mar08/rBGH-free_labeling_U.S.php

        Of course Monsanto is always there trying to suppress labeling of non-rbgh sourced dairy. The milk from non-treated cows is more expensive, and if a brand can’t label their product as such, they’ll have the higher price with no explanation of what you’re getting that’s better, so sales to concerned consumers will fail to increase. Consumers will simply look to organic brands. Tillamook is another brand that swore off rbgh dairy some years ago, yet still doesn’t have the labeling.

        The labeling is cumbersome too, because the rbgh isn’t added to the milk. It’s added to the cow, so labeling “free of bovine growth hormone” is not as accurate as “made from milk sourced from dairies that do not inject their cows with bovine growth hormone.

        It’s such a mess.

        • KristenM
          March 16, 2012 | 9:03 am

          Interesting. The Tillamook cheese in my fridge has a rBGH-free label on it.

          • Bliss Doubt
            March 16, 2012 | 1:04 pm

            More and more interesting. I’ll have to take a look at Tillamook next time I’m in the grocery store. I thought the labeling law applied to where the product was made, but it may instead apply to the state where it is sold, requiring a non-rbgh maker like Tillamook to have multiple labels. I live in Texas, and I was always shopping for the “non” label. I never saw it, except occasionally on organic brands, so I stopped looking for it. I attributed it to the labeling laws.

            I did just go to the Yoplait website, and if they’re still off the rbgh milk they aren’t saying so, at least not where I can find it. The Tillamook website doesn’t exactly have it on a banner, but there is a search engine on the site where you can put in “growth hormone” and find out they’ve remained steadfast. I’ve read enough about it over the years to know that companies are skittish about saying too much, for fear that Monsanto will sue them. So much for so called free markets in this country.

          • Bliss Doubt
            March 19, 2012 | 6:45 pm

            Wow, the Tillamook in my grocery store has then non-rbgh label! I guess I’m out of date. Now I want to look at Yoplait’s label. Even if they haven’t slipped off the wagon, I wouldn’t buy it anyway when there are organic sellers out there struggling against the price advantage of companies that don’t give a shit.

  5. Jan's Sushi Bar
    March 14, 2012 | 4:29 pm

    Odd how neither honey nor vanilla is on the list of ingredients…

    • KristenM
      March 14, 2012 | 4:32 pm

      I know! But “lemon juice concentrate” is?

  6. Jeannette
    March 14, 2012 | 6:12 pm

    Just a note, because it is “kosher” gelatin, I doubt the gelatin is made from horses as horse is not a kosher food. Just wanted to point that out! Great blog!

    • KristenM
      March 14, 2012 | 7:10 pm

      Good catch. Thanks, Jeannette.

      • Kathleen K
        March 15, 2012 | 9:00 am

        I was going to make the same point. However, I had a second observation: for it to be Kosher, meat and dairy can’t be mixed. Therefore, if the “kosher” gelatin is made from a kosher animal (beef, goat, sheep, for example), it still can’t be mixed with dairy for the yogurt to be considered “kosher.” Is there a vegetarian form of gelatin?

        • Holly
          March 15, 2012 | 11:42 am

          Actually, most Kosher gelatin is made from fish, typically tilipia. My family just steer clear of anything labeled Kosher gelatin because of what we’ve read about how tilipia are raised and fed corn (hello GMO corn!). It stinks because I really miss marshmallows, but keep Kosher, so no marshmallows on my homemade hot cocoa. :(

          • KristenM
            March 15, 2012 | 11:48 am

            Holly — Well, the Kosher gelatin I linked to above is actually made from grass-fed cows. So, you ought to be able to use it.

            Also, I made these homemade marshmallows with Heather from the Mommypotamus blog the other day when I was at her house. They were surprisingly easy. The only reason I haven’t made them in my own kitchen yet is that I need to go buy a candy thermometer.

        • KristenM
          March 15, 2012 | 11:45 am

          After Jeanette’s post I did some reading, and apparently the rabbinical teaching on this is mixed. Some feel that by the time it’s been turned into gelatin, it’s so far removed from the animal’s meat and blood that it’s neutral.

    • KristenM
      March 15, 2012 | 11:56 am

      Just wanted to let you know I updated the post in light of this being “kosher” gelatin!

  7. Angela
    March 14, 2012 | 7:35 pm

    Huh. I strain my yogurt to make cream cheese. Do you just not strain it for as long?

    • sa'ada
      March 15, 2012 | 4:24 am

      cream cheese is not strained yogurt. some bloggers call their strained yogurt cream cheese but it’s not. strained yogurt is greek yogurt, labna, or strained yogurt.

      see what wikipedia has to say about cream cheese:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cream_cheese

    • KristenM
      March 15, 2012 | 11:54 am

      While strained yogurt isn’t technically cream cheese, it’s a great and easy replacement for it. And yes, to make it the texture of what’s typically sold as Greek Yogurt, you just wouldn’t strain it quite so long.

  8. Meagan
    March 14, 2012 | 9:54 pm

    Fage Total yogurt is a great option! I eat it every week!

    • KristenM
      March 14, 2012 | 9:59 pm

      Fage is better than most because it has simply two ingredients: milk and cultures. But to my knowledge their only claim about their milk is that it’s rBGH free.

      They make no claims about other growth hormones, whether the cows were administered antibiotics or other microbials, whether the cows are on pasture, or (if not on pasture) whether the cow’s feed was GMO-free. I’ve seen other “natural” but not certified organic brands make these claims, so I’m assuming that since Fage does not it means they can not.

  9. Vanessa Hill
    March 14, 2012 | 10:33 pm

    What amazes me is that people are too busy and want convenience, or are just plain ignorant about what they put in their bodies. I wouldn’t touch this stuff with a 10 foot pole. People wonder why they get sick – it’s because of processed foods with tons of sugar. Our culture is so immersed in this that it’s like trying to climb out of quicksand because people are so acclimated to the sugar and artificial flavorings in products like these. I don’t know how they get away with calling this Greek yogurt! Should someone sue them for misrepresenting a product?

  10. Alaina
    March 15, 2012 | 12:43 am

    Thank you so much for this series… such a wonderful education and sadly an extra eye opener!

  11. Tammy R.
    March 15, 2012 | 7:52 am

    I am really enjoying this series of posts. Please keep them up! :)

  12. City Share
    March 15, 2012 | 8:35 am

    It’s amazing how hard it is to find plain milk and cultures yogurt at the regular grocery store. Loving this series. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

  13. Cheryl B.
    March 15, 2012 | 10:00 am

    Thank you for this series on labels. Manufacturers can make anything sound natural and healthy. Thank you for helping us understand the “codes.”

  14. Kim Daly
    March 15, 2012 | 10:20 am

    I absolutely love this series! Even though I already stay away from these commercially produced foods, I love seeing you educate others (and I always learn something too!)

  15. Connie
    March 15, 2012 | 10:21 am

    While I don’t disagree with the main premise of this, I find it interesting that you have an issue with someone making gelatin with hooves.. I quite often see real food bloggers advocating using the entire animal, and using chicken feet in making stock to add more gelatin to the broth. hey.. wait.. even you suggest using hooves in broth!! http://www.foodrenegade.com/how-to-make-beef-broth/

    I have the same question mark over my head getting upset over using beaver glands for vanilla flavoring. Now granted, I don’t want to be eating beaver glands, but then again, I don’t want to eat beaver either (I won’t eat anything I consider cute)

    but then again maybe beaver glands aren’t really in food..
    http://www.vrg.org/blog/2011/06/17/beaver-gland-castoreum-not-used-in-vanilla-flavorings-according-to-manufacturers/

    Why are some bits of animal accepted and and others not so much? if you are going to eat animals, shouldn’t respect the entire animal and make use of all of it and not let it go to waste?

    • KristenM
      March 15, 2012 | 11:37 am

      I don’t disagree with making gelatin with hooves. That’s how you’re supposed to do it!

      Nor would I object to eating an animal’s glands, as I advocate doing that at least once per week as part of a healthy diet.

      Those aren’t my objections here.

      My objection to the gelatin has to do with the free glutamic acid that’s present in powdered gelatin because of how it’s commercially processed. To my knowledge, there’s only one brand out there that processes in such a way as to reduce the formation of free glutamic acids. Evertyhing else has hidden MSG.

      My objection to the beaver glands isn’t that they’re glands, but that they have no place being so chemically altered that they can masquerade as vanilla. That’s not real food.

  16. MsMissy
    March 15, 2012 | 10:52 am

    I found Brown Cow a good brand for Greek yogurt (and you can often find it at the regular grocery stores) it has a more sour cream type flavor/ texture. For regular yogurt I like Kalona organic, its just milk and cultures, its a cream top type…i always buy plain and add my own flavors (very important to me to have no questionable ingredients as im allergic to most everything, but most strongly to Soy which is often in those “natural flavors”)

  17. Stephanie
    March 15, 2012 | 4:27 pm

    Excellent series. I’ll be making a batch of my own raw milk yougurt tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Chris
    March 25, 2012 | 12:31 pm

    Anything “Kosher” is just a tax on non Jews.

  19. Chris
    April 30, 2012 | 4:01 pm

    That’s so interesting, I’ll have to check out more of the series. I wish more people were aware of what is actually in the food we eat. It seems like such a waste of ingredients when all you need is milk and cultures. And why not just use real honey instead of laboratory created ingredients! It just doesn’t make any sense. I get Chobani greek yogurt from time to time – is that any better?

  20. Jennifer
    May 27, 2012 | 6:35 pm

    I just found your blog, and I had to check my Chobani ingredients. I’ve been eating this brand of Greek yogurt forever. Thankfully, they look all good, minus the fruit on the bottom ones that have “natural flavor,” and I’m still a noob about hormones in dairy. The website labeling says no synthetic growth hormones & ‘all natural’ so at least it’s better than the Yoplait, which I’d never eat anyway. Yuck.

    • lynne @ lgsmash
      July 18, 2012 | 3:03 pm

      Happened on this article while perusing your blog about Agave Sweetner. The only yogurt I eat is Chobani.

      Just as you say, Jennifer, the yogurt itself is only: cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, cream, live and active cultures. The fruit on the bottom of my pineapple yogurt has: pectin and locust bean gum.

      I don’t usually mix in all the fruit anyway because I don’t 13g+ of sugar in my yogurt.

      But curious, Food Renegade – is our Cho in the clear?

  21. Caitlin
    July 20, 2012 | 2:31 pm

    I came across an NPR article today that sheds some light on how these fake additive filled greek yogurts came to be. pretty interesting…
    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/07/19/156997600/high-tech-shortcut-to-greek-yogurt-leaves-purists-fuming?utm_source=fp&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=20120720

  22. Fraulein
    November 17, 2013 | 6:30 am

    Hi Kristen. This is a nice blog, thank you for sticking to ‘real food’. I enjoyed the DIY Easiyo in terms of taste but I wonder if you will like to decode Easiyo to see whether it really contains live active culture? My skepticism is based on its live culture powder being stored in normal temperature and not in a chiller and I also have doubt on the handling/storing by retail stores, that probably will compromise the culture.

  23. Claudia
    January 13, 2014 | 12:39 am

    I just ate this yogurt, well the plain version.
    And then search the nutrition in it, just to be sure.
    And found this article!….
    Thanks so much for this blog.
    Never gonna eat this thing again.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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