Yogurt - It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore
Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD
I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t use or eat yogurt in one way or another. It’s a natural for breakfast in the morning, but often when I’m cooking or baking, I find myself pulling the carton out of the refrigerator.
Plain yogurt is simply milk that’s been fermented by bacteria, what you’ll usually see listed on the carton as “live active cultures”. These bacteria break down lactose, the natural sugar in milk, into lactic acid, which gives yogurt its distinctive tangy taste. And, as the yogurt ferments, the lactic acid causes the milk protein to thicken and set up. Once it’s done, yogurt can be strained to remove some of the liquid, which thickens it up even more.
There’s almost a dizzying array of yogurts to choose from. There is anything from plain to super-sweet, fat-free to full-fat, and from nearly runny to the super-thick varieties you can practically eat with a fork. When you’re comparing labels, you’ll want to look at sugar, fat, and protein content to find one that suits you.
Most of the sweetened yogurts have quite a bit of sugar in them - as much as a couple of tablespoons in a single-serve carton. So you’re usually better off to buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit, or a teaspoon or two of honey, maple syrup or jam.
As fat content goes up, yogurt tends to be thicker, but the more that yogurt is strained, the thicker it gets, too. Greek-style yogurt is strained several times, so even the nonfat variety has a rich, thick taste and texture. And since it’s concentrated, Greek yogurt has about twice the protein as regular-style, making it one of the best nutritional packages around. Some have as much protein per serving as a small chicken breast.
Yogurt makes a great substitute for high fat ingredients like sour cream, cream cheese or butter. When you replace some of the fat in baked goods, like cakes and muffins, with plain or vanilla nonfat yogurt, they’ll rise like crazy and they taste delicious.
Plain yogurt with some chives is great on a baked potato, or you can mix with it with herbs and garlic into a tasty dip for raw veggies or turn it into a tangy salad dressing. If I’m making vegetable soup, I might whirl some of the cooked veggies and some thick yogurt in the blender and stir it back into the pot for a creamy, fat-free soup.
Since yogurt has so much acid, it also makes a fantastic meat tenderizer. Add some garlic powder and a little salt to plain yogurt, and use to marinate chicken for an hour or so in the ‘frig. The meat cooks up incredibly tender and juicy, even on the grill.
Yogurt with fruit has always been my breakfast stand-by - either in a bowl, or whipped in the blender into a smoothie. But with so many uses, it’s not just for breakfast any more.