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The Best Whole-Milk Greek Yogurt
Nonfat products used to dominate this market, but now whole-milk versions are taking over. Does more fat equal better yogurt?
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What You Need To Know
Greek yogurt has taken the American supermarket by storm, growing from just 1 percent of the yogurt market in 2007 to nearly 50 percent today. High in protein and indulgently thick and creamy, it’s a satisfying snack and also acts as a key ingredient in savory dips and sauces or as a substitute for sour cream or cream cheese in baking. We last tasted Greek yogurt in 2010 and thought it was time for a fresh look.
At the time of our last tasting, most Greek yogurts were available only in nonfat versions. Today, the whole-milk variety is on the verge of taking over. Because we generally prefer to work with whole-milk dairy in the test kitchen, we decided to focus on it for this tasting. We stuck with “plain” flavor, not only because it is commonly used as an ingredient but also because it would give any flavor or textural flaws no place to hide. Interestingly, none of the “Greek” yogurts we tasted—we selected seven nationally available products—are made in Greece. Our former favorite, Olympus Yogurt, the only Greek import in our last tasting, is no longer sold in the United States.
We held two blind tastings, with the yogurt first unadorned and then used in tzatziki, a Greek sauce featuring yogurt, shredded cucumber, garlic, and dill. The textures of the yogurts ranged from thick enough to hold a spoon upright to as thin and runny as regular (non-Greek) yogurt. Some were weighty and dense, others as airy as whipped cream. When it came to flavor, the amount of yogurty tang varied greatly. Two products lost points for off-flavors; one reminded tasters of goat cheese, and the other tasted like “cooked milk.” A handful more were practically flavorless. A select few—our favorites—offered clean, milky-sweet flavor with mild but definite tang, and they were nicely thick, which proved to be very important to our tasters. How could plain yogurt vary so much?
Thick or Thin
Yogurt is made by adding live, active bacterial cultures to warm milk. As the bacteria digest lactose, milk’s naturally occurring sugar, they produce lactic acid, which lowers its pH, coagulates the proteins into a gel, and creates yogurt’s characteristic tang. To make Greek yogurt, the fermented milk is strained for several hours through cheesecloth to drain off most of the clear liquid called whey. Because so much liquid is strained out, traditional Greek yogurt starts with three or four times the amount of milk as is necessary to make regular yogurt. (It’s because of this straining that Greek yogurt costs more and is so much higher in protein than regular yogurt.)
That’s the basic traditional process, but modern manufacturers have a bag of tricks that allow for custo...
Everything We Tested
With a “faintly sweet,” “super-rich, fresh dairy taste,” “like cream” or “butter,” that’s “thick,” “dense,” “decadent,” “luxurious,” and “not terribly tangy, just enough to know it’s yogurt,” our winner, the thickest of the lineup, embodied “the texture I associate with Greek yogurt,” as one taster wrote. High protein and no added stabilizers or thickeners listed on the label indicate that this is traditionally strained yogurt. The rich creaminess helped this brand hold its own against the garlicky sharpness of the tzatziki sauce, where it “balances nicely and melds the other flavors.” One taster summed it up: “Just right!”
With a “yogurt taste that is more assertive” than our winner’s, this brand also was “tangier than I generally like, but the richness balances it,” as one taster observed. Its “whipped texture” offered slightly “less body than I’d expect,” but overall, the yogurt had “great, fresh dairy taste.” Its greater tanginess and thickness nudged this brand to the top spot in our tzatziki sauce tasting. And its high protein count, simple ingredient list, and lack of added stabilizers and thickeners indicate that this is traditionally strained yogurt. (Note: “Cultured milk” in this yogurt’s ingredient list is simply another way to describe the usual ingredients; it does not indicate a different processing method.)
With a “supersmooth,” “creamy,” even “velvety” texture, this yogurt won fans, especially among those who don’t like sour flavor in their yogurt. Tasters said it had a “very mild taste,” though for some it “borders on bland.” In tzatziki sauce, it was “good all around, but not very tangy” and “a little loose.”
Recommended with reservations
This “stiff,” somewhat “bland” yogurt adds pectin to simulate Greek yogurt’s traditional thick, strained consistency, which explains why it has one of the lowest levels of protein per serving in our lineup. The flavor was “pretty neutral” in tzatziki sauce. It was also notably sweet, which tasters didn’t like. This is not from added sugar but is a result of not straining: Lactose, milk’s natural sugar, is normally removed with the whey if yogurt is strained. We also found it watery.
This very “pillowy,” extremely high-fat yogurt takes a shortcut to Greece: By adding whey protein concentrate and milk protein concentrate instead of straining off the whey, the manufacturer boosts protein and artificially thickens the yogurt. Tasters complained of a “weird aftertaste,” described as “chalky” and “like plaster,” and a “savory, cooked” flavor (an off-flavor that can result from adding protein concentrates). In tzatziki sauce, tasters said, it was “missing tang.”
With the one of the tangiest tastes and one of the thinnest textures, Chobani slid toward the bottom of the pack. “I expect Greek yogurt to be thicker than this,” complained one taster; another wrote that it was “almost like regular yogurt.” While a few tasters enjoyed its “sour cream”–like tang, “like something you’d put in a mashed potato,” others just called it “very sour.” In tzatziki sauce the results were similar, with tasters noting that it was “watery—both in texture and flavor.” One taster summed it up: “It’s too loose, tangy, and lean-feeling for me. For full-fat Greek yogurt, this seems disappointingly virtuous.”
This organic yogurt made from 100 percent grass-fed cows’ milk has a strong, savory flavor and stood out as very different to our tasters. While a few loved it, most found the “barnyard funk” too challenging. As one put it: “Grassy like a smelly cheese! Not what I want in a yogurt.” It was also much thinner and looser than our preferred Greek yogurt; in tzatziki sauce, it “doesn’t hold its shape on a dollop.”
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.