These days, if you go to the yogurt section of the supermarket, you may be overwhelmed by all of the flavors and varieties that are on the shelves. For those that grew up with fruit-filled yogurt cups, it can seem like there are too many different options today. Fortunately, yogurt is not a complicated topic, and we’re here to help.
Today, we want to discuss all of the various types of yogurt that you can find, both on the supermarket shelves and in specialty stores. Some of these will be familiar, while others may be all Greek to you (pun intended). Get your spoons ready, we’re about to have a yogurt party!
The Basics: How Yogurt is Made
Although yogurt is delicious, the process for making it can seem a bit off-putting at first. Generally, we try to avoid bacteria as much as possible, but when it comes to making yogurt, bacteria is an essential ingredient. First, milk is heated to about 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, cow’s milk is the preferred base, but any type of milk will work, including that from goats, sheep, yaks, or other mammals. Non-dairy milk can also be used to enable lactose-intolerant people to enjoy yogurt.
The reason for heating the milk is so that the proteins inside won’t form curds during the cooling process. Once the milk reaches 113 degrees F (or lower, depending on the type of yogurt), bacteria cultures are added. Several varieties are used around the world and some countries require a specific amount of colony-forming units (CFU) of bacteria.
To help the microbes turn the milk into creamy yogurt, the mixture has to stay at the same temperature. As we’ll discover on this list, some yogurts can form at room temperature instead, meaning that it’s much easier to make at home (if you’re into that kind of thing).
Finally, depending on the type of yogurt being produced, the final product is strained to remove excess liquid. This process thickens the dish and gives it that smooth, silky texture. Now let’s dive into the various yogurt options you can find both in the supermarket and around the world.
For most people, traditional yogurt is the most familiar. In this case, the mixture is unstrained, which means that it’s both thinner and easier to stir. If you’ve ever seen yogurt with a thin layer of liquid on top, chances are that it was the traditional variety. This type of yogurt comes in a wide array of flavors, and in many cases, the fruit is added in. While you can get traditional yogurt (or any type, really) unflavored, this dish has a naturally sour flavor. The sourness comes from the bacteria, which produce lactic acids in the milk.
These days, you can get low-fat, non-fat, and regular yogurt. The difference between these options is the milk used in the fermentation process. However, in most cases, nonfat yogurt comes with more added sugar to cover up the lack of flavor, so be aware of that.
Notable Aspects: Thinner consistency, more liquid in the mixture
In recent years, you can’t open a refrigerator at the grocery store without running into Greek yogurt. This product has been touted as a superfood, although claims like that are always dubious at best. Compared to traditional yogurt, however, Greek varieties do have some added benefits – namely, more protein, fewer carbs, and less sugar. So, if you’re really trying to eat healthily and need a yogurt fix, you should probably reach for Greek instead. However, some brands do add plenty of sugar and additives, to pay attention to the label first.
The reason why Greek yogurt is different than traditional mixtures is that it’s strained, creating a much thicker texture. Currently, there are no FDA guidelines on Greek yogurt, which means that each manufacturer has its own straining process. Some may be thicker than others, so you might have to shop around to find one you like. Also, if you get unflavored versions, this yogurt is a bit more sour and tart than traditional options. Don’t worry though, it hasn’t spoiled.
Notable Aspects: Higher protein, fewer carbs, highly sour taste
If traditional yogurt is too thin and liquidy for you, but Greek yogurt is too thick, then you may prefer Australian yogurt instead. This variety is made with whole milk, which gives it a much creamier consistency. This product is also unstrained, so there will be some excess liquid on the top. In most cases, Australian yogurt is usually sweetened with honey, but there are unflavored varieties available as well. The honey adds to the silky texture as well, so plain versions will require a little extra stirring.
Notable Aspects: Creamy texture, a sweet flavor profile
Icelandic Yogurt (Skyr)
For the most part, yogurt is relatively smooth and easy to stir. Icelandic yogurt, however, is much thicker since it is strained four times (compared to three for Greek varieties). In Iceland, Skyr is typically considered a type of cheese, although it’s much closer to yogurt than any cheese you’re used to eating. Four cups of nonfat milk are used to make one cup of Skyr, which means that you get much more protein than you would with traditional yogurt. In some cases, one serving can have as many as 20 grams. Although skim milk is the preferred base, newer variations will use fattier milk, such as one or two percent.
The history of Skyr is well-known in Iceland, where it was a traditional part of medieval life. According to locals, Skyr has been around since the 9th century, making it one of the oldest options you can find on the shelf.
Notable Aspects: Extra-thick consistency, high protein, low fat and sugar
Kefir – Drinkable Yogurt
If you look at yogurt as a spectrum, Icelandic versions are the thickest option, while Kefir is the thinnest. Rather than cultivating various types of bacteria and straining the mixture of its liquid, Kefir uses “starter” grains (yeast, milk proteins, and bacteria). These grains can be mixed in with any kind of milk, but they don’t create a thick consistency. You can drink Kefir or add the grains to a smoothie for a creamier result.
Another reason to drink Kefir yogurt is that it’s often loaded with probiotic bacteria strains. While the science is still on the fence about the benefits of probiotics, you will certainly get a massive influx of helpful microbes into your digestive system. Kefir is also chock full of fat, so pay attention if you’re looking to limit your fat intake.
Notable Aspects: High-fat content, thin, drinkable consistency, full of probiotic bacteria
If you take a trip to the Middle East, chances are that you’ll run into Labneh (pronounced Leb-eh). This type of yogurt is similar to Skyr, in that it undergoes an extensive straining process to remove excess liquid. Typically, Labneh is eaten with flatbread and olive oil and can be closer to goat or cream cheese in consistency. However, while goats are popular in the region, this yogurt is often made with cow’s milk. In some cases, Labneh is rolled into balls and dipped in oil as a tasty and high-protein treat.
If you want to find Labneh in the US, you will have to go to specialty stores. Also, the label usually calls this product yogurt cheese, thanks to its spreadable texture.
Notable Aspects: Thick, cheese-like consistency, high protein content
Continuing our “cultured” trip around the globe, Dahi can be found in Southeast Asia. The countries that eat it the most are India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, although other countries in the region like to dabble from time to time. This dish is usually referred to as “curd,” but it is still considered yogurt because of its manufacturing process. Often, Dahi (da-hee) is started with dried red chilis, as they contain bacteria that help fermentation. Most varieties of Dahi use goat, buffalo, or cow milk, and it’s unstrained, giving it a much smoother, thinner texture.
Dahi is usually used as a base for various dishes, most often to help temper its spiciness. It can be added to a regional yogurt drink called Lassi.
Notable Aspects: Thin texture, a unique flavor profile depending on the type of milk used
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to make yogurt at home, Matsoni is the perfect option. This variety also hails from the Middle East, where it’s most popular in countries like Iran. Unlike most yogurts, you don’t have to maintain a relatively hot temperature for the bacteria to work. All you need to do is mix some milk (any kind you like) with a starter culture and let it sit for a few hours. The result is a tangy and creamy dish that you can use to replace other yogurt options, or as a base for various dishes.
If you’re not interested in letting milk ferment on your countertop, you can buy Matsoni pre-made. Again, you’ll have to find specialty stores that carry it. Fortunately, if they have the ready-to-eat version, they should also carry the starter culture so that you can make your own.
Notable Aspects: Easy to make, tart and creamy, thinner texture
Now we get into the non-dairy versions of yogurt. If you’re lactose intolerant, you should still be able to enjoy this dish like everyone else. Almond milk has surged in popularity in recent years, so it makes sense that companies would use it as a base for a dairy-free type of yogurt. Because almond milk doesn’t have the same proteins as cow’s milk, this yogurt is relatively thin. However, it has the added benefit of being low in calories and high in fiber and calcium.
Unfortunately, because making a thick consistency with almond milk itself is challenging, almost all varieties come with additives and thickeners to make it more palatable. While you can try making your own almond milk at home to avoid this problem, it’s likely going to be more trouble than it’s worth. Just watch out for copious amounts of added sugar and you should be okay.
Notable Aspects: Dairy-free, high fiber, low calorie, a sweet flavor profile
Like its almond cousin, soy milk is generally thinner and lower calorie than those made from animals, so the yogurt requires some extra help to give it a thick consistency. Also, because soybeans are pretty bland, unflavored versions of soy yogurt can leave a lot to the imagination. However, adding some fruit or honey to the mix is a quick and easy way to avoid punishing your tastebuds just because you’re trying to be healthy.
Fortunately, soy yogurt is great in that it’s low in cholesterol and has been linked to helping people avoid blood sugar spikes after eating. If you’re sensitive to complex carbohydrates, this dish may be an excellent option.
Notable Aspects: Thin consistency, a mild flavor profile
For the most part, coconut milk is highly enjoyable, and it comes with a creamy thickness similar to whole milk. However, when coconut milk is used to make yogurt, much of that delicious consistency is removed, so it’s hard to make natural coconut yogurt that tastes good. If you do happen to find a “plain” version, it will likely be too thin and too sour to be palatable, unless you add it into a different dish. So, when looking for non-dairy yogurt, keep in mind that coconut yogurt is going to have added ingredients and sugar. Unfortunately, these additives mean that this option is not as healthy as almond or soy yogurt.
Notable Aspects: A distinctly sour taste, thin consistency
Sheep’s Milk Yogurt
Just because cow’s milk is generally preferred by yogurt makers doesn’t mean that it’s the best. If you’re looking for some variety in your life, sheep’s milk yogurt can be an excellent choice. It’s very similar to traditional options, but if you find yourself getting sick from cow’s milk, sheep milk may be a better option. Even better, this kind of yogurt has more B vitamins and riboflavin, making it a bit more nutrient-dense.
Sheep’s milk yogurt does have a higher fat content, but that helps it stay stable at higher temperatures. If you want to use yogurt for cooking, this version isn’t going to break down like others. However, if fat is a problem for you, you need to limit your intake.
Notable Aspects: Full of B vitamins, thick and creamy texture, high in fat
Goat’s Milk Yogurt
Like sheep’s milk, goat milk yogurt is ideal if you have a bad reaction to traditional yogurt varieties. In a study, 93 percent of infants were able to tolerate goat milk, even if they had trouble with cow’s milk. If you’ve ever had goat cheese, this yogurt is similar in that it’s thicker and creamier. However, if you don’t like the flavor of goat cheese, you will want to add some honey or fruit to offset the taste. As with sheep’s milk yogurt, this product has a higher fat content, although you can skim the top layer off to cut down on the amount.
Notable Aspects: Smooth, creamy texture, semi-sour taste