Creamy and tangy, yoghurt’s thicker sibling enhances your cooking.

AMERICANS spoon up so much yoghurt at breakfast, lunch and dinner that we spent US$7.3bil (RM23bil) on the tart stuff last year.

Its creamy texture and good-for-your-gut benefits are draws. So are the varieties: full fat, non-fat and low-fat; organic and conventional; honey sweetened or plain, fruit on the bottom or swirled throughout.

Among these cultured denizens of the dairy case, it’s Greek yoghurt that’s getting lots of attention.

Retail sales in the US of this thicker-than-regular yoghurt increased more than 50% in 2012 to reach US$1.6bil (RM5bil), according to Packaged Facts, a Rockville, Maryland, market researcher. Such numbers, they say, have pretzel, salad dressing and cereal-makers jumping on the Greek yoghurt bandwagon.

Greek yoghurt’s appeal is easy to understand. It’s deliciously thick and creamy, it plays well in recipes, its ingredient list is simple (milk plus live cultures) and its tartness dovetails with our fondness for fermented foods (pickles, beer, etc.).

“There’s been a lot of marketing with the Greek yoghurts. And people like the thick texture of the Greek variety,” says registered dietitian Sarah Krieger, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. “If you’re using Greek yoghurt in cooking, basically you can use it anywhere that sour cream is used.”

Subbing Greek yoghurt for sour cream in many recipes cuts calories and sodium, while delivering more protein. “If you’re making a cold soup that uses sour cream, I would swap it out for non-fat Greek yoghurt,” she says. “You’re getting more nutrition with the Greek yoghurt.”

Its acidity also works well as a marinade for meats and poultry. “It’s great for baked fish or chicken. If you’re using it instead of mayonnaise, you’re actually using less fat and you’re adding a little bit of protein and a little bit of calcium,” says Krieger, a St Petersburg, Florida, mum. She spreads yoghurt on whitefish, then mixes dried herbs with breadcrumbs or panko to sprinkle atop before baking.

“With yoghurt, almost anything goes, the possibilities of cooking with it are infinite,” wrote Arto Der Haroutunian in The Yogurt Cookbook: Recipes From Around the World (Interlink Books). The late author, restaurateur and artist suggested using it in place of cream, milk, buttermilk and sour cream.

“It makes an excellent marinade and goes well with vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, cheese and grains,” writes Der Haroutunian, whose book boasts 200-plus recipes, including a garlic sauce (yoghurt mixed with a crushed garlic clove, finely chopped green onion, a bit of salt and dried mint) for serving atop fried – we like grilled – slices of zucchini or eggplant.

Greek yoghurt, like regular yoghurt, can be temperamental in the presence of heat. If you’re using it in cooking, it will curdle if you cook it over high heat, says Krieger, who suggests using low heat or stirring Greek yoghurt into sauces at the end of cooking for texture and creaminess.

Nutritional differences between Greek and regular yoghurts are due in part to the number of times each is strained. Regular yoghurt is strained twice to remove liquid (called whey); Greek yoghurt is strained three times, which makes it thicker and sometimes tarter.

“Regular yoghurt has more whey, that is more of the liquid where most of the lactose – also known as the carbohydrate – is found,” says Krieger. “So when the whey is removed, you’re left with a higher concentration of protein. That’s why you’ll see more protein in nonfat Greek yoghurt than of the same amount of regular nonfat.

“People with lactose intolerance may find Greek yoghurt easier to digest,” she says since Greek yoghurt has less lactose (found in the whey).

Yet another reason to give tart, thick, creamy Greek yoghurt a role to play in your culinary creations.

Greek yoghurt in the kitchen

Plain Greek yoghurt’s thickness works for dips, on spicy foods, baked potatoes and adds another flavour dimension to some condiments (say, Dijon mustard or sriracha sauce). Remember:

  • Liquid (whey) may pool at the top of yoghurt. Dietitian Sarah Krieger says: It’s a good source of calcium so stir it back into the yoghurt.
  • Because yoghurt is acidic, use a nonreactive dish when marinating foods or storing yoghurt.
  • Overstirring yoghurt may thin its consistency.
  • It may be warmed gently, but do not boil.
  • To stabilise yoghurt for a dish that may be cooked at a higher heat, Der Haroutunian suggests: Stir one to two teaspoons flour into a little water then add to yoghurt before cooking. Or beat an egg into the yoghurt before cooking. – Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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