• Traditional Greek yoghurt is thickened by straining. (Janine via Flickr)
Why is this thick dollop so well-loved?
By
Charmaine Yabsley

5 Feb 2020 - 12:31 PM  UPDATED 6 Feb 2020 - 3:28 PM

What type of yoghurt do you prefer? Thick or thin? Fruity or unsweetened? Full-fat or low-fat? With so many options in the dairy aisle, it can be confusing when it comes to making the healthiest yoghurt choice.

One yoghurt that gets a lot of praise is Greek yoghurt. You might wonder, what is Greek yoghurt – and is it really better for you?

First up, what makes a yoghurt “Greek”? It’s the style. For a traditional Greek-style yoghurt, milk is cultured using a live bacterial culture; the yoghurt is then strained, removing most of the whey and liquid, leaving a thicker and more nutritious product. It’s style popular not just in Greece, but many countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. And while we commonly see Greek-style yoghurts made with cow's milk in Australia, sheep's milk has often been used for this thick dairy dollop. 

“From a nutritional perspective Greek yoghurt is jam-packed,” Accredited Practising Dietitian Themis Chryssidis tells SBS. “Like all yoghurt, it contains carbohydrate, B vitamins calcium, and potassium, which are all necessary for a healthy diet. It contains very little added sugar, plus it's really versatile.” With a low level of sugar, it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Greek yoghurt also has 4-8 g of protein per 100 g, which can help keep you fuller for longer.

Greek yoghurt can be used in many ways due to its low-water content. “From a cooking perspective, it's the thickest type of yoghurt you can buy,” says Chryssidis, who is also a co-founder, with Callum Hann, of Adelaide’s Sprout cooking school.  “It's good for cooking, to use when baking, as a marinade in Indian-style food, and for making dips. Due to its lower water content compared with other yoghurts, Greek yoghurt provides a texture which is similar to cream but much healthier and still excellent to cook with.”

Greek-style yoghurt is a key ingredient in this home-style Greek Chicken baked in yoghurt, kefalotiri and dill

 

Greek yoghurt and similar traditional styles are an integral part of the Mediterranean diet, which has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease in some populations and is also associated with a reduced incidence of several other health issues. “People in the Middle East and the Mediterranean don't just sit down and eat yoghurt,” says Chryssidis, who comes from a Greek family. “They'll eat it as part of sweet and savoury meals with grains, fruits, meats, and pulses, and often add spices, so there's lots of flavour. It's part of a complete meal.”

Research shows that including yoghurt in your diet can help with weight loss and may help relieve depression. Greek yoghurt is also packed full of probiotics, necessary for good gut health.

“Probiotics are healthy bacteria, which our guts need to help boost immunity and overall health,” says Chryssidis. “Our stomach naturally contains probiotics, but it is thought that eating foods with probiotics may help increase the number of in our gut. This hypothesis needs further research.  However, one promising area of research involving gut health is highlighting the importance of prebiotics in feeding and maintaining healthy probiotics.  Prebiotics are essentially non-digestible carbohydrates which provide an important energy source for our probiotics, so another reason why you shouldn’t cut the carbs! Eating yoghurt is more beneficial for you than taking a probiotic supplement; any food which contains healthy bacteria is preferable to a tablet because it provides you with other forms of nutrition and is much more enjoyable!”

So which Greek yoghurt should you choose? “Choose one that ideally has a lower fat and calorie content, but has a higher protein content,” he says. “At the same time, consider how you're going to use it: if you're including it in a dip, you'll want it a bit thicker; for cooking or adding to cereals or smoothies, you might want it a little thinner”. Looking at the label can also help you see if the yoghurt has been made the traditional way, getting its deliciously thick texture from straining, or by the addition of thickening agents.

Chryssidis recommends eating Greek yoghurt at least once a day to help maintain good gut health, and to add some variety, texture and taste to your meals. “It's such an easy way to gain so many health benefits, plus it tastes great,” he says. 

Lead image by Janine via Flickr. 

yoghurt in the kitchen
Sweet saffron yoghurt

Shrikand is a fantastic amalgam of thick creamy yoghurt, musky saffron, aromatic green cardamoms and nuts for texture. 

Poached eggs in yoghurt (çılbır)

This supremely satisfying breakfast dish of poached eggs with a yoghurt sauce really is fit for a king – there are records of it being cooked in the palace kitchens of Ottoman sultans dating back to the 15th century. The addition of the herb butter and Turkish chilli flakes is a more recent inclusion, but it adds just the right amount of kick to put a pep in your step in the morning.

Pork souvlaki with cucumber salad and tzatziki

Cretan food culture has a crystal-clear gender division that one does not want to mess with: women cook in the kitchen, men cook outdoors, in charge of meat. As a person with dubious macho credentials and a famous kitchen dweller, I was absolutely terrified cooking meat in the sun in the company of a bunch of famous local shepherds. Luckily, the souvlaki tasted good and I managed to win over the sceptics. You can do the same, trust me.

Feta and yoghurt dip

Here's an easy cheese dip recipe that is best served chilled with a loaf of crusty sourdough. You might also drizzle it over meat or salads. A few sprigs of mint add fabulous freshness.

Homemade yoghurt

Making yoghurt at home is easier than you think, but can also prove a little fickle. It is simply pure milk heated and inoculated with a particular bacteria, that then has the full freedom of the medium to convert the lactose into lactose acid. However, while the natural bacteria in milk is good for cheese making, the same cannot be said for yoghurt. Therefore, the milk needs to be heated to a high temperature to knock out all the bacteria before you then add the good bacteria – either from your previous batch of yoghurt or a good-quality commercial live yoghurt (check the label to ensure it only contains milk solids and live yoghurt cultures – no flavours, emulsifiers or thickeners).