Do you wander the yogurt aisle wondering which brands to choose and what to look for on a label? With the ever-increasing number of brands, flavours and claims, we thought we’d buy some samples of plain yogurt, do a little homework and then let our test panel of judges blind taste and evaluate the yogurt for overall taste. Here are our recommendations for what to look for on the shelf:

  • Ideally choose an unsweetened plain yogurt. It’s better to control the sweetness by adding your own sweetener in the form of fruit.
  • Choose a plain yogurt with fewer ingredients but a taste and consistency that you and your family enjoy. Thickeners and stabilizers are added to provide a creamy consistency without the fat but sometimes a little fat goes a long way in improving the taste of yogurt.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of choosing zero fat flavoured yogurts with teaspoons of sugar per serving – essentially switching sugar for fat. On the other hand, the higher fat Greek and Mediterranean style yogurts while delicious for dessert or dessert toppings can quickly bump up your saturated fat and calorie intake.
  • Since most Canadians are getting enough protein in their diets, be aware that Greek yogurts are thickened by concentrating the milk or by adding skim milk powder, boosting the protein content per serving and in some cases tripling it over regular yogurt.
  • Choose a yogurt made with milk fortified with vitamin D if you wish yogurt to be a source of vitamin D in your diet.
  • An increasing number of yogurts are probiotic. Consuming probiotic bacteria in your everyday yogurt will certainly do you no harm and may even do you some good so if it’s one you prefer, go ahead and enjoy it. While studies haven’t proven many of the health benefits attributed to these bacteria, Health Canada allows manufacturers to make one of four non-specific claims about their consumption (e.g. provides live microorganisms that contribute to healthy gut flora).
  • Plain yogurt may sound boring to those regularly buying flavoured yogurt but it’s worth trying different brands. While it’s not surprising that the two yogurts getting most thumbs up in our taste test were the full fat and the sweetened samples, our panelists had definite favourites among the other choices. 

That pretty well sums up our thoughts on yogurt.  For the really interested, read on… yogurttastetest

What is yogurt and how is it made?

Yogurt is simply milk fermented with bacterial cultures.  It’s a food that has been enjoyed by cultures around the world for thousands of years.  If you made it yourself, you would heat some milk to a given temperature, cool it, add to it a couple of spoonfuls of a yogurt with live bacteria or a freeze-dried starter culture, and then keep this mixture warm for several hours to allow fermentation to take place.  What happens during fermentation is that the bacteria convert some of the lactose (milk sugar) in the milk to lactic acid; giving yogurt it’s tangy flavour, and causing the milk proteins to gel, thickening or setting the yogurt. The initial heating, the fermentation temperature and the time influence the final consistency and flavour of the yogurt. The longer the fermentation the more acidic the finished product will taste. Commercially, of course the story is much more complicated and as anyone will notice reading labels, the processing and ingredients will generate a multitude of desirable (or undesirable) characteristics and flavours. One scan of the shelves in a medium sized supermarket, revealed over twenty different choices of plain yogurt (and that’s not counting all the flavours)!

So what are the ingredients in yogurt and why are they there?

Yogurt is made from milk (most often cows’ milk and fortified with Vitamin D and Vitamin A or not) and bacterial cultures, usually L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus. Ingredients are added to change the consistency, texture and flavour of yogurt. Thickening and stabilizing agents you may see on a label are skim milk powder, gelatin, pectin, agar, and modified cornstarch. Skim milk powder and whey protein concentrate boost the protein content.  Other ingredients are added to sweeten the yogurt; these include sucrose, fructose and artificial sweeteners.  Lactase (an enzyme) may be added to certain brands to reduce the lactose even further in a product for the lactose intolerant. 

Yogurt and nutrition

Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) lists the recommended number of food guide servings of milk and alternative products per day by age group and gender.  Adults require 3-4 servings, depending on their age and a CFG serving size of yogurt is ¾ cup or 175 grams.  Important nutrients in this food group are protein, fat (except low fat products), vitamins B2, B12, A and D, calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium.

What is probiotic yogurt?

Probiotics are defined as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”. According to Canada’s food labelling regulations, probiotic yogurt must contain at least one billion live probiotic bacteria per stated serving size throughout the product’s shelf life. The label must state the species of bacteria and the amount in CFU or colony-forming units. The two species of bacteria used to produce yogurt, L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus, are not considered probiotic. Manufacturers add approved probiotic bacteria, L.acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis, to yogurt so they can market their products as probiotic and make one of four approved health claims. Probiotic bacteria occur naturally in our digestive tracts and those added to yogurt are human derived.

Tasting panel results

Our four yogurt samples were: Astro’s Biobest; Skotidakis’ Greek Yogurt; Danone’s Oikos; and Danone’s Activia.  Not surprisingly, the two yogurts getting most thumbs up for taste were the full fat Skotidakis’ Greek Yogurt and the sweetened Danone’s Activia.  Interestingly, panelists either very much liked the richer full fat taste or really disliked it as Skotidakis was a favourite by four of our eleven but also rated as the least favourite by an equal number.  An equal number of adults as children chose the sweeter Activia brand as their favourite.  Astro’s Biobest (lactose-reduced) was often described as “bitter” or “sour” and came in last most frequently.

Yogurt Astro Skotidakis Danone Danone
Type & Serving size BioBest½ c-125g(¾ c – 175g) Greek Yogurt¾ c – 175g Oikos ¾ c – 175g Activia Per 100g(¾c – 175g)
Calories 70 (105) 270 100 80 (140)
FatSaturatedTrans 1.5g (2.25g)1g (1.5g)0g 16g10g0.5g 0g 3g (5g)2g (4g)0.1g (0.2g)
Cholesterol 10mg (15mg) 60mg 0mg 15mg (26mg)
Sodium 80mg (120mg) 140mg 85mg 45mg (79mg)
CarbohydratesFibreSugars 7g (10.5g)0g6g (9g) 21g1g11g 7g0g7g 10g (18g)0g (0g)10g (18g)
Protein 6g (9g) 11g 18g 4g (7g)
Vit. A 8% (12%) 15% 0% 2% (4%)
Vit. C 0% 0% 0% 0% (0%)
Calcium 15% (23%) 35% 20% 10% (18%)
Iron 0% 0% 2% 0% (0%)
Vit. B2 (Riboflavin) 10% (15%)     10% (18%)
Vit. B12 15% (23%)     15% (26%)
Biotin 8% (12%)      
Phosphorus       8% (14%)
Vitamin D 25% (38%)     15% (26%)
Magnesium       4% (7%)
Pantothenate 6% (9%)      

Astro – BioBest – probiotic yogourt, 90%Lactose Free, 7 essential vitamins & minerals, 1%M.F.
Ingredients: Skim Milk (vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin A (Beta Carotene), Vitamin D3), Cream, Whey Protein Concentrate, Milk Protein Concentrate, Agar, Pectin, Lactase, Active Bacterial Cultures. (Made with Vitamins A and D Fortified Skim Milk)

Skotidakis – Greek Yogurt, 9%M.F.
Ingredients: pasteurized skimmed milk, cream, active bacterial cultures, bifidobacterium lactis, L. Acidophilus

Danone – Oikos – Greek Yogurt, Fat Free, High in Protein
Ingredients: Skim Milk, Active Bacterial Cultures

Danone – Activia – Probiotic Yogurt with B.L. Regularis, 3.2% M.F., Sweetened, Mild and Creamy
Ingredients: skim milk, cream, sugar, milk and whey protein concentrate, modified corn starch, fructose, active probiotic culture (bifidobacterium, lactis DN-173 010), active bacterial cultures, gelatin, vitamin D3; Made with vitamin D Fortified Skim Milk





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