greek yogurt: what’s real & what’s not

You can imagine the amount of time a room full of dietitians can spend talking about food. Yesterday at my internship, we got on the topic of Greek yogurt after someone discovered we had 7 different types in the refrigerator… totally normal for a room full of dietitians. One of the pediatric RDs started comparing ingredient labels which led to a mini-lesson on the difference between true Greek yogurt and Greek-style yogurt.

GreekyogurtTrue Greek yogurt traditionally involves an expensive straining process which filters out excess water concentrating the yogurt which makes it thicker, more tart and higher in protein than traditional yogurt.

There currently is no legal definition for Greek yogurt so certain companies have found cheaper ways to produce yogurts with similar texture and taste and still get away with calling it Greek, or Greek-style yogurts. They do this mostly by adding milk protein concentrates (MPCs), whey protein concentrates (WPCs) as protein-enhancing fillers and thickeners like gelatin or modified cornstarch to traditional yogurt.

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Disappointing, isn’t it?

Below is a list of some of the major brands of Greek yogurt & their ingredients. You’ll notice they’re all plain yogurt because many with fruit have thickeners added already. I underlined the additives to make it easy on you since it is Friday and all.

  • FageIngredients: Grade A Pasteurized Milk and Cream, Live Active Yogurt Cultures: L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei.
  • Chobani Non-fat Plain Yogurt - Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Nonfat Milk. Live And Active Cultures: S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus And L. Casei.
  • Stonyfield Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt - Ingredients: Cultured Pasteurized Organic Nonfat Milk, Cultures: S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus And L. Casei.
  • Dannon Oikos Plain Nonfat Greek - Ingredients: Milk Non-Fat Grade A Cultured, Yogurt Cultures Active.
  • Wallaby Organic Plain Greek Yogurt - Ingredients: Milk Low-Fat Cultured Pasteurized (Organic), Live Active Cultures: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, S Thermophilus, Bifidus.
  • Trader Joe’s Greek-style Yogurt - Ingredients: Grade A Pasteurized Skim Milk, Live and Active Cultures: S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus. Cultured after pasteurization.
  • Athenos Greek Strained Yogurt - Ingredients: Milk Non-Fat Pasteurized Cultured, Contains Live Active Cultures: L-Bulgaricus, S Thermophilus.
  • Brown Cow All Natural Greek Nonfat Plain Yogurt - Ingredients: Milk Non-Fat Pasteurized Cultured, Contains Live Active Cultures : S. Thermophilus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casei.
  • Safeway’s Lucerne Plain, Nonfat Greek Yogurt - Ingredients: Cultured, Pasteurized Grade A Non Fat Milk, Milk Protein Concentrate, Organic Corn Starch, vitamin A acetate, Vitamin D3, Active live cultures L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus.
  • Yoplait Plain Greek Yogurt - Ingredients: Milk Non-Fat Grade A Pasteurized Cultured, Milk Protein Concentrate, Gelatin Kosher, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3.
  • Cabot Greek-style Yogurt - Ingredients: Pasteurized milk, cream, Whey protein concentrate, Milk protein concentrate, Live Active Yogurt Cultures: Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus, Vitamins A,C,D,E.

It’s funny this should come up because last week I wrote about cornstarch and its creepy presence in processed foods. I’ve learned that many MPCs used in commercial food products come from ultra-filtered skim milk from outside of the United States. More on that here but it seems the importing of these MPCs is a fairly unregulated business.

The last three brands all add MPCs, two also add thickeners and there are likely many more out there what are posing to be the real thing.

There’s no doubt Greek yogurt is pricier than regular. It takes a lot more work, time and milk to make true Greek yogurt. You’d think the brands using MPCs and thickeners would be less expensive but I haven’t really noticed a difference in price between the real Greek yogurt and imitation stuff, have you?

Regardless,  I know I’ll definitely be reading the ingredient lists more closely now and choosing the additive-free Greek brands from now on when at all possible.

Questions of the day: 

  • Do you think these brands adding protein concentrates & thickeners are misleading customers that are trying to make healthier choices?
  • Are these brands using additives entitled to call it Greek yogurt since there’s no actual legal definition?
  • What are your thoughts on MPCs? I know very little about them but the apparent lack of regulation on imports kind of scares me a little bit!

P.S. More on the additive dispute from NPR including a lawsuit that’s happening.

42 Comments on greek yogurt: what’s real & what’s not

  1. Matilda
    May 27, 2014 at 12:31 am (4 months ago)

    Hi so is Chobani plan one healthy to eat. I havent had yogurt for a long time because i cant find natural ones?

    Reply
  2. Alex
    April 22, 2014 at 8:28 am (5 months ago)

    Cabot Greek “style” yogurt is the best smoothie ingredient I’ve ever tried. I go through about 2 tubs a week, and go out of my way to find it. I don’t give two craps if it has some whey protein added to it to make it taste like nectar from the gods. If you’re some anti-whey activist, you don’t have to buy it. Meanwhile, these people trying to sue Cabot for “inauthentic” ingredients are going to ruin the best tasting yogurt on the market. Maybe they can call it “sharp yogurt”, or “pick your battles yogurt”… Whatever happens, Cabot makes the best tasting yogurt and they know it. I hope they keep doing their thing.

    Reply
    • Aida
      June 18, 2014 at 7:46 am (3 months ago)

      I’ll have to try it in my next smoothies. I’ve been enjoying it plain with granola. I really love my cabot greek yogurt. To me it’s the best I’ve tasted so far.

      Reply
  3. archana@theperfectzest
    April 17, 2014 at 11:44 am (5 months ago)

    The chobani yogurts that come with fruit on the bottom (mango, peach, apricot) don’t have any pectin listed, but should I assume there is based on what you are saying here?

    Reply
    • jidahop
      August 7, 2014 at 2:13 am (1 month ago)

      Pectin occurs naturally in fruits

      Reply
  4. Kaley
    January 16, 2014 at 11:13 pm (8 months ago)

    In your professional opinion… 0%, 2%, or full fat Greek yogurt? I’ve read fat content can make a difference with GI symptoms…
    I was eating Greek yogurt at least once daily then started with some fun GI distress… My yogurt consumption has ceased…

    Reply
  5. Andrea Heatherington
    October 3, 2013 at 3:30 pm (12 months ago)

    BTW Chobani 2% milk fat yogurt is and Stoneyfield 0% are wonderful!!!!!

    Reply
  6. Andrea Heatherington
    October 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm (12 months ago)

    I would like to add, for people on lower carb diets/lifestyle, yogurts with no added whey ( to thicken ) and MPC’s, and that contain LIVE ACTIVE CULTURES, almost always have less carbsthan listed on the nutrition facts. This happens because the added live active cultures feed on lactose, thus reducing carbs while fermenting and even after it is packaged and sitting in cold storage. Sometimes, especially in naturally strained Greek yogurt, reducing a 1cup serving up to 8gr carbs, from 12gr to only 4gr carbs. But it must contain LIVE AND ACTIVE CULTURES, NOT JUST THE CULTURES USED TO MAKE THE MILK INTO YOGURT INITIALLY.

    Reply
  7. CED
    August 31, 2013 at 8:31 pm (1 year ago)

    What about Oikos? And, which yogurts DO NOT use insects for coloring?

    Thanks

    Reply
  8. Krista
    August 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm (1 year ago)

    What is your opinion of the dannon light and fit greek yogurt? It contains modified cornstarch but it has less sugar and calories than some of the brands you listed. What’s a better trade off less sugar and calories or no modified ingredients?

    Reply
    • elle | nutritionella
      August 30, 2013 at 2:08 pm (1 year ago)

      Hi Krista,
      I used to eat it all the time! Over the years I’ve been trying to get off the artificial sweeteners though and my yogurt was the first thing to change. Personally, I now prefer less additives and more natural ingredients (i.e. real sugar, no starches) and definitely low-fat compared to non-fat. From what I’ve experienced, filling up on fillers and artificial sweeteners definitely leaves me feeling less satisfied than the real thing.

      Reply
  9. Dan
    August 20, 2013 at 3:04 am (1 year ago)

    “Trader Joe’s Greek style plain yogurt” container changed about six months or so ago. The ingredients are the same and the “nutrition facts” are exactly the same. The name changed to “Trader Joe’s plain greek yogurt” the shape of the container also changed. Oh and the word “Strained” is missing even though Trader Joe’s still discribe it as “…where yogurt is a thick, creamy concoction with the consistency of sour cream…”. That statement couldn’t be farther from the truth, the yogurt actually seeps through my strainer and twice as much whey drains out than the original “TJ’s greek style yogurt”. I was so disappointed it made me break down and finally make my own yogurt last night, very tasty and it’s thicker than TJ’s without being strained.

    Reply
  10. AnneMargar
    July 30, 2013 at 10:23 am (1 year ago)

    Thank you for posting this article. I was eating my Oikos Toasted Coconut Greek Yogurt and trying to figure out if it was all natural. I guess in the future I should stick with the plain greek yogurt and add in my own flavors. Thanks again!

    Reply
  11. BreakTheChains
    June 29, 2013 at 6:51 am (1 year ago)

    Hello and thanks for the info.

    Just would like to point out that one of the brands above, Brown Cow, lists pectin among the ingredients for all their yogurts (according to their website). Your notes above for that yogurt don’t have pectin listed. Pectin is a thickener. Also L. Casei bacteria is not used in their yogurt.

    Real Greek yogurt does not have anything added aside from whole milk and live cultures. Straining is done to several consistencies, depending on what it is to be used for. The thickest, cream cheese-like consistency might have salt added to it.

    Cheers,
    BTC

    Reply
  12. SandyPenny
    June 24, 2013 at 6:05 pm (1 year ago)

    Is Chobani your favorite?

    Reply
    • elle
      June 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm (1 year ago)

      I love both Chobani and Fage. :)

      Reply
  13. Kjelstad
    June 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm (1 year ago)

    They get away with it by calling it “Greek Style” yogurt.

    I have finally figured out that I like the Phage with a couple spoons of local honey and a few drops of vanilla in it. Some fruit or granola doesn’t hurt either. (Banana Nut Granola, Yum!)

    Reply
  14. Deanna Eagles
    June 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm (1 year ago)

    I meant to say unless they haven’t had the real thing yet. sorry

    Reply
    • elle
      June 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm (1 year ago)

      I hear you loud and clear – it’s definitely false advertising in my eyes.

      Reply
  15. Deanna Eagles
    June 19, 2013 at 2:56 pm (1 year ago)

    Labeling a regular yogurt with thickening agents and calling it Greek Yogurt because it is thick sounds like false advertising to me. I bought the new Activia Greek and it tastes terrible. I don’t think they will fool anyone unless they have had the real thing first. If so no way can they pass this off as anything similar to Greek Yogurt!

    Reply
  16. William
    May 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm (1 year ago)

    It is definitely and deliberately misleading so the food companies can capitalize on the healthier market trend but still sell bogus junk food under disguise. It is sad that lawyers and bureaucrats are the ones imposing the choices in the food industry on the consumers. There is no real truth in advertising when it comes to food in the USA, those who attempt it are usually sued out of business, their livelihoods wrecked, imprisoned or at best if they can afford it, have to pay exorbitant fines to thieving regulatory agencies and their corporate cronies

    Reply
  17. Richard
    April 30, 2013 at 6:36 am (1 year ago)

    For anyone who has been to Greece, you will find that there is no such thing as non-fat Greek yogurt. I have found that “The Greek Gods” brand (plain) comes the closest to real Greek yogurt. I just get real upset at the brands such as the one’s that Jamie lee Curtis is hawking along with John Stammos, trying to convince the American public that Greek style non-fat yogurt is the real stuff. Real Greek yogurt really only has real whole mik, cream and yogurt cultures, so come on, quite trying to fool the public. Also try plain with just a drizzle of honey…….yummy

    Reply
  18. Kjelstad
    April 23, 2013 at 9:40 am (1 year ago)

    I usually just look at the protein content when deciphering the “Greekness” of a yogurt.

    I tried the plain and had to add a bottle of maple syrup to choke it down. I will continue to buy the vanilla and add fruit/granola. You cant expect a guy to switch straight to plain yogurt after eating double cheeseburgers at every meal for the past few decades.

    Reply
    • elle
      April 23, 2013 at 10:56 am (1 year ago)

      Just keep in mind some companies add whey to increase the protein content – more isn’t always better!

      I think flavored yogurts + fresh fruit and granola is a great breakfast/snack – even for the healthiest eaters in the world :)

      Reply
  19. Jeff
    April 23, 2013 at 3:57 am (1 year ago)

    The greek list is no longer accurate. I just bought Fage Fruyo 0% fat greek yogurt and it has corn starch in it. Maybe there is a more up to date list somewhere.

    Reply
    • elle
      April 23, 2013 at 5:19 am (1 year ago)

      Hi Jeff! Thanks for the comment. The plain Fage still has no cornstarch – it’s the fruit in the Fruyo. Cornstarch is commonly used to thicken pureed fruit in yogurts. I recommend buying the plain and adding fresh fruit instead!

      Reply
  20. Kjelstad
    April 15, 2013 at 11:00 am (1 year ago)

    We have a couple local companies ‘The Greek Gods’ and ‘Zoi’ that make “Greek Style” yogurt. the word “style” raised my suspicions and I did the research.

    Now that my wife is dieting she got on a Greek yogurt kick, but when I told her she was not eating Greek yogurt she didn’t believe me. I went and bought the Dannon brand (vanilla). I showed her it was non fat and it had twice the protein, then she tasted it. She will still doubt me in the future I’m sure but she loves it.

    I have a tub of Fage plain that neither of us has tried yet, but I am not a big fan of plain yogurt. do you mix anything into it or do people prefer it plain? Maybe Greek plain will be better.

    Reply
  21. Jenny
    March 11, 2013 at 10:20 am (2 years ago)

    Why doesn’t Dannon Oikos list the exact ingrediance in terms of the 5 cultures? Do you know what they are? Not on your list above either.

    Reply
  22. Wendy Bohl
    February 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm (2 years ago)

    I have been buying Stonyfield products and love the taste and texture. I buy it mostly for the cultures. Stonyfield is so good I don’t need to try another brand.

    Reply
  23. Leslie Clark
    February 25, 2013 at 2:05 pm (2 years ago)

    About making greek-style yogurt at home – this is how we did it in college in the ’70s, before there were machines. I learned this from my Persian boyfriend at the time. Scald a big pot of milk (skim is fine). Cool it a bit. Add a couple blobs of plain yogurt, stir it a bit. Cover the pot, wrap it in a towel (he usually used his bathrobe), and set it some where out of drafts, like on top of the refridgerator. The next day, it will be cultured but pretty soft. Dump it into a clean pillow-case (you might find something better to use these days). Hang it over the sink to strain by tying it to the faucet. The longer it strains, the thicker it gets. A few hours. Transfer it to covered plastic tubs and refridgerate it. Add a spoonful of your favorite jam to each serving. Cheap.

    Reply
  24. Jeni
    February 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm (2 years ago)

    I’ve jut tried Greek yogurt for the first time and I love it. The one I have is the Dannon Oikos plain non fat version. The only ingredient listed is cultured grade a non fat milk. Is this considers Greek yogurt or one of the many “off brands”? When I was in the store choosing one to try I passed up the chobani brand because of all the things listed and the higher calorie count. Is chobani good as well and I’m just freaking out over nothing or should I switch up my yogurt?

    Reply
  25. Nancy Murphy
    February 7, 2013 at 6:29 am (2 years ago)

    OK. I have a new Euro Cuisine “Automatic Yogurt Maker” Model YM 100. Following their directions, I used a quart of Plain Silk Soy Milk and 5 tbs of Cabot Greek Yogurt Plain (10% milkfat). “Yogurt may be made with milk of any fat content, even nonfat milk.”

    I heated the milk to 180 degrees, set it in cold water and cooled it to 110 degrees, as per directions. I then added 5 tbs of Cabot Greek Yogurt Plain (10% milk fat) and beat it in the pan … “until smooth.” That’s where I got into trouble. The pan was not tall enough to allow what I think would have been the proper “smoothness.” I ended up with twice the amount … almost 2 quarts. Disastrous results. I filled the 7 jars, put them in the unit and covered it. I saved the rest of the foamy stuff in the refrig. I turned the unit’s button all the way to # 15. The little red light did not turn on. After 3 hours, the little jars were foamy, but the button had not moved down from the # 15 level and the little red light had not yet come on. I pushed it again and it went on. I waited a couple of hours. Nothing. So I unplugged the unit, pitched the contents and washed everything. Can you give some advice? Hope so!
    Nancy

    Reply
  26. jt
    January 3, 2013 at 11:11 am (2 years ago)

    Kinda disappointed now because for about 1yr I’ve been buying Aldi’s Greek Yogurt.. pretty much since they started selling it. I read the ingredients today and noticed “Corn starch” was listed which made me question why. At $0.89 a pop, I figured I was getting a deal. Not any more, I’ll now vie for the better and purer Greek yogurts from other companies which usually go on sale for $1.00

    Reply
  27. Amy
    October 17, 2012 at 4:37 pm (2 years ago)

    Great post, Elle! It’s so important for consumers to know exactly what’s going into their Greek yogurt, so thanks for helping to educate your readers. Three cheers for real Greek yogurt! Hope you’re having a great week. :)

    Amy
    @Chobani

    Reply
  28. Ali @ WHOLEistically Fit
    October 9, 2012 at 4:58 pm (2 years ago)

    Love this! Thanks for sharing your R.D.-in-training knowledge… I’m a total nerd for info. like this :D. I find it so interesting and fascinating. I’m a Fage fan. They sell it at Costco in bulk, which really helps to cut costs when you can’t find it on sale.

    Reply
  29. Lauren
    October 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm (2 years ago)

    Never knew this, so interesting! Fage is my favorite, although it is pricy! Last week it was on sale for $1/container and I bought 22, yep!

    Reply
  30. Nina @ Sweating It
    October 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm (2 years ago)

    Love this post! I’ve always tried to steer away from additives … though my fiance jokingly complains about my Greek Yogurt “habit.”

    Just like there is a legal standard for what makes a Kentucky Bourbon different from other whiskeys, and why any sparkling wine made outside of Champagne, France, can’t be called Champagne (hm, interesting that these standards exist for alcohol, mostly…), these brands should stick to their guns and provide consumers with a healthy product.

    Stacy comments above that TJ’s Greek Yogurt is much cheaper than the leading brands- definitely true. I think it’s gross though! Extremely bitter and weird consistency even when combining with fruits or honey for sweetness. TJ’s has some not-so-wonderful manufacturing/buying processes, and I’ve heard they don’t have the greatest relationships with their farmers.

    I would be interested if you did a post on where these brands get their milk. It’s something I think about so rarely but something I think matters a lot.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  31. Piper
    October 5, 2012 at 11:34 am (2 years ago)

    I had no idea! I’ve been eating Greek yogurt everyday for a while now too! What brand would you recommend for real Greek yogurt?

    Reply
    • elle
      October 5, 2012 at 3:53 pm (2 years ago)

      I personally prefer the brands without the added protein and thickeners, so any of the ones listed with the exception of the last 3 would be okay with me :)

      Reply
  32. Erica {EricaDHouse.com}
    October 5, 2012 at 10:20 am (2 years ago)

    Spectacular post – definitely passing along to my bf who eats Greek Yogurt daily! I may have missed it, but do you recommend a ‘real’ greek yogurt brand?

    Reply
    • elle
      October 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm (2 years ago)

      I prefer the more natural Greeks without additives. Their taste and texture are definitely superior in my opinion. I personally love Chobani, Brown Cow and Stonyfield brands.

      Reply
  33. Stacy
    October 5, 2012 at 10:16 am (2 years ago)

    Interesting! I had no idea that all Greek yogurts weren’t the “real” stuff. Trader Joe’s brand is definitely cheaper than Fage and Chobani and it looks like they’re still making it by the book but I prefer the consistency of Fage and Chobani better… not sure what the difference in manufacturing is!

    Reply

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