Of the many “super foods” out there, yogurt has been touted as one of the greatest: Packed with protein, Vitamin B, and potassium, the friendly bacteria in it also helps make it much more digestible than regular milk. Yogurt is also extremely versatile, and Northern Californians are extremely fortunate to have several dairies providing us with some of the finest cultured creaminess available.
And it’s very important to consider the quality of the yogurt one consumes: In describing Go-Gurts, Michael Pollan says “Sure, there is some yogurt in there, but there are also a dozen other things that aren’t remotely yogurt like” (In Defense of Food, p. 148). High Fructose Corn Syrup for sweetness, modified corn starch as a thickener, and tricalcium phosphate (bone ash?) are just of the few additives that make Pollan ask if Go-Gurts are a real food at all, or if they are a “food product” (149). So it is important to consider what ingredients are in your food, especially when something claims to be a heath food, in contrast to the natural product our ancestors knew and loved.
For instance, the contents of Yoplait’s Mixed Berry single serve yogurt include “Sugar, Blueberries, Modified Corn Starch, Nonfat Milk,” needs both Kosher Gelatin and Pectin to act as stabilizers. With 15 calories from fat and 26 grams of sugar, the total calories add up to 170… almost 10% of the USRDA for a ‘normal, 1500-2000 calorie diet, and 11% of that is the total carbs from sugar and fruit. All Natural Brown Cow’s Blueberry also has 26 grams of sugar, due to the “evaporated cane juice,” but has only 140 calories, due to being fat free.
In comparison, Marin County’s Straus Family Creamery, who can be found just up HWY 1 on Tomales Bay, is known for their traditional milk, ice cream and yogurts, relying upon “organic sugar,” berries and fruit juices to flavor their product, without any thickeners. Of course, even better is to use plain yogurt and add your own fresh nuts and berries, to reduce the sugar intake even more. 6 oz of Plain Straus Whole Milk Yogurt has a little over 5 grams of naturally occurring sugars, probably from lactase, and 127 calories, if my math is right. It’s also rich in riboflavin, naturally occurring calcium, and 9 g protein, while also packing a whopping 310g punch of potassium.
If one is seeking a non-bovine alternative, Glenn County’s Capretta Goat Yogurt is sure to be a hit. Tangy and rich, a 6 oz serving has 127 calories, 11 grams of protein, and 25% of the USRDA of calcium. Having only 4 grams of naturally occurring sugars, Capretta yogurt is extremely filling, as it contains 25 g fat. The ingredient list contains two things: “Grade A Pasteurized Goat Milk,” and “Live, Active Cultures.”
Being an excellent substitute for ice cream as a dessert, yogurt is incredible adaptable. It can be used as a substitute for mayonnaise on sandwiches and for dipping, and can be seasoned for a salad dressing. With capers, lemon garlic, and dill, even a tartar sauce substitute can be concocted: Here are a few of this foodie’s favorites:
Citrus sauce: mix 3/4 cup yogurt with 1 tsp each orange juice, lemon juice, and garlic, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Great for dipping artichokes or mixing up a shrimp salad.
Chipotle sauce: mix 1/2 cup plain yogurt with 1 tsp each chipotle and cilantro, 1 clove garlic, juice of 1/2 each lemon and lime, and a dash each of salt and pepper, Awesome For tacos, nachos, or even chicken skewers.
Tzatziki sauce: Skin and de-seed a small cucumber, chop it fine, and mix 2 cloves chopped garlic into 1 cup yogurt. Add 1 tsp dill, 1/4 tsp salt, 1 pinch cumin, a dash of cayenne and black pepper, and juice of 1/2 lemon.
Fruit salad dressing: Whisk 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 tbsp orange juice, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 tbsp honey. Add 1 tbsp mint, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg,
Real, natural yogurts are easy to find with the plethora of Whole Foods, Andronicos, and Trader Joes’ around the Bay Area and environs, and most smaller communities have places like Chico Natural Foods and S&S Produce that carry healthy alternatives. Another delicious, local yogurt producer is St. Benoit yogurt, from Sonoma.