Friday, June 20, 2008

Taste Test Results in Yogurt Over-consumption

Since I started YoBlog, a yogurt taste test has been in the forefront of my mind. YoBlog is about a yogurt quest, and nothing embodies that journey more than sitting down with cups upon cups of yogurt and searching for the true best yogurt.

Through the taste test, I had hoped to pinpoint the best of the best yogurt with an easy-to-explain methodology and a definitive outcome. The taste test was to be no frills: no sweeteners, fruits, or chocolate to mask the authentic taste of the yogurt.

I rounded up eight types of plain yogurt for the taste test: Cultural Revolution, Siggi's Skyr, Horizon, Wallaby, Stonyfield, Brown Cow Cream Top, Whole Foods 365, and Seven Stars Farm. Some were nonfat, some lowfat, and some quite fatty. (Brown Cow and Seven Stars, I'm looking at you!)

Here's a music video I made of the experience:

Like Fools Rushing In

So, I made a few mistakes. First and foremost, too much yogurt. At the midpoint, I thought I was going to throw up, and I relied on sheer stubbornness to get through the taste test. I only had a dollop or two of each type and cleansed my pallet throughout the taste test, but there's only so much no-nonsense yogurt a yogurt-lover can stomach.

Next - and this may have contributed to the first point - I failed to check that the yogurts were fresh. This was only a problem with Cultural Revolution: I couldn't tell if it expired or if rank was the actual flavor. Unfortunately, Cultural Revolution was the first yogurt I tried, so that flavored the rest of the taste test. I shudder thinking about that yogurt.

Ultimately, while I expected a range of tastes, smells, and textures, the yogurts were more alike than different. Cultural Revolution was the clear loser. Seven Stars stood out as the best, but if you want to avoid the 11 grams of fat in a serving of Seven Stars, Siggi's Skyr is a stellar nonfat alternative. Brown Cow deserves an honorable mention.

To be truthful, though, Brown Cow, Horizon, Whole Foods 365, and Stonyfield were so similar that it was hard to tell them apart.

I started the taste test with high expectations: an objective, systematic test tempered by my own yogurt authority would give rise to a compelling narrative and a definitive outcome. By the end, high expectations morphed into a stomach ache that left me in the fetal position on the couch with a lot of cognitive confusion. What happened? Can I make it to the toilet if I have to throw up? How will I write this up on the blog?

At least I have plenty of yogurt for YoBlog's first recipe review this weekend.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Update on TangySweet

Demand something of Tom Angell and he delivers.

By the way, doesn't Tom look like a food critic?

As you may remember, I asked Tom to check out TangySweet, a new fro-yo joint that's just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Tom's office, and write YoBlog's first store review. Well, he went and sent me some notes along with this tidbit:
I went to TangySweet today and took some notes for you. Sorry that I prolly don't have time to write up a legit post, but you can feel free to edit this and/or quote any of it if you want to put it up on the blog :-)
As if yogurt isn't the most important thing in the world. Sheesh.

Seriously, Tom, thanks for taking a break from saving the world to write about yogurt.

I interviewed Tom's notes; here's my report.

YoBlog (YB): So, Tom's notes, tell me Tom's first impression of TangySweet.

Tom's notes (TN): TangySweet's got a very friendly staff, who were eager to give small taste samples and explain what toppings they have. Everything seemed to be running smoothly after less than a full week in business - except the credit card machine wasn't working.

YB: Bummer about the credit card machine. Was Tom able to scrape a few dollars together to get some yogurt?

TN: Yes, although he had to steal some money off of Dave Borden's desk.

YB: Well, that's O.K. Dave won't notice anyway. I heard he's misplaced checks in that office of his anyways. So, what did Tom have?

TN: After sampling some flavors, he settled on the green tea flavored yogurt and fresh fruit toppings. He liked it so much that he jumped with joy and shouted, "This is the perfect delicious, refreshing treat on a hot DC afternoon!"

YB: Wow, sounds like Tom had a great time. Any complaints?

TN: Tom found the menu to be a little sparse. He thought they could use more side items or a variety of drinks besides just the yougurt, toppings, smoothies, and water that they have now.

YB: What about the price? Some of these fro-yo joints try to charge you an arm and a leg.

TN: Relatively expensive next to TCBY, but comparable to Red Mango and Pink Berry. Tom paid $5.50 plus tax for a medium yogurt with three toppings. (Sorry, Dave.)

YB: What was the highlight? Besides Tom peeing his pants from the excitement of it all?

TN: Let's see. "Excellent selection of fruit toppings" got four exclamation marks (!!!!), so I'd have to say that. Like all the hot fro-yo joints, TangySweet's got a good selection of junkfood toppings too, like chocolate chips and all the sugary childhood cereals.

YB: Well, Tom's notes, we're out of time. Wrap it up for us.

TN: Overall, TangySweet is an enjoyable consumer experience with delicious yogurt. While Tom will probably go back for more, he hopes they expand their menu as they get the hang of things.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

WaPo on Yogurt

It looks like the Washington Post is following in my footsteps and jumping on the yogurt bandwagon! Tom, I expect your field report by the end of the week!
West Coast Yogurt Trend Arrives in Dupont Circle

Wednesday, June 11, 2008; F04

Washington native Aaron Gordon was ready to come home after 10 years in Los Angeles. But the entertainment marketing executive made sure to bring a taste of the West Coast with him. Last week he opened TangySweet, a shop in Dupont Circle offering the slightly sour frozen yogurt that has surpassed even cupcakes as a cult food.

TangySweet rides the wave of several trends. The stunningly modern shop, designed by local architectural firm Kube Architecture, is eco-friendly: the floors are concrete and the tables are made of recycled acrylic (lighting inside the translucent tables slowly changes color). The yogurt is all natural, made by a Virginia farm, and at least some of the toppings -- a rotating menu of berries, kiwi, pineapple, granola, nuts and cereals including Cap'n Crunch -- are local, when possible.

The yogurt comes in three flavors: classic (sour slightly lemony), a subtle green tea and a sweeter pomegranate. The texture is slightly icier than in versions by competitors Red Mango and Pinkberry. "We aimed for something crisper and cleaner: a tangy burst followed by a clean finish," Gordon says. "That lets the toppings, especially the berries, be the star of the show."

There are three sizes: 5-ounce ($2.50), 8-ounce ($3.50) and 13-ounce ($4.50). Toppings cost 95 cents each or $2 for three. There are also smoothies, a blend of fruit and yogurt, for $4.50 to $5.50.

Gordon says he hopes to open two more stores by next summer. He is looking at locations in Penn Quarter and Columbia Heights, though no leases have been signed.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rachel's: Wickedly Above Average

The blogosphere's been buzzing over Rachel's Wickedly Delicious Yogurt, a UK fave that debuted in the States in 2007, with words like "yummy," "yum," and "yummo" as well as "healthful" and "nutritious." Rachel's is definitely a strong, tasty yogurt, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it the "world's best yogurt," as one blogger does.

Aromatherapy in a Cup?

At about $1 a cup, Rachel's is reasonably priced. Otherwise, this is not a sensible yogurt. The two lines - Essence and Exotic - scream free-spirit silliness and nonsense to me. Rachel's describes Essence as "blissfully blended mood-inspiring yogurt, the essence of scrumptious satisfaction" and Exotic as "luscious blended yogurt inspired by the planet's most alluring fruits and flavors."

Here's one blogger's take on this:
I couldn't agree more.

Well, I decided to give it a try. It couldn't be worse than the goat yogurt of yore.

Rachel and the Giant Peach

I started with the Peach Green Tea - aka Revive - of the Essence line. The "all-natural" ingredients include grade A pasteurized nonfat milk, evaporated cane juice, peaches, green tea, cream, fructan, natural flavors, pectin, agar, DHA algal oil, annatto extract, vitamin D3, and live and active cultures. That's a lot of "all-natural" stuff I had to Wikipedia. All-natural and simple are not one in the same when it comes to the marketing of food.

The yogurt was a pleasant peach color with a pleasant peach smell. The taste was more peach than green tea, but Rachel's is definitely distinct from other peaches out there. The uniqueness of Rachel's is subtle, so all I'll say is it's different and better than the mainstream of Yoplait and Dannon. That said, it's still a tad too sweet for my taste buds.

Here's how Rachel's describes the experience of eating the Peach Green Tea:
Get up and groove. Sweet peachy pleasure gets lively with jazzy notes of natural green tea. Bring on the day.

Someone in marketing needs to stop smoking the ganja.

Onto the Exotic Pomegranate Blueberry. This one had the same creamy and luscious consistency as the peach as well as the same heavy taste. I found the Exotic even sweeter than the Essence. The blueberry was stronger than the pomegranate, but both were outshone by the sweetness of the yogurt. In the end, I preferred the Peach Green Tea over the Pom Blueberry.

What does Rachel's think of the Pomegranate Blueberry? Break free from the berry-blend blahs. Classic blueberry meets sassy pomegranate in an unexpected burst of pure fruity exuberance. My earlier point stands.

A few spoonfuls into the Exotic, I realized that Rachel's would be better as a dessert yogurt than a snack or breakfast yogurt. The taste is too rich and sweet for a pick-me-up.

Healthful, Schmealthful

While Rachel's Wickedly Delicious may be a more healthful dessert than German Chocolate Cake, Twinkies, or a pint of Häagen-Dazs, it's not that healthful as far as yogurts go. It's got some good stuff like calcium; vitamins A, C, and D; and omega-3; but it's also got a lot of sugar - 26 grams - with only seven grams of protein.

If you're looking for a healthful yogurt, go nonfat Greek or skyr. If you're looking for something sweet with a strong, distinct taste that's health-neutral, Rachel's it is.

I still have a few flavors in my fridge - Plum Honey Lavender (aka Calm), Kiwi Passion Fruit Lime, and Vanilla Chai (aka Relax) - and I plan to try them all. Let us know what you think of Rachel's, and be on the lookout for our first blind taste test!

In conclusion, here's a photo of our cat Osca, also a yogurt enthusiast:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Probiotics Go Viral

Current TV, a peer-to-peer news and information network, ran this take on the marketing on yogurt on May 9, 2008. Within weeks, the story went viral. I track yogurt in the news and on the Internet through a Google Alert, and the story popped Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. After a friend forwarded me the story, I felt it my duty to share it with you all.

I'd like to think I'm above the fray because I haven't tried Activia (though just typing the word makes my brain sing Ac-tiv-iaaaaa like they do in their commercials) and you won't find Dannon or Yoplait in my fridge. Alas, I do wear sweats and a gray hoodie while I eat yogurt, but at least I don't have a Masters!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I Finally Met a Yogurt I Didn't Like

Since the start of YoBlog, I have had the opportunity to connect with others who share an affection for the sweet yet tangy treat. Some are new acquaintances - like Giselle, one of the most friendly and efficient check-out artists at Whole Foods, who is also a yogurt admirer. Many are old friends - like Damien who shares my fondness for the flavor maple. And a few are family.

A Family Affair

Yogurt is one of my mother-in-law Bonnie's favorite foods. So, when we trekked out to her house to celebrate Mother's Day, YoBlog was forefront in my thoughts.

You need to understand that Bonnie is a creative, venturous, and skilled chef. Enthusiasm coupled with culinary curiosity and an innovative spirit inspire Bonnie to create her favorite foods. She's not satisfied to have samosas in India or empanadas in Latin America. She wants to have them in her own kitchen, at her own table. Yogurt is no exception.

Eager to tell Bonnie about the blog and suggest an article on her homemade yogurt technique, I brought up YoBlog immediately. As Bonnie and I talked about all the possibilities, she mentioned an attempt at homemade yogurt made earlier in the week.

She opened the refrigerator, pulled out a 32-ounce container, and removed the lid, revealing a mountain of yogurt made from goat's milk. Apparently, Bonnie had to add gelatin to the yogurt after it didn't congeal properly with rennet. So the texture was weird: think yogurt meets Jell-O. The taste, though, was intriguing. Extremely tart and sour, the yogurt had a hint of sweetness similar to goat cheese.

Go Go Goat Yogurt

This reminded me of Redwood Hill Farm, a California farm and creamery that produces goat cheese and yogurt. Inspired by Bonnie's experiment, I picked up their plain and strawberry yogurts at the Whole Foods, each $1.99. Vanilla is also available, as well as blueberry, cranberry-orange, and apricot-mango.

I chose to start with the plain. I approached it with interest and skepticism. The yogurt had the typical tangy smell and its texture smoothed as I stirred the yogurt. Much thinner than skyr or Greek yogurt, the yogurt ran off my spoon some. As I brought the spoon to my mouth, I expected a creamy balance between tart and sour and sweet.

My immediate thought: yuck.

The taste: goat cheese gone bad. Why I was surprised is a mystery. The tang that makes yogurt yogurt is in other foods the striking sign of spoil. Add the tang of yogurt to goat cheese and rancid is the word that comes to my mind. Actually, yuck was the word:

After two or three spoonfuls, I threw the cup of plain away.

A Second Chance

Since America is the land of second chances, I decided to give the strawberry a try, after I drank two or three cups of water to cleanse my pallet.

Like the plain, the strawberry had the typical scent and textu
re of yogurt. The fruit was on the bottom; I swirled the strawberries and sweet goo into the yogurt, and their sugariness shone through and mitigated some of the tang.

My first spoonful of the strawberry was better than the plain. The berries competed with the taste of cheese in the yogurt for the attention of my taste buds.

The sweet goo reminded me of the Smucker's-like stuff you find at the bottom of many yogurts. I took a look at the ingredients. Next to Siggi's, no awards for simplicity here: honey, strawberries, water, apple juice concentrate, natural flavors, pectin, locust bean gum, vegetable juice, and citric acid.

In a way, the strawberry was like a goat cheese dessert with berries and honey. I wanted to like it and I almost did. Ultimately, though, sweetness is no mask for a funky and offensive taste. I ate about half of the strawberry.

Cut the Cheese

So, I finally found a yogurt I didn't like. That said, if you like your yogurt cheesy, I recommend you try the goat yogurt from Redwood Hill Farm. Let us know what you think!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Siggi's Skyr: Worth Every Penny


Who would ever pay $2.69 for a few ounces of yogurt.
Fucking Whole Foods. Who do they think they are? $2.69 for yogurt.

A few weeks later ...

! Who would ever pay $2.69 for a few ounces of yogurt. Fuck. That must be good yogurt.

A few weeks later ...

! Fine, I'll try it. Just once. Just to try it.

Later that day ...

Damn, this yogurt is awesome!
I'll have to try all the flavor

Siggi's Skyr is a lesson in marketing and its power as well as damn delicious yogurt. I'll focus on the latter and leave the former to mass comm majors.

The Skinny on Skyr
Skyr is Icelandic yogurt. Typical to Icelandic cuisine, skyr is a lean protein source: low in calories and fat, but high in protein. Made from skim milk, live cultures, and rennet, skyr is simple and simply delicious. Agave nectar is the traditional skyr sweetener.

Adam Roberts of the Amateur Gourmet tells the story of Siggi, a financial analyst turned skyr-entrepreneur, and Siggi's Skyr after interviewing Siggi in his New York apartment and enjoying an evening of skyr smoothies and Icelandic schnapps. I encourage you to read the article on Amateur Gourmet, though I will include this tid-bit as encouragement to follow your yogurt dreams:

Eventually, I asked Siggi how he got into this business.

"I was working in finance and I wasn't very happy," he told me. "So I started making yogurt at home."

"Did your roommates think that was weird?"

"They did," he said, "Though they're used to me making a mess in the kitchen."

Unfortunately, Siggi's attempts to make skyr at home didn't really work. "The conditions weren't right," he explained. "You need a very specific temperature for the skyr to come together."

Eventually, Siggi had an opportunity to make skyr on a dairy farm upstate. "We went up there and got to work and before we knew it we had skyr. We made so much of it that when I came back I didn't know what to do with it all."

He gave it away to friends in jars and one of these friends gave it to someone at Murray's cheese who, in turn, gave it to the buyers there. "They tasted it and they loved it and eventually they got back to me and told me that if I wanted to produce my skyr, they would buy it."

And that's exactly what happened; Siggi was in business. First, he sold to Murray's and then soon Dean & Deluca and Eli's wanted it too. Finally, the big kahuna--Whole Foods--ordered Siggi's skyr too.

"Now you can get it at Whole Foods all along the east coast and west as far as Nebraska."

There are five flavors of Siggi's Skyr: plain, blueberry, pomegranate and passion fruit, orange and ginger, and pear and mint. This weekend, when I went to the Whole Foods (the only store in Chicago to carry Siggi's), I only found blueberry, pomegranate and passion fruit, and orange and ginger.

Bragðgóður: Icelandic for Tasty

The first thing that strikes you about Siggi's Skyr is the color. Usually blueberry yogurt is a swirl of royal blue and electric purple. Passion fruit a spectrum of coral to neon pink. I am afraid to think what Yoplait would do with ginger for color. Siggi's, on the other hand, is free of food coloring. The blueberry is a pleasant pinkish purple, the passion fruit is simply off-white, and the orange ginger has just a tint of canary color.

Artificial coloring isn't the only thing missing from Siggi's Skyr. Siggi's is sans aspartame, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, gelatin, preservatives, and rBGH. The rennet Siggi uses is vegetable-based, so Siggi's is suitable for all vegetarians (except vegans).

started making skyr in the States because he found our yogurt to be too sweet. A natural, tasty, and subtle balance between the tang of yogurt and the sweetness of fruit and agave nectar is what makes Siggi's Skyr unique and enjoyable.

Ultimately, though, Siggi's Skyr is more about the tang of yogurt than the flavor of fruit. Siggi's is a yogurt-lover's yogurt, for those of us that appreciate the tart smack and thick yet soft texture of a glob of yogurt.

Yet, the richness and decadence of Siggi's make it appealing to the masses of more spontaneous and casual yogurt-eaters too. The pomegranate and passion fruit skyr is my recommendation for seekers of a "vanilla" yogurt experience.

Yogurt with Attitude

Of the three Siggi's Skyr types I tried, the orange ginger is the best in my book. Let me be clear, I am not a ginger aficionado. I am a yogurt aficionado. I know there are people that feel for ginger the way I feel for yogurt, but I am not one of them.

That said, what strikes me about the orange ginger skyr is its character. This is a yogurt with personality and charisma, if that is possible. You want to like this yogurt: not because it's pleasant or safe, but because it's distinctive and interesting. The scent compliments the taste perfectly, hinting at the balance between flavors that is the highlight of Siggi's Skyr.

And oh my goodness, the ginger! Ginger ain't my thing, but the chunks of ginger in Siggi's intrigued me; not huge, hulking chunks of ginger, but a smattering of little but visible specks. See:

What a treat! In the end, the stasis that Siggi creates with the spice of ginger, the citrus of orange, the succulence of agave, and the sour of yogurt is a masterpiece.

While orange ginger stands strongly on its own, I envision it as a base for fabulous creations like skyr smoothies with bananas and pineapple or a pita dip with chopped cilantro stirred in.

Experience Skyr for Yourself

The market for Siggi's Skyr is spreading in the States. Siggi's is available at fine food outlets throughout the state of New York like Zabar's and Dean and Deluca. On the East Coast and in the Midwest, Whole Foods is the only store to stock Siggi's. Whether Siggi's Skyr is available in Whole Foods on the West Coast is uncertain. (Finally, a reason for Californians to visit Chicago!)

Wherever you live, I hope you encounter Siggi's Skyr on your yogurt quest. Please share stories about this unique, tasty, and healthy treat with our readers!

P.S. Siggi is seeking summer yogurt interns in New York.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Are You a Yogurt Aficionado?

What comes to mind when you hear aficionado?

What pursuits are worthy of devoted followings?

Fine-dining and all that it entails in luxury and pretense? Restaurants with names like "Schwa" and their menus of "pureed brioche, prosciutto consommé, and quail egg ravioli." Cigars: Montecristos, Diplomaticos, and Cohibas; terms of art to describe color, shape, and flavor; and thousands of lay enthusiasts? Neckties? (For men who love to wear silk ties and have found "there is no other feeling other than wearing a new silk necktie.")

On Yogurt
Can one be a devotee of something as simple, humble, and ubiquitous as yogurt? Does yogurt measure up to the likes of Schwa, Cohibas, and the little black tie? I say it does. This modest, unassuming food is just as deserving of aficionados.

If you too are a yogurt enthusiast, please join me in my yogurt quest.