Over the past 10 years, refrigerated yogurt has had a remarkable combined annual growth rate averaging around 30% and nearly 40 million new users.

Over the past 10 years, refrigerated yogurt has had a remarkable combined annual growth rate averaging around 30% and nearly 40 million new users. And poised to push yogurt sales even higher in the next decade is a new category of higher-protein yogurts, commonly called “Greek” yogurt.

Thick, protein-rich yogurts were rare just a few years ago, but have emerged as an important new category. The first Fage (pronounced “fa-yeh”) Greek yogurt was introduced in the United States in 2002. Since 2005, about a dozen Greek brands have emerged, with major marketers such as Yoplait, Dannon and Kraft introducing Greek varieties in 2010. And while most popular brands are labeled as Greek or strained yogurt, there are also Icelandic and American versions. The Greek-style yogurt segment is adding volume to the total yogurt category, with Greek yogurt sales more than doubling every year for the last five years - to more than 100 million pounds in 2010 (annualized estimate), according to data from SymphonyIRI Group, Mintel and DataMonitor.

Advantages of these new yogurts include rich, creamy texture, higher protein content and fewer stabilizers, resulting in a more natural product.

“There has been an increased awareness of the value of protein in the diet, which may explain some of the popularity of higher-protein yogurts,” notes Mary Higgins, vice president of trade service, U.S. Manufacturing and Ingredient Marketing, U.S. Dairy Export Council, Arlington, Va.

The ingredients in Greek yogurt

Most companies can make Greek yogurt, but they may have to modify their process.

“One method is to use a separator to strain the liquid whey after the yogurt is set. Another method is to start with fluid milk fortified with milk protein concentrate (MPC) or functional blends of MPC and whey protein concentrate (WPC). Still another method is to add ultra-filtrated (UF) milk,” notes Dr. Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist at Chr. Hansen, Milwaukee.

Choice of a yogurt culture depends on the production method, formulation and desired taste and flavor profile.

“If yogurt is made by separation, the processing may take longer, and use of a very mild flavor and low post-acidifying culture is recommended. For protein-fortified yogurts, the cultures with low-to-medium yogurt flavor work better, as they bring freshness notes. High-viscosity yogurt cultures are recommended for low-fat and non-fat versions,” Curic-Bawden adds.

Proper selection, testing and processing of dried protein concentrate ingredients is essential to yield a product with clean flavor and no graininess. Source of whey powder or WPC is important as it may bring some undesired notes. For instance, whey powders from cheeses produced with microbial rennet may have residual enzymatic activity and show some bitterness in the end notes.

“Certain blends of milk proteins and whey proteins will allow for better flavor and textural properties. Glanbia offers a range of dairy proteins under the brand name OptiSol, designed to work in conjunction with native milk proteins, as well as added milk proteins, to create a very clean dairy flavor and limited graininess seen with standard milk solid addition,” explains Tim Harried, business development manager, functional ingredients for Glanbia Nutritionals, Fitchburg, Wis.

While most high-protein yogurts have increased levels of milk protein, Tula Foods, Evanston, Ill., has chosen to fortify its Better Whey of Life yogurt with whey protein.

“Whey protein is among the highest-quality proteins and provides superior health benefits,” notes Daphne Mazarakis, Tula Food’s founder and president. In the development of its yogurt, Tula Foods collaborated with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research for ingredient selection.

Skyr (pronounced “skeer”) is the traditional concentrated (strained) non-fat yogurt of Iceland, and may be very tart. However, with the right flavor, such as orange/ginger or blueberry, this can be a pleasant product.

In Europe, Greek yogurt is a synonym for high protein and high fat, but in the United States, most are fat-free. One exception is Fage, whose Classic contains 20 grams of fat per 7-ounce serving. These higher-protein yogurts are significantly less sweet than traditional yogurt, and typically are all natural and do not contain high-intensity sweeteners. Most traditional yogurts contain 3-5% protein and 10-16% sugar by weight. In contrast, Greek yogurts contain 8-10% protein and about 4% sugar, with slightly higher sugar levels in those varieties sweetened with fruit.

How to use the product

There are many uses for Greek yogurt. It can be used as a lower-fat and natural alternative to sour cream. Regular sour cream has 18% fat, compared to 10% fat in classic Greek yogurt. Non-fat Greek yogurt is an excellent alternative to fat-free sour cream.

“It is worth mentioning that 0% fat Greek yogurts are now filling a position that is in Canada, Mexico and most of European countries taken by quark and fromage frais (fresh cheese). Namely, some U.S. Greek yogurts are so mild they are very similar to quark. Quark and fromage frais are actually made by the same technologies used for Greek yogurt, by separation or protein fortification, but using mesophilic, and is similar to a fresh cheese,” Curic-Bawden adds. Labne (also spelled labaneh and lebnah) is a Middle Eastern thick yogurt, used extensively in cooking, salads and salad dressing.

For more details on Greek yogurt, e-mail Techsupport@InnovateWithDairy.com.