Kimberlee Burrington
Kimberlee (K.J.) Burrington is VP of Technical Development for the American Dairy Products Institute.

Whether it is your favorite spoonable or drinkable yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese spread, or a sour cream-topped baked potato, we all enjoy eating cultured products. However, we often overlook their potential as ingredients in many of the foods we enjoy every day.  

Most of us are familiar with dairy ingredients getting the spotlight in buttermilk pancakes, biscuits, and salad dressings, but using cultured dairy products may not be as common. We see the name “yogurt” used in compound coatings covering nuts, pretzels, dried fruit, and granola bars, but this is powdered yogurt, which doesn’t have a standard of identity like yogurt does. Powdered yogurt is typically cultured skim milk that is dried, and it’s really your only option for low moisture/low-water activity foods like coatings, icings, and/or intermediate moisture foods like nutrition bars. 

Most companies would say that using real cultured dairy products is too expensive, but the organoleptic properties they can provide to many foods can also give an upscale appeal that elevates your product in the eye of the consumer. The added functional and nutritional properties also contribute to a clean label.

Flavor and function

Whether you’re using yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, or sour cream, they all contribute unique flavors, moisture, and functional dairy components to a food. Baked products are a natural target especially for yogurt, cream cheese, and sour cream. 

“Made with real yogurt, cream cheese, or sour cream” implies a sense of richness and high quality. Adding up to 30% yogurt to a muffin or corn bread yields a moist texture and enhanced flavor with a longer shelf life. The naturally occurring lactic acid and other organic acids will help reduce yeast and mold growth over the shelf life of the product.  

Sour cream is a great addition to pound cake because it adds milkfat and moisture in a new form, while also bringing along characteristic diacetyl flavors to enhance the flavor of the pound cake. The naturally organic acids in the sour cream will also help prevent yeast and mold growth. 

Real cream cheese is a must for cheesecake and cheese Danish, but cream cheese can also be used in soft cookies, brownies, and other bars. Cream cheese provides moisture, milkfat, and other characteristics similar to sour cream. 

Entrées are another great application for these cultured products. Sour cream provides a rich, creamy texture to the sauce in beef stroganoff, but also provides some natural emulsification to hold the sauce together. Yogurt provides a tart, creamy base to a Mediterranean yogurt barley soup. Cream cheese can be used in spinach-stuffed pasta shells, while cottage cheese not only works as a filling for lasagna but can be added to macaroni and cheese or even quiche. All of these dairy ingredients contribute to the flavor and texture of the food, but nutrition is a huge added benefit.

Nutritional appeal

The nutritional benefits of adding dairy ingredients are often overlooked. Typically, we focus on one component of the dairy ingredient, such as protein, and ignore all the other nutrients. The addition of yogurt to foods will add seven essential nutrients in our diet, including protein (8g/170g), calcium (25% daily value), phosphorus, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and zinc. There is also 8% of the daily value for potassium in a170g serving. 

If you use Greek yogurt, then of course the protein, calcium, and phosphorus will have an even higher contribution — and benefit. Cottage cheese is also a powerhouse of protein, with a 4% fat product contributing 13g per one-half cup serving (113 g), along with milkfat (5g), calcium (8% daily value), and potassium (2% daily value). 

You may think full-fat sour cream is only contributing fat (18g /100g), but remember that milkfat has unique nutritional properties and naturally occurring fatty acids, such as conjugated linoleic acid. According to recent studies, it has not been linked to cardiovascular disease. Sour cream also contributes small amounts of protein (3g/100g), calcium (2% daily value), potassium (3% daily value), and vitamin A (5% daily value). 

All of these dairy ingredients contribute naturally occurring nutrients that will impact the nutritional label of a food, so next time you’re thinking of developing a new product, think about using a cultured dairy product to add flavor, functionality with a clean label, and nutrition.