Yogurt, which is basically a fermented milk product, is perhaps more than 1,000 years old. Its origin goes back to early nomadic cultures in the Turkish region of the Middle East and was probably first made with goat’s milk. In Western cultures, it has been enjoyed in many ways but most popularly as a chilled dish with fruit as a dessert or snack.
“We serve it breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says Ellen Hardy, food stores supervisor for the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. “We have it at the salad bar and offer different flavors and toppings.”
Yogurt can also be used as a marinade, in a dressing or in recipes in place of milk, sour cream or cheeses.
“On our patient menu, we offer a honey yogurt dressing that we put on a spinach Mandarin orange salad,” says Troy Gauthier, production manager at the Mayo Clinic Arizona in Scottsdale. “We marinate chicken in low-fat plain yogurt for a Tandoori-style chicken dish and also for a sesame chicken that we do.”
They also offer yogurt on a fruit bar at breakfast. “We recently brought in organic yogurt and, surprisingly enough, it’s outselling the regular yogurt as a portion-controlled item,” he says. “We also just brought in a new product that is a drinkable yogurt. It’s got all the probiotic attributes and is selling very well.”
Just Chill: In recent years, yogurt has become popular as an icy treat, either as a creamy ingredient in smoothies or frozen and served like ice cream. At San Diego State University, dining services operates a store called Just Chill, which sells only frozen yogurt with toppings.
“We opened Just Chill in the fall semester of 2009,” says Colleen Bucci, program administrator for the university’s Axtec Shops. “The product comes out of a machine like soft ice cream and is offered in cups with an assortment of toppings. The students love the self-serve aspect of it and it’s become very popular.”
The Americanization of yogurt spans all age groups.
“We serve yogurt daily for breakfast and lunch in individual, 8-ounce containers,” says Dr. Becky Domokos-Bays, R.D., director, Food and Nutrition Services, at Alexandria (Va.) Public Schools. “We also make our own parfaits using blueberries, strawberries and other fruits for our high school.
“Our kids do enjoy the choice for breakfast,” she adds. “At lunch we pair yogurt with whole-grain chips so they get a serving of whole grains as well. Yogurt has become very kid friendly over the last several years.”
Healthy and convenient: Yogurt has quickly become a convenient fast food item as well as a health food, operators say.
“We use pre-packaged, individual yogurts, some of the various brands you see in stores,” says Ron Rudebock, director of dining services at Humboldt State University in California. “We also use bulk yogurt, which is more popular with the kids. We have non-fat and low-fat in bulk. The biggest seller is the plain low-fat, where they get to add their own toppings. We offer fresh fruit in season and also frozen fruit, like blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. There’s also canned fruit; peaches and pineapple are popular. And then there’s granola.”
The toppings for chilled yogurt are as varied as the imagination, but yogurt usage goes far beyond a cool treat. Besides providing protein and calcium, yogurt helps with digestion and has been rumored for centuries to aid in life longevity.
At the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Mark Zieres, assistant director of Dining Services, says they use a large amount of non-fat yogurt at breakfast.
“We have a yogurt bar set up at the normal salad bar area,” he says. “The yogurt is plain or vanilla and comes with options such as low-fat granola, raisins, brown sugar, coconut, chocolate chips and two choices of fruit. The vanilla is the most popular.; we normally go through about nine to 10 cases a day and maybe two cases of plain.”
Popular with all ages: Although yogurt is popular with kids, operators are finding customers of all ages see yogurt’s appeal.
“It’s grab and go,” says Dean Young, director of nutrition and dining services at Bryan LGH Medical Center in Lincoln, Neb. “People like it. It’s popular and easy, something we can just put out that doesn’t take a lot of work on our behalf.”
Young also uses bulk yogurt for his continental breakfast.
“We sell vanilla bulk yogurt by the ounce,” he said. “We offer strawberry sauce and blueberry sauce, also a mixed granola and yogurt. A great use of leftovers is to mix excess pie filling with the yogurt. We always have a lot of fruit flavors to add.”
In Middle Eastern cultures, yogurt is frequently served with meat, meat sauces and vegetables. It can be mixed with various other sauces or used as a tangy dollop on top of a meal.
“We are using yogurt on our salad bar and as one of our breakfast bar options,” says Nancy Miller, executive chef at Donahue Hall at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “We also use it as a marinade for lamb masala, as well as in sauces for falafel and fruit salad.
“The lamb recipe is quite good,” she says. “The acidity of the yogurt breaks down the fibers of the meat. It’s only mildly acidic compared with vinegar and wine marinades, but the calcium in the yogurt activates the tenderizing enzymes in the meat. You could also use pineapple or papaya to create tenderized meats. Yogurt is great to use as a marinade on chicken or fish because it's only mildly acidic and those items don't take long to marinate.”
Miller says the students really enjoy this dish.
“We have an event during the school year where we do all Indian food on the main line,” she says. “The lamb masala is in our regular six-week rotation of our menu. I love yogurt for marinades because it helps keep meat moist and tender.”
Yogurt-based marinades, sauces and dips are considered beneficial for health reasons.
“Along with the probiotics they contain, yogurt has less fat than sour cream-based dips,” Miller says. “Yogurt is good for everything from appetizers to raw vegetables and fruits. We also make parfaits with yogurt.”
The University of Maine in Orono features an all-you-care-to-eat facility with a parfait bar.
“We’ll offer two kinds daily and the students can build their own parfaits with several toppings from which to choose,” says Director of Dining Services Kathy Kittridge. “We use plain or vanilla, but we also blend in fruit like strawberries or blueberries, something fun and different.”
Versatile ingredient: “Yogurt is a vibrant part of any meal plan on a college campus today,” says Scott Meyer, associate director of foodservice at the University of Texas in Austin. “Besides the individual one-serve containers that sell anytime and anywhere, we also use it to make vegetarian sauces for entrées as well as salad dressings like creamy cucumber yogurt and yogurt ranch.”
In America, yogurt is primarily made of cow’s milk but can be made with the milk of sheep, goat, buffalo or camel. It also can be made with soy, which contains more fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids.
“Yogurt is a versatile and healthy ingredient that we have been using to jazz up some old favorites,” says Norbert Bomm, corporate executive chef for research and development at Morrison Management Specialists in Atlanta. “At Morrison we have been incorporating Greek-style yogurt into our recipes to create a creamy base that delivers on flavor with the added benefits of having active enzymes that promote healthy digestion. It is also lower in fat than sour cream or heavy cream.”
Greek-style yogurt includes a process wherein the whey has been extracted, thus forming a thicker consistency.
“Greek yogurt is the perfect base for dips, smoothies and dressings due to its thick, creamy nature,” Bomm adds. “You can make your own Greek yogurt by straining plain fat-free yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth and storing it in the refrigerator until it thickens. The whey strained from the yogurt can be used in baking or in pancake batter to replace half the milk. This will create a slight sour flavor similar to buttermilk.”
Bomm also has been experimenting with frozen yogurt.
“We have been creating ice cream with a frozen yogurt and gelatin base blended with all kinds of frozen fruit,” he says. “By using the frozen fruit you create a thick base that holds up when the yogurt is frozen. The yogurt and gelatin makes the product creamy and a great alternative to traditional ice cream.”
Greek yogurt can be used anywhere you would normally serve sour cream. Try serving it with burritos, tacos or as a topping for a Southwestern salad.
Smoothie operator: “We use yogurt in smoothies,” says Anna Bullett, R.D., culinary and nutrition specialist at CulinArt Inc., Plainview, N.Y. “We use non-fat vanilla because it has a nice creamy flavor profile that works just fine. Why add the fat?”
Bullett adds that she has concerns with the growing popularity of the individual Greek yogurts available. “My only issue with Greek yogurt is that it is lower in calcium,” she says. “If people are thinking they are getting their calcium, they’re wrong. Greek yogurt contains more protein but by straining out the water, which is the whey, you lose the calcium.”