Savory yogurt is here to stay

How one senior living operator said ‘sayonara’ to the sugary side of this dairy favorite.

Sticky-sweet yogurt enjoyed a decades-long run at parfait bars for both breakfast and dessert. But the new yogurt era is all about the savory side, replacing full-fat products like sour cream in recipes, and shining as the base for top-your-own bars with add-ins such as “everything bagel” spices or harissa, feta cheese and olive oil.

yogurt bread cutting board

“Yogurt is no longer just a snack food or dessert; it’s really become a staple in the cooking repertoire,” says Mary Cooley, director of dining services at senior living facility Pennswood Village. “It’s now a standard part of the ingredients toolbox when preparing recipes.”

Here’s how her operation  embraced savory yogurt—offering diners more options beyond the standard strawberries and honeyed granola.

Replacing all full-fat dairy doesn’t always work

When Cooley arrived at the Newtown, Pa., facility a few years ago, Pennswood’s menu was full of high-fat items such as rich cream-based soups. Cooley and her team wanted not only to revamp some of those recipes to cut fat and calories, but also avoid alienating residents with too much change.

The Pennswood culinary team experimented with a tzatziki Greek salad recipe, and originally replaced 100% of the sour cream with yogurt. That change made the dish healthier, but the consistency wasn’t quite right. Eventually, they settled on a half sour cream, half yogurt combination, with the amount of garlic and other seasonings ramped up. “You have to be committed to a high-quality product above all,” Cooley says.

Play up yogurt’s health halo to entice uncertain diners

In a bid to add more diverse cuisines at Pennswood, Cooley’s team took a risk by introducing Lebanese lamb meatballs with a yogurt-based sauce. The residents, who on average are in their mid-80s, “thought that sounded so wild,” Cooley says. “They were looking at each other like, ‘Are you going to try it?’ So we told them how it’s plain yogurt in the sauce, not sour cream—it’s healthier.”

That “healthy aura,” as Cooley calls it, helped convince a few bold diners to give the meatballs a try, and their friends eventually joined in. “After one or two times, most of them tried [the Lebanese meatballs], and they did more than accept it—now we can’t take it off the menu,” Cooley says.


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