In its purest form, Greek yogurt is made of milk and live cultures. That is it. Old school or authentic Greek yogurt found in Greece is made with goat’s or sheep’s milk, while most Greek yogurt in the United States comes from cow’s milk. The live cultures or good bacteria used in Greek yogurt to create the fermentation process are S. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus. The fermentation process turns the milk sugar or lactose into lacit acid, which in turn creates that classic tangy flavor. The thickness of the Greek yogurt comes from the straining process. The whey liquid is strained from yogurt using a filter or cloth after it has been heated, which creates its thick, creamy texture. Somewhere around three to four pounds of milk are used to create one pound of Greek yogurt. The remaining liquid from the the strained yogurt is known as acid whey that is debatably toxic to the environment. We will get into the toxic vs. non-toxic issue later since it deserves its own post. Outside of milk and live culture, manufacturers will often include additives to thicken, stabilize, sweeten, etc. a product. Below we have provided some typical additives found in Greek yogurt.
Common Additives Found In Some Greek Yogurt Products:
Pectin: Often times you will see pectin added t0 Greek yogurt. Pectin is used to thicken or gel Greek yogurt. Many people see it as a bad additive, however, it is actually a natural fiber found in all plant tissues. There is a believe that pectin helps with the reduction of colon cancer and aids in the reduction of diarrhea; however, additional studies need to be completed.
Modified Corn Starch: Another thickening or stabilizing additive found in Greek yogurt is modified corn starch. Essentially, modified corn starch helps Greek yogurt maintain its normal texture when exposed to increased heat or excessive cold temperatures. The downside is that it adds calories with no nutritional value to those calories. You aren’t getting protein, fiber, calcium, etc. from corn starch so it is simply there to maintain the integrity of the product without providing any value.
Guar Gum: Guar gum is another thickening or stabilizing agent added to Greek yogurt. It is made from the guar bean and the end result is a white powder substance. It has been known both to treat diarrhea and be used as a laxative. Additionally, studies have shown that guar gum may help aid in weight loss (creates a fullness feeling), reduce cholesterol, and lower glycemic index.
Fructose: Fructose is found in many of the flavored Greek yogurt products. It is a simple sugar naturally found in foods like fruit and is sweeter than the typical sugar found in your home. The benefit to using fructose is that less product is needed to produce the same sweetness as regular sugar. As with most things, a little fructose as been found not to be bad for the body, but when the body is overloaded with fructose it has a difficult time processing it. The body turns the excessive fructose into fats, which for most people is a bad thing. Other potential risks of excessive fructose intake include heart disease, weight gain, and eventual diabetes. For most people, a little fructose daily in a single-serve Greek yogurt is most likely harmless, assuming an otherwise relatively healthy diet throughout the day.
There are are many brands of Greek yogurt on the market, so this post could be lengthy if we answered “What is Greek yogurt made of?” for all products on the market. The important thing to note is that there are brands with no or minimal additives that taste just as good, and in most cases better than those with several additives. We personally like brands with just the raw, traditional ingredients or very minimal additives. It is best to read the ingredients if additives are a concern for you to make sure it is clear what you are buying and eventually eating.