Monday, April 30, 2012

Meatless Monday: All Greek Yogurt is Not Created Equal

Americans have developed an insatiable taste for Greek yogurt. A recent story in the New York Times describes the current “dairy boom” in the state of New York, largely attributable to the Greek yogurt craze. Unless you are a vegan or on the Paelo diet, it is difficult to forgo the thick, creamy deliciousness of this high protein treat. 

But, as in the case of so many good things, there is a downside. Soon after I tasted Fage yogurt at a conference, I came across an eye-opening report in Mother Jones, which clearly spells out the major difference between Greek and American style yogurts. Greek yogurt is strained to remove its whey and water, which is why it is so thick. In American-style yogurt, the ratio of milk to the finished product is 1:1; for Greek yogurt it is sometimes as high as 4:1. Yes, that means four times the milk (and thus four times the cows) is required to produce that Greek yogurt we all love.

That also means four times the animal waste, a topic I covered in a recent post. And, in the case of Greek yogurt, there is an additional problem of what to do with the excess whey. According to the 2010 Mother Jones article, both Stonyfield and Chobani were in the process of building anaerobic digesters to convert their waste whey into energy to power the factories. I have not been able to verify that this is true. Nor have I yet discovered how Fage, the Athens-based company which introduced Greek yogurt to the US in 1998 and opened its first plant in the US in 2008, deals with this problem.

However, if you crave Greek yogurt and want to make a smaller footprint, you do have a couple of options. You can make your own Greek yogurt at home by straining plain yogurt and saving the whey for use in baked goods.

Or, you can purchase Greek Style yogurt, produced by Cabot, the New England dairy cooperative owned by 1200 farm families.  According to Cabot spokesperson Wendy Scherer, “We do not generate any whey when we make our Greek Style yogurt. It is ‘Greek Style’ and is not the same process as making a true Greek yogurt.” It is thickened by the addition of solid whey and milk protein. [I’ve found Cabot Greek Style to be a delicious substitute for the “real thing” (with less guilt).]

Wendy added, “We do, however, send all liquid whey from cheesemaking to Middlebury and dry it and sell whey to customers who want a protein additive in their products.” 

The old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” clearly holds true for a number of businesses in the Green Mountain State. While perusing the literature rack at Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven the other evening, I picked up a flyer on a promising alternative to polyurethane. The product, Poly-Whey™ Professional Wood Finish, is made by Vermont Natural Coatings. As its name suggests, its formula is derived from whey, a by-product of cheesemaking, instead of crude oil. The whey may not be going into food, but it is being put to a good use. Poly-Whey™ exceeds the toughest standards for indoor air quality. It is promoted as having great coverage, quick drying time, and easy cleanup. Even though I have not tried it yet, I had to include it in this post. How could I not?

I have a couple of projects in mind for Poly-Whey™. I’ll let you know how they turn out. I’ve been waiting for a product like this for a long time.

Happy Monday, everyone. Have a great week.

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”


  1. Yogurt is easy to make at home. I do it all the time & use organic milk whenever possible. Just make sure you use a yogurt with the greatest variety of probiotics as your starter (I used a dollop of Stoneyfield Farms for my first batch). Here's a great resource for instructions:

    When I strain the final product to make Greek-style yogurt, I save the whey & use it in smoothies, or as part or all of the liquid in baked goods like pancakes, muffins, & corn bread. It is also a good substitute for recipes which specifically call for buttermilk. And there is always the compost pile if I have too much. Here's a good rundown of alternate uses:

  2. Thanks for wheying in…As always, a great suggestion.