Thursday, March 29, 2007

Emmi Swiss Pink Grapefruit

One-word verdict: Indestructible!

The backstory: Emmi Swiss Premium Lowfat Pink Grapefruit Yogurt is the professed favorite yogurt EVER not only of my good friend NYHH, but also of a fair number of Chowhounders out there. Now, I like me some grapefruit and I love me some yogurt, but—like many people I’m sure—I was a little skeptical about how well the twain would work together. The flavor would get a point for novelty, sure, but would it rack up points in any other areas?

I've known about this yogurt for a while, but I hadn’t tried for a few reasons: it's high in sugar, pretty pricey, and a bit hard to find (i.e., not stocked at Whole Foods). But all those tales of its uniqueness and deliciousness finally inspired me to seek it out, so when I recently spotted it at a somewhat reduced price, I picked up a cup.

Nutrition: When examining the Nutrition Facts panel, I found it hard to get past the whopping 24 grams of sugars—that’s at least three teaspoons of added sugar per bitty 6-ounce cup, blowing right past Stonyfield, practically into Dannon territory. The fat level's not bad (1.5 grams saturated fat), but all that sugar helps vault the calorie count up to 160 calories, which is higher than that of several full-fat yogurts. Not surprisingly, sugar is the second ingredient in the yogurt, after cultured reduced fat milk but before pink grapefruit, lemon juice concentrate, or grapefruit juice concentrate.

I understand that a little extra sweetener may be needed to counteract the tartness of the citrus components, but that much sugar added to a small cup of 'gurt really is too much for me.

Well, how is it? Well, I wish I could report that, with all that sugar, the yogurt was way too sweet…but it wasn’t.

It was actually very tasty. The flavor is a real wakeup call for the taste buds, managing to be citrusy, sweet, and yogurty all at once. It’s a novel experience, and highly enjoyable—after a few bites I got what the fuss is about. Damn those sugar-happy food chemists, they’d done an excellent job.

As for appearance and texture, the yogurt is a pleasant pink color (apparently aided by “red beet concentrate”) and contains distinct little pink grapefruit bits. Even better, the consistency is that great, silky European texture that’s not too thick but still hangs together nicely (well, probably with help from the “modified corn starch”).

Where's it made? Not totally clear (see below)—I contacted the company to ask, but they never got back to me. The address on the cup is in Valley Cottage, NY (39 miles from NYC), but I suspect that may just be corporate headquarters.

Ingredient notes: In addition to the cultured milk, sugar, fruit, and fruit juices I mentioned above, Emmi Pink Grapefruit Yogurt contains modified corn starch, red beet concentrate, natural flavors, whey protein concentrate, cultures (3 listed), and potassium sorbate (to maintain freshness).

In other words: genetically modified thickener, colorant, flavor enhancers, thickener…and preservative. Sure, red from beets beats FD&C red any day, and there's thankfully no HFCS to be seen, but still, the level of processing is disappointing, especially for a product whose “Premium” title, not to mention price, imply that it’s high-end.

Interestingly, according to this thread at Chowhound, it seems that this yogurt flavor may have recently been reformulated. Apparently it used to be less sweet, less “lemony,” and, according to the poster, better. (If any other longtime Emmi-eaters can pipe in with info on this subject, please do!)

I have been able to confirm that Emmi cups used to be slightly smaller than the standard yogurt cup, 5.3 ounces, and as you can see from the picture of the older version at the right, the design has changed. Also, the old cup used to say “Made from fresh Swiss Alpine Milk,” whereas the new cup says "Original Swiss Recipe" and "Produced for Emmi (USA), Inc." followed by a New York address. This at least implies that the company is now producing yogurt over here rather than importing from Switzerland. If that is the case and the yogurts are no longer being imported, then I think that their continued high price is completely unjustifiable.

Processing/Earth-/Animal-friendliness: The container is your standard #5 plastic, foil lid. (As an aside, I hung on to the empty cup after I finished the yogurt because I knew that Nutrition Facts for Emmi yogurt are not available online, and I wanted to have the evidence in hand for The Yogblog. Well, at one point the cup fell out of my pocket and rolled off into the street, where it was promptly run over by three different cars. I dashed back to get it when the light changed and found the cup to be in surprisingly good shape.)

The cup itself makes no claims about the origins of the milk or other ingredients, and the website offers frustratingly little information as well. In any case, none of the ingredients claim to be organic, "natural," or otherwise earth- or animal-friendly.

Price: This stuff sells for a whopping $1.99 per 6-ounce cup at Garden of Eden, which is the most convenient source to me, but I actually scored my cup at an Upper East Side branch of Dean & Deluca for $1.50. (Wow, what a deal! Note the sarcasm.)

For a product that appears to be using conventionally produced dairy, sugar, and fruit souped up with a bunch of additives (one of which is objectionable enough that Whole Foods won't carry it), that's pretty outrageous.

The bottom line: There are many reasons I should condemn this yogurt: its very good taste and texture should be overwhelmed in my mind by its high sugar content, not-so-good ingredients, and crazy price. It’s certainly not going to do well in my scoring system.

And yet…and yet…I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I should. It’s tasty, it’s interesting. Remembering how it pleasantly surprised me as I tried it for the first time, strolling through Central Park, makes me smile. There’s a lot of yogurt left out there to sample, but I’d like to eat it again sometime.

Apparently, not only the cup is indestructible—this damn yogurt is, too.


Emmi Swiss Premium Lowfat Yogurt—Pink Grapefruit With Other Natural Flavors:
taste: 4.5; texture: 3; flavor novelty: 1; sat fat: 1

TOTAL = 9.5

Link: Emmi USA.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The backstory: I love pears, and I think that whoever decided to put them in yogurt is a freakin’ genius. I discovered Liberté Six Grains Pear Yogourt from Canada a couple of years ago at my local Garden of Eden and was highly impressed. Then, at some point, they either changed their formula or corrected their labeling, and the calorie and sugar counts went up a bit, and I laid off for a while.

I thought that Liberté was the only company producing a pear yogurt, but recently I spied some new flavors from Wallaby Australian Style Yogurt on the shelf at Whole Foods, including Organic Nonfat Bartlett Pear! Immediately I resolved to buy a cup of each and engage Liberté and Wallaby in a bloody, peary duel for my affections. Who wins? Read on to find out.

Nutrition: A six-ounce cup of Liberté has 160 calories, 2 grams saturated fat, and 20 grams sugar. Wallaby weighs in at six ounces with 140 calories, 0 grams sat fat (in fact, no fat at all), and 22 grams sugar. So Wallaby wins on fat and Liberté wins on sugar…if we use calories as a tie-breaker, the first round goes to Wallaby (albeit not by very much).

Well, how is it?

Texture: The Liberté yogurt has a lovely, light and silky, European-style consistency. If you tip it, it will spill (I tested this on my shirt). It also contains distinct chunks of pear and is dotted through with six varieties of chewy grain (which, honestly, I could take or leave, but they don’t bother me). The color is a bright white.

The Wallaby yogurt is also pretty white and fairly spillable, though the texture is visibly grainier. Most notably, though, no pear chunks—this yogurt’s pear qualifications come only from pear juice concentrate.

(Interestingly, Wallaby claims to have styled its yogurts after the “deliciously distinctive” yogurts of Australia, citing their “creamy texture” and “delicate flavor.” Now, I have eaten yogurt in Australia, and while it was fine, it also wasn’t very distinct from the light, creamy stuff you’ll find in Europe, or Latin America, or Canada, or pretty much anywhere that isn’t the U.S. So unless I’m much mistaken, “Australian style” is really “European style with a cute marsupial on the cup.” Hey, it got me to look twice…)

Round two to Liberté.

Taste: When I took the lid off the Liberté yogurt, a distinctive pear smell hit me immediately and whetted my appetite. The product did not disappoint: It manages to maintain the sweet-but-a-little-sour nature of a pear throughout the gently tangy yogurt. In short, it tasted like real pear in there, and the yogurt tasted like the fermented milk product it is.

I had to lean in to get a whiff of Wallaby’s pear scent, and even with my nose right over the cup it was mild. As for the taste, it was sweet first, followed by a hint of peariness…followed by more sweet. The yogurty tang was almost nonexistent.

Round three to Liberté.

Where’s it made? Liberté yogurt is made in Brossard, Quebec, Canada (368 miles from NYC); Wallaby is made in American County, CA (2,872 miles from NYC).

Processing/Earth-/Animal-friendliness: Both brands come in #5 plastic cups with foil lids.

Liberté is “Made with Vermont milk” (as they are all too happy to advertise on the containter, kind of like the Woodstock folks). The milk comes from the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery in Vermont, a collective of mostly small, family farms that does not allow the use of rbGH; however, it also doesn’t seem to have rules about antibiotics or feed, or guarantee its animals access to pasture. (St. Albans also supplies milk to Ben & Jerry's and to Stonyfield Farms for their nonorganic yogurts. You can learn more about them on Stonyfield’s Humane Animal Treatment Policy page here.)

Wallaby sources organic milk from Sonoma and Marin counties, which is by definition free of hormones and antibiotics and entails pasture access and organic feed for the cows. Wallaby has a rating of “four cows” (excellent) from the Cornucopia Dairy Survey, which measures elements such as pasture time and cow health and longevity.

Round four to Wallaby.

Ingredient notes: Liberté contains milk, pear base and grain preparation (natural apple extract, pears, water, barley, oat, rye, wheat, rice, buckwheat, native rice starch, natural flavour, pectin, citric acid), and four bacterial cultures. It gets points for being sweetened only with fruit, but points off for the multiple thickeners/stabilizers/flavorants.

Wallaby contains organic cultured pasteurized nonfat milk, organic evaporated cane juice, organic pear juice concentrate, natural flavor, pectin, locust bean gum. It also contains four bacterial cultures. Points off for having more sugar than fruit (which also, as I mentioned above, totally overpowers the yogurt’s flavor), though it has one less thickener/stabilizer/flavorant than Liberté.

This round’s a draw.

Price: Purchasing them at Whole Foods in NYC, the Liberté cost 99 cents and the Wallaby cost $1.09.

Round six to Liberté.

The bottom line: It looks like Liberté just edges out Wallaby, but if you’re going on taste and texture alone, it actually wins by a mile. I want to like Wallaby more than I do—their (organic) heart seems to be in the right place, they’ve just launched some interesting new flavors, and that marsupial on the yogurt cup is darned cute. But they’re going to have to up the fruit content and cut down on the sugar (I’d like to see a teaspoon less per cup) if they want my vote.

Until then, the Canadians have beaten the faux-Australians to a bloody, peary pulp.

Liberté Six Grains Pear, Stirred Yogourt, Pears and Grains
taste: 5; texture: 3; sugar: 1; sat fat: 1; price: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 0.5

TOTAL: 13.5/20

Wallaby Organic Bartlett Pear, Creamy Australian Style, Nonfat
taste: 3; texture: 2; sat fat: 2; price: 1; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 1

TOTAL: 10/20

Links: Liberté Natural Foods.
Wallaby Yogurt.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt

One-word verdict: Thick.

The backstory: People tend to make a big deal about super-thick yogurts, but I’m not sure I see what all the fuss is about. I’ve been hearing raves about strained, Greek-style yogurts like Fage for a while. But possibly even more head-over-heels are the reviewers in these articles and some commenters on this recent Chowhound thread about the “ricotta-like” texture of Woodstock Water Buffalo Milk Yogurt, a curiosity from Vermont that I’d been eyeing on the shelves of Whole Foods for a while.

Why hadn’t I tried it sooner? In short, because it’s high in saturated fat and expensive. But when it went on sale recently for $1.25 a (6-ounce) cup, I decided to see for myself what the hype was all about. I had been hoping to give the Chai flavor a shot, but it was sold out so I went with the next-most-original flavor I could find—Vermont Black Currant—and a cup of Vermont Maple.

Nutrition: The covers of Woodstock’s yogurt cups say "super premium," and as with ice creams bearing the same claim, they contain about twice as much saturated fat as your standard product: 5-6 grams sat fat (5 in the maple, 6 in the black currant) per 6-ounce cup. The sugar content isn’t bad: 15 grams sugar in the maple, 18 grams in the black currant. There were 163 calories in the black currant and 170 calories in the maple, which seems typical for the line, though some flavors (like chai) break the 200-calorie barrier.

Apparently the stuff is naturally high in calcium (22% daily value) but the black currant flavor was also weirdly high in sodium (185 mg). According to the Woodstock website, none of the other flavors top 100 mg sodium per cup, so I don't really know what's going on here. (Are black currants salty?)

Well, how is it? Did I mention thick? This stuff is really, really thick. Despite the reviews I’d read and the “No Need to Stir” warning on the lid, I still wasn’t quite prepared for a texture that you could practically slice into rounds like a tube of polenta.

I jest, but only a little bit. You could turn this stuff upside down and none of it would fall out of the cup. As for the ricotta comparison, I would say that it’s smoother and a bit thicker than ricotta cheese, but not too far off.

I'm dwelling a lot on the texture because it’s really the most arresting thing about the yogurt. The flavors are incredibly mild—not bland, but pretty subtle. The black currant flavor—which intrigued me because you usually only see black-currant-flavored things in Europe—was a little sweet but not too exciting (and contained no fruit pieces, it was all pureed in). I preferred the maple flavor, which, despite containing less sugar, tasted more unabashedly desserty. It actually reminded me a bit of kulfi, the dense Indian ice cream, so I can only imagine that the Chai flavor must be really kulfi-esque. I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Anyway, I could see myself potentially carving the maple flavor into some fun shapes and serving it on top of fresh berries for a fancy dessert more than I could see myself buying cups for daily consumption.

Back to the texture again, I noticed from the ingredients list that most flavors contain some "Vermont spring water." Well, if this is buffalo yogurt (buffalogurt?) in its diluted state, it must really be bricklike to start with! (Not surprisingly, the company also makes cheese.) I'd actually venture to suggest that they could dilute this yogurt even more, which would also help bring down the sat fat and calorie count.

Where’s it made? South Woodstock, VT (260 miles from NYC).

Processing/Earth-friendliness: The container is your yogurt standard: #5 plastic. The source of this yogurt is a herd of water buffalo on one 250-acre farm. They are not treated with rBGH and live in a “free stall barn complex.” Whether they graze or are treated with antibiotics isn’t clear from the company website, but I have e-mailed them to ask (until then, I'll give them half-credit for animal friendliness).

Interestingly, in reading an article to try to find out more about the animals on said farm, I discovered that “water buffalo” are not the buffalo native to North America—in fact they are a whole other species, actually native to India and Southeast Asia! (But before you get all up in arms about it, keep in mind that cows and sheep and goats are all introduced species in North America, too...just less recently introduced.)

Ingredient notes: The ingredients lists for these yogurts are nice and short (cultured milk, fruit puree and sugar [or maple syrup and natural maple flavor], spring water, and 5 live active cultures). No preservatives, and definitely no thickeners needed! However, weirdly, it seems like the company is trying to make said list look a lot longer than it actually is by padding each ingredient with about five adjectives ("pasteurized, homogenized, cultured whole water buffalo milk...Vermont black currant puree/maple syrup...Vermont spring water...natural milled sugar...”). Then they spell out all five live active cultures they use, genus and species (and in one case, subspecies). Whew! Are they trying to make their yogurt look more complicated than it is?

Embrace the simplicity, my friends—it’s the best thing you’ve got going for your yogurt! (Contrary to what you may believe about the selling power of the word “Vermont”…lucky your farm’s not in New Jersey, huh?)

Price: Regularly $1.69 a cup at my local NYC Whole Foods, I got the stuff on sale for $1.25...which, sorry, is still pretty pricey.

The bottom line: I appreciate the lack of hormones, thickeners, and preservatives in this yogurt and, joking aside, the company's apparent commitment to sourcing a lot of ingredients local to its Vermont farm. Neither the texture nor the flavors I tried really did it for me, but it's not like they were by any stretch bad. But I've got to say that, at its current price and saturated fat levels, I won’t be rushing to buy this product again.


Vermont Black Currant:
taste: 2.5; texture: 2; sugar: 1; no thickeners/preservatives: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 0.5
TOTAL = 9/20

Vermont Maple:
taste: 3.5; texture: 2; sugar: 2; no thickeners/preservatives: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 0.5
TOTAL = 11/20

Link: Woodstock Water Buffalo Yogurt.

Yogurt on my cat

My cat actually loves cheese, but apparently this smart kitty prefers yogurt.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ronnybrook Drinkable Yogurt

One-word verdict: Divine.

The backstory: I love drinkable yogurt, but I eyed Ronnybrook’s colorful bottles at the Greenmarket, moseyed past them at the little shop at Chelsea Market, and spied them on the shelves of Whole Foods many times before I took the plunge. What kept me away? Maybe it was the brazen listing of “whole milk” as the first ingredient in the yogurt. Maybe it was the lack of Nutrition Facts printed on the label (how do they get away with that?). Plus, it cost $2.50 a bottle. I guess I assumed that, fatwise and pricewise, it was out of my league.

But I was wrong.

As I became interested eating more local foods, I found myself checking out the Ronnybrook website (the family dairy farm is located in upstate New York and serves the tristate area). There I found the Nutrition Facts for the drinkable yogurt line and learned that the stuff wasn’t nearly as dastardly as I thought. Then I discovered that, if you buy the yogurt directly from Ronnybrook either at their stall or at their shop, it only costs $2 for a 12-ounce bottle (that’s $1 per 6 ounces). I was sold—or, I should say, the yogurt was, to me: a bottle each of the blackberry, mango, and peach flavors.

Nutrition: Well, the bottles are 12 ounces and the info listed on the Ronnybrook site is for 8 ounces, but since 6 ounces is the standard size for a cup of yogurt these days, I rejiggered the Nutrition Facts (and price) so that I could compare the product ounce-for-ounce with other yogurts. It works out to about 135 calories, 3 grams saturated fat, and 19 grams sugar per 6 ounces for the mango and peach flavors (145 calories and 20 grams sugar for the blackberry). Not bad! A little high on the sugar side, perhaps, but I’m assuming that—for the blackberry and peach flavors, at least—a little of that must come from the chunks of fresh fruit floating appealingly in the bottle. And the featured fruit always comes before the (organic) sugar on the ingredients list, another plus.

Well, how is it? I have to admit that I could barely contain my enthusiasm after my first sip of the blackberry yogurt. I immediately sent my boyfriend an embarassingly ecstatic e-mail, laced with exclamation points and maybe a few expletives. What can I say? I felt like a hole in my yogurt-loving life had finally been filled.

The flavor was divine. Sweet, but not so sweet that the yogurty flavor was masked. The consistency was quite creamy, but interspersed with chewable chunks of blackberry pulp and seeds. And amazingly, even though the taste was so delicious, I found the stuff filling enough that I could actually stop drinking after 6 ounces and save the other half of the bottle for the next day. Well, maybe after 7 ounces.

To my delight, I found the peach flavor to be just as high-quality and subsequently crave-worthy as the blackberry. I was a tiny bit disappointed in the mango—perhaps because it’s blended smooth instead of having the little chunks. Or maybe I just set my expectations too high with the mango yogurt, a flavor I had never seen before (point for novelty!). In the end, I think that the peach and blackberry flavors were just a bit more perfectly carried off, but overall all of the flavors I tried tasted both fresh and decadent.

Where's it made? Ancramdale, NY (108 miles from NYC).

Ingredient notes: In addition to the (pasteurized) whole milk, fruit, and organic sugar that I mentioned earlier, these yogurts also consist of skim milk, pectin (a thickener derived from fruit), natural flavors, citric acid (natural preservative or flavorant), and eight “imported live cultures”—four of which are buttermilk cultures, which Ronnybrook claims “makes the difference” (dunno about that, but I think they’ve got a pretty good formula down, whatever they’re using). Anyway, not quite preservative and thickener-free, but still a pretty short and natural list.

Processing/Earth-friendliness: According their website, Ronnybrook's milk comes from hormone- and antibiotic-free cattle who eat grass in the summer and corn and hay silage in the winter. Milk is pasteurized, but not homogenized. Also, the drinkable yogurt bottles are #1 plastic—easily recyclable! (And if you consider them two servings apiece like I do, that means even less waste overall since you'll only be discarding every other day.)

Price: Drinkable bottles cost $2 apiece at the Ronnybrook Store in Chelsea Market and at Ronnybrook’s Greenmarket stalls. That works out to $1 per 6 ounces—a very good price for such a quality product. (You can also find the stuff around New York City at places like Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, and Dean & Deluca, and it’s delivered by FreshDirect, but expect to pay extra at all those places.)

The bottom line: This is the best-tasting drinkable yogurt I've had in the United States. It appears to come from well-treated animals, doesn’t have a ton of additives, doesn’t break the bank on sat fat or sugar, and has a terrific creamy consistency with real chunks of fruit. Plus, the price is fair, and for my fellow tristaters, it has the added benefit of being a local product. Drink up.

SCORING (see sidebar for criteria):

Blackberry and peach flavors:
taste: 5; texture: 3; sugar: 1; sat fat: 1; price: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 1; recyclable: 1
TOTAL = 15/20

Mango flavor:
taste: 4; texture: 2.5; novelty: 1; sugar: 1; sat fat: 1; price: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal friendliness: 1; recyclable: 1
TOTAL = 14.5/20

Link: Ronnybrook Farm Dairy.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Hello, and welcome to The Yogblog! This is where you can follow me on my quest to find the best yogurts in America.

What exactly do I mean by “the best”? Well, there’s the best-tasting, of course: fresh fruit and other flavors that are not overpowered by sugar, plus that mild but distinct tang that lets you know you are eating yogurt, not pudding--no disrespect to pudding, of course. And let’s not forget texture: I love me a smooth and creamy texture, like the kind you find in European yogurts (I studied abroad in France and Ireland, and I’m afraid their dairy products have spoiled me for life). I’m also a sucker for drinkable yogurt, a treat I enjoyed in Europe and Latin America long before it became widely available here (and we still have a ways to go).

But I’m also looking for yogurt that’s the best (or at least pretty good) for me: not too high in saturated fat, and definitely not too high in sugar. I think that oversweetening is the number one problem with American yogurts—whether it’s done with organic sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or what have you, so many brands have obscured the “yogurty” essence of yogurt that people are now used to their yogurts tasting like dessert. In short, I don’t think any flavored yogurt needs to have more than 20 grams of sugar (that’s about 2 teaspoons of added sugar) in a 6-ounce cup, and I prefer those with 16 grams (1 teaspoon) or less. Unfortunately, many brands have blown right by the 20-gram (and sometimes even 30-gram!) line, but don’t worry—there are some really great yogurts out there that easily fit my bill.

And how about best for the earth? I certainly give bonus points to yogurts that come from well-treated, sustainably raised animals (no hormones, no antibiotics, pasture-fed, etc.), or, um, soybeans; that come in easily recyclable packaging; and that are minimally processed/have less junk (thickeners, preservatives, etc.) added to them.

Finally, because I’m cheap, I give extra points to yogurts that are best for my wallet. (If you know of a place that sells a yogurt for less than the price I’ve listed, please let me know!)

Based on these standards, I’ve come up with a scoring system that’s sure to be controversial (check out the panel on the right), but hey, that’s what comments are for! Whether you think I’m a yogurt goddess or a complete yogurt ninny, I’d love to hear your thoughts after each post.

Here are a few products I’ll be posting reviews for quite soon:
Ronnybrook drinkable (blackberry, peach, mango)
Woodstock Water Buffalo (blackcurrant, maple)
Emmi Swiss (pink grapefruit)
Wildwood Soyogurt (blueberry)

Stay tuned! And in the meantime, check out some of the yogurt and food-related links to the right.