Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Trader Joe's Soy Yogurt

One-word verdict: Varies.

The backstory: It’s hard to judge soy yogurt by the same standards as dairy yogurt. Add enough thickeners and colorants and you may get it to look like the real thing, but I think that—as is the case with soy milk—you just can’t expect it to taste much like a dairy product or you will be disappointed. However, once you get past that, I think it is possible to accept soy yogurt on its own terms. And if you have a need for a dairy-free yogurt alternative (whether for kosher, vegan, lactose, or other reasons), the good news is that there are definitely some soy yogurts out there that are worth accepting. (There are also some that are vile.)

So which category does TJ’s house brand fall into? I sampled the peach and raspberry flavors to find out.

Nutrition: Pretty much all the soy yogurts I’ve ever seen are saturated-fat free, which is great, but they are also often very high in sugar, as if trying to mask the taste (or lack thereof) of soy. Both TJ’s flavors contain 0 grams saturated fat per 6-ounce cup and don’t go too crazy with the sugar—18 grams sugar for the peach, 19 grams for the raspberry. As a bonus, each flavor also contains 2 grams fiber (thanks, soy!), but the variety of starches added to help the texture approximate that of dairy yogurt bumps the total carb counts up quite a bit (27 grams carb for the peach, 32 for the raspberry), resulting in 160 calories for the peach and 170 calories for the raspberry. And both have 6 grams protein, though how much of that is true soy protein isn't specified.

Both yogurts are kosher, pareve, vegan, and gluten-free.

Well, how is it? The thing that surprised me most about this tasting experience was how much it differed between the two flavors I tried.

I started with the peach flavor. Upon opening the container I was greeted with a fairly gloppy-looking yogurt (“American-style,” I call it), but it was a nice orange color and smelled appetizing. The taste was pretty sweet with a bit of a soy undertone (this wasn’t bad, however—like I said, you just have to accept that soy yogurt has a taste all its own). There were little peach chunks throughout the yogurt, though not that many, and I’m sad to say that they were kind of tasteless.

Still, the product was all right, innocuous. Not the best soy yogurt I’ve ever tasted, but perfectly edible. The next time I go vegan for a week, I would put it on the menu.

The raspberry, on the other hand, was distinctively grayish in color. (In fact, I’d call it a barely pink shade of gray.) It had the worst part of the raspberries—the seeds—distributed throughout without any good fruity chunks. And, I shit you not, it tasted like tartar sauce.

Tartar sauce, you ask? Yes, tartar sauce. I actually ate my way through the whole the cup because with every bite I thought “Nah…that can’t be right. The next bite has to taste different.” But alas, no, tartary all the way. So congratulations, Trader Joe, on discovering the strange alchemy that can apparently turn soy, starch, fruit, sugar, and cultures into such a close approximation of everyone’s favorite pickly mayonnaise condiment.


Where's it made? Where are any store’s private-label goods made? It’s so hard to tell. These yogurts were, however, “Distributed & Sold Exclusively” from Trader Joe’s Monrovia, CA, address, 2,759 miles from NYC.

Ingredient notes: Both flavors consist of pasteurized and cultured organic soymilk (filtered water and ground organic soybeans), organic evaporated cane juice, fruit (peaches or raspberries), cornstarch, organic rice starch, natural flavors, lactic acid (from vegetable source), tricalcium phosphate, and four live active cultures. The peach also has “annatto (for color),” listed before the tricalcium phosphate, while the raspberry has no color additives listed (mystery of the gray color solved!).

So, more sugar than fruit…a couple of thickening starches…an acid to help ferment said starches...color in the peach flavor…and an added source of calcium (which may not be as bioavailable as calcium carbonate). That’s a fair amount of “stuff” added, though most commercial soy yogurts tend to be fairly processed food products in their quest to look similar to dairy yogurts (which are often pretty processed themselves). And at least some of the stuff is organic and all of it is fairly natural.

Processing/Earth-/Animal-friendliness: Clearly these yogurts are pretty animal-friendly, since they’re animal-product-free! Some of the ingredients are organic (the soymilk, evap. cane juice, and rice starch; not the fruit or cornstarch, though). The containers are your standard #5 plastic with a plastic lid.

Price: Not bad—a 6-ounce cup costs 99 cents at, you guessed it, Trader Joe’s. (But the question with any TJ’s product always is: Will it actually be on the shelf when I get there? And will it be discontinued next week? Hoard’em if you like ’em, I guess, because ya never know.)

The bottom line: The peach tastes all right, is at least partly organic, and doesn’t cost too much, so I think it’s a decent option if you’re doing the soy yogurt thing. The raspberry is flat-out nasty. There’s also a strawberry flavor, but I don’t eat strawberry yogurt (sorry), so if you try it, please post a comment and let us know how it is.


Peach flavor:
taste: 3; texture: 1; sugar: 1; sat fat: 2; price: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal/earth friendliness: 0.5

TOTAL = 10.5

Raspberry flavor:
taste: 1; texture: 1; sugar: 1; sat fat: 2; price: 2; naturally sweetened: 1; animal/earth friendliness: 0.5

TOTAL = 8.5

Link: Trader Joe’s.


NYHH said...

I have had some other yogurts that are grey, too, and it should automatically count for negative ten points on your scale. Like, tastes great, but grey? Negative ten. Food should not be that color (like really badly cooked meat can also be that color too). Nast.

Alisa Fleming said...

I would love to cross-post your soy yogurt reviews on my website, www.godairyfree.org, with credits and links atop of course. I can be reached via the contact us on the site. Let me know if this is possible. Your reviews are so entertaining, and I have not yet had time to venture the non-dairy world of yogurts. That is, except for Whole Soy & Co., which I really liked. Thanks!

La Chinita said...

Don't know if this answers your question but most private-label goods are actually also manufactured by the consumer companies.

Anonymous said...

You say this is Not the best soy yogurt you’ve ever tasted - which is?

Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised you only give the soy yogurts a 0.5 for animal friendliness. You must be aware that to obtain milk for yogurt, the cows are kept pregnant. When they give birth, the male calves are destroyed and the females added to the herd; the cows are then reimpregnanted and the cycle starts again.

TD said...

My overall favorite soy yogurt is Wildwood--I've been wanting to review it but they've only been carrying one flavor at my local store so I've been holding out in hopes that a few more varieties will be in soon. Stonyfield O'Soy also tastes good in my opinion, but I have issues with its very high sugar content. I haven't been impressed by Silk or Whole Soy in the past, but it's probably time for a re-taste.

TD said...

As for the 0.5, if the category were just animal-friendliness, then of course any soy yogurt would get full marks. But I've included earth-friendliness in there, and since only some of the TJ's ingredients are organic, I gave it half marks.

It's a good question, though--I should have made it clear that I'm trying to compare soy yogurts to one another, rather than to the dairy yogurts. In the soy yogurt category, the criteria is that a product will get full credit if all of its ingredients are produced in the most sustainable way possible for a soy yogurt.