“It’s All Greek to Me” – But Should it Be?

Controversy erupts over new Greek yogurt-making shortcuts

Greek yogurt is the HBO’s Girls of the yogurt industry – it has taken over nearly a quarter of the total yogurt market in just five years.

Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, America’s biggest maker of Greek yogurt, claims the secret of his success is simplicity, “We want to make yogurt the way it was meant to be,” he said.

The other secret? Machines that spin the yogurt and squeeze out the liquid to strain it. They’re a critical part of his booming business that pumps 1 million pounds of Greek yogurt every day. They are hard to get and, presumably, pretty pricey.

So what are the other companies in the industry to do if they don’t have the fancy strainers? They enlist people like food scientist Erhan Yildiz, who found a way to make yogurt “Greek” without the machines by adding forms of starches obtained different sources like corn and tapioca. He isn’t allowed to specify exactly which yogurt manufacturers use his new ingredient, but his “formulated” Greek yogurt is on shelves now.

Yildiz claims his formula comes close to the original. But the purists at Chobani had another take. Ulukaya said “That ruins the expectation in the consumer’s mind of how pure and simple this product is.” To him, the problem is that there’s no legal definition of Greek yogurt. “There’s no protection around it. You could make a bowl of macaroni, call it Greek yogurt, and nobody could do anything to you, which is sad!”

There is, however, a legal definition of yogurt that says, for example, that yogurt has to be made from milk and bacterial culture. Most yogurt companies say that you can add starch or concentrated milk protein and still call it yogurt, though there has been a class-action lawsuit against Yoplait, for advertising a product as “real Greek yogurt” that was “neither Greek, nor technically even Yogurt,” the attorney’s website reads. “Yoplait puts other ‘stuff’ in their Greek yogurt and claims it to be the real deal.”