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The Greek Swindle

July 26, 2016

Crap. I was taken.

Let the buyer beware. That’s a good axiom to follow. It’s why I recommend reading the ingredients of the food you buy. Every. Single. Time. Sometimes formulations change. Other times, you slowly become aware of ingredients you don’t particularly want in your food.

But dammit, we’re busy people, and we don’t have time for that. We buy brands. Brands are supposed to help create shortcuts when shopping. Brands are trusted. Brands represent certain values.

However, brands too also change. Look at Breyers or Dunkin’ Donuts. Neither represents what they once were. Yet people haven’t caught on to the fact that their beloved brand of yesterday is now just an empty promise, profiting off a memory.

Yesterday, it was brought to my attention that my beloved Cabot Greek-style yogurt is not the product I thought it to be.

Words. Words are so important. Because food producers can be really really sneaky about using words. When I see “Greek-style” yogurt on a container, I make some logical leaps. Maybe they are more like assumptions. I imagine the label doesn’t simply say “Greek yogurt” because it’s not made in Greece. So instead, it’s “Greek-style” because it’s made in America.

If you asked a person on the street who knew anything about Greek-style yogurt, they would probably say that it’s thicker, and denser. And most likely, if you asked them how it was made, they would tell you it was strained.

Greek-style yogurt is pretty easy to make at home, or at least I’ve been told. Because all you have to do is strain regular yogurt. The whey drips through, leaving you with more yogurt in your yogurt.

And that’s why I’ve always been willing to pay about twice the price—on an ounce by ounce basis—for Greek-style yogurt over traditional yogurt. If you take the same inputs, and end up with a finished product that’s half the volume, it makes sense that it would be twice as expensive.

But what if that wasn’t the case?

Even though I buy Cabot’s full fat Greek-Style yogurt, and have some in the refrigerator at this very moment, I never looked too carefully at the ingredients. The ingredients themselves aren’t particularly troublesome on their face. They are milk protein concentrate and whey protein concentrate. What bugs me is that it’s the addition of these ingredients that makes Cabot’s Greek-style yogurt, Greek-style.

It’s not strained at all.

On one hand, it’s great that the manufacturer has created a way of making Greek-style yogurt without creating vast quantities of unwanted liquid whey. Without a doubt, this process of adding thickeners is more efficient. On the other hand, they are still charging the same price as Greek-style yogurt made using less efficient techniques.

That’s good business for Cabot. They are exploiting inefficiencies and creating profit.

However, in doing that, I’m of the mind that the brand is misleading its customers. Is it lying to them? Are people being deceived? Well, I suppose that depends on who you believe.

Making Greek-Style yogurt through the use of additives—as opposed to by straining out the whey—has become a fairly standard practice. And really, people have been upset about this for years.

Which makes it even that much more unforgivable that I should find myself hoodwinked today.

Gah. I hate it when I don’t catch a food manufacturer pulling a fast one. So keep your eyes open for milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, and other non-traditional yogurt ingredients in your yogurt. Even from trusted brands that represent a cooperative of regional farmers.

Industrial food producers may find themselves laughing all the way to the bank, but you don’t have to let them do it with your money.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. EPT permalink
    July 26, 2016 9:37 am

    In a similar vein, probably 7 or so years ago I tried Maya brand Butter Chicken sauce from a local Indian grocer. It was fantastic, as good as you could get in a good Indian restaurant. I gave samples to a number of co-workers who like Indian food and they loved it. So I ordered a couple of cases of it and it never appeared. A year or so later, it was in the market again but with different ingredients. Not good! I suspect but can’t verify that the original is sold only to restaurants where they may tweak it a bit.

  2. Maggie permalink
    July 26, 2016 10:00 am

    I, too, never read the Cabot ingredients. And yet, I was hooked on that yogurt. I still look at it longingly when I’m shopping. I only gave it up in favor of Fage, which is closer to home (and I used to work in that neighborhood). Maybe I should check the Fage ingredients.

    • Beck permalink
      July 26, 2016 10:59 am

      I just finished eating a cup of Fage and the ingredients say: Strained yogurt: Grade A pasteurized milk, live active yogurt cultures, the names of which I’ll not type up, but the usual yogurt-y suspects are there. That’s it.

      It tastes really good and is available in full fat, low fat, and no fat varieties. It’s my favorite brand of Greek yogurt.

  3. Dave permalink
    July 26, 2016 10:12 am

    This bothers me less than if they were using guns/carrageenan/etc… as thickeners. At least they are using derivatives of milk. What’s more, the whey/milk concentrates are probably a result of Cabot’s other dairy endeavors (cheese, butter,…). I think I am OK with this. I think it may be efficiency on Cabot’s part rather than calculated trickery. I don’t know that outside a few of their product lines I am expecting traditional orthodox production of things from Cabot.

    I’ve had Cabot “Greek” yogurt. It’s good. We are moving into an age where many traditional foods will become anachronisms and won’t be available on a mass market scale. I think Cabot does a good job of balancing a viable business model with really decent products.

  4. July 26, 2016 10:51 am

    Just want to point out the whey strained out of Greek yogurt doesn’t have to be wasted. It can be used in bread making in place of water, for example.

  5. July 26, 2016 11:01 am

    I agree with Dave.

    Moreso, I don’t see this so much as being “hoodwinked.” This might be lengthy. I’ll try to bullet-point:

    1) The language: It doesn’t say “Greek yogurt made in the classic tradition.” It clearly says “Greek-style.” And if consumers should take anything away from this conversation, it should be that whenever the word “style” is present, it should be seen as inauthentic to the original process, essentially, a knock-off;

    2) Milk- or whey-derived protein concentrate isn’t harmful. In fact, plenty of studies have examined this additive (more specifically, the bioactive peptides in said protein concentrate) and find no conclusive evidence of its harm, but can find examples of how it might be beneficial to neurological, gastro-intestinal, and general physiological functioning;

    3) That protein that helps to thicken the yogurt can wreak havoc on biosystems when not properly disposed of, which is a big, big problem in the dairy industry that gets little attention. (Think: Algae blooms.) I’d rather have this whey concentrated and separated and added into my thickened yogurt (which already contains these very peptides and proteins) resulting in a potentially HEALTHIER product than have that whey be introduced into the water system and cause environmental damage long-term.

    I guess that wasn’t as lengthy as it seemed in my head.

    • albanylandlord permalink
      July 26, 2016 12:43 pm

      Wow, you know a lot about this stuff. I think you made some very good points, but for me the additives push this into the processed food category and IS deceptive, especially for a brand that markets itself as wholesome and uses the Farmers cooperative as part of it’s image. The dairy derived proteins may not be harmful but who would buy them and feed them to their family? Is anyone adding this good stuff to their eggs in the morning to get more protein? I just can’t imagine anyone who would intentionally buy regular yogurt with added protein instead of regular yogurt.

      • Dave permalink
        July 26, 2016 1:12 pm

        I consume whey protein concentrate all of the time… I guarantee there are people who put it in their eggs (weightlifters)…

  6. July 26, 2016 11:21 am

    Hey Daniel – Our Greek Style yogurt has increased protein and richness because we add milk protein concentrate and whey protein concentrate. We use this style of yogurt making as it is a more efficient way to use our existing equipment without a huge investment for our farmer owners. This style of yogurt making is broadly adopted in the USA and Europe to maximize milk usage and minimize by product. As a farmer owned cooperative, it’s this process that assures a sustainable return for our farmers’ investments and provides our consumers a high-quality, nutritious and affordable Greek-Style yogurt choice.

    • July 26, 2016 11:50 am

      Hey Rachael – I get all that, and think most of your points made it into today’s post. My gripe is less with the process than it is with the marketing of the finished product.

      The typical consumer assumes your Greek-style yogurt is one thing, but in reality it’s something else. Or at least that’s my argument. If you have consumer studies to suggest the opposite, I’d love to see them.

      • July 26, 2016 12:38 pm

        Gotcha! Thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts. We hear what you’re saying. We don’t have any studies about this at this time, but I will voice your concerns with our team so that we’re all in the loop!

      • Dave permalink
        July 26, 2016 1:49 pm

        I don’t know… I think that “style” label is a pretty clear signal to the modern consumer.

  7. albanylandlord permalink
    July 26, 2016 12:34 pm

    Americas Test kitchn tested Full Fat Greek Yogurts and here is what they had to say about Cabot:
    – “Both Cabot’s yogurt, thickened with protein concentrates, and the pectin-thickened yogurt from The Greek Gods lost points for being “grainy” or “chalky,” with “a slight grittiness,” while tasters also noticed that Cabot had a slight “funky,” “cheesy” “off-flavor.”
    – “Mirjana Curic-Bawden, principal scientist at Chr. Hansen… said milk protein concentrate can not only give yogurt a powdery, chalky mouthfeel but also readily absorbs odors. If the milk protein concentrate is stored near fragrant substances (such as cheese), those aromas will be transferred to the yogurt.”
    – Their overall review of the Cabot was: ” This very “pillowy,” extremely high-fat yogurt takes a shortcut to Greece: By adding whey protein concentrate and milk protein concentrate instead of straining off the whey, the manufacturer boosts protein and artificially thickens the yogurt. Tasters complained of a “weird aftertaste,” described as “chalky” and “like plaster,” and a “savory, cooked” flavor (an off-flavor that can result from adding protein concentrates). In tzatziki sauce, tasters said, it was “missing tang.”
    – It was ranked 5 out of 7 products tested.
    – The top two winners of the test were Fage and Danon’s Oikos.
    – Surprisingly to me the Chobani came 6th place, knocked for being Thin and too tangy.

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