Also, what's kefir?
Science has seem to come down in favor of yogurt, because all things considered, yogurt is good for your health. But once you hit the dairy aisle in your supermarket, it's hard to know exactly which type of yogurt is healthiest and what's real yogurt and what's been heavily process and thickened with cornstarch. There are so many different types of yogurt that it's easy to get confused. Like, what's the difference between regular and Greek yogurt, again? And I'm pretty sure there's a difference between yogurt and kefir, but I couldn't really tell you what it is. Then there's Icelandic yogurt, which is its own thing entirely, but how different can it really be? It's just yogurt, after all.
With dozens of different containers staring you down and waiting to be picked from the shelves at the grocery store, it's no surprise if you've ever been woefully confused by all these different types of yogurt. But it's worthwhile spending the time to learn what you're getting from your yogurt, because there is a significant difference between all these different kinds of yogurt—even when it comes to health benefits.
So if you're ready to become the master of fermented milk and bacterial cultures, read on, and never be confused by the difference between regular and Greek yogurt ever again.
Plain yogurt is made with milk and bacteria. The milk is heated, then the bacteria is added, which causes the fermentation that makes the milk thicken into that yogurt-y texture you know and love. And if you're eating regular yogurt, that's really all there is to it.
But when you go to the supermarket, it's not always so simple. Regular yogurt sometimes comes with additives, like pectin to help the yogurt gel together. That's especially common in yogurts with fruit, which isn't bad in and of itself—but those can also be packed with sugar, even high fructose corn syrup. And as Real Simple points out, low-carb yogurts and whipped yogurts are usually less nutritious than straight-up yogurt. So when you go to the store, look for the regular, plain yogurt with just two ingredients: milk and live or active cultures.
Greek yogurt is made with the exact same ingredients and basic process as plain yogurt, but there's one extra step. After the yogurt is made, it's strained. That rids it of excess liquid and makes the yogurt thicker. (If you want to make Greek-style yogurt at home, try straining regular yogurt through a coffee filter or a cheesecloth.)
As with regular yogurt though, things can get tricky once you get to the grocery store. There are no US government guidelines for, so when you're buying Greek yogurt, check the label to make sure there are those two ingredients—milk and live or active cultures—with no additives. If you like flavored or fruity yogurts, get plain Greek yogurt and add fruit in later for the best health benefits.
If you like your yogurt super thick, you might want to try Icelandic yogurt. Known as skyr, this yogurt (which is technically a type of cheese) is made with a different kind of live, bacterial culture than regular or Greek yogurt, which gives it a denser texture. It's protein-packed, naturally low in sugar, and also tastes delicious.
Kefir is basically the opposite of skyr, because kefir is essentially a drinkable yogurt. It's a fermented milk drink that's made with kefir grains, which gives this type of yogurt a thinner, drinkable texture. Other drinkable yogurts are often made from diluting yogurt with water to get that texture, so if you're a fan of those and want more probiotics for your buck, try kefir.