Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Product Review: Chobani Yogurt

During a recent trip to New Jersey for a friend's wedding, I had the chance to try Chobani gluten-free yogurt.  Since then I've also seen Chobani pop up in my local supermarket in Colorado, so I thought it was high time to write a review.

Chobani is based in the dairy country of upstate New York, and launched in 2007.  Its parent company, AgroFarma, started out with Euphrates, a feta cheese company.  Chobani is AF's second offering, with Greek-style yogurt.

Happily, their yogurts are certified gluten-free by the GFCO.  Seeing that logo on the side of the package is like instant peace of mind that the food you're about to eat is indeed gluten-free.  The company offers three categories of yogurt: non-fat, low-fat, and "Chobani Champions," with packaging designs and flavor names meant to appeal to kids.  (I'd love to see a full-fat version of their yogurt, though I doubt there's enough consumer demand to justify branching out in that direction...)

From an ingredients and nutrition perspective, there's much to love.  Chobani's non-fat and low-fat plain yogurts contain nothing but non-fat milk and live, active cultures, and non-fat milk, cream, and live, active cultures, respectively.  There's a beautiful simplicity to that.  And thanks to the Greek-style of yogurt making, each 6-ounce serving contains about twice as much protein as "normal" yogurt.

On the flavored side of things, they offer an impressive range of nine options currently, including many popular favorites: blueberry, strawberry, peach, vanilla.  In a word, the fruit flavors are delicious.  They are rich and creamy, much like the Noosa Aussie-style yogurt.  And yet, they contain less sugar than most yogurt brands I stock in my fridge regularly.

From a philanthropic point of view, there's also much to love about Chobani.  Every year, the company donates more than 50,000 cups of yogurt to events that support health and wellness.  What's more, the company donates 10% of its annual profits to a dozen charities that work in the areas of health, environment, and what Chobani calls "good" - NRDC, Farm-to-School, Team Hoyt, and Doctors Without Borders, to name a few of them.

[Update: July 23, 2010. When I originally posted our Chobani review, I had mostly praise, but also some criticism with regard to the marketing language on their website.  In response to our criticism of some of their marketing language, Chobani has revised the wording on their website to more accurately reflect their product.  (Their yogurt does not contain thickeners or other additives.  The locust bean gum and pectin are used in the fillings for the fruit flavors to improve the consistency of the fruit.)  We give big kudos to Chobani for responding so promptly and attentively to our concern.  It's a great yogurt that just got even better.]

[For those interested in reading my original criticism, here it is:

Now, despite all this Chobani-lovin' I'm throwing around, I also do have a bone to pick with the company.  They are using marketing language that's coming dangerously close to falsehoods.  

For example, their website declares that "unlike some Greek yogurt companies that add ingredients to their yogurts for texture, you won't find any thickeners, gelatins or stabilizers in our yogurt."  Not so fast.  Both their website and the nutrition and ingredient labeling on the yogurt reveal that the fruit flavor yogurts contain both locust bean gum and pectin, both of which are thickeners and gelling agents widely used in the food products industry.  I'm not necessarily saying locust bean gum and pectin are bad, but don't tell me you don't use thickeners, gelatins or stabilizers.  

For another, Chobani also proudly states that they "lightly sweeten our real fruit chunks with evaporated cane juice, a natural type of unrefined sweetener."  Evaporated cane juice seems all the rage in the natural foods market these days, but from what I've read, it's a lot of smoke in mirrors.  ECJ is remarkably similar to refined sugar.  Structurally, they're nearly identical, and ECJ goes through just one fewer step in the refining process than its alter ego, refined sugar.  ECJ does contain trace amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, and its color is slightly darker, but these differences are marginal.  Again, I don't necessarily mind a little sugar in my yogurt to sweeten the flavor (within reason), but don't dress up an ingredient to be something it's not.]

That being said, I'm still a fan of Chobani.  At the bottom of my proverbial balance sheet, I give it many more pros than cons, and I'll continue to enjoy it in my rotation of favorite yogurts.

- Pete

Image courtesy of Chobani.


theMom said...

Can you please explain the difference between "Amreican" and Greek yogurt? I scanned a couple of web sites and on first perusal, it seems the only difference is that the Greek yogurt has the whey strained off, so it's allegedly firmer.

I generally make my own yogurt, using fresh, raw, whole milk. Because ease is more important to me than taste or texture, I don't get a real consistent result. I generally culture it in a crock pot wrapped with a quilt; sometimes I use a Dutch oven or stock pot; sometimes I don't even wrap it, just takes longer to culture if the temp is cooler...Sometimes it turns out thinner, sometimes thicker. If there is an overabundance of whey, I strain some off; sometimes I store it in a pitcher and pour it over whatever we use it with.

That all said, I have occasionally used Oikos Greek yogurt for starter when I can't get the Dannon All Natural I usually use. When I've used the Greek, the flavor seems blander and the firmness is much different than the variations I've come to expect with the Dannon. It's hard to imagine that merely straining the yogurt could account for those differences.

I was not aware of the protein difference between the Greek and American style yogurts, but since I think whey is also somewhat high in protein, it doesn't seem like straining the whey could make a substantial difference in protein either.

Do you have any thoughts or wisdom on this? It's not really important, just a curiosity thing. I like to know what's going on with my food, but that knowledge doesn't always change the way I do things.

Thanks, Mary

peterbronski said...

Hi Mary... You're correct that the primary difference between American and Greek style yogurts is that the Greek style strains off the liquid whey. The whey does contain some protein, but the act of straining off the less-dense whey results in a much more concentrated yogurt. Whereas in American style yogurt, the ratio of milk to final yogurt is about 1:1 or 1.5:1, in Greek style yogurt, the ratio is more like 4:1. That's how they pack the extra protein in there.

Cheers, Pete

Nicki Briggs said...

Hi there. This is Nicki, Chobani's yogurt-loving dietitian, and I wanted to thank you for taking the time to review Chobani. Your blog is great, and we're honored to be a part of it!

Also, after reading your post, which is wonderfully written btw, I wanted to let you know that you inspired us to reword the answer our first FAQ on our website.

You see, we add no thickening agents to our yogurt. It's 100% authentic and made with only milk and cultures, which we then strain to give it its thick consistency.

However, locust bean gum and pectin are added to the real fruit that we use in our fruit on the bottom varieties. Without these the fruit would have a soup-like consistency bleed into the yogurt, ruining its creamy texture.

Regardless, after reading your post, I see how the wording we had on our website could be misleading. As a company, we are very true to our nothing but good motto and truly try to be as transparent as possible, so we've changed the answer in our first FAQ to reflect that:

Again, thanks for taking the time to bring this to our attention and for your support!

peterbronski said...

Hi Nicki... Thanks for your comment! I appreciate and commend Chobani's responsiveness to our criticism. As you can see, I've updated the blog post review to reflect this. We love your yogurt, and in fact just bought a bunch more last night at the supermarket to stock up our fridge...

Cheers, Pete

Anonymous said...

Locust bean gum IS a thickener. It is also a hidden source of MSG.