The real nature of yogurt

A common choice for breakfast, dessert or a snack, yogurt has many health benefits. However, some also contain unnecessary ingredients. Do you know what’s in the yogurt you buy?

Good bacteria

Yogurt is filled with millions of bacteria that are essential to its creation because they convert lactose (a sugar found in milk) into lactic acid. This acidity coagulates the milk and the result is yogurt. The list of ingredients identifies the presence of bacteria with the term “active bacterial culture,” a lot easier than their real names: lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus!

Besides “making” yogurt, the bacteria improve how milk is digested because they pre-digest some lactose, lipids and protein. This is why people who are lactose intolerant can eat yogurt without suffering from diarrhea or abdominal cramps.

Super bacteria

Unconventional bacterial strains have joined the crowd in recent years. They are called “probiotic bacteria” because of their perceived health benefits. They inhibit the development of harmful bacteria in the intestines. They also help prevent and treat antibiotic-associated diarrhea and traveller’s diarrhea, also known as Montezuma’s revenge.

Probiotics are also believed to help prevent vaginal and urinary tract infections, lower blood cholesterol levels, prevent allergies and lower the risk of certain cancers and kidney stones. However, even though several studies have demonstrated their potential, research on humans has been limited. This explains why scientists are showing restraint on the issue, at least for now.

Staying alive!

All this bacteria has to be alive in the yogurt in order to be effective. This means it has to remain alive during the storage time, and survive acidity it meets in the stomach and throughout the digestive tract. Basic lactic acid bacteria (L bulgaricus and S thermophilus) have a difficult time surviving in stomach acid and bile.

Which bacteria are found in what yogurt?

All yogurts contain basic lactic acid bacteria but less than half of the products on the market contain probiotics. Their presence is usually indicated on the front of the container. There are two or three of the following families: bifidobacteria (or bifidus), lactobacillus casei, lactobacillus acidophilus.

All yogurts in this brand contain bifidus and lactobacillus acidophilus. The Svelte line contains lactobacillus casei.


All yogurts in this brand contain the three previously listed families.


Yoplait Basket (fat-free version only) contains bifidobacteria.

Probiotics have a higher survival rate (from 10 to 30 per cent), but nothing guarantees their presence in large numbers in the yogurt being eaten. Bacteria have a better chance to survive in fresher yogurt.

Another condition to their effectiveness: it must be eaten regularly because probiotics do not last long in our intestines. A daily dose is required to ensure their continued presence.

A recipe that is changed too often

Yogurt was originally made from milk and bacterial cultures, that’s all. Some companies add milk substances (milk powder, cream, protein, etc.) in order to give it a desired texture. Others are turning to non-dairy ingredients; food additives used for their gelling, thickening, emulsifying and stabilizing properties. Although they distort the yogurt and give it a texture closer to that of pudding, it is still safe to eat. The majority of new properties are plant-based carbohydrates (sugar). They include:


Mucilaginous substance (viscous and translucent) extracted from certain plants, also classified as soluble dietary fibre. Guar gum (guar bean extract) or locust bean gum are among the most common.


Starch is a carbohydrate found in seeds, stems, roots and tubers. Starch expands in liquid to form a gelatinous mass.


It’s a soluble dietary fibre extracted from various fruits (apple, orange, lemon, blackberry, etc.).

Agar-agar and carrageenan

Both are derived from certain species of red algae.


Unlike the previous properties, this ingredient is protein-based. It is extracted from the bones and cartilage of animals (usually porcine).

Most yogurts on the market contain this kind of gelling property. Damafro and Liberty plain yogurt do not contain gelatin.

Health and food

Fat makes yogurt smooth and sweet. Yogurt with 2% m.g. or more has more texture and flavour than yogurt with 0.1% m.g. Choose this kind for your dip and other recipes. From a health point of view, stop nitpicking over the fat content of yogurt: 2% fat is not too much, especially for growing children.

Yogurt has a reputation as a healthy food. However, it can also be very sweet. A small 125g serving of fruit yogurt contains the equivalent of about three sugar cubes more than plain yogurt. It is a better idea to add fruit and a bit of syrup to plain yogurt to have a less sweet dessert. You can also make your own yogurt with a yogurt maker, as you will see below.

We tested... a new yogurt maker

Who said making homemade yogurt was long and complicated? It is easy with the Donvier electric yogurt maker... but it is true that it takes time! There is one step that can’t be skipped, fermentation, and it lasts about 10 hours.

How to...

To make homemade yogurt, you simply have to heat up some milk and add some plain yogurt or a commercial bacterial culture and let the appliance do the rest. It will maintain the proper temperature for fermentation. The result is yogurt with the same consistency and taste as plain yogurt you buy. The advantage to homemade is that it only contains the ingredients you want. Add skim milk powder to change the texture and enrich it with calcium and protein; fruit and jam can also be added to vary the flavour.

The Donvier yogurt maker can make up to 1.5 litres of yogurt at a time. Unlike other yogurt makers, it comes with eight 6 oz. containers with lids. Each container can have a different flavour and they fit easily into a lunch box.

Is it worth it? The yogurt maker costs around $60. Each litre of yogurt will cost you the price of a litre of milk, plus the cost of the bacterial culture to start off. This will mean a few cents if you use plain yogurt or around a buck if you opt for a bought bacterial culture. In short, you will be paying less than $1.50 per litre... after buying the appliance.

Stéphanie Côté