Cooking Tips · Ingredients

Yogurt — Not just for Snacking

You might think yogurt is just for snacking but in this Cooking Tip, I want to show you how to use it in baking and/or cooking. My husband used to make his own yogurt and I loved it as I always had some nice & thick unflavored yogurt on hand to use whenever I wanted it. Sadly, he has moved on to other things and his yogurt maker now sits lonely on the shelf.

Yogurt is produced by inoculating milk with a bacterial strain that starts fermentation. This thickens the milk and gives it a sour flavor. The milk can be anywhere between skim and whole. Yogurt has become so popular that plain, unflavored yogurt is just a small minority of the yogurt offered in the store. Flavored yogurts are the mainstay in the dairy aisle. You will also find Greek and non-Greek yogurt as well as non-dairy options.

When it comes to using it as an ingredient, stick to plain, unflavored yogurt. Unless your recipe calls for something different, opt for full-fat yogurt. If you can’t find it, try 2%. If possible, stay away from non-fat as you won’t get the same creaminess. This is especially true if you are trying to substitute yogurt for a different dairy product. For example, if you are making a sauce that calls for heavy cream and you try to replace it with a low- or non-fat yogurt, it might result in a mess of a sauce. The fat content is necessary to coat the proteins in the cream. If you have less fat, there is less coating of the proteins and when heated, the proteins will join together and coagulate – not a pretty sight!

Similarly, if you are trying to thicken your sauce by the reduction method, low fat products are not recommended. Once again, there is not enough fat to coat the proteins and prevent coagulation. One work-around that is recommended is to add a bit of starch to replace some of the fat. For example, adding a bit of cornstarch to your low-fat dairy and the rest of the ingredients for your sauce. Or, just use a higher fat yogurt.

How can you use yogurt in your cooking? Here are a few ideas.

  • Sauces – adding a touch of yogurt to your pan sauce can add richness.
  • Toppings – top your bowl of chili or soup with a dollop. Do this just before serving.
  • Marinades – the enzymes in yogurt help break down proteins, which tenderizes meat and fish.
  • Mayonnaise – use yogurt instead of mayo in your chicken salad or creamy dressings.
  • Buttermilk – yogurt can be used in place of buttermilk. For every cup of buttermilk, mix 2/3 cup of yogurt with 1/3 cup of milk.
  • Sour cream – yogurt, especially Greek, can be substituted for sour cream. Cooks Illustrated cautions that with high heat preparations, the yogurt might break due to the lower fat content as compared to sour cream.

Here are a few tips for using yogurt in your recipes:

  • If adding to a hot mixture, temper it. Add a few tablespoons of the hot mixture into the yogurt first. This warms the yogurt and helps to prevent separation. Then you can stir that back into your hot mixture.
  • Stir/fold the yogurt in gently to help maintain a nice texture.
  • Add the yogurt in the final stages of cooking to maintain its thickness.
  • If your yogurt-based salad dressing or dip is not thick enough, a rest in the refrigerator for an hour should help.

If a recipe calls for Greek-style yogurt and all you have is regular yogurt, don’t despair. Put your regular yogurt into a fine-mesh strainer lined with a paper towel or coffee filter and place over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to drain as long as you can, preferably overnight. You will be left with delightfully thick yogurt but you will also be left with the liquid that is drained off – the whey. Don’t throw that away as you can use it in your baking.

According to King Arthur Flour, whey can be used in place of water in yeast bread recipes as the yeast likes the acidity of the whey. It can also be used as a substitute for buttermilk. Since whey is thinner, they recommend to reduce the amount by about 20% to 25%, compared to the buttermilk. If the amount of buttermilk is less than ½ cup, don’t bother with the reduction. Use the same amount of whey as buttermilk.

If you want to use yogurt in your recipes for baked goods, realize that Greek yogurt is going to have less moisture than regular yogurt. Therefore, to ensure your baked goods such as muffins do not come out dry, you need to add a bit of water. If your recipe calls for 1 cup liquid, use 2/3 cup Greek yogurt and 1/3 cup water.

For a more complete chart for how to substitute yogurt for different dairy ingredients, see this chart produced by in conjunction with Stonyfield yogurts.

Do you like to use yogurt in your cooking and baking? Let me know how you use it and any advice you have for others. The next time you walk by the yogurt aisle, not only grab some for snacking but grab some also for cooking/baking. Have fun!