Why Do Recipes Specifically Call For Greek Yogurt Instead Of Regular?

There is a very valid reason.

Healthy breakfast with Fresh greek yogurt on background
Photo: wilatlak villette/Getty Images

Myriad recipes call for Greek yogurt, and not just for breakfast parfaits. We're fond of using this tangy and versatile dairy product in all sorts of recipes, from dips to dessert. It's so common place in the kitchen these days, you probably have a quart in your fridge right now. Have you ever wondered why recipes specifically call for Greek yogurt instead of regular, though?

It seems like only yesterday that there was only one type of plain yogurt available at the store, and the choice, if any, was between low and full fat. Now the dairy aisle not only contains a plethora of flavors, but styles of yogurt, with offerings from around the globe.

We'll breakdown what makes Greek yogurt different from other styles, and why it's preferred over regular yogurt in so many recipes.

What Is Greek Yogurt?

From the moment you peel back the foil on the yogurt container, you’ll notice that Greek yogurt is thicker than its counterparts in the dairy aisle. That’s because Greek yogurt is strained.

Like any yogurt, it’s a cultured dairy product, which means milk is fermented with bacterial cultures. Don’t let the ‘bacteria’ alarm you; this process is both entirely safe and actually very good for your gut. The fermentation process uses these bacterial cultures to convert lactose, the natural sugar in milk, into lactic acid.

After fermenting, Greek yogurt is strained to remove some of its liquid, known as whey, and this thickens the yogurt significantly. This also concentrates the yogurt, making its signature tang more pronounced; it also produces a yogurt both higher in protein and fat (if made with whole milk) than regular yogurt. 

Today, the grocery store is lined with many more types of yogurt beyond just Greek or regular. You may have seen containers labeled 'skyr' next to Greek yogurt on the shelf. It’s an Icelandic-style yogurt that is also strained, but has a more mild flavor. You might have also come across labneh, a Middle Eastern yogurt that is strained further than Greek yogurt, making it thicker, with an almost cream cheese like texture, and a tangier flavor.

How Greek Yogurt Is Used In Recipes

Greek yogurt is frequently used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, but also makes a great ingredient substitute in a pinch, and can be used in baking. 

Its thicker texture makes Greek yogurt a great base for dips, marinades, and sauces. Greek yogurt is widely used in tzatziki sauce, alongside cucumber, garlic, lemon, and fresh herbs like dill. Tzatziki is a great example of how the thicker texture of Greek yogurt allows for wet ingredients like grated cucumber, lemon juice, and often olive oil to be incorporated without the sauce getting too loose. 

Greek yogurt is also frequently used in place of other cultured dairy products like sour cream or creme fraiche in recipes, since it’s similarly thick. It’s also a popular healthy alternative to mayonnaise in recipes. For example it can be used in Deviled Eggs to make a rich filling without as much added fat. 

Greek yogurt is also perfect for baking. It’s used similarly to sour cream in cakes and other baked goods, but can also be used in glazes or folded into whipped cream. Many bakers love the way it helps keep baked goods moist while adding a tang, not unlike baking with buttermilk. Its acidity also helps activate the baking soda in batters for a nice rise. 

When Can I Use Regular Yogurt Instead?

You have to be careful with swapping Greek yogurt and regular. In some applications, the thinner consistency of regular yogurt doesn't impact the recipe at all. With baking, if a recipe specifically calls for Greek yogurt, the added moisture from using regular yogurt instead might make the dough or batter too wet.

Some recipes are more forgiving. For example, a salad dressing might be slightly looser, but work out just fine when made with regular yogurt. A good rule of thumb in subbing regular for Greek is to use slightly less, at least initially, since it's so much looser.

Pro Tip

If you have regular yogurt on hand, you can always turn it into Greek yogurt if you have the time. Simply place the regular yogurt in fine mesh sieve set over a bowl, and allow the mixture to strain for a few hours in the fridge.

Recipes To Make Using Greek Yogurt

Try out one of these recipes that use creamy and tang Greek yogurt.

Lemon-Yogurt Crumb Cake 

Greek yogurt helps make this lemon cake ultra moist and tender. 

Orange-Basil Yogurt Dip

This five ingredient dip starts with Greek yogurt and gets added flavor from basil, garlic, and orange.  

Sweet-and-Spicy Corn Soup

Greek yogurt adds a cooling tang and creaminess to this spicy corn soup. 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles