Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yogurttime in America

For those of you who do not know, my name is Jason and I have known Dave since kindergarten. Anyway, after reading Dave's yogurt entry I shared some thoughts about the Asian inspired yogurt craze in America and Dave wanted me to guest blog.

Basically I have been a frozen yogurt fan ever since I was a young and frozen yogurt in America consisted of sandy and chemical tasting yogurt such as TCBY and the original Columbo's recipes. Back then frozen yogurt makers attempted for yogurt to resemble its higher calorie cousin, ice cream. Usually they failed at that quest. Supposedly when I was even younger, frozen yogurt resembled regular yogurt in America (i.e. it was tart), just colder. However, it was not as smooth as the yogurt of today. I do not remember this. By about the late 1990s, American frozen yogurt makers improved the quality of frozen yogurt, but in doing so added a great deal of sugar and/or fake sugars to create flavors that did not resemble yogurt at all (or even conventional ice cream at times).

All the sudden in the last couple years Asian inspired tart-tasting frozen yogurt has become a huge fad in America. In the beginning, Pinkberry was only available in Los Angeles, CA. Los Angelenos would crash their cars to get a parking spot near Pinkberry. Then with great fanfare Pinkberry arrived in New York City. After that many supposed copycats opened up. One of those supposed copy cats, Red Mango, is supposedly one of the most popular brands in Asia which the founder of Pinkberry (a Korean-American) copied. Another popular New York City brand, Yolato, promises yogurt-flavored gelato (a combination of Italian Ice Cream and Asian-style yogurt). Over the last year tart yogurt has become so popular that you do not need to go to New York City or Los Angeles to find it. In the winter, I found a great place called Ellie's Yoberri Park, in of all places Santa Fe, New Mexico which sold tart Asian-style yogurt. Ellie's even offered to sweeten the yogurt with agave, a popular Native American sweetener.

Still even before this tart craze, Bloomingdales had quietly been offering great tart yogurt for years. For those of you who do not know Bloomingdales is a department store known for its high end clothes and not its yogurt. Still its 40 carrots cafe (found in New York City as well as many suburban malls) offers some of the best yogurt available anywhere. Few people will go to an upscale store just for frozen yogurt, but it is worth it, even though it is $4.50 for a small.

The funny thing about Pinkberry is that it contains so few yogurt cultures (the bacteria which makes it yogurt) that Pinkberry is legally unable to even call itself yogurt in America. Instead it must call itself a "frozen dessert."

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  1. Nice, Jason; I enjoyed the brief overview of fro-yo in the US and the memories it conjured for me. I indeed do remember that TCBY on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, though I don't remember ever having tried its yogurt!

    I think it is reasonable to pay $4.50USD for a small, American-sized serving, given that it is quantitatively equivalent to a medium-sized serving in Asia. Berrygood, the fro-yo leader in Hong Kong, charges a bit over $4USD for a medium - they charge $5USD for a large.

  2. Pinkberry is actually yogurt and is certified by The National Yogurt Association for the use of the Live and Active Culture Seal on Pinkberry frozen yogurt. The seal certifies that Pinkberry contains a significant number of live and active cultures - more than 10 million per gram.

    In addition, the concept was actually influenced by the simple design of the smaller frozen yogurt shops in Italy, not Red Mango, as stated above.

  3. I did some more research and pinkberry appears to have altered its dessert recipe and has now earned the right to call its product real yogurt. Pinkberry officially received the Live and Active Cultures Seal from the National Yogurt Association on April 17, 2008, almost 3 years after the initial "real yogurt" lawsuit was filed.