FOOD & DRINK / We all scream for ..yoghurt?

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The Independent Culture
FROZEN YOGHURTS were introduced several years ago as a healthy alternative to calorie-rich, high fat 'real' ice-cream. They can't be called yoghurt ice-creams because they contain no cream. This is faintly ironic since, apart from top brands, the majority of ice-creams contain no cream anyway, being made from dried milk powder and vegetable oil, sugar, flavouring, emulsifiers and stabilisers - and air, to provide volume.

So how healthy is the healthy yoghurt alternative? Robin Weir, whose definitive book, Ices, is published this month (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 18.99), believes that commercial frozen yoghurts are an absurdity if justified on health grounds. 'You can make excellent frozen yoghurts with creamy, high- calorie Greek yoghurts. But it's an impossible handicap to try to make them with low-fat yoghurt. Low-fat yoghurt is high in water and it doesn't freeze effectively; it turns to ice crystals unless you provide a lot of bulk in the form of sugar.' And few people defend the health benefits of sugar.

What is more, sometimes sugar alone is not enough to hold up a thin ice-cream mixture, so it has to be glued together with generous helpings of emulsifiers and stabilisers. Some are derivatives of the seaweed carrageen, a jellying agent which was used by our grandparents to make blancmanges.

The consumer magazine Which? examined the issue of healthy frozen yoghurts, tasting brand leaders Ski (the popular end of the market) and premium brand leaders HaagenDazs and Kemps. Ski was genuinely low in calories and fat but it was at the expense of taste, they concluded. What calories Haagen-Dazs (admittedly good in flavour) lost on fat, it gained on sugar. Yet it makes the claim that it has 'the rich smooth taste that's unmistakably HaagenDazs, and the benefits of frozen yoghurt'. Benefits? It contained 3.5g fat compared with 5.5g in a Loseley Dairy Ice Cream, but due to its high sugar content it had in fact one-third more calories. True, it had fewer calories than one of its stablemate ice-creams, and is thus healthier, if that is the right word to use.

Kemps frozen yoghurt had one-third less fat than a rich Loseley ice-cream, yet because of its sugar level it had only 13 per cent fewer calories. The claim for the Kemps product is: 'Now you can give in to Kemptations. Luxury dairy ice cream taste with less than half the fat.' A more honest claim would be less fat, more sugar.

So, disregarding health claims, we set up a panel to compare the premium brands on taste grounds.

THE TASTING

The tasting was held at Leith's School of Food and Wine and a panel conducted a blind tasting of 21 frozen yoghurts - what you might call 'yoghurt ice-creams'. They were all premium brands. As a benchmark we also included in the tasting Steven Wheeler's 'home-made' raspberry yoghurt, made from frozen raspberries, yoghurt and icing sugar. (Blend 10oz fruit, 2oz icing sugar, 10fl oz yoghurt. Strain and freeze in ice-cream maker for 25 minutes.)

THE PANEL

Our taste panel consisted of Patrick O'Keeffe, a yoghurt development

expert from the Milk Marketing Board; Steven Wheeler, former patissier at the Connaught Hotel and the author of Sweet Success, a book of desserts; Roz Denny, broadcaster and co-author of the new Sainsbury's Children's Cookery Book, with her daughter, Clemency, aged 12; Fiona Burrell, the joint principal of Leith's school; James Meyer, a photographer; and Michael Bateman of the Independent on Sunday.

THE FINDINGS

Everyone's preferred frozen yoghurt was Steven Wheeler's home-made (made on the spot in 20 minutes in Leith's electric ice-cream maker). But it did not prove to be a benchmark because the thing about commercial frozen yoghurts is that most of them don't taste of yoghurt at all.

Patrick O'Keeffe explained why this should be: they were developed in America to provide a healthier alternative to American ice-creams which are very high in fat, containing about 16 to 18 per cent, compared with half that in the UK. Most ice- cream made by Wall's contains 5 to 7 per cent. So the style was developed to appeal to the American taste for richness in ice-creams. British yoghurt has lower fat, but a less sophisticated taste. Our tasting indicates that neither style is right for our market yet, but there ought to be benefits in developing a style combining the tart, sour flavour of real yoghurt, and the full-flavoured goodness of fresh fruit (which is what Steven Wheeler's frozen yoghurt represented).

At the conclusion of the tasting none of the panel felt they had identified any frozen yoghurts worthy of real acclaim. There was agreement, however, that about half of them were rubbish.

Parents choosing them as a healthy alternative for their children can take little encouragement if their children's tastebuds match those of panellist Clemency. Her tasting notes make telling reading. Steven Wheeler's yoghurt ice was 'Lovely', Kemps chocolate and almond got a 'Yo] Dude]', Haagen-Dazs peach won a 'Yum Yum'. Then comments moved towards the derogatory: 'Too sweet. Horrid. OK if you want to be sick.'

If her comments seem on the dramatic side, her judgements were consistent with those of the rest of us.

SUMMING-UP

Patrick O'Keeffe: 'Some are acceptable, the rest are very poor. It's a pity. The manufacturers have a serious opportunity to use the acidity of yoghurt with fresh fruits. It's a better vehicle than ice-cream.'

Roz Denny: 'There's no health benefit. They don't have an identity. I don't see the point of them.'

Fiona Burrell: 'They are all unbearably sweet, trying to be like ice-creams. They are nothing like the natural yoghurt which I buy for its own flavour.'

Steven Wheeler: 'My mouth feels as if it's been raped by a chemist. I think it's like people buying marge instead of butter; they relieve their guilt by buying yoghurt instead of ice-cream.'

CONCLUSION

The market has got it wrong. But manufacturers could usefully explore flavours which have an affinity with yoghurt such as honey, cinnamon or lemon, and combine cleaner-tasting yoghurts with fresh fruit.

STOCKISTS: Langage Farm frozen yoghurt is available from Harvey Nichols, top London stores and branches of Asda in the South-west. All the other brands are available from major supermarkets nationwide.

YOGHURT WINNERS:

VANILLA FLAVOUR

The category in which the tasters disagreed most. Marking was extremely close. Sainsbury's (number five) was one taster's favourite. The two equal winners were marked bottom by two other tasters.

1 = Haagen-Dazs vanilla and almond 500ml pounds 3.29

1 = Kemps French vanilla 474ml pounds 1.89

3 Langage Farm vanilla 750ml pounds 3.29

4 Safeway bio 500ml pounds 1.69

5 Sainsbury vanilla bio 500ml pounds 1.29

STRAWBERRY FLAVOUR

Almost total unanimity among the panel here. Conclusion: all were pleasant imitations of ice-cream, but not very yoghurty.

1 Marks & Spencer strawberry 500ml pounds 1.49

2 = Kemps Californian strawberry 474ml pounds 1.89

2 = Langage Farm strawberry 750ml pounds 3.29

4 Safeway strawberry 500ml pounds 1.69

PEACH FLAVOUR

An unsatisfactory category. Much of a muchness, and difficult to choose between their mainly sugary, tinned-fruit tastes.

1 Haagen-Dazs peach 500ml pounds 3.29

2 Marks & Spencer peach 500ml pounds 1.49

3 Langage Farm peach 750ml pounds 3.29

MIXED FRUITS

All the panel felt a tremendous challenge had been missed here. The acidity of fruit ought to go well with the sharp tang of good yoghurt. Only the winner lived up to expectations. Most of the others were poor imitations of ice-cream. Safeway's cherry was the colour of lavender but tasted like cheap perfume, and it was awarded the Order of the Bin.

1 Loseley raspberry and redcurrant 500ml pounds 2.29

2 Loseley blackberry & apple 500ml pounds 2.29

3 Haagen-Dazs banana and strawberry 500ml pounds 3.29

4 Loseley mandarin and nectarine 500ml pounds 2.29

5 Langage Farm blueberry 750ml pounds 3.29

6 Safeway cherry 500ml pounds 1.69

CHOCOLATE, TOFFEE, NUT ETC

In no way reminiscent of yoghurt; rich, sweet ice-creams under another name, with toffee and nut undercurrent. Supposedly loved by children, but not on our panel. There was little to distinguish between them.

1 Kemps caramel nutty fudge 474ml pounds 1.89

2 Kemps chocolate and almond 474ml pounds 1.89

3 Kemps chocolate and toffee crunch 474ml pounds 1.89

CHILD'S CHOICE

Kemps chocolate and almond

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