Frozen yoghurt: Cooler than ice-cream

Once, it was sold as a health food. Now funky frozen yoghurt 'bars' are springing up everywhere. Gillian Orr finds out why this dessert is having a fashion moment

Look closer at candid snaps of celebrities on their days off, wandering around Los Angeles, and you might notice a change taking place: instead of clutching a takeaway cup of coffee, stars are increasingly likely to be seen brandishing a little tub of frozen yoghurt.

It may seem an unlikely trend but like so many other things from the Eighties, frozen yoghurt is officially back in fashion. And it's not just in the United States. Speciality bars are popping up all over Britain and supermarkets have started stocking interesting new brands. Is this just another food fad or does it have the potential to become a mainstay on the high street?

You may barely recognise the modern frozen yoghurt from previous incarnations. Originally introduced as a low-fat alternative to ice cream, frozen yoghurt could be found in two guises. One tried to assume the identity of ice cream, coming in the same, strange hybrid flavours and stocked in parlours in a thousand American provincial malls. Inevitably, it never tasted as good as the real thing. The other was as a niche hippy health food, the sort of thing bought by people who use all-natural toothpaste.

With the rise of low-fat ice cream, frozen yoghurt fell out of favour. But now it's being given a makeover. Trendy frozen yoghurt bars such as Frae and Snog are springing up everywhere. Their yoghurt is now proud to be yoghurt, boasting about its health benefits – assisting the digestive system, a good source of calcium, supporting the immune system. Instead of trying to be sweet like ice cream, it is mainly sour, much closer in taste to, well, yoghurt.

It all started in California, where a young and cool chain called Pinkberry has had queues round the block since it opened its first branch in 2005. Dozens of copycat stores were open within a year and the US frozen yoghurt market is now worth $8bn. It only took a few enterprising Brits to bring the concept back to the UK.

The frozen yoghurt bars' biggest seller is the tart natural flavour that comes soft-serve like a Mr Whippy and is then decorated with a choice of toppings – and this is where your snack can go one of two ways. There is the healthy (berries, banana, mango, nuts, granola) and the unhealthy (brownie, cookie, chocolate). Most bars do actually sell other yoghurt flavours as well – green tea and chocolate can often be found on offer – but natural is always the main attraction.

And these frozen yoghurt bars are not just intended to be a place for people to drop by if they fancy some dessert, they want to take a slice of business away from coffee shops and juice bars. They are intended to be a casual place for groups of friends to hang out and they have been carefully designed to look sleek, trendy and inviting, somewhere you wouldn't mind whiling away a few hours. Customers are encouraged to believe they are tapping into a lifestyle choice, hence they are "bars" rather than "parlours". In America, people "go for yoghurt" in the same way they would "go for coffee". Tristan Pestana, the co-owner of UK's leading frozen yoghurt chain, Snog, says: "Everyone's getting a bit tired of the whole café culture and this is definitely going to be the next big thing."

Despite its name and marketing jargon likely to irritate ("You'll never forget your first Snog", "Less talk, more Snogging"), Snog is a huge success. Having only opened their first store just over two years ago, there are now five Snog yoghurt outlets across London, with another due to open on the King's Road in September.

Rob Baines, co-founder of Snog, says that "on average I receive eight international enquiries per day about opening Snog all over the world – some we are pursuing, such as the Middle East, Brazil, Italy, France and, of course, across the UK." There are innumerable wacky-named frozen yoghurt bars opening all over Britain: Yu-foria, Lick, Muffinski's, Yogoswirl. Frozen yoghurt, it seems, is big business.

In much the same way smoothie brands like Innocent aim for an environmentally-aware identity, companies such as Frae have run with this, pointing out they "embrace eco-friendly practices and try to do [their] bit by using bio-degradable packaging and spoons". It is also considered a low calorie treat although calorie counts differ depending on the brand: Snog weighs in at 89 calories per 100g, Frae has 67 calories per 100ml. Of course, these rather virtuous figures only count depending on what you top it with.

So what is even in frozen yoghurt? The recipes for the yoghurt in the big bars vary and are closely guarded, each one claiming to be the healthiest or tastiest, but most boil down to natural yoghurt, milk and some sort of sweetener are the main ingredients. Non-fat dairy products are preferred, so the dessert can proudly be called fat-free and probiotic yoghurt is usually used so the associated health benefits can be touted. Companies sweeten their products in various ways. Snog use Agave nectar, a natural plant extract with a high fructose level, while Frae uses sugar from organic sugar cane.

In fact, it is often suggested that the recipes are so secret because frozen yoghurt may not be as healthy as the stores would like you to think it is and so retailers would prefer consumers not to find out exactly what is in the yoghurt.

Some experts have practically laughed at the idea of frozen yoghurt being perceived as a healthy option, when some of those sold in the US, unlike those in the UK, allegedly contain various sugars and additives. There was even an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Elaine put on weight after becoming addicted to a "non-fat" frozen yoghurt.

The dessert is gaining popularity in supermarkets and Sainsbury's started stocking Arctic Farm frozen yoghurt this year. Created by two students who saw a gap in the market for frozen yoghurt as an alternative to luxury ice cream, their sales have doubled since March and it is now stocked in 109 stores. Ben & Jerry's also continue to sell their Low-Fat Frozen Yoghurt alongside their traditional ice cream range and Yeo Valley has launched a frozen yoghurt range.

So can the frozen yoghurt's popularity continue? And what about when winter arrives? Donald Murray, co-founder of Frae, has said that they will push their coffee in the colder months but they've also "taken encouragement from the fact that there are queues outside Pinkberry in New York even when it's snowing". Many dismissed the smoothie as a fad but look how well that is doing. Frozen yoghurt's staying power may just surprise us.

White Peach Frozen Yoghurt



Ingredients



680g ripe white peaches

125ml spring water

150g sugar

240g whole milk yoghurt

Juice of half a lemon





Method



Peel the peaches and cut into chunks.



Bring the water to the boil in a saucepan, add the peaches, cover and boil on a medium heat for 12 minutes.



Add the sugar to the mixture and leave in the fridge overnight



Pour the mixture in pieces into a food processor, adding the yoghurt and lemon juice.



Once this is done, pour the mixture into your ice cream maker to churn according to the recommendations of the manufacturer.

Recipe courtesy Cocomaya.co.uk

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