Remember that bright pink strawberry yogurt they used to sell in the 80s? I haven’t seen it in years, but I’m sure it still exists somewhere. Growing up, we didn’t have much of that bright pink stuff. I grew up in a plain yogurt household. If we wanted to, my brother and I would sweeten it with a spoonful of jam or a drizzle of honey.
That’s the approach I’ve adopted in my grownup life too. Buy it plain (or make it) and manipulate it into whatever you want it to be. Plain yogurt is one of the versatile ingredients I keep on hand. Here are 5 reasons why I always have plain yogurt in my fridge and a few of my favorite ways to use it.
1. Plain yogurt can be sweet or savory.
I love a good tub of French vanilla as much as the next person, but when buying yogurt in this already-sweetened format, you’re pretty locked in. You’re in good shape to whip up a breakfast parfait or a smoothie, but if you need a savory dip or sauce, you’re outta luck. Buying plain yogurt offers so much versatility.
Savory plain yogurt ideas
Some of the best yogurt-based foods are not sweet at all. Take the beloved Bulgarian staple Tarator for example. It’s just plain yogurt with bits of cucumber, fresh dill, chopped walnuts, garlic (optional), salt, and enough water to make it drinkable. This is a must in my house, and it is only possible with plain yogurt. An even simpler drinkable option is to simply add salt and water to plain yogurt for a refreshing drink called “Aryan.” This stuff is very common in Turkey and the Balkans. It takes a tiny bit of getting used to, but once you’re hooked, you’re hooked.
Speaking of Turkey and the Balkans, Turkish Eggs (or Eggs Panagyurski in Bulgaria) are amazing: poached eggs sitting in a garlicky yogurt sauce with a drizzle of spicy butter. If you haven’t tried these before, I highly recommend you do!
You can also make a wide variety of savory dips and sauces with plain yogurt with the option to strain the yogurt first to make your dips extra thick and creamy. We referred to this strained yogurt as “yogurt cheese” growing up, but it’s more commonly known these days by its Arabic name, “labneh.” It’s dreamy stuff.
How to sweeten plain yogurt
The easiest way to sweeten plain yogurt is to add something sweet to it. Here are a few ideas for things you can add to plain yogurt to sweeten it up:
- A spoonful of jam.
- A drizzle of honey or maple syrup (a sprinkle of cinnamon is nice here too).
- A mashed banana.
- Sweetened yogurt (this is great for people transitioning away from eating fully sweetened yogurt).
- Frozen, defrosted berries. Fresh berries are great too, but frozen and defrosted berries release a lot of juice, which swirls into plain yogurt very nicely.
- Canned peaches with a bit of syrup from the can (this is also great with cinnamon).
- A small splash of pure vanilla extract with a drizzle of honey or a sprinkle of sugar.
You can get creative with various combinations of these ingredients to keep things interesting!
2. It’s budget-friendly, especially when you make it yourself.
Where I live, I can buy a kilo of organic yogurt for about 10 bucks. That’s not too bad, but it’s even cheaper when you make your own. Making plain yogurt from scratch is easier than it sounds, especially when you have an Instant Pot or similar electric pressure cooker. With this method, I can buy a gallon of milk (which sets me back 5-10 bucks for non-organic vs organic milk respectively), and end up with a gallon of homemade yogurt the next morning which tends to carry us for two weeks.
Hot tip: When you’re removing your freshly homemade yogurt from the pot, set a small amount aside in a tiny jar and keep it in the back of your fridge. That way, you will always have your starter yogurt on hand and ensure that someone in your house doesn’t accidentally eat it!
3. You’re always 1 minute away from a substantial snack.
There is no breakfast or snack more convenient than a bowl of yogurt with a sprinkle of granola, muesli, or cereal on top. A blob of jam will make it extra appealing to someone with a sweet tooth. This is a daily breakfast at my house and it makes weekday mornings a breeze. It’s also a great packed lunch option if you’re running low on lunch supplies.
If you’re a smoothie person (which I’m not), plain yogurt is a must. No need to mess around with too many ingredients either. Just chuck some yogurt and frozen berries (a handful of spinach if you’re into it) into a blender and you’re off to the races. Of course, you can go wild with your superfood smoothie additions, but as I said earlier, I’m not much of a smoothie person so I’ll not be giving advice on the matter.
4. Plain yogurt is awesome for baking.
Ever wonder why so many recipes call for buttermilk? It’s for good reason. Buttermilk is naturally acidic, which helps boost the rising power of alkaline baking soda in recipes. You know what else is naturally acidic? Plain yogurt. Yogurt is such a powerhouse ingredient in baking, especially in things that rise quickly in the oven or a pan, like muffins and pancakes. Yogurt doesn’t react in the exact same way as buttermilk, so swapping the two in a recipe won’t give you the exact same results. Chances are, the recipe will likely turn out pretty well though. For best results, choose recipes that call for yogurt specifically, like these Yogurt Blueberry Muffins from Ahead of Thyme, or these Yogurt Pancakes from the Spruce Eats.
5. You can’t beat that tang!
Plain and simple, you cannot beat the refreshing tang of plain yogurt. If you’ve been eating sweetened yogurt all your life, the plain stuff can take some getting used to. But I’m confident you’ll quickly begin to love the unique flavor. That tanginess is something I really miss when I eat a container of sweetened yogurt, where the tanginess is almost nonexistent.
So, I hope I’ve convinced you that plain yogurt is the way to go. All that French vanilla is nice and all, but it’s just so limiting. You can’t make a salad dressing with French vanilla yogurt, and you certainly can’t make cold cucumber yogurt soup with that bright pink stuff. Let me know if you are on team plain yogurt, or if you’ll be sticking to the sweet stuff. I’m curious to know!
If you’re not a dairy person, there are so many great plant-based yogurts on the market today. You can also make your own plant-based yogurt using recipes like this Vegan Yogurt Recipe from my friend Mel over at A Virtual Vegan.
Recipes using plain yogurt
Here are links to some of the recipes I mentioned using plain yogurt, plus a few more winners.