With more and more people becoming conscious of their eating habits, Greek yoghurt – an essential part of the Greek diet – has become a common choice for those looking for healthy food options without compromising taste.

Culinary tradition

It is not clear when and where strained yogurt was first invented, but it is a staple all around the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and many other parts of south-eastern Europe and Asia; it is consumed raw as well as used in the preparation of both sweet and savoury dishes.

What makes it different compared to the type of yogurt usually consumed in Western Europe and North America is its making process: it is strained in a cloth to remove the whey, which gives it a thicker consistency and a distinctive sour taste. It can be made from sheep, goat or cow milk, which may have been enriched by boiling off some of its water content. The straining process makes even non-fat varieties thicker, richer, and creamier compared to unstrained yogurt, but it also requires a bigger amount of milk.

In Greece, traditional, old-style yoghurt is made from sheep and/or goat milk, served in flat clay pots, with a fatty film or “skin” formed on its surface, which is discarded by many but consumed as a unique delicacy by others. Most yogurt brands in Greece today, however, use cow milk. Standard production provides a choice of 0, 2, 5 or 10 per cent fat.

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Yoghurt is widely consumed in Greece, either on its own -as breakfast, snack or a light meal- as the basis of a hearty dessert, when combined with honey and nuts (usually walnuts), or with traditional Greek fruit preserves called “spoon sweets”, usually made from fruit such as sour cherries, figs, quinces or bergamot.

Strained yoghurt is also the main ingredient in one of Greece’s most popular sauces, the famous tzatziki, where yogurt is mixed with finely chopped cucumbers, garlic, salt and olive oil to create the ubiquitous dip that can be paired with almost any savoury dish of the Greek cuisine, but is most prominently featured in the Greeks’ favourite street food, the souvlaki – pork skewers or gyro with fresh salad served in pita bread.

Health benefits

Greek yoghurt has rapidly gained popularity because it is a healthy choice while also being tasty and filling. Since the straining process removes some of its lactose, strained yoghurt is lower in sugar and carbohydrates than the unstrained kind, while it also contains a higher amount of protein. As all yogurts, it is also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B12, and iodine.

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Greek yoghurt is also a great source of probiotics, that is, live bacteria and yeasts that can help boost your immune system and are especially beneficial to the digestive system. Due to its rich consistency, and because it curdles less readily when cooked, strained yogurt can be used not only raw – as breakfast, snack or a cold dip – but also in many recipes, since it is an ideal substitute for fattier products such as sour cream, cream cheese, butter, mayonnaise and buttermilk.

Greek Exports

Fage was the first Greek company to introduce commercial strained yoghurt, in the 1980s, as well as the first to popularise it in Western Europe and the USA. Marketing its strained yogurt products as “Greek yogurt”, it was the reason the term became synonymous with strained yogurt. In 2014, the firm in fact won a long legal battle in the UK to block non-Greek companies from marketing their yogurt products as “Greek”, but allowing them to use the term “Greek-style” instead.

According to data provided by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2018 Greece was the 4th largest exporter of yogurt in the world, with a 7.24 per cent market share ($193M exports value) after Germany (24 per cent) and France (12.3 per cent), and closely following Saudi Arabia (7.33 per cent). It should be noted that Germany and France are among the world’s top dairy producing countries and held the first and fourth place, respectively, in the list of top milk exporters in 2018. Greece, on the other hand, is not known as a milk-producing country, and its status as a yogurt exporter is based primarily on its sturdy yogurt-making tradition.

In 2019, Greece had a 7.5 per cent market share, which means it more than doubled its share in ten years (from 3.1 per cent in 2009). According to a comprehensive survey by the National Bank of Greece, Germany and France remain the dominant forces in the “mass” market segment, yet Greece has a 48 per cent share in the “premium” segment of the market (products with a price of €1.8/kg or more).

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Greek yoghurt is presently exported in over 40 countries all over the globe; the key countries leading Greek yoghurt consumption are the US with a 51.12 per cent of market share, France with 8.70 percent share, Germany with 8.31 percent and the UK with 6.31 per cent, followed by Greece with a 4.01 per cent market share. Market analysts predict a steady growth Greek yogurt market, estimating a compound annual growth rate of 8.85 per cent by 2021.

Source: Greek News Agenda