There’s nothing like dipping a spoon into a tub of thick strained yogurt and knowing that not only are you in for a tangy treat, but your food-trend game is on point, too. Perusing the dairy aisle, you’re bound to see more varieties of yogurt than you know what to do with, so let us help you keep up. There’s regular yogurt, which we all know and love; Greek yogurt, which has been strained of the whey that would give it the runny texture of regular; and more recently, Icelandic skyr (pronounced “skeer”). Skyr is also a protein-, calcium- and probiotic-rich strained yogurt, as deeply ingrained in Iceland’s food culture as, say, Champagne is in France. But in order to distinguish and enjoy it properly, you’ll need a little more information — it’s more than just whey content.
“You can actually use cheese to compare skyr and Greek yogurt: What’s the difference between Brie and cheddar? They both start with the same milk, but they’re different because of the bacterial culture and techniques that are used,” says John Heath, a yogurt-industry veteran and chief innovations officer at skyr purveyors Icelandic Provisions (which uses “heirloom” skyr cultures imported from Iceland). Depending on the cultures you use, you might end up with quark, Vietnamese yogurt, Bulgarian yogurt, lebneh or any other number of cultured dairy products with different textures, depths and flavor notes.
“Skyr is made in a similar way to Greek yogurt,” says Heath, noting that they’re both strained and have comparable protein, fat and sugar content, “but skyr was a by-product of what Icelanders actually wanted: the whey, used for preserving meat and fish.” In contrast, the fermented dairy itself was the desired end product in cuisines like Greek and Persian. Nowadays, these kitchen staples are used much the same way across the globe — with fruit and cereal for breakfast, as a savory accompaniment to meat or fish and as a baking ingredient. Try skyr and Greek yogurt side by side to see how pronounced the nuances in two closely related dairy products can be.