It is regarded as one of the few foods that offers indulgence and taste while at the same time satisfying health and diet needs. And although the definition of yogurt as a "semi-solid sourish food prepared from milk fermented by added bacteria" may leave a bad taste in the mouth, sales have rocketed in recent years.
According to market research company Nielsen, UK sales of yoghurt weighed in at £560m in 1996 - up 3% year on year. With each British adult consuming around 6.5 litres per year, according to the Dairy Industry Federation, this growth trend looks set to continue - especially within the specialised sectors such as organic, bio and low fat.
In the catering trade, yoghurt is mainly given to customers at breakfast and lunchtime and is used in the kitchen for cooking. Most catering establishments, though, say they are careful not to buy too much yogurt as it has a limited shelf life and can often end up being given away.
After the Christmas period most people's food thoughts turn from heavy eating to a lighter menu. With this in mind, Chef invited a panel of tasters to Lucknam Park health farm in Colerne, Wiltshire, to put a selection of yogurts to the test.
All the yoghurts were put into bowls before they were brought out to the tasters and were tasted blind. Detailed questionnaires were completed as each yogurt was tasted.
Tasters were asked what they required from a yoghurt as well as details of their own personal taste, and they were reminded that the products were to be assessed on an individual, rather than a comparative basis.
What makes the ideal yoghurt?
Each yoghurt was assessed as follows:
Top of the pots
The amount of fruit content contained in Muller's Breakfast Bio Yogurt with Peach, Maracuya and Cereal Grains was one of the factors that made it overall favourite with the tasters. Good consistency and a good balance of flavours were also plus points, with one taster willing to go so far as to comment that "it looks home-made".
Yeo Valley Low Fat Natural Yoghurt was also highly rated by the panellists. They liked its smoothness and strong natural taste, although they believed it could have been thickened slightly.
But the majority of the low-fat yoghurts proved disappointing. Comments such as "artificial taste", "too chalky" or "it leaves a sour taste in the mouth" were typical, and the overwhelming feeling was that the reduced fat content meant a reduction in the quality of the product. One bewildered chef said he could not understand why people would come to his hotel to eat the type of rich meals he prepares only to reach for a low-fat yogurt the next morning for breakfast.
One solution to the lack of taste, the panellists agreed, would be for manufacturers to include more fruit, but most thought that putting extra sugar into the products spoiled them. As one chef pointed out: "Fruit should have enough natural sweetness of its own without trying to add to it."
Mark Taylor is head chef of the Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe, Wiltshire. The hotel is open seven days a week, 365 days a year and caters for 160-180 covers a day, including breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner in the 100-seat restaurant.
Taylor buys natural yoghurt so that his customers can add their own fruit and fruit pieces to it. The natural yoghurt has to be suitable for vegetarians, and Taylor says he would expect the yoghurt he purchases to have good taste and texture.
Richard Bowden is a Eurest chef at Cheltenham & Gloucester's head office in Cheltenham. Being in charge of the 220-seat staff dining room means producing around 400 meals per day for the white-collar and senior management customers.
Bowden says he does buy yoghurts, but sticks to only one brand which has to be low fat. He is ideally looking for yoghurts that are creamy, with a sharp taste and plenty of fruit. Price is also a major factor.
Morris McNeil is head chef of the White Hart Hotel in Salisbury, Wiltshire, which has an 80-seat restaurant, three large function rooms and a 90-seat lounge bar that also provides food.
Before he buys in any yoghurts, McNeil likes to ask for samples from suppliers to make sure they will suit his customers. He says one of his main requirements is to have a good variety available.
Katherine Lock is pastry chef at the Royal Crescent Hotel, Bath. Within the hotel there are two restaurants, the 60-seat Brasserie restaurant and the recently launched Pimpernel's which has a seating capacity of 25.
Local dairy Greek yoghurts are bought in, and again the decision to purchase these is made after samples are ordered and tasted. Taste, texture, appearance, smell and cost are all important to Lock.
PAUL COLLINS is head chef of Lucknam Park, Colerne, Wiltshire, and was our host for the taste test. Each day Collins caters for up to 50 customers per day in the 80-cover à la carte restaurant and the 20-seat Pavillion restaurant. There are also four private dining rooms.
Again, Greek yoghurt is featured in the list of yoghurts that Collins purchases, and his main consideration in buying them is their taste. He says he is fairly open-minded and willing to change his brand if he tastes any better examples.