The Surprising History and Nutrition Behind Greek Yogurt, Skyr, and Natural Yogurt

Yogurt has become an incredibly popular food over the last few decades, but with so many options lining supermarket shelves, it can be downright overwhelming to choose the right yogurt for you. This article will uncover the main differences between natural yogurt, Greek yogurt, and Skyr, so you can determine which is the healthiest and most environmentally-friendly option.

Yogurt originated over 5,000 years ago, potentially in ancient Mesopotamia. While yogurt is now popular worldwide, it was relatively uncommon in Western diets until the mid-20th century. At its core, yogurt is simply fermented milk. Milk is heated, cooled, combined with bacteria cultures, and fermented, turning the milk’s lactose into lactic acid. This gives yogurt its tangy flavor and allows those with lactose intolerance to consume it. But while the basic process is straightforward, factors like the milk type, fermentation process, and straining result in the range of yogurt styles we see today. Continue reading to learn about how natural yogurt, Greek yogurt, and Skyr are made, how they differ nutritionally, and the environmental impacts of strained yogurt.

The Creation Process Behind Natural Yogurt, Greek Yogurt, and Skyr

The fundamentals of making yogurt are the same regardless of the final style. Milk is first heated and then cooled to around 110°F/37°C. Then starter yogurt cultures are mixed in, kickstarting the fermentation process. The main variables that impact the end product are:

  • Milk type – Animal source and fat content
  • Heating – Boiling or not boiling before fermenting
  • Yogurt cultures – Specific bacteria used
  • Straining – Filtering through cloth to remove liquid

Natural yogurt uses any milk type fermented with yogurt cultures. No straining is involved. Greek yogurt starts with regular natural yogurt that’s strained to remove liquid, resulting in a thicker, creamier texture. Skyr follows a similar process but uses skim milk and different cultures. The more yogurt is strained, the higher in protein and lower in sugar it becomes. However, straining results in less calcium and is more expensive as it requires more milk to produce less yogurt.

Why Is Greek Yogurt Called Greek Yogurt?

Despite its name, Greek yogurt has little to do with Greece itself. A Greek company called FAGE popularized strained yogurt in the U.S., so the style became known as Greek yogurt. A more accurate name would be strained yogurt, since that’s the main difference between natural and Greek varieties. Meanwhile, Skyr is an Icelandic-style strained yogurt that’s been produced for over 1,000 years. While often called Greek yogurt, Skyr uses slightly different cultures and skim milk instead of full fat. The bottom line is that the only real differences between natural, Greek, and Skyr yogurt come down to the milk, cultures, and straining process.

The Nutritional Pros and Cons of Yogurt Varieties

In general, yogurt provides many nutritional benefits. All types contain probiotics for better digestion, protein, calcium, and other nutrients. However, some styles have distinct advantages:

Pros of Greek Yogurt:

  • Higher in protein
  • Thicker, creamier texture

Pros of Skyr:

  • Low fat
  • High protein

Pros of Natural Yogurt:

  • More calcium
  • Lower calories
  • Cheaper

For those wanting extra protein, the strained Greek and Skyr yogurts are better options. Natural yogurt provides more calcium for bone health and less calories for weight management. Cost-wise, natural yogurt tends to be the most budget-friendly choice. Ultimately, all yogurt styles can be part of a healthy diet. Just be aware of the differences to determine which best fits your needs.

The Environmental Impact of Yogurt Production

While yogurt provides personal health benefits, consumers should also consider the environmental footprint of their choices. Yogurt comes from dairy cows, goats, and sheep that are ruminants. Their multiple stomachs allow them to digest grass and vegetation, but also leads to higher methane emissions that contribute to climate change. Additionally, strained yogurts like Greek and Skyr produce a acidic byproduct called whey during production. This whey has little nutritional value and is environmentally taxing to dispose of safely.

Some companies use whey for animal feed or fertilizer, but it requires careful handling as it can pollute waterways and kill marine life. The more yogurt is strained, the more whey is produced as a waste product. Consumers who want to reduce their environmental impact may want to choose natural yogurt over heavily strained varieties. Or explore yogurt options made from plant-based milks, though these products won’t have the same nutritional profile as traditional dairy yogurt.


While yogurt seems simple, inspections the ingredients show big differences between natural, Greek, and Skyr varieties. Understanding the production process, nutritional values, and environmental concerns allows consumers to choose the best yogurt for their needs and priorities. No matter which you pick, yogurt can be a versatile and healthy addition to anyone’s diet.