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Imagine Greek yogurt but imagine it as if it wereboth cold and delicious and you’ll
have an idea of how frozen yogurt in Spain affects the palate


By James Gregora


One hot summer day in Madrid, I gazed longingly at the rows of ice cream vendors and frozen yogurt shops, which seemed almost strategically placed along the city streets.  They were not so close together as to spur competition among themselves, yet not so far apart as to ensure that a meandering tourist could walk the streets of the capital without, at least once, being enticed by the thought of ingesting their frozen treats.  Though I had fought my dietary conscience for nearly a week prior, the time of my gastronomic surrender had finally arrived.  After stopping briefly at a fro yo vendor to purchase the dessert, I partook in the chilly delicacy before me.

I was in shock.  The taste was neither unpleasant nor overwhelming, merely wholly distinct from the variety of the dessert I had known in my hometown of Los Angeles.  I have always used the terms “frozen yogurt” and “ice cream” interchangeably, as I’ve always found the differences between them to be marginal at most.  Had I been raised in Spain, such a heretical act would stray from the realm of “conflation” into that of “factual inaccuracy”. Unfortunately, closest analogue I can give to our American readers is that of Greek yogurt, a truly vile concoction, awarded the title “yogurt” solely on the basis of a technicality.  I suppose I would have to say “imagine Greek yogurt, but imagine it as if it were both cold and delicious” in order to give Americans some impression of how frozen yogurt in Spain affects the palate.

But what is the cause of this?  Considering that this observation came from someone who can’t tell the difference between dairy ice cream and tofu ice cream, this truly must be an enormous chasm of difference in flavor.

Upon hearing of this dramatic difference in taste, most food-conscious people would repeat the commonly accepted wisdom: the answer is sugar.  After all, foreigners who come to America often complain about how sweet everything is, from the bread to the baked beans.  If such commonplace entrées are subject to sugar saturation, it would seem obvious that a dessert, a foodstuff intended to be sweet, would be subject to the same culinary treatment.  However, were you to scour the websites of companies which sell this product (as I have), you would discover that there appears to be no significant transatlantic disparity in sugar content among various yogurts.  While it is true that (Spanish) Llaollao’s 11.3 grams of sugar per 100g is greater than (American) Pinkberry’s 16 grams of sugar per 100g, it is also true that (Spanish) Frigo’s 20 grams of sugar per 100g is greater than (American) Menchies’ 19 grams of sugar per 100g.  Comparisons of companies like Golden Spoon and Smöoy will yield similar results.

My primary suspicion is one I have yet to fully confirm: the number of bacteria present in the yogurt.  In the United States, the National Yogurt Association requires that a minimum of 100 million live and active bacterial cultures per gram be present in “refrigerated yogurt”, but that only 10 million cultures be present in “frozen yogurt”.  The former being yogurt one might buy in a grocery store, and the latter being yogurt one might buy in a shop.

When I tried to contact the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ask what sort of European regulations there were on bacterial cultures, I received no response for five days.  On the sixth day, I was referred to some poor customer service representative at a local supermarket chain who had no idea what I was talking about.  However, I was able to find a 2010 EFSA report, which mentioned that 100 million live and active cultures per gram were required in order to claim that yogurt was beneficial to people with lactose intolerance.  While this is not by any means a definitive finding, a disparity in frozen yogurt cultures may help to explain American yogurt’s gustatory similarity to ice cream, and Spanish yogurt’s similarity to….well, yogurt.

Should Spaniards find themselves in America, or Americans find themselves in Spain, I would urge them to move outside their dietary comfort zone.  They may have enticing culinary experiences, or they may make a point of avoiding their host country’s cuisine for the foreseeable future.  They may even find themselves frantically digging through nutritional information and e-mailing government agencies, desperately trying to figure out why all the food tastes different.

Regardless of whether they follow my advice, I wish all our readers a joyful (and delicious) summer.