A trip to the refrigerated section of the grocery store reveals shelves lined with an overwhelming diversity of flavors and types of yogurt. There’s Greek yogurt, yogurts whipped with fruit or even crumbles of cookies, full-fat, low-fat and non-fat varieties, soy yogurt, the French fromage frais, and even goat’s milk yogurt. And now, there’s a new, but ancient, type of yogurt that’s just beginning to grace America’s aisles: skyr. Though Americans are increasingly prone to selecting Greek yogurt, this Icelandic yogurt is poised to take over. Skyr—pronounced "skeer"—is an Icelandic style of yogurt eaten across Iceland and Scandinavia. Here’s how it’s different from the yogurt you know.
It’s been around for centuries, but it wasn’t always skyr
Skyr has been Iceland’s signature food for nearly a thousand years, dating back to the 9th century, and favored by Vikings, who evidence suggests brought it along on their journeys. Back then, skyr was really a byproduct of the acid whey they used to preserve meat and fish (the cold, Icelandic tundra doesn’t exactly produce much salt for preserving). The consistency evolved from cheese-like to silky and spoonable as it gained favor as a standalone product.
It’s an intrinsic part of Iceland’s identity
Not only has it been part of the Icelandic diet for thousands of years, but skyr also plays such a key role in the Icelandic national culture and identity that it was used as ammunition to pelt the Icelandic parliament building, instead of using tomatoes or other fruit as ammo.
It’s all about culture
The word culture is often deployed when referring to dairy products, but it’s not the kind you get from a museum visit. The main difference between skyr and regular yogurt comes down to the culture that’s used. Cultures are basically living organisms that convert pasteurized milk to yogurt during the fermentation process. Without culture, yogurt wouldn’t be yogurt, and different yogurts have different types of cultures. Icelandic Provisions, for example, uses a bacterial culture in their skyr that dates back hundreds of years. Chobani, on the other hand, has their own active and live cultures that are used to create their Greek yogurt. Although Greek yogurt and skyr are cousins in the yogurt world, it’s these cultures that make them unique.
Its flavor and texture differentiate skyr from other yogurts
Skyr culture creates a super dense yogurt. It yields a much thicker yogurt compared to the kind most Americans grew up swirling fruit and granola into, and it’s much firmer than a traditional Greek yogurt—it definitely won’t fall off the back of your spoon. Creamy and tangy like Greek yogurt, skyr is also notably sweet, especially the fruit flavored variety.
It’s actually healthy
While yogurt is often marketed as a healthy product, especially for breakfast, lately there’s been a push to undermine the “healthiness” of some yogurts by revealing the high sugar content. Yogurt certainly has health benefits. But, like most things, some yogurts are better for you than others. Plain yogurt, on average, has about 12 grams of sugar for every six ounce container, while fruit-flavored yogurts can have upwards of 26 grams of added sugar.
Skyr, on the other hand, is naturally low in sugar. It relies more on the sweetness of the yogurt itself, coupled with added fruit’s natural sweetness, rather than adding in extra sugar. The amount of sugar in plain skyr ranges by brand, but is still comparatively low next to leading yogurts, varying from three grams of sugar to six grams of sugar per six ounce container. That’s more than half the amount of sugar compared to other plain yogurts. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 20 grams of added sugar per day, and 36 grams tops for men. Eating one yogurt that packs 26 grams of added sugar is already over the suggested sugar intake for women.
Skyr is also a protein-packed snack, featuring 14-17 grams per one 5.3-ounce cup, and there’s a scant 1.5 percent fat. So you can actually feel good while eating skyr, sugar content and all.
It’s not just for breakfast
While yogurt in America is traditionally eaten as a breakfast food or a snack, Icelandic skyr is more often considered as something to eat on the go, and packages are usually equipped with a small spoon on the inside for easy consumption. But when it is eaten at home in Iceland, skyr is consumed after lunch as a treat, layered with a lavish splash of cream or milk, a sprinkling of berries or other Nordic fruits, and brown sugar, rather than accompanied by granola. Now that sounds like an awesome dessert (or breakfast).
It’s becoming trendy in America
Although skyr is popular in Iceland and other Nordic countries, it’s a rather uncommon choice for Americans. Greek and other thinner yogurts are now ubiquitous in the US, while skyr remains a much rarer sight on grocery store shelves. However, brands like Siggi’s, Smari, and Icelandic Provisions have been making their mark much more visibly in American grocery stores, introducing the dense and creamy yogurt for all to enjoy—not just the Vikings.