I’ll be the first one to tell you that I hate yogurt. I loathe the stuff. It’s right up there with oatmeal and raisins and lutefisk. I don’t even like frozen yogurt, which purports to be sweet and ice-cream like. I cannot remember the last time I voluntarily ate the stuff.
But, two days before the trip, I was still sick with bronchitis (or pneumonia, take your pick; I was simultaneously hacking and barking like a seal, and wheezing and gurgling when I tried to lie down). A visit to the doc resulted in a steroid inhaler and a round of antibiotics called a Z-pack.
Which worked absolute wonders to clear out my chest and stop the wheezing so I could sleep. But it has a darker, more sinister side-effect: not only does it kill off the bad bugs, it clears out your entire digestive system of the good bugs, too. Result? Well, you can imagine. I was spending a lot of unpleasant time in the bathroom.
One of the recommendations to resolve this is to take probiotics — eat yogurt, pills, anything with live-cultures, to try to rebalance things. Since I really don’t want to live on Immodium and Tums, I tried Good Belly for a few days and things seemed ok. I happily left for Iceland.
Then, two days into the trip…I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say I was on a search for more probiotics. The obvious solution was Skyr, Iceland’s version of yogurt. With much whining and complaining from me, we picked up a few containers for breakfast and I prepared to eat yogurt because I had to.
Surprisingly, Skyr really tastes nothing like yogurt to me. Or at least, not the standard tangy, fruit-flavored yogurts that are commonly available at home. It’s thick, creamy, and lacks that weird yogurty-sour-milk tang that made me avoid it entirely. It’s almost like a slightly sweet cream cheese, to be honest, but not quite as thick. (It’s actually classified as a fresh cheese, like German Quark). It is very mild and actually tasty–I really like the stuff. It’s a vacation miracle! (and a boon to my stomach).
Skyr has been a staple in Iceland for a millennium. It was originally brought over from Norway by the Vikings and was probably known in all the Scandinavian countries. While the mainland eventually moved on to other cultured dairy products, Iceland stuck with Skyr. They eat it plain, with oatmeal, in cereal, bake with it, and even eat it as desert with cream and sugar.
It is made with skimmed milk — and more than four times the milk in normal yogurt. The milk is ‘seeded’ with existing Skyr cultures (and the Icelandic dairies that produce it claim that these are ‘original’ Skyr cultures) and then drained and packaged. There is very little added sugar, and the resulting yogurt-like stuff is 0% fat, and has 12-14 grams of protein in a cup. I like the strawberry and the vanilla/cardamom flavors.
It’s harder to find in the US, of course, but the Icelandic brand that we liked, made by MS Iceland Dairies (Mjólkursamsalan), are available in Whole Foods stores on the east coast. I can get Siggi’s here in Denver. It’s made in the US, but with ‘traditional cultures’ and their 0% fat version tastes almost exactly like the Icelandic Skyr that I ate every day. They also do a richer version (2%) and a ‘cream skyr’ (4%), but those start tasting tangier and more yogurt-y to me than the original. Another option (which I found at Target of all places), is Icelandic Provisions, a skyr-style yogurt that is partnering with MS Iceland Dairies and will likely replace their own version of Skyr in the US.
By the way, there is also another soured-milk dairy product that is very popular in Iceland, Súrmjólk, which seems to be a form of slightly thickened buttermilk. There are often two bowls out at breakfast (to eat with oatmeal or cereal). Be sure to use the right one — expecting the slight sweetness of Skyr and getting the soured taste of Súrmjólk is a bit of a shock!