Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Icelandic Dairy Product

     I was a bit excited when I saw a product in the yogurt aisle recently (at Wegman's again, as I recall).  Since Iceland is so small and isolated, finding its native cuisine is quite a challenge.  Earlier this year (April 20, 2016) I discussed several Icelandic beers and liquors in a post, and now I can add something else.
     Skyr (pronounced "skeer") is a traditional Icelandic dairy product.  NOT a yogurt, as the container and website both emphasized.  It's made slightly differently, and is produced using different strains of bacteria cultures.  To make it a small portion (from previous batches) is added to warm milk to introduce the correct bacteria cultures.  Rennet is sometimes added, too.  The result is left to coagulate, and then is strained through fabric to remove the whey.  Modern makers also sometimes add flavoring, mostly in the form of berries.  Skyr was originally a Norwegian tradition.  About 1100 years ago it was introduced to Iceland, and since it's become a traditional, popular cuisine.  Oddly, according to the sources I read, the Norwegians themselves evidently weren't as keen about it, and mostly allowed this food tradition to go extinct.  Although evidently the Norwegians reacquired their taste for it, as Iceland now exports skyr to Norway, as well as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, The Netherlands, Germany, the U.K., the U.S., Latvia, and Lithuania.
     The most common method of consuming it is cold, with milk and sugar.  However, there are some varients.  "Hraeringur" is a mixture of skyr and porridge.  Sometimes it's eaten as a dessert--mixed with jams or fruit, or put atop cheesecake.  It's also occasionally mixed with fish at dinner, or combined with cereal at breakfast.  Skyr is high in protein and calcium, and low in fat.  Additionally, the website for Icelandic Provisions, who made the skyr I tried, noted that their product is gluten free, artificial flavor free, and contains no GMO's or preservatives.
     I should also mention that while the website acknowledges a certain similarity to Greek style yogurt, they want you to know it's definitely different.
     I got the blueberry with bilberry flavor, as that was the only option.  Other kinds made by the company are one with cloudberries (which are evidently somewhat scarce, and taste like baked apples), one with lingonberries (see my September 23, 2013 post for more info about this fruit), and some with more common fruits like raspberries, strawberries, and peaches, sometimes combined together.  Also a coconut and vanilla kind.  Bilberries are touted as being more intense than their blueberry kin, but they seem pretty similar, both in their appearance and taste.  It seems that bilberries are essentially the European version of blueberries.  (So mixing them both together appears a bit boring and tame, now that I think of it.)  Bilberries have long been alleged to help with various medical ailments, such as blood pressure problems, hemorrhoids, diabetes, kidney disease, UTis, etc.  Also they're thought to particularly help improve peoples' eyesight.  During World War 2 RAF pilots ate them for this effect.  Well, I have to resort to one of my cliches once more.  The evidence for bilberries being a cure-all, or even treatment-all, is lacking.  For example, a study about the eyesight benefits from consuming them concluded that they probably didn't make a difference.  So eating bilberries is healthy, but in the normal fruit way, and almost certainly not as an effective treatment for your elephantiasis, or your drug-resistant TB, or whatever.
     Anyway, I found the blueberry/bilberry skyr to be pretty good.  The berry flavor was detectable, and decent.  I thought it was slightly thicker than regular yogurt.  But, I think it tasted pretty much like regular yogurt.  I know the makers would probably be irritated with this opinion, but there it is.  I don't think I could have distinguished between the two in a blind taste test, for example.  This isn't a criticism of skyr--I like yogurt just fine, and I would buy this kind of skyr again, and/or its other flavors if given the opportunity.  But I have to admit that I was kind of hoping it would be more different from regular yogurt, something dramatically unique and special.  Alas, I guess.

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