By Kelly Senyei, Gourmet Live
It was known as the "frozen freshman fifteen" in college. Students would line up by the dozen in the dorm cafeteria to pull the lever. A ribbon of chocolate would swirl with a stream of vanilla. The result was a tower of low fat, low calorie frozen yogurt - the ultimate in guilt-free desserts.
Bypassing a buffet line of cookies and cakes, the frozen yogurt machine saw more action than the penny slots at the Tropicana. And with every ounce that swirled into cones and cups in cafeterias and yogurt shops across the country, frozen yogurt became the go-to alternative to traditional dessert.
Claims of low calorie, low fat and fat-free fro-yo swept the nation, and in 1981, TCBY, or The Country's Best Yogurt, ushered frozen yogurt onto the national food scene. Consumers could splurge on an entire cup of their Golden Vanilla soft serve for just 240 calories and virtually no fat. Within three years, the single store multiplied into 102 stores nationwide.
The trend persisted through the 80s and 90s, but it wasn't until 2005 and the opening of a California-based chain called Pinkberry, that frozen yogurt hit it big. Pinkberry's arrival launched the concept of "live active cultures" from laboratory obscurity to pop-cultural phenomenon. Paris Hilton could now be named in the same sentence as "probiotics," as every pint-sized Hollywood starlet from Taylor Swift to Audrina Patridge were snapped indulging.
Stars and everyday consumers alike were hooked on Pinkberry. The product had somehow managed to achieve the oxymoronic status of a dessert that not only tasted great, but was also great for you.
Companies touted the health benefits of the frozen yogurt's probiotic component, which according to Dr. Arun Bhunia, a professor of Food Science at Purdue University, included helping people to "avoid lactose intolerance and control pathogens in the gut, but also can improve gut health in helping strengthen the immune system."
A small size cup of Pinkberry's Original flavor was just 150 calories. And with toppings like mango, kiwi, strawberries and pineapple, adding a scoop of fresh fruit only seemed to sweeten the positive points for diet and nutrition. The chain was an instant success.
"Around Los Angeles you see as many Pinkberrys as you do Starbucks," says Christine Avanti, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist who first heard about Pinkberry through one of her celebrity clients.
Like a true pioneer, Pinkberry became the standard as others tried to capitalize on the model of success. Red Mango, BerryLine, Kiwiberri, Yogen Früz, Berry Chill - nearly every corner of the nation embraced the deep freeze, and more importantly its delusive health claims.
Consumers flocked to Pinkberry's open doors, praising it on review sites like Yelp and even Zagat, where it was often referred to as "crackberry."
"With only about 125 calories, it's a great healthy dessert choice," wrote one Yelp reviewer about Pinkberry's Santa Monica Boulevard location in southern California. "… I happen to love yogurt, especially with fruit, and the fact that it's frozen just makes it feel like I'm eating ice cream. Very healthy ice cream," writes another.
The frozen yogurt swirled at Pinkberry, Red Mango and other popular stores is defined by its creamy consistency and noticeably sour taste. So sour in fact that it's hard to believe that there's even any sugar in it. But taste can be deceiving. And it is this deception that results in many frozen yogurt fanatics reaching for their sweats instead of skinny jeans.
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Photo Credit: Conde Nast Stock Photography
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By Kelly Senyei, Gourmet Live