A Different Temperature, or a Different Taste?

Posted On March 21, 2013

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I never liked it: the gooey-almost clammy texture of it, the gross sensation of it coating my unwanting throat, and especially the lingering sour aftertaste no superhero food could rescue me from. I was disgusted as my spoon dipped into the surface and extracted a glob of the quivering substance. Its sluggish contour  made me shiver.

Okay, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. But how else does a teenager partial to the flavors of foods with astronomical calorie counts look at a spoonful of yogurt?  Compared to my favorite cherry Jell-O or chocolate Swiss Miss pudding, any yogurt tasted like an impostor. I think that’s probably the best way to explain why I was so disturbed by the constitution and taste bud-stinging aftertaste of the Greek Oikos described above, which my mother had adamantly asked I taste.

It’s not that the sole reason for my distaste in any kind yogurt is that it happens to be nutritious. No, I’m not that rebellious of a teen. I would eat it, but the sheer taste and texture incessantly make my skin crawl.

Then it would seem to be fate that had me sitting beside my sister at the kitchen table one day, her shoveling spoonfuls of Activia into her mouth, me scrolling through my newsfeed on the all-consuming Facebook. I tried to ignore the elephant in the room and tuned out the irksome noise of her spoon scraping the bottom of the container and extracting gloppy mounds of yogurt (but telling myself to stop thinking about the sounds is a way of thinking about them, right?). So that didn’t work. I couldn’t take it anymore; in the end I chose to switch venues and went to my room where I continued scrolling through Facebook.

But I was still exasperated about why my bizarre pet peeve had riled me up so much. As far as I could tell, I was the only sixteen-year-old girl who wanted nothing to do with any of the healthy aspects of yogurt. I had no issues with other foods; the similar textures of Jell-O and pudding never unsettled my stomach, and I even ate whatever fruits and vegetables my nutrition-guru of a mother insisted on.

“I must be some sort of freak show,” I thought. “Don’t most people grow out of these nonsensical, outlandish quirks?”

Apparently not, because to this day I find the taste and consistency insufferable.

One moment in particular secured my attitude.  I can remember the epiphany I had when I was about six or seven years old–right in the middle of Shop Rite. My mom and I turned the corner of the dairy aisle, and I swear I almost had a mental breakdown. To put it mildly, yogurt was to that dairy aisle as the Beatles were to America. It was everywhere. Now, please know that I would have given anything to experience the sensations of British Invasion and Beatlemania. But this? Yogurtmania? Forgive me, but I think yogurt would be the Justin Bieber of this analogy–everywhere, yet not nearly as authentic as the Beatles.

And it’s true: many shoppers have noticed that such yogurt brands as Activia, Dannon, and Yoplait are taking the dairy aisle by storm and pushing cottage cheese and sour cream off the shelves.

Yogurt seizes the dairy aisle and gains widespread popularity because of its health perks and diversity of flavors, and in the process exhausts other milk products.

Then I suppose I was within my rights to be completely awestruck by the drastic Yogurt Invasion. After I had overcome my brief moment of nervous breakdown, my mother decided it was high time to vault my phobia of yogurt’s texture. To my dismay, she had read online about a product by Dannon called Danimals (“A good source of calcium and Vitamin D!”), concocted especially for children like me who could not bear to endure the makeup and taste of normal types of yogurt. The unique aspect of Danimals is its drink-ability, a texture change that bamboozles kids into believing they are indulging in a delicious smoothie but actually still provides the same nutrients as ordinary yogurt. I’m sure anybody’s grandma would say to this, “Oh, kids these days with their newfangled gadgets! Back in my day, we ate healthy stuff whether we liked it or not!” Although a ton of old geezers might think it’s better to ingest yogurt the old fashioned way, the liquid state of Danimals is part of what makes it so appealing to young whippersnappers of today, especially those picky eaters (like me). According to other mothers on our street, Danimals worked magic on their children.

Not with me.

At this point, my family had given up hope.

I was a lost cause and just one of those rare cases where my taste buds never seem to relish the same yogurt delights that so many others savor. This went on for the next ten years or so. I would periodically probe my spoon into the surface of a Vanilla Yoplait Light and put it gingerly to my lips, but I still could never put aside my blunt distaste for yogurt.

IJust. Didn’t. Like. It.

I felt like an outsider. Just call me Ponyboy. Was I the only one completely disengaged from the yogurt fetish? Probably not, but it certainly felt that way to me. Many children in my generation also had a distaste for yogurt, but they all grew out of it. Most kids who are yogurt-haters grow up to be yogurt-junkies. Especially today, adults are more diet-conscious and health-oriented than junk food-loving children. And with summer just around the corner, everyone is hyped up about trimming down to get a rocking beach-bod. My mom and sister (who swore by yogurt’s health magic) especially gorged on the stuff during that critical period. My sister often taunted me, jabbing comments like, “Ooh, someone’s not gonna be at the top of their game this summer!” Years of verbal tweaks from my   supercilious sibling helped me deflect the blows. But they still did their damage by making me feel disadvantaged. And during those dog days when I was tormented by my mom’s and sister’s jibes, it was all topped off by a pronouncement by the always dependable Dr. Oz. My family had congregated around the television one afternoon, listening to the Dr. go on about the #1 super-snack. Yogurt, of course. Just my luck. I rolled my eyes as my mom jokingly teased, “Dr. Oz said it! I guess you’ll never have a snack as super snacky as yogurt!” Provocation aside, I genuinely wished I could bring myself to enjoy yogurt.  But this was one bandwagon I knew I could never jump on.

It was just a few months ago that I retreated into my room after my detrimental experience with the scraping of my sister’s spoon on the base of the plastic Activia container. I was still scrolling through my newsfeed (how curious that a person can be so consumed by Facebook and be on a completely different train of thought from the contents of the computer screen) when I was struck by a beautiful–almost angelic–sight: I had come across a sponsored advertisement featuring a picture of the most delectable-looking, enticing frozen dairy treat any confectioner’s eye could imagine.

“Hmmm, what have we here?” I pondered.

I clicked on the link and traveled to the website for the home of the most exotic assortment of frozen yogurt flavors the country has to offer,  Red Mango.

A glorious buffet display of the wide assortment of flavors Red Mango, a popular frozen yogurt rendezvous, has to offer.

Along my journey through the website, I was shocked by the fact that this was real yogurt. The one thing that I had so much feared for the entirety of my life was completely different now. No longer the false gloppy substance I persistently thwarted, it looked like the most finely whipped custard ice cream that a person can only find at the summer boardwalk. And the toppings! My sugary taste buds were tingling with desire at the tasty ornamental strawberries, chocolate chips, coconut shreds, and chocolate sauce. From that point on, I knew: I HAD to find a Red Mango. Nothing could stop me; this was my destiny. This was my one chance to prove not only to my nagging cohorts but to myself that I was not a freak for not reveling in the taste of normal yogurt.

Problem: the nearest Red Mango location was in New York City. With it being the heart of the holiday season, I had no hopes of convincing my parents to schlep me into the heart of a metropolitan area when hordes of bitter shoppers throng through the tight streets. But my hopes were not crushed–I would prevail!

In the meantime, I tantalized myself by exploring all there was to know about frozen yogurt nutrition, flavors, toppings, locations, the whole shebang.

Frozen yogurt is yogurt, but I wondered whether it had the same substance and benefits of normal store brands. With its mouthwatering, ice cream-like appeal it would seem it doesn’t live up to the standards of its relative. But surprisingly, fro-yo has a calorie count that is generally consistent with ordinary yogurt. All-natural ingredients, no artificial flavors or preservatives, it seems almost too good to be true.  But all in moderation right? Point taken, nutritionists. The infinite flavors and toppings to choose from are the downfall of consumers. And I knew straight away, I too would become a flavor-victim of the indulging decisions.

Even though frozen yogurt is just as healthy as normal yogurt (in moderation), its fatal flaw is the wide selection. Hungry customers often splurge and load up on calories.

This recent fad caused by frozen yogurt eateries sweeping the nation is driven by constantly spicing things up with new flavors and toppings, always keeping things fresh.

Depending on what you choose, a swirl of vanilla yogurt can become a fruity delight, or…

…a classic banana-almond concoction. This always keeps simplicity a virtue and continually allows fro-yo frequents to keep things fresh.

Another part of the reason for the triumph of frozen yogurt is the sleek and posh appeal of venues like Red Mango, Ace Frozen Yogurt, B B & Y, and Luv’n Spoonfuls. Aside from its unique taste, this is what draws fro-yo patrons. It’s all in the appeal. And this particularly baits hip teenagers (I guess I’m included in that statement).

The chic decor adorning almost all sites is appealing to frozen yogurt-goers, especially for material young generations

If I could make one acknowledgement, it would have to be to Dan Kim, founder and franchiser of fro-yo chain Red Mango. He was the person who created my flavor infatuation, my salvation in the face of the unbearable adversity of my family’s mockery. Dan Kim, thank you. Just thank you. (Okay, I’ll admit that was a little pathetic, even for me).

So there I was, hopelessly stuck in frozen yogurt-less New Jersey, with no hope of ever reaching the threshold of my first taste of Red Mango yogurt. It was a snowy Saturday afternoon when I finally found bliss. I was walking the corridors of the Bridgewater Commons Mall alongside my trusty shopping companion, my mother (Yes, I still go shopping with my mom). The storefronts blurred in my peripheral vision and I was desperately longing for something substantial to keep myself fueled for the rest of the day. Suddenly my mom stopped short and grabbed my shoulder.

“What?” I inquired.

“What’s that yogurt you’re obsessing over called again? Ripe Tomato?”

“It’s Red Mango, mom,” I responded, a little annoyed at her sudden mentioning of the y-word.

She paused. Then, “You might want to take a look to your right.”

I pivoted on my heels and almost didn’t see at first what she had been talking about. Then, I recognized the melting “O” shape on the glass doors, the theme color crimson red walls, the contrasting black tile floor, and the sign reading “Authentic Frozen Yogurt.”

Red Mango in its glory, just as it looked the first time I laid eyes on the storefront in the Bridgewater Mall.

Red Mango. I did it! Forgetting my mom was still standing right behind me, I approached the window and glued my face to the glass. I must have looked like young Ralphie when he first set eyes the 1939 Red Ryder BB Gun in my favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story.

When my mother finally unstuck me from the window, I took my first step inside. It was just as I’d seen online. A wall of self-serve yogurt dispensers; an island with dozens of toppings to add bursts of unique flavor.

I wandered around the eatery and concocted my first frozen yogurt delight (White Peach yogurt with chocolate chips, in case you were wondering). But it’s not my first trip to Red Mango that’s important: it’s all the revisits that followed. Each time I returned to my little slice of Heaven on Earth, I created something new, something special, something just for my enjoyment. I blended new flavors, sprinkled new toppings. Depending on my mood or the season, I would change things up every visit and create something that was my own. Yes, I had finally proven to my family that I could find something about yogurt that I liked, but what was more significant to me was that I had shown myself anyone can always find one way to surmount a hatred as burning as the one I had for yogurt. What makes fro-yo a fad is the liberty it provides creators with and the self-expression they can find in constructing a thing that is entirely their own. Every person is a confectioner. And after the journey I embarked on to find a Red Mango shop and imagine my own delicacy, I felt proud to be one too.

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