I scream, you scream, we all scream for . . . fro-yo?

Paul Zombory/Catalyst

The sensation of frozen yogurt, or “fro-yo,” a.k.a. ice cream for the health conscious, has become a foodie fad within big cities like New York and L.A. due to its dessert-like appeal and guiltless low-fat, kosher and organic benefits.

“Is it really that much healthier than ice cream?” one might ask. The answer appears to be yes. Yogurt contains probiotics, or “good” bacteria that people have and need in their digestive tracts. All legitimate frozen yogurt places must have the seal of Certification of Active and Live Cultures under the National Yogurt Association. Yogurt often helps with digestion and the body’s immune system and can be a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins.

In the name of selfless dedication and investigative journalism, I volunteered to conduct a survey of local fro-yo joints to get to the cookie-crunch bottom of this healthy dessert obsession.

Whiteberry:

Price: $2.50-$5.75 plus $1.00 for 1 topping, $1.25 for 2 toppings, $1.50 for 3 toppings

Location: 1473 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236

 

Whiteberry has the obligatory sleek, “modern” furniture of all frozen yogurt shops that never fail to remind me of those unwieldy egg chairs in Men in Black. The décor matched its name with bulbous white lamps hanging over white chairs. The server was really a nice guy, very talkative and happy to brag about the store. They have four flavors: original tart, organic chocolate, green tea and a “flava flav” of the month (this week’s was Orange Zest). They do offer vegan, sorbet-type deals, but only as a featured flavor of the month.

Now I’m a big choco-fan myself, but I have to say the original tart was pretty tasty and my favorite in Sarasota.  The texture’s just the right amount of creaminess with a slightly sour, very yogurt-y taste. It certainly felt organic and home-made. Topped with some fruit, even some Oreo crumbles, you could easily have this as a healthy afternoon snack without the “I-really-shouldn’t-have-eaten-that” feeling. According to the store clerk, Adam Roberts, original tart is their best seller and I believe it.

“We use about half the sugar of most places,” Roberts claimed.

Carob chips and shredded coconut were the only unusual items I saw in the moderate toppings selection. Whiteberry also offers smoothies, coffees, parfaits, sweet tea and oatmeal. Yeah, I don’t get the oatmeal thing either.

Pro-yos: Best original tart flavor, (periodically) offers vegan flavors, everything’s organic/kosher/non-fat, uses less sugar

Cons: Limited flavors and toppings

Sunni Bunni:

Price: $2.95-$7.45 plus $1.00 for 1 topping, $1.25 for 2 toppings and $1.50 for 3 toppings

Location: 1916 Bay Road, Sarasota, FL 34239

 

I have to admit, I’m a little biased on this one because the server was so uncooperative. As soon as I explained I was writing for a school newspaper, she closed up like a clam and wouldn’t let me take pictures or talk to her about anything but purchasing a cup, and was without a doubt glad to see the back of my and fellow Catalyst staff member Shane Donglasan’s heads as we exited the store. Maybe she was having a bad day, or maybe her manger’s a tough cookie, I don’t know. But she certainly did not exude the chirpy disposition and inherent cuteness the name “Sunni Bunni” would suggest.

Regardless, I still tasted all available flavors though I did not purchase anything. They had four flavors, including original, chocolate, green tea and coconut. Sunni Bunni’s original tart was quite good and definitely a close runner-up to Whiteberry’s. It had excellent texture, a bit more sweet than tart and had a nice clean aftertaste. Coconut also earned a bonus, as it had actual shreds of coconut in it. Everything tasted organic and pretty delicious. Sunni Bunni is also big on smoothies, made with fresh fruit and yogurt.

Pro-yos: Excellent original tart, everything’s organic, kosher and fat-free,

Cons: Poor service, limited flavors, a bit expensive

Yogurtology

Price: $0.49/ounce, self-serve

Location: 1635 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34239

 

Not only is it the newest fro-yo place around, but it is also, as its name suggests, a university for young minds considering the rewarding field of yogurtology (pay attention first-years). Though New College has yet to offer a full-fledged AOC in the subject, aspiring yogurtologists can slash in the field with a combined concentration in say, Brownie Studies or the like.

Now, the strongest attribute of Yogurtology is, by far, the choices. They have this thing down to a science (or academic study, what have you). They offer twelve flavors, including the standard tart and chocolate, but also eccentricities like chocolate hazelnut, mocha, oatmeal cookie, pina colada, raspberry-pomegranate and more. And the toppings – oh, the toppings. They have anything from fruit, to mango mochi, to gummi bears, to ten different candy bars, to cookies to baklava. Baklava. In addition to toppings, they have “bottom-ings” such as whole chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, oatmeal crème pies and squares of pound and chocolate cake to establish that first level of dessert. Layering the bottom of my cup with chocolate cake was one of the best decisions I have ever made. However, following the standard rule of thumb, I tasted the original tart first before I had any fun. Sadly, it measured up quite poorly to the quality of Whiteberry’s and SunniBunni’s originals. It was very icy, not creamy enough and definitely did not have that fresh, organic taste, though it was still edible –  especially if the toppings have their way with it.

“The service was really friendly and the atmosphere is really modern – but not [so] modern it feels sterile,” Catalyst staff member Shane Donglason said.

Pro-yos: Staggering amount of choices, best toppings/”bottom-ings,” friendly staff

Cons: Poor original tart, unhealthy temptations galore

 

Yogurt Mountain:

Price: $0.49/ounce, self-serve

Location: Cortez Plaza 1526 Cortez Road West, Bradenton, FL 34205

 

Yogurt Mountain proudly displayed a whopping 16 flavors of frozen yogurt –  the highest number of any other fro-yo place around. The store’s abundance of choices came at a price, however, as the original tart flavor was my least favorite of any I tried in the Sarasota/Bradenton area. It had a sharp, sour flavor in a brave attempt at tasting natural and a very icy consistency. I did like some of the unusual flavors though. My favorites included s’mores and New Orleans praline.

“Normally I would just get the tart, but here there are so many options that I have, like, five different ones mixed in here and I don’t really know which one I’m eating – I just know it tastes good,” Catalyst managing editor Gracelena Ignacio said. “[But] I think it’s scarier for me, even though I have more options, to come to Yogurtology or Yogurt Mountain because I don’t know off the bat how much it’s going to cost me. If I go to Whiteberry and I want one topping I know how much it’s going to be … so, I always have to err on the side of caution and get less, unless I bring a personal measurer with me.”

Yogurt Mountain had a moderately large topping selection but it was the store’s syrup department that earned my weighty nod of approval. They clearly shelled out for the good stuff with some quality Ghirardelli-brand caramel, milk chocolate and white chocolate sauces.

Pro-yos: Largest amount of yogurt flavors, best syrups

Cons: Not exactly geared towards the healthy, least favorite original tart flavor

 

There certainly seems to be a dichotomy in the world of fro-yo between café-like shops of limited, but high-quality selections of yogurt and self-served buffets packed with an explosion of dessert toppings. Though Whiteberry and Sunni Bunni can definitely satisfy a sugar craving, they naturally lean on a healthier platform. Their yogurt and smoothies could easily fulfill a delicious and healthy morning or afternoon snack — maybe even a lunch. Places like Yogurtology and Yogurt Mountain give you the option of being healthy with some fruit and nut toppings, but are somewhat skewed to your indulgent side. So if you want to throw caution to the wind and have loads of fun trying a multitude of flavors and sweets, these are the places to go. It all depends on what you want out of your frozen treat. The choices are there, so grab a spoon and enjoy. Happy eating!

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