Years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, instead of meeting friends for coffee, we’d meet for fro yo. Self-serve frozen yogurt stores were had popping up like Starbucks—especially in the sunny, summerland of California. (Although it was in Little Rock, Arkansas that TCBY opened their first store, in 1981.) Frozen yogurt promises dessert without the consequence. Sweetness for only 25 calories an ounce! Peanut butter flavor without the peanut butter fat! If you’ve never been to a self-served frozen yogurt establishment, then you might not understand the cornucopia of sweetness available at the push of a lever. Pumpkin spice in October, gingerbread in November, peppermint in December. A dieter’s delight. When I moved to Arizona, I sort of forgot about frozen yogurt. I didn’t leave near a fro yo establishment and suddenly, all outings revolved around writing or reading—activities more conducive to coffee than meltable sweets. And then, of course, a year after I moved to Tucson, I stopped eating processed foods. Unlike ice cream, which is made by churning cream and sugar, frozen yogurt is made by combining cultured milk with sweetener, thickening agents and stabilizers, and flavoring. (And lots of air, for a smoother consistency and greater volume.)
In Yogurtland’s Almond Midnight Mocha flavor, for example, you’ll find: Pasteurized and Cultured Skim Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Whey, Maltodextrin, Almonds, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Vegetable Mono & Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Cellulose Gum, Caramel Color, Coffee, Natural Flavors, Salt, Yellow 6, Red 40, Blue 1.
Yum, right? But even though I know that many low-fat desserts like fro yo often have more sugar than their full-fat counterparts, last week, when I was home for Christmas and out to dinner with my parents, when we walked past Fro Yo Life—a former favorite—I exclaimed, “Fro yo!” I don’t know what it was—a hit of nostalgia; the fact that I was flying the following day back to Tucson; a lingering holiday eat-sweet impulse—but I insisted we stop for dessert. My parents looked at me like I was crazy. I’d just refrained from eating their mushroom flatbread at dinner because of the flour and now I wanted fro yo?
My mom and I blinked into the bright shop. I grabbed a cardboard container capable of holding 32 ounces of fluffy sweetness and assembled two perfect spirals of peanut butter and decadent chocolate fro yo. My mom tried a spoonful. “Ick,” she said. “It’s too sweet.” As we walked across the street to rejoin my dad, I scooped my own spoonful onto my tongue. The first hit was generic sweetness. And then something resembling peanut butter, something sort of like chocolate. It was cold. As it melted into the corners of my mouth, the once-distinguished flavors dissipated into something generic. Something chemical. After the initial hit, all I felt was the tinny taste of not-food. It tasted like a signal of sweetness, an affect of cream. Not the thing itself.
So, naturally, I polished off the whole container. It didn’t get better—if anything, it became more noticeably chemical-flavored. But it was still sweet, still emulated the sensation of creaminess. So I kept eating, hoping that I’d feel the signal of satiety that usually results from sweet creaminess. Spoonful after spoonful—it never arrived. By the time we arrived home, I’d eaten 12 ounces of peanut butter-flavored simulacrum—300 calories worth—without feeling the sense of peanut butter achieved from a 180-calorie spoonful of the real stuff.
The following evening, I flew from one home to another, arriving in my Tucson casita well past 10 p.m. Hungry hours after my early dinner, I pulled out my food processor and whipped up a batch of unprocessed “fro yo,” made from nothing more than bananas, almond butter (peanut butter works too) and cacao powder. Five minutes later, in less time than it took me to wait in line for self-service and pay, I was sitting on my couch, nestled under a blanket, watching the Netflix spinner load.
No-Fake Fro Yo
- 2 frozen bananas. (Be sure to peel and break up the bananas before you freeze.)
- 1 tablespoon of almond butter
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder
Pulse the bananas in the processor until creamy. (It may take a minute or two, a crumbly time during which you may doubt that frozen bananas will cohere into anything resembling frozen yogurt. They will.) Add almond butter and cacao powder and blend until mixed. If I have them around, I’ll add coconut flakes for some crunch.