You’ve probably noticed that your options in the yogurt aisle have ballooned in recent years. Greek, skyr, goat, coconut—the varieties of cultured dairy seem endless. Now, you can add quark to the fold. Not quite cheese and not quite yogurt, quark is slowly gaining popularity as a viable yogurt (or cottage cheese or cream cheese) substitute.
While it may be a relatively new addition to American supermarkets, it has long been a staple in German households. So, should you ditch your beloved extra-thick Greek yogurt for this dairy import? Here’s everything you need to know.
What Exactly Is Quark?
Quark is a tricky food to pin down: Is it cheese? Is it yogurt? Is it something physicists study? Technically, quark is a soft, spreadable cheese. However, because of its creamy texture, it’s more often compared to a thick yogurt, similar to Greek or skyr. It’s also often likened to cottage cheese, however, it lacks the lumpy texture.
To make quark, milk that has been soured via the addition of acid is warmed until it curdles and then is strained before bacterial strains are added to ferment the lactose further. Next, it’s continuously stirred to prevent hardening and to give quark its signature thick and smooth texture (and, hence, the creamy goodness).
As for its flavor, it can be best described as mild and neither sweet nor sour, meaning it lacks the tangy aftertaste of yogurt. So if you’re not a fan of yogurt unless it’s smothered in honey to tame its sour power, quark just might be the stuff for you.
The Nutritional Benefits of Quark for Cyclists
Nutritionally, quark has several highlights.
One serving—1 cup—of 4 percent fat plain quark contains about the following:
14 g of protein
5 g fat
5 g saturated fat
5 g of carbs
0 g of dietary fiber
60 mg sodium
182 mg calcium
One serving—1 cup—of 0 percent fat plain quark contains about the following:
17 g of protein
0 g fat
0 g saturated fat
6 g of carbs
0 g of dietary fiber
60 mg sodium
201 mg calcium
It’s worth noting from the start that quark is in the same ballpark when it comes to protein content as Greek yogurt or skyr (levels vary by brand). And it’s not just any lightweight protein.
“It contains all the essential amino acids, including leucine—a branched-chain amino acid—that helps muscle protein synthesis,” says sports dietitian Lori Russell, M.S. R.D. C.S.S.D., owner of Hungry for Results.
Russell notes that it can be a great protein-packed snack option or a way for vegetarian meals to get a boost of this macronutrient. Since research shows that the body can utilize up to 30 grams of protein after a bout of endurance exercise to maximize the rate of muscle protein synthesis (i.e. muscle building), the high protein content of quark also makes it a good food choice after a hard ride to help repair your muscles.
Being a fermented product, quark can help boost your gut health with a resupply of beneficial bacteria.
“Having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome definitely brings with it some performance-enhancing benefits,” Russell says.
For instance, frequent consumption of probiotics may lessen the chances of suffering GI distress during prolonged exercise, and according to a study in the journal Nutrients, it could help athletes ramp their immunity up so you’re less likely to be sidelined by the sniffles.
One study found that higher intakes of fermented milk products can assist in lowering blood pressure numbers, which, in turn, helps fend off hypertension. With this said, we still don’t know if the strains of bacteria in quark have the same health impacts as those present in yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and other fermented foods and drinks.
As a nutrient-dense product, quark contains various amounts of bone-benefiting calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, and B vitamins, all of which can help contribute to the heightened nutrient needs of anyone who puts in some serious saddle time.
There’s no need to choose fat-free quark over that made from whole milk. An ever-expanding pile of research papers are serving to roll back the idea that we need to steer clear of full-fat dairy, like 4 percent quark. For instance, an investigation in the journal Circulation discovered those who had higher circulating blood levels of fats associated with dairy intake, on average, had a 46 percent lower risk of developing diabetes over a 15-year period than those with lower levels.
A recent University of Texas study reported that the substitution of 2 percent of daily calorie intake from meat-based saturated fat with calories from dairy-based saturated fat was associated with a 25 percent lower heart disease risk in 5,209 people over a decade.
And, despite the few extra calories it introduces to your diet, there is emerging evidence that the fat in dairy may help—not hurt—your waistline. It might be that the unique makeup of the type of fats in dairy has less harmful (and even beneficial) effects on the body.
“Fat in dairy like quark is not to be feared, but which option an athlete chooses depends on their overall diet and caloric needs,” Russell says. “If an athlete is consuming quark for a snack, having more fat will provide added satiety and fullness, but if it is part of a meal that contains other healthy fats such as avocado and almonds, a lower fat option might be best.”
If your stomach is not a fan of lactose—a naturally occurring sugar in dairy—Russell says that quark might be tolerated since the fermentation process makes it lower in lactose than milk so that it’s easier to digest. However, individual tolerances can vary, so some testing is needed to determine if any unpleasant side effects surface after smearing some quark on your toast.
It probably should come as no surprise that versions of quark on American store shelves are now being pumped full of added sugars. A serving of berry-flavored quark can contain upwards of 10 grams of added sweet stuff. So to keep your sugar intake in check, opt for plain flavored versions most often and save any sugary flavored types for spooning up after a spirited ride when your body can make better use of these fast-digesting carb calories for recovery purposes.
How Should You Incorporate Quark into Your Diet?
“Think of quark as a mix between Greek yogurt and cottage cheese, so any way you enjoy those items, you can enjoy quark,” advises Russell. And, since the flavor is mild, you can go savory or sweet.
One of the most straightforward ways is to spoon it up for a snack like you would yogurt; perhaps topped with chopped nuts, granola, or fruit. But the possibilities are nearly endless: Blend it into smoothies and dips, whisk into dressings for a creamy salad topper, spoon dollops on baked potatoes, tacos, pancakes, or even pizza, use in muffin batters, stir into tuna salad in place of mayo, use as a base for parfaits, or smear on toast or a bagel followed by your favorite sweet or savory toppings like sliced pear or smoked salmon.
The Bottom Line
It’s always fun to try new foods, and if your taste buds don’t love the tang of yogurt then quark could be a good (and nutritious) addition to your shopping cart. But if you are already satisfied with the dairy options in your daily menu and eat a predominantly whole- food diet, then missing out on quark won’t hinder your health and nutrition.
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