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Sweet Spots

On a February afternoon, a light snow falls steadily from the sky and the temperature hovers in the low 30s. But to peek in the front window of Yogi Castle in Ellicott City, you’d think it was a steamy July afternoon. Every table is occupied, and members of a girls rec league basketball team and their parents stand in the back, eating yogurt and celebrating a victory.

“I don’t know what it is about Howard County residents and their frozen yogurt, but they love it,” says owner Jenna Kwan. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 at night, below freezing or pouring rain — there are always customers in here.”

Five years ago TCBY was the lone yogurt establishment in Howard County. Today there are six frozen yogurt shops serving the creamy dessert and dozens of toppings ranging from the exotic (see sidebar) to standards like candy, fruit and sprinkles.

Here is a glance at the local frozen yogurt scene and what is popular:

 

Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt

9191 Baltimore National Pike

Ellicott City • 410-480-1830

Tfyogurt.com

6250 Columbia Crossing Circle

Columbia • 443-546-4602

Tfyogurt.com

Flavors available each day: 15, can be swirled together

Most popular flavors: Vanilla, chocolate and cookies & cream

Number of toppings: 40

Most popular toppings: Boba poppers, mochi & cookie dough

“Tutti Frutti is the world’s largest frozen yogurt franchise, with over 400 stores in the United States and 1,000 worldwide,” Tony Paek, owner of the Columbia Tutti Frutti, says proudly.

Although frozen yogurt has been around for many years, it wasn’t until the last decade that advances were made that mellowed yogurt’s traditionally tart flavor and allowed for a much creamier product.

“For a long time the taste wasn’t comparable to ice cream, but now it tastes very similar or even better,” Paek adds. “Some people can’t even tell it’s frozen yogurt.”

 

TCBY

9400 Snowden River Parkway, #106

Columbia • 410-995-6140

Tcby.com

Flavors available each day: 6, can be swirled together

Most popular flavors: Vanilla & chocolate

Number of toppings: 26

Most popular toppings: Sprinkles & crushed Oreos

The granddaddy of frozen yogurt, TCBY is one of only two businesses in the county that doesn’t allow self-serve.

“We make everything, but customer experience is really important to us,” explains manager Kyle Williams. “We make sure the customer is involved at every step and gets exactly what he wants.”

TCBY, short for The Country’s Best Yogurt, started in 1981 and now has more than 400 stores throughout the country.

“We don’t get our yogurt from a vendor,” Williams says. “All our yogurt is made for us by TCBY, and it is 100 percent frozen yogurt with active probiotic cultures.”

 

Yogi Castle

10132 Baltimore National Pike #H

Ellicott City • 410-418-4889

Yogicastle.com

Flavors available each day: 16, can be swirled together

Most popular flavor: Cake batter

Number of toppings: 40

Most popular toppings: Crushed Oreos, fresh strawberries

The Yogi Castle on Route 40 is the only one of the company’s eight stores owned by a franchisee, but owner Jenna Kwan knew a good thing when she saw it.

“This company refuses to compromise,  and all their yogurt contains enough live and active cultures to meet the National Yogurt Association’s criteria,” she says. “That means it contains enough probiotics to actually do something in your digestive system.”

She knew frozen yogurt was popular, but she didn’t realize just what a trend it had become until she began working in the Ellicott City store.

“On our first wintry day I thought business would be slow, but in the afternoon I got a call asking me to come in and help because it was so busy,” she recalls. “I remembered joking, ‘Don’t the people in Howard County know it’s 30 degrees out?’ But it doesn’t seem to matter.”

That’s good news for Kwan and the other owners.

“I’m shocked by how addicted Howard County is to their frozen yogurt,” she says with a smile.

 

Yogiberry

The Mall in Columbia

10300 Little Patuxent Parkway Columbia • 410-730-3988
www.yogiberry.com

Flavors available each day: 6, can be swirled together

Most popular flavor: Original tart

Number of toppings: 35

Most popular topping: M&Ms

Owner Andy Tram and his family opened their first Yogiberry, a self-serve establishment, in Olney. It was so successful they opened a kiosk in The Mall in Columbia in 2008.

“We can’t let customers make their own because we are just a kiosk, but we make exactly what the customer asks for,” he says.

The mall location means a steady stream of customers day and night, regardless of the weather.

“It’s a real trend here,” Tram says. “Customers love their yogurt, particularly the variety of flavors and toppings.”

 

Yogopop

6010 Meadowridge Road 

Elkridge • 443-755-8901

Flavors available each day: 8, can be swirled together

Most popular flavor: Mango

Number of toppings: 40

Most popular topping: Fresh strawberries

Michelle Han, owner of Yogopop in Elkridge, knows it only takes one bite of yogurt to get hooked.

“Once they try it they become addicted, because it’s not heavy, like ice cream,” she says. “It’s so light and refreshing, especially after a meal.”

The newest addition to the local frozen yogurt scene, Yogopop opened in September 2011. Han says business has been so encouraging that she’s adding another yogurt machine this spring so she’ll be able to offer customers two more yogurt flavors.

 

What’s a ‘mochi?’

As Tony Paek of Tutti Frutti explains, the frozen yogurt trend began in Asia, hit the West Coast and made its way east — so it’s not surprising that some of the original toppings made the trip from Asia as well. Local fans who’ve never heard of mochi or boba are now heaping both on their frozen yogurt. So what exactly are these treats?

–Mochi: With its origins in Japan, mochi is made of glutinous rice that is sweetened and molded into various sizes and shapes. Similar to a small marshmallow, it’s usually seen in frozen yogurt shops in white or rainbow colors.

–Jelly: Also known as nata de coco, this sweet originated in the Philippines. It is a soft, sometimes chewy, translucent jelly made of coconut water and sweetened with fruit flavors like strawberry and passion fruit.

–Boba poppers: Boba, or tapioca pearls, are made from the starch of the cassava root and have the consistency of a gummy bear. Manufacturers are filling these tiny balls with fruit-flavored juice and syrup, so when a customer bites into one, there is a burst of orange, mango or any number of flavors.

–Lychee: A tropical fruit native to China and southeast Asia, the lychee has white flesh and a perfumelike flavor. Best when fresh.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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