When fast-food restaurants jump on the health food bandwagon, the results aren’t usually great. (McDonald’s wilted salads and Dunkin’ Donuts cardboard flatbreads come to mind.) But many chains have had luck in the yogurt parfait department. Fruit, yogurt, and granola are a simple, winning combination—when done right, of course. So whose parfaits come out on top? We tried: Starbucks, Cosi, Au Bon Pain, Le Pain Quotidien, McDonald’s, and Pret a Manger.
Starbucks: Greek Yogurt and Honey Parfait
Presentation: Each little cup of Greek yogurt has a thin layer of honey on the bottom, and coconut-almond macaroon granola cleverly contained in a separate plastic cup on top.
Taste: This is one memorable parfait. Fage fans will love the thick, creamy Greek yogurt, nicely cut by a thin, floral honey. And the crumbly macaroon granola, with pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries, is an adventure in itself.
Composition: Starbucks has its ratios down: a manageable serving of very thick yogurt, with just enough honey to sweeten it up, and granola kept nice and crispy on top.
Overall: A-. Between the sweet honey and the cookie-like granola, this tasted a bit too much like a dessert, and a bit less like a hearty breakfast. But I suppose for some, that’s not a bad thing.
Starbucks: Peachy Raspberry and Strawberry-Blueberry Yogurt Parfait
Presentation: The pre-made parfaits have a raspberry-peach or strawberry-blueberry base, nonfat yogurt above that, and granola in a contained little cup.
Taste: The nonfat yogurt base is surprisingly creamy, a tasty but essentially neutral parfait base; the granola is crunchy, honey-flavored and very sweet. But while the juicy, tart raspberry mush is almost fresh-tasting, its appeal is obscured by the syrupy peaches, whose taste screams only “canned.” The strawberry-blueberry mixture was also far too sweet, tasting like it came straight from the freezer bag.
Composition: Again, Starbucks hits the right ratio of flavorful fruit, mild yogurt, and still-crisp granola.
Overall: B+. An excellent parfait, but the taste of overly syrupy fruit is hard to get past.
Presentation: Pre-packed parfaits wait in the refrigerator: vanilla yogurt layered with sliced strawberries or bananas, and a thick granola layer on top.
Taste: A decent specimen, there’s nothing to complain about in Cosi’s parfait—but nothing memorable, either. The vanilla yogurt was thin and sweet, the strawberries unremarkable, but not syrupy or sour the way some parfait fillings can be. The “Bananas Foster” version was slightly better, with banana flavor infusing the otherwise uninteresting yogurt. The ample granola was similarly uninspired, toasted oats that added crunch but little flavor.
Composition: While pre-packed parfaits inevitably yield soggy granola, Cosi’s was saved by the sheer amount of it piled on top. Though the bottom flakes melted into a soft, yogurty sludge, the inch-plus of granola above that stayed crunchy and dry.
Overall: B+ for the banana, B for the strawberry. A decent parfait, but the later in the morning you buy it, the more granola will fall victim to the soggy creep.
Pret a Manger
Presentation:A thick blueberry compote lies beneath plain New York-based Ronnybrook yogurt, with a honey-sweetened nutty granola on top.
Taste: The unsweetened Ronnybrook yogurt was the brightest of any of the parfaits, medium-bodied and sour and appealingly fresh. The blueberry compote, sweet as pie filling, was undeniably tasty but quite sugary and threatened to overwhelm the lighter yogurt. That sweetness was an interesting contrast to the seedy, healthy-tasting granola on top.
Composition: Pret’s parfait was also heavy on the toppings, with almost equal parts fruit, granola, and yogurt. Unfortunately, however, Pret doesn’t divide its granola from the rest of the parfait, and while the top layer retains some crunch, the bottom is unappealingly wet. Since the fresh yogurt tends to separate, the watery top makes quick work of the granola bits.
Overall: B. Points for the fresh yogurt and dessert-ready blueberries, but soggy granola wins no fans here.
Presentation:Yogurt sandwiches strawberries and blueberries, with a tiny pack of granola alongside.
Taste: McDonald’s vanilla yogurt is creamy and thick, though a bit oversweetened; the Nature Valley granola is crumbly and honey-flavored, just like their granola bars. The fruit, on the other hand, was clearly frozen—still ice-covered and sugary-sweet.
Composition: The fruit-to-yogurt ratio is right on; the packaged granola stays nice and crunchy, though there isn’t much of it.
Overall: B. Frozen fruit is hard to stomach—but at $1 for an otherwise excellent parfait, the price is right.
Le Pain Quotidien
Presentation: Each made-to-order parfait piles fresh fruit atop low-fat yogurt, with two thick layers of crunchy granola.
Taste: The low-fat yogurt is thick and tart, a good, simple base for the fresh-cut honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, and berries that hide within. The granola, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to categorize—nutty and burnt and complicated, seedy and sweet, crunchy in some bits and soft in others.
Composition: While Le Pain Quotidien scores points for fresh fruit and plentiful granola, there’s so much going on in this parfait that figuring it out becomes distracting. Two kinds of melon, chunks of pineapple, raspberries and blackberries and blueberries—then the oats and pumpkin seeds and coconut and raisins and cashews and all manner of unidentifiable crunchy bits in the granola. Every bite is tasty—but every bite is different. There’s not much that holds this parfait together.
Price: $7.30. True, they don’t skimp on the good stuff, but that’s three times the cost of other parfaits on this list.
Overall: B. Fresh and exciting—but complicated and pricey.
Au Bon Pain
Presentation: Cups of blueberry-layered vanilla, strawberry, or blueberry yogurt are kept in the refrigerated case, with tiny packs of granola alongside.
Taste: Au Bon Pain’s parfait is dominated by the yogurt; the vanilla is creamy and pleasantly mild, but the Barbie-pink strawberry has an almost Go-Gurt-like sweetness. But the blueberries on the bottom are big and fresh, and the granola honey-flavored and oaty, adding a crunch all the way through.
Composition: Leaving the granola on the side keeps Au Bon Pain’s parfait tasting fresh and clean, with a perfect textural contrast between smooth yogurt and crispy oats. However, the yogurt-to-topping ratio seemed off—too much of the former, not enough of the latter.
Overall: B+ for the vanilla; B- for the painfully sweet strawberry.