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No Pinkberry groupie here

If you think that leggings are the only thing making a comeback from the ‘80s, think again.

Frozen yogurt is back with a vengeance, and Pinkberry – the popular franchise that exploded in L.A. five years ago — opened its first store in Massachusetts at the Derby Street shops in Hingham in August.

The buzz on this place preceded its arrival by months, so that when it finally opened its doors, they were held perpetually ajar by a long line of people that stretched up the sidewalk.

It took weeks before i could spot the place without a crowd and stop in to try a cup.

My first taste of the extremely tangy soft serve inspired a sinister, or at the very least, cynical, thought: Had the makers added an artificial flavor to make Pinkberry taste more like yogurt than, well, yogurt — to get people to believe it was really, really good for them?

This I will never know, and I admit, it is a particularly dark thought, which is uncharacteristic of me. I’m usually inanely enthusiastic about anything that’s tasty, remotely decent for you, and new to Boston’s South Shore. And, as Pinkberry’s groupies (I kid you not, there’s a “groupie” group on the franchise’s website) will tell you, we are lucky to have a Pinkberry here.

And I like Pinkberry: it’s refreshing. And I especially like that its toppings include fresh cut, fresh fruits daily, which is unique to the stylish franchise.

The company, which is currently celebrating the opening of its 100th store, was founded by a foodie and a designer with an interest in frozen desserts. Integral to the brand is that the stores have an upscale look to give customers “20 minutes of fun,” which is really about how long it takes to get through the line sometimes, what with the people in front of you choosing all the toppings they want. And, I must say, I love the pretty origami-like Le Klint lighting, cute plastic chairs by designer Philippe Starck, and the pebbles on the floors of the stores.

Also central to Pinkberry’s finely crafted public relations image and designer brand culture (honed by the likes of some very heavy hitting board members, including Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks Coffee Company) is the idea that it’s good for you.

And, among desserts, it is good.

For one, it bears the National Yogurt Association’s Live & Active Cultures seal, which means it has at least 10 million active cultures per gram (whatever that means). Having always wondered whether yogurt cultures could even survive in frozen yogurt, I did a little research and discovered that they can. So, that’s encouraging.

(TCBY, the 25-year-old stalwart of the American fro-yo front, has also earned NYA’s Live & Active Cultures seal.)

And, although it takes a calculator to figure out the calories in Pinkberry (you have to determine the equivalencies among the various measuring standards the company literature offers: grams, half cups, and ounces), most Pinkberry flavors are low in calories, weighing in at about 29-30 per ounce. Which is also positive. (Fyi, many of TCBY’s flavors have the same calorie count.)

So, as far as I can see, there are three things that are good for you about Pinkberry: the low calorie count, the signature fresh fruit, and the yogurt cultures.

I do find it insulting that every time I go to the store, or read about the brand online, I’m told to be happy that most of Pinkberry’s flavors (except chocolate, which, suspiciously, has no tangy yogurt flavor whatsoever) are fat-free.

Why does this bother me?

Because the whole fat-free-sweet-foods-are-better-for-you craze was a misleading and widespread marketing ploy that many people still believe. Most fat-free, sweet foods – take muffins – make up for their lack of flavor from fat by being packed with sugar. And the sugar in such foods turns right into fat in the body. So, there’s no advantage to non-fat sugary foods health-wise. But the marketing myth prompts people to eat them in the belief that they’re doing something good for themselves.

And, sugar is the second ingredient in Pinkberry’s ingredient list (which isn’t, evidently, fully revealed because it’s top secret). That’s fine – Pinkberry’s a dessert – but don’t tell me to love it because it’s fat-free.

So, why do I enjoy a Pinkberry?

Because I like its taste and that I can get a mini [shown here], three-ounce cup of it, with some fresh fruit on top, and know that it’s only about 100 calories (plus the calories from the fruit). That’s at least half as many calories as an average ice cream.

Which is what must have gotten the celebrity Victoria Beckham to consider eating it (if magazine stories can be believed.) You can read more about all the famous people who eat Pinkberry on the company’s website and even, as I mentioned, become an actual Pinkberry groupie!

All of this design and fresh fruit, of course, comes at a pretty hefty price. Which is another thing you might need a calculator to tabulate: the original flavor (which is kind of like a sour vanilla), is less expensive than the flavors (like mango or coconut) and each of the four sizes that Pinkberry comes in each have four prices: one for an original without a topping; one for an original with a topping; one for a flavor without a topping; and one for a flavor with a topping.

These prices range, from the three-ounce mini size to the 13-ounce large size, from $2.25 to $8.20!

That’s alotta moola for culture and fruit.

But that doesn’t really bother me. Desserts cost a lot, and I like a little cup of Pinkberry, as I said, with some pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

What is it, then, that irritates me about Pinkberry, which, by the way, is due to open its second store in Massachusetts on Boston’s Newbury Street at the end of this month?

I guess it’s that I just don’t like so much culture with my culture.

No groupie membership for me: make mine plain.