What Is Yogurt? History, Types & Benefits

what is yogurt

People all around the world use yogurt in everyday life. Known as one of the oldest fermented foods; yogurt is very nutritious, and its regular consumption can improve our health and body condition. We take this dairy product for granted easily, but it might be interesting to know that it has a very long history.

The word yogurt (yoghurt, yogourt, yoghourt) has Turkish roots. It’s taken from the word “Yogurmark,” meaning “to thicken,” and it generally means thick milk. Another possible root for this word might be “Yogun” which means “thick”

Yogurt is mostly obtained from cow’s milk which is heated to about 85 c (185 F). This way its proteins are denatured and curds are prevented from forming. Next, the heated milk is allowed to get cool before adding the necessary cultures. Since it must be fermented, bacteria like Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus help with this process. In addition, other lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are sometimes added. Then the temperature is kept at 45 C for 4-12 hours to let the fermentation occur. Read on to find out more about the process, origins of yogurt, the way its mass production began, and the health benefits associated with it.

How is Yogurt Made?

Yogurt is typically made through the addition of friendly bacteria to fresh milk. Historically, the thermophilic bacteria lived in warm regions, and the mesophilic bacteria lived in cooler areas.

a bowl of yogurt

During fermentation, bacteria convert lactose, which is milk’s natural sugar, into lactic acid. It is this acid that turns milk proteins into curdles, which give yogurt its distinctive texture and taste.
It doesn’t matter what type of milk you use. There are various kinds made from both full-fat and fat-free milk, each having a unique and delicious taste. Today, many brands add artificial flavors or sugar to their products, which is not very healthy for the body
As general advice, always try to consume plain yogurt since it has more benefits for your health.

History of Yogurt

The earliest traces of this dairy product date back to around 10,000 – 5000 BC. Yogurt was made accidentally in Mesopotamia, according to legend. During this time, humans domesticated milk-producing animals.

Historians agree that fermented milk products like yogurt have been produced accidentally when milk was stored in warm places. Although the milk stored in the skin of an animal was exposed to the hot sun for a long time, it was still edible.

The origins of this dairy is thought to have roots in Mesopotamia around 5000 BC.

In the beginning, yogurt got famous as a solution for preserving milk through fermentation. Based on the location, people would make it from the raw milk of buffalo or sheep. For example, in discoveries of ancient Greece, it was found that people consumed Oxygala. It was probably the first version of yogurt made from sour milk and mixed with honey to make it sweet.

The oldest writings that include “yogurt” are written by Pliny the Elder. He stated that some nomadic tribes were able to make the milk thicker and form a new edible product with proper acidity.

Moreover, ancient civilizations in Asia consumed it as a regular part of their diet. The Mongolian army enjoyed this product in the early 13th century since they believed it would give them more power and stamina in battle. According to Genghis Khan, his soldiers’ bravery was a direct result of consuming yogurt regularly.

For centuries, yogurt has been a favorite food in various cuisines such as Russian, Indian, Turkish, and Arabic. Especially in Turkey, it has been an integral food on their tables. There is a folklore that Akbar, the king of India, was a fan of spicy yogurt. After mixing mustard seeds and cinnamon with it, he consumed it. (That’s some extraordinary taste, isn’t it?)

a recipe made with yogurt

Francois I, the French king, is also known to have been cured of an intestinal health problem by consuming yogurt as advised by his doctor.

Interestingly, historical expeditions show that since 2000 BC, our ancestors have used it for beauty purposes such as skin cleansers or moisturizers. Also, there are so many folk tales saying that yogurt consumption increases human lifespan. The roots of this belief relate to Bulgaria, where people used many cultured milk products and lived longer than the other people.

Yogurt Immigrants from the Middle East brought yogurt to the Americas during the 17th century. Industrialized production of this product began no sooner than the 1900s, as it was initially produced at home for personal consumption.

Types of Yogurt Around The World

Yogurt has been used in countless ways over the years, from recipes to snacks to a staple breakfast food. Humans in different cultures have been so influenced by yogurt that it is impossible to imagine omitting it from many meals. People in countries like Iran, India, Turkey, and Arab countries have also invented different types of yogurt dating back to 5000 B.C.E. It forms part of their folklore and tradition.

People in ancient cultures did not know how milk thickens and sours, as previously mentioned. It took a millennium until finally, in the 1800s, Louis Pasteur discovered the secret behind the milk fermentation process and introduced microorganisms.

Russian kefir is a fermented milk with a light texture.

Russian Kefir

It is interesting to know that Russians use a type of liquid yogurt called Kefir. Kefir is, in fact, fermented milk with a light texture which is slightly carbonated. This fermented drink was originated from the North Caucasus. It has been around in Russia and other Central Asian nations for centuries and has spread into other parts of the world as well.

Kefir grains, which are typically microcolonies of bacteria and yeast resembling small cauliflowers, are added to milk to prepare it. both Kefir Drink and Kefir Yogurt contain kefir.

Greek Straggisto (Greek Yogurt)

As you may know, Greek yogurt is one of the most favored types all around the world. It is normally made from strained sheep milk and has a thick texture and smooth consistency. These qualities make it a favorite choice for many desserts and meals. It can either stand as the main ingredient inside Jajik a Special Cucumber and Yogurt Dip or Delicious Greek Yogurt Cheesecake or used as a sauce in Appetizing Chicken with Greek Yogurt Sauce.

a bowl of Greek yogurt

Lebanese Laban

The Arab countries are famous for their version of yogurt which has been part of their cuisine for centuries. In Lebanon, yogurt is called Laban and is usually made by straining fermented milk. You can find lots of recipes in various categories where Laban plays a direct part, for example, take a look at Appealing Labneh Cheesecake or Quick Zaatar Scones with Labneh Recipe.

Turkish Yogurt

Last but not least, we come across Yogurt which plays a very important role in Turkey’s national cuisine, particularly in savory dishes. Turks have also invented a thin yogurt drink called Ayran which is served alongside the main course.

Ayran is a refreshing drink consumed mostly in summer. To prepare it, you need to dilute yogurt with ice-cold water. Occasionally, salt, pepper, and other seasonings, such as mint, lime juice, and diced cucumber, can be added for a more refreshing taste.

Some Turkish recipes with yogurt are Lahmacun; A Perfect Turkish Street Food and Tender Kebab Giaourtlou Recipe for Meat-lovers.

yogurt plays a pivotal role in Turkish cuisine.

Other countries and cultures call yogurt by its proper name, as well. There is Skyr in Iceland, Amasi in South Africa, Kumis in Central Asia, and Lassi in India.

Industrial Production of Yogurt

Around 1900, scientists isolated the bacteria that produce yogurt for the first time and began mass-producing it. Stamen Grigorov discovered Lactobacillus Bulgaricus in 1905, which turns milk into yogurt. 

As a result, several strains were combined, resulting in a special kind of blend called direct-set cultures. Using these starters, companies can produce yogurts of the same type. Following these findings, Danone (also known as Dannon) began producing commercialized yogurt in Barcelona, Spain, in 1919. 

a woman and a boy selling yogurt in 1800s in Turkestan, Kazakhestan.

In  Danone became very popular in the United States during the 1940s. The company made yogurt more popular in the market by combining this product with jams of different types.
In 1981, FDA stated that the fresh yogurt must have Streptococcus Thermophilus and Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. These two strains are now widely found in direct-set starters used for different types of yogurt.
Although mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria are not considered standard, they are still widely used. These two bacteria are the traditional foundation of yogurt that give it a wonderful taste and a lot of health benefits.
In North America, most people eat sweetened yogurt or a mixture of it with fruit. However, there are so many foods and recipes in different countries that have unsweetened yogurt in them.
Overall, it seems that it keeps being a favorite cultured milk product as long as people can find milk around! Today, we can easily purchase starter powders and make the yogurt we want on our own without much hassle.

What Are The Benefits of Yogurt?

We generally know that dairy products, including yogurt, have a lot of benefits for our bodies. Talking about yogurt specifically, it brings the following advantages for our health.

1. Protein

Every 200 grams has about 12 grams of protein. This vital substance improves the body’s metabolism by increasing the amount of energy your body consumes and the calories it burns.
Receiving enough protein helps your body lose weight since it increases the secretion of appetite-regulating hormones. Peptide YY and GLP-1 are the two common hormones in this regard. The more full you feel, the less calories you consume.
Some other studies show that the full-fat kind reduces the possibility of obesity, which is contrary to the former general belief about fat intake. So if you eat more of it, you feel less hungry during the day.
Among the different varieties, the Greek yogurt has a better influence on controlling the appetite.

2.    Nutrition

You can find almost all the nutrients you need in yogurt!

First of all, you get the whole amount of calcium your body needs every day by consuming around two cups of yogurt. Calcium is essential for the health of teeth and bones, and lacking this mineral in the body results in severe problems for these organs.

Secondly, it’s a great source of vitamin B12, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Vitamin B12 helps decrease the chances of heart problems, and other three minerals are necessary for the regulation of blood pressure and body metabolisms.

Also, many commercial products now include vitamin D that does not occur naturally. This vitamin, which is received from sunlight, boosts the immune system and reduces the risks of depression. Therefore, the daily consumption of it brings the necessary minerals you need and helps you get in a better health condition.

3.     Less Contamination of Illnesses

Regular consumption of yogurt decreases the chances of getting sick by strengthening your immune system. This quality can even get higher by consuming probiotic types.

Lesser chance of catching an illness is a health benefit attributed to this dairy product.

Scientific researches show that probiotics decrease inflammation and speed up getting well when you get the common cold. The combination of probiotics and vitamin D increases the body’s resistance to flu considerably.
The live bacteria found in products with probiotics help the digestive system significantly. To make sure the product you buy has enough probiotics, look at its label to see how many active cultures it includes.
Some of these probiotics are effective against IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), a health problem that leaves a negative impact on the colon.
Additionally, eating it prevents the problems concerned with the weakening of bones and osteoporosis. Mostly caused in older ages, this health problem increases the risks of bone fractures due to the decrease in bone mass.

4.    Heart Health

The fat of this fermented product has long been a subject of controversies regarding its healthiness for our body. Most of the available fat in this product is the saturated type.
While there is no scientific proof for its harmfulness to the body, some believe it benefits the health of the human heart.
Some scientific findings show that the saturated fat obtained from whole-milk dairy products increases beneficial HDL cholesterol, which protects the heart.

5.    Vaginal Infections

A common problem among people with diabetes is yeast or candida vaginal infection.
In a study on a group of women with this problem, scientists found eating this dairy product effective in reducing vaginal pH. These women had consumed 6 ounces of sweetened yogurt with active cultures every day, and their pH had got back to the standard range of 4 – 4.5. Plus, they reported a reduction in candida infections as well.

some may have lactose digestion problems and not be able to consume dairy products like yogurt

Can Yogurt Cause Health Problems?

Aside from the benefits mentioned above, yogurt consumption can be dangerous for some individuals. The most probable causes are as follows:

·         Lactose Digestion

When we are born, our body can produce lactase by which our stomach digests the mother’s milk. As people grow up, the production of lactase ceases in the body of some individuals. The problem is called lactose intolerance and causes stomach aches after using dairy products.
So if you are one of those with this problem, you should be cautious about consuming yogurt.
However, thanks to the new scientific improvements in different brands, even these people can eat it without any concerns. Some production procedures involve breaking down the lactose, and the addition of probiotics further helps this process.

·         Allergy to Milk

As earlier pointed out, yogurt includes considerable amounts of protein. But some of these proteins, like whey and casein, have allergic traits and cause health problems for some people.
The range of the problems caused by allergy to milk consumption can be from typical swellings to anaphylaxis, which in severe cases, leads to death. So if you are allergic to milk, it’s better to avoid its consumption.

a combination of fruits and yogurt for breakfast

What Kind of Yogurt Is The Best?

When it comes to choosing the most appropriate type of yogurt, the ones with the most similarity to the traditional yogurts are the best. We suggest consuming unsweetened products that include live cultures since they have fewer additives and added sugar.
But as mentioned earlier, choosing the low-fat or high-fat one is optional since the high-fat ones don’t cause problems for our bodies. Even though they have more calories, they’re not bad for our health.
Moreover, since 2000, various plant milk yogurts have been introduced that use the milk of soy, nuts, and rice. The most popular ones are those made from coconut and almond milk, which are the best match for vegans. These products are also suggested to those with intolerance to animals milk who want to use plant-based items instead.

We can categorize these amazing products based on their prominent quality like being skimmed or non-skimmed, low-fat or high-fat, and the like. As such, there are six distinct categories are as following:

1.     Greek yogurt: also called “strained yogurt”, Greek yogurt loses most of its whey protein during the process of straining. The resulting mixture has a thick consistency and sour taste. It is one of the most favorite yogurts in the world and is popular with people from North America and Western Europe to the Middle East and Asia.

a colorful, fresh example of summer dessert.

2.     Low-fat: low-fat type contains less fat than traditional ones made with whole milk. Normally, whole milk’s fat content is higher than skim or low-fat type. Low-fat yogurt’s fat is anywhere between 0.5 and 2 percent. An example is Low-Fat Fresh Yogurt or low-Fat Seven Yogurt.

3.     High-fat: high-fat yogurt, on the contrary, contains at least 4 to 5 percent fat. This amount can increase and get doubled or even tripled. One of this kind is Heat-Treated Full Fat Yogurt

4.     Flavored yogurts: by this, we mean yogurts mixed with vegetables such as Spinach Yogurt, Eggplant Yogurt, Chili Yogurt, or Cucumber Yogurt. You can use them as a side dish along with your main course or even consume them as a midday snack, dip, and the like. 

5.     Fruit yogurts: this type contains pieces of fruits, sugar, and some additives. Some flavors include Strawberry Fruit Yogurt and Peach Yogurt.

6.     Diet yogurts: This category includes a wide range of products where health and diet considerations are observed in final production. Using active agents like kefir, probiotics bacteria, vitamins, and minerals all help consumers to maintain a healthier regimen. Examples are Calcivita, Icelandic, Probiotic, and Kefir.

To Sum Up

Yogurt is a nutritious product that has been used for thousands of years by our ancestors. It helps our digestive system and reduces the chances of several illnesses.
Considering its significant advantages, we should consume it regularly and make it one of our habits. Due to the mass production of yogurt and plenty of categories available to choose from, you can fit this dairy product into your diet very easily. Whether consumed alone, as a snack or for health and diet purposes, or used in desserts, main course, and appetizer recipes, you can find millions of ways to use it.
So next time you grab a yogurt from your local store, keep in mind that you are buying a dairy product rich in nutrients that has a long history behind it.


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