Dietribes: Yogurt Made Me Cultured


• Believe it or not, the Bible mentions yogurt in Genesis, where Abraham fed it to his guests. The history of yogurt is a long one - Assyrians ate it for health, and John Harvey Kellogg encouraged yogurt enemas at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan (though the less said about that the better).

• But yogurt has many other uses: Cleopatra attributed her beauty to yogurt baths, and Pliny the Elder reports that Persian women found it beneficial for their skin (related bonus fact: in Iran, sour, thick fermented milk is called mast, of which one of the most popular brands is "Mickey Mast").

• It wasn't until the early 1900s though that the "secret" of fermented milk was discovered by Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff, who studied Bulgarian yogurt in test tubes at the Pasteur Institute. Their yogurt contained Bacillus bulgaricus, which, Metchnikoff decided, chased out the "wild, putrefying bacilli in our large intestine." Now ... who's hungry?
• Of course, people just can't go around selling bacterial cowboys to round up and clear out your wiley intestines without some regulation - according to the U.S. FDA, "yogurt" must be refrigerated and contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus cultures from dairy ingredients. The same identity is not required for frozen yogurt, although they too may contain live cultures.
• For those of you who enjoy fruit with your yogurt, you can thank the Dannon company, who first added fruit to its mixtures in 1946. Dannon is actually a Spanish company founded in 1919 by Isaac Carasso, who came from the Balkans where yogurt was a staple. He introduced it to Barcelona and called it "Danone," meaning "Little Daniel" after his son. The rest is history. 

• Not to be outdone, Yoplait also made a major contribution to the world of yogurt: the disposable container. Unfortunately, some of these have become a little too disposable: according to a study by Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) we throw away more than nine million yogurt and yogurt drinks - unopened - a week. That's almost a tenth of the 100 million pots sold each week.

• What's in a name? "Way back during the mid-1980s frozen yogurt wars, there was a chain called I Can't Believe It's Yogurt, which sued competing chain TCBY because the letters stood for This Can't Be Yogurt. Unperturbed, TCBY deftly shifted its underlying name to The Country's Best Yogurt, kept the well-established abbreviation, and went on its merry yogurt-peddling way. (Few of us now remember the third fro-yo warrior, YSCCMTTIIFY, which stood for: You Simply Cannot Convince Me That This Is in Fact Yogurt!)"
• Do you prefer your yogurt thick or light and creamy? A clever Fage billboard in 2008 along the Macy’s Day Parade route made it look as if a Tweety balloon got stuck in some deliciously dense yogurt.

• Ricky Gervais' friend and podcast co-host Karl Pilkington sums up the future of yogurt as such: "scientists reckon that one day you can wake up and eat a yogurt you could have a chat with." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. 

• What is your favorite kind of yogurt, and do you eat it plain or with other foods? I smother my Indian dishes with it and prefer Greek-style yogurt, although a fruity yogurt cup is also always welcomed! Yogurt-haters are welcome to comment, too - I used to be in your camp!

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‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.