12 Tangy Facts about Yogurt

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You know it’s creamy and delicious. But how well do you really know the yogurt on your spoon?

1. It’s alive! At least, it better be.

In the United States, “yogurt” is a federally regulated term that can only refer to products that were created with one or both of the bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These are the “good bacteria” responsible for all of yogurt’s health benefits, including aiding in digestive health—but the FDA allows heat treating of the finished product to get rid of these bacteria. If it’s not “live and active,” you might not be getting the benefits you expect.

2. Frozen yogurt (usually) doesn’t count.

Although the FDA maintains strict guidelines for what is and isn’t yogurt, the same standards don’t apply to the similarly-named dairy dessert. Freezing doesn’t actually do much harm to the good bacteria, but some frozen yogurt makers heat-treat their product, killing off the bacteria and leaving behind a delicious—but ultimately not-so-healthy—pseudo-yogurt that’s not much different than ice cream.

3. Greek yogurt is one simple step away from regular yogurt.

All yogurt begins its life in the same way: Milk is heated, cooled, and left to ferment. The process by which regular yogurt is transformed into the thicker, creamier Greek variety is surprisingly simple. Once makers strain the yogurt to let the liquid whey run off, what’s left behind is Greek yogurt. The remainder is denser in terms of both texture and nutrition than its predecessor, with almost double the protein but triple the saturated fat. It also contains only half as much sodium and half the carbohydrates of regular yogurt. But much like frozen yogurt, the term "Greek yogurt" isn’t regulated. Sometimes it’s artificially thickened with things like gelatin, so be careful out there!

4. It can give meat a run for its money.

A single cup of yogurt can be packed with protein—on average, about 10 grams per 8-ounce serving. That’s about 20 percent of the recommended daily protein intake for the average adult. Soy yogurt is even an approved meat alternative in the USDA-regulated school lunch program.

5. It’s worthy of the gods.

In Hindu worship, panchamrita (a portmanteau of the Sanskrit words for “five” and “nectar of immortality”) is a sweet beverage made from only five ingredients: honey, sugar, milk, yogurt, and clarified butter. In the centuries-old recipe for ambrosia, yogurt symbolizes strength and prosperity.

6. It once saved a king from an embarrassing ailment.

Though Turkish shepherds had happily been turning milk into tart, tasty yogurt as early at 3000 BCE, it took a French king’s diarrhea to introduce yogurt to the West. When François I suffered from recurring gastrointestinal distress in 1542, the finest French doctors couldn’t find a way to help him. Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and French ally, sent over one of his own doctors with a miraculous cure: yogurt.

7. Men aren’t buying it.

Sixty-eight percent of women eat yogurt, compared to only 43 percent of men—so there’s a fortune waiting for anyone who can convince more men to eat more yogurt. A company called Powerful Yogurt has tried to appeal to the manly-man market with its bold black and red packaging and claims of a “protein-packed” snack option for those with “active lifestyles.”

8. It’s as French as baguettes and champagne.

Though French cuisine may be more closely associated with clearly Gallic-sounding dishes like ratatouille or coq au vin, a more everyday staple of the French diet is the humble yogurt cup. More than half of France's population incorporates yogurt into their daily lives. Bon appétit!

9. It can be a part of your skin care regimen.

For the cheapest possible alternative to a luxury skincare treatment, try a face mask of pure plain yogurt. The lactic acid in it is a natural chemical exfoliant that encourages turnover of dead skin cells, the zinc it contains can alleviate acne and skin inflammation, and calcium facilitates skin renewal. Cucumber eye mask: optional.

10. Fruits aren’t the only flavor variables.

Even so-called plain yogurt can vary in taste and texture depending on the source of its milk. Though most yogurt is produced from fermented cow’s milk, goats, camels, yaks, sheep, and water buffalo also produce milk that can eventually become yogurt.

11. Don’t try to fly with it.

Though TSA regulations aren’t always consistently applied, don’t be too disappointed if airport security confiscates your Yoplait. According to current regulations, yogurt is technically a gel, which means a standard six-ounce cup is out of the question. So much for that in-flight snack.

12. It’s hard to spell it wrong.

The Oxford English Dictionary recognizes at least a dozen spellings of the word “yogurt,” including but not limited to yoghurt, yogurd, yahourt, yahourth, and joghourt—although your computer’s spell-check may disagree.