How Yogurt Works

Yogurt History and Culture

Yogurt has long been a part of most people's diets in India, Asia, North Africa and Eastern Europe. In India, it's made from buffalo milk. It's now sometimes served with cucumbers, cilantro and other spices as a side dish known as raita. The cool ingredients soothe the tongue after a spicy bite. Plain yogurt in India is dahi, Turkey's is jugurt or eyran and in Greece it's tiaourti. You may have had an opportunity to try tzatziki, which contains cucumbers as well.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that Ukrainian immunologist Dr. Ilya Mechnikov determined that the acidic bacteria in fermented milks might be beneficial. He even connected yogurt to the longevity of Bulgarian peasants. In 1922, Danone began producing yogurt commercially in Europe. Sweden still consumes more than five times the amount that Americans do, which, in 2007, was 11.5 pounds (5.2 kilograms) per person per year [source: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center].

Mechnikov had a great sales pitch, and advertisers in the United States and Europe continue delivering his message: Yogurt is a health food. Yoplait's portable kids' snack, Go-Gurt, is touted as wholesome, even though a lot of the calories in it come from sugar.

Marketing efforts have convinced us that even the sweetest-tasting yogurts aren't so bad. The frozen varieties are an alternative to ice cream. Don't be fooled, though -- only some of the milk in frozen yogurt has been fermented. It's usually 4 to 1, ice milk to yogurt, and that yogurt might have been made with whole-fat milk or even cream. With only one part yogurt, probiotics are often not plentiful in regular frozen yogurt. Recently, though, there has been a surge of frozen yogurt shops, including Red Mango, Yogen Früz and Berry Chill, who all market the probiotics within their products and don't use ice milk.

Misleading advertising campaigns have gotten some companies into trouble, as regulation pertaining to "probiotics" is lacking. In 2008, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Dannon for false claims of DanActive and Activia's benefits to the digestive and immune system. As a result, Dannon amended labels and offered rebates.

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