Yogurt’s History and FolkloreVicki Koenig, MS, RD, CDN Back to “Moosletters” –> Print Email to a friend
Have you ever wondered where yogurt came from? Yes, it’s from cows or some other kind of milk, but whoever thought to put those cultures in milk in the first place?
The origin of YogurtIt is thought that yogurt was first found as early as 2000 BC in Mid Eastern civilizations as a way to preserve milk. Fermented and cultured milks may actually predate recorded history however. A type of yogurt is thought to have originated by nomadic tribes of Eastern Europe and western Asia. The word yogurt is Turkish in origin. The ancient Assyrian word for yogurt, “lebeny” meant life. It’s interesting to note that the modern word ‘probiotic’ can literally be translated to “For Life”. There has been a longstanding belief that eating yogurt or the consumption of some type of cultured milk product is associated with longevity due to the friendly bacteria’s ability to fight disease.
Historically, foods have been fermented and cultured to preserve them. As many forms of milk have been consumed since the dawn of time, Milk is thought to be the first cultured food. Cows were first domesticated in 9000 BC in Libya. There’s no written evidence that yogurt was consumed but it’s highly probable there was some form of cultured milk product. India’s Ayurvedic history dates to 6000 BC, expounding the virtues of regular dairy product consumption and its contribution to a long, healthy life. Eastern Indians regularly consume milk from camels to yaks, making that milk into yogurt and cheese. 2500 years ago, Indian yogis proclaimed yogurt to be the “food of the Gods”.
The first cultured milk product probably occurred spontaneously from the environment or the food itself. Folklore describes the story of a traveling nomad in the Turkish desert. Legend has it that he kept some milk in a goatskin bag hung across his camel. After traveling in the hot sun with the constant agitation of his bag during his travels, the milk was transformed into a tangy custard. The warmth, bacteria in the bag and agitation of his movements were ideal for making the first yogurt!
On a similar note, another story associated with yogurt describes the circumstances of either a messenger to Genghis Khan or the famed warrior himself. Disgruntled residents of a village recently seized by the warrior in the 12th century AD, put milk in a gourd he was carrying hoping to poison him with soured milk. Instead, the curdled milk became delicious custard that greatly fortified the horseman to continue his journey of conquest. It’s interesting how this theme of unexpected yogurt-making is repeated with different versions. It may be that the legend of the first yogurt has overlapped with what is understood as the history of Genghis Khan. Written records on Genghis Khan do confirm that his conquering armies lived on yogurt. By 1206, all of Mongolia was dominated under his banner. By 1215, the Mongols had defeated Turkistan and Afghanistan and most of the Ch’in Empire. What is said to have kept the Mongols healthy and successful were the horses. Not only did they allow the mongolsto be nimble, but they also provided rich milk that was fermented. The milk was known as kumiss and every member of the conquering pack consumed it, from the Great Khan himself to the lowliest slave. It not only maintained them but also nourished them and kept them healthy.
LongevityA Russian born biologist, Elie Metchnikoff wrote about the life-extending benefits of eating cultured foods, especially yogurt. Dr. Metchnikoff received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his research on phagocytosis, an important function of the immune system in 1908. Perhaps nearer and dearer to his heart was his study of lactic acid-producing bacteria. He believed their consumption was responsible for the observed longer lifespan of so many Bulgarians. Metchnikoff wrote a book called The Prolongation of Life. He noted that a higher percentage of the Bulgarian population was found to live anywhere from 87 to over 100 years old. He attributed this to eating cultured milk products. He was one of the first to recognize the relationship of disease and what he called the “poisons” produced in the bowel. He convinced many that the friendly bacteria colonizing the intestine helped to normalize bowel habits and fight disease-carrying bacteria, thereby promoting longevity. Metchnikoff believed that with regular yogurt consumption, it was possible to live to be 150 years old! He named the primary yogurt-culturing microorganism Lactobacillus bulgaricus after the Bulgarians.
Metchnikoff also wrote that the secret of longevity was in the Russian mountains. The villagers of Caucasus Mountains, now known as Azerbaidzhan, ate yogurt and are responsible for the origin of kefir, another fermented milk product. Kefir is mentioned in the Koran and is very well known in Eastern Europe. The kefir of the Caucasus area was known for its healing powers. Kefir is made from lactic acid-producing bacteria similar to yogurt and also yeast complexes. The Moslem tribesmen of the Caucasus Mountains coveted the kefir recipe with the culture grains passed from generation to generation. Whether through the good will of a missionary or a complex tale of a beautiful woman trying to coax the recipe from a Caucasus prince, the benefits of kefir have been extolled.
FolkloreBy definition, a true yogurt must be cultured with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus Thermophilus. It is these beneficial bacteria that is responsible for the many health claims associated with yogurt and other cultured milk products.
Here is a list of some of the many benefits that are associated with yogurt. As folklore means “widely held beliefs, not proven true”, some are not substantiated by research where others are understood to be quite accurate and accepted.
Because the cultures produce lactic acid from the lactose in the milk, many people whom are lactose intolerant are able to tolerate yogurt.
The cultures inhibit the growth of hostile or disease-producing bacteria inside the GI tract by producing antimicrobial substances known to inhibit these gram-positive pathogens.
The cultures increase absorption of minerals and aid in B vitamin synthesis.
Yogurt brings relief to those suffering from diarrhea and chronic constipation.
The Eastern Indians believe that the germs that promote diarrhea, appendicitis and dysentery cannot survive in the presence of the lactic acid produced by yogurt.
Yogurt is beneficial for those suffering from colitis and possibly Crohn’s disease because the cultures may reduce inflammation in the colon.
Regular yogurt consumption crowds out the overgrowth of Candida yeast organisms in the intestine.
Related to the intestinal yeast overgrowth are vaginal yeast infections. Plain yogurt has been recommended as a vaginal suppository. Some practitioners claim this may help or it may feed the yeast organisms themselves as they thrive on carbohydrate.
Regular yogurt consumption has been shown to help relieve vaginal infections. It can be eaten as a preventative or part of a comprehensive approach to rid Candidiasis.
Eating yogurt while taking antibiotics prevents or decreases the occurrence of antibiotic-related diarrhea.
Having an altered GI physiology with an unhealthy balance of microflora has been associated with a “leaky gut” thus allowing potential allergens to pass through the intestinal wall. These allergens may manifest into many variations of poor health from chemical sensitivities, arthritis, and food allergies to other chronic diseases. A balance of beneficial bacteria from yogurt can help to prevent this.
At least two studies demonstrate that a seven-ounce serving of yogurt can lower cholesterol by as much as 3.2%. Lactobacillus reuteri, (found only in Stonyfield Farm yogurt) has also demonstrated cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Remember that the yogurt must contain “Live active cultures” in order to have any of these health benefits. The yogurt must not be pasteurized after the addition of the cultures. If you’re obviously already a Stonyfield Farm Yogurt fan, you already know this!
Other yogurt folklore remedies profess the benefits of yogurt for skin disorders from pimples to eczema and psoriasis. Additionally, yogurt has been mentioned in treatments for insomnia, hepatitis and jaundice.
What determines whether these health claims are true depends on large-scale, placebo-controlled clinical studies. While these studies may or may not be seen in the scientific literature, it is known that use of yogurt or ingestion of probiotic supplements have never been known to pose any significant danger even with people who have compromised immune systems. On the contrary, people with AIDS have actually benefited from consuming yogurt.
Yogurt may have an interesting history but does yogurt promote longevity? It is life enhancing even if we can’t prove that it adds years to our life.
Reference:http://www.natren.com/pages/infoyogurt.html History of Yogurt – Natren Probiotics
http://www.findarticles.com/ Can “healthy” bacteria ward off disease? (use of fermented foods and dietary supplements to prevent and treat infectious diseases) Paul Cerrato, RN
http://www.indiangyan.com/books/healthbooks/food_that_heal/curd.cfm An article on Curd and its benefits.
http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/CONSUMER/CON00150.html Yogurt: The Curds and Whey to Health? FDA Consumer magazine by Rebecca D. Williams.
info from http://www.fageusa.com/
(which only employees 100 people at their manufacturing plant in NY)
Food historians generally agree the genesis of yogurt and other fermented milk products was discovered accidentally by Neolithic peoples living in Central Asia. These foods occured naturally due to local climate and primative storage methods. About milk. Yogurt has long been associated with good health and long life. Notes here:
“Soured milk or curds have surely been consumed by many peoples from the earliest Neolithic times, but little remains as direct proof of this. They were fairly certainly used in Mesopotamia and Palestine, and possibly Egypt, and Pliny later mentions their production by barbarian’tribes.”—Food in Antiquity: A Survey of the Diet of Early Peoples, Don Brothwell and Patricia Brothwell [Johns Hopkins University Press:Baltimore] 1997, expanded edition (p. 51)
“Milk being highly perishable, of course, a few hours would be enought to start it fermenting in the climate of the Near East. Depending on the temperature and the kind of bacteria in the air, the curds might develop into something pleasant and refershing, or something quite uneatable even by the Neolithic peoples, whose tastes were necessairly less rigid than those of their modern counterparts. The curds might also be either fine or coarse. The finer type was to develop ultimately into the sharp, creamy substance represented today by the yoghurt of the Balkans, the taetta of Scandinavia, the dahi of India. The coarser kind, strained off, would make the first soft, fresh cheese…Whatever the background to the early discoveries, however, curds, cheese, yoghurt and butter all developed into useful ways of preserving milk that was surplus to the people’s immediate requirements…”—Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers Press:New York] 1988 (p. 27-9)
“Yoghurt is one of the fermented milk foods whose origins are probably multiple. It is easy enough to imagine how, in parts of C. or W. Asia, unintended fermentation of milk could have produced something like yoghurt, and that people would have noticed that this would keep for much longer than fresh milk, besides tasting good. There is another advantage which applies particularly to many Asians…Yoghurt is the Turkish name for the product, long since adapted into the English language, no doubt because yoghurt reached W. Europe through Turkey and the Balkans.”—Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 859)
“There can be few foodstuffs in recent times that have gone through such an orthographic identity crisis as yoghurt. In the days when it was known only as an exotic substance consumed in Turkey and other parts of the Near East (first reported in English in 1625 by Samuel Puchas in his Pilgrimes…) the original Turkish name of this fermented milk, yoghurt, inspired a whole lexicon of spellings…The notion of fermenting milk with bacteria to form a semiliquid food is nothing new, of course. Neolithic peoples of the Near East almost certainly ate a form of yoghurt around 6000 BC, and certainly it was popular in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It seems to have been take from Persia ot India, and today it is an important ingredient in Indian cookery.”—An A to Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 373)
“Yogurt, like cheese, was discovered long ago, when wandering herdsmen carrying mik in sheepskin bags noticed that the milk had curdled. People likely discovered both cheese and yogurt in the beginning of the Neolithic era, when they first began to practice milking. Nomadic herdsmen milked their animlas, then carried the milk in pouches made out of sheep’s stomachs, the lining of which contains an enzyme called rennin, which curdles milk. The Middle Eastern climate was ideal fo curdling milk: left in the heat, milk curdled in just a few hours. Depending on the degree of heat and the type of bacteria in the environment, the curds would be find and develop into yogurt, or coarse and develop into cheese. Yogurt was most likely discovered by accident. As a product of milk, it was assigned similar properties. Milk and milk products have always been considered nothing short of magical. In fact, it has been suggested that the milk in the biblical phrase milk and honey’ referred to yogurt. As soon as the wandering herdsmen discovered the curdled milk, they tasted it and found it to their liking. It was not long before they perceived health benefits that they attributed to the curdled milk…Peasants in the Balkans live a long time, particuarly in Bulgaria, and furthermore, many of them retain their ability to conceived late in life. Both of these abilities have been attributed to the fact that these people eat large quantities of yogurt, and that yogurt apparently has healing properties.”—Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology, Tamra Andrews [ABC-CLIO:Santa Barbara] 2000 (p. 250)
“Yogurt may have been known by the ancient Greeks as pyriate. Andrew Dalby…argues that the Greek physician Galen (c. 130-c. 200) was correct to identify this older term, pyriate, with the oxygala familiar in his own day, which was a form of yogurt and was eaten on its own or with honey. The first unequivocable description of yogurt is found in a dictionary called Divanu luga-i turk, compiled by Kasgarli Mahmut in 1072-1073 during the Seljuk era in the Middle East (1038-1194). Yogurt spread rapidly throughout the Levant, but it hardly penetrated the Western and northern Mediterranean.”—A Mediterranean Feast, Clifford A. Wright [William Morrow:New York] 1999 (p. 184-5)
“Yoghurt… was known in France as early 1542, when Francois I was suffering from what would now be diagnosed as severe depression. The doctors could do nothing for his listessness and neurasthenia until the Ambassador to the Sublime Porte disclosed that there was a Jewish doctor in Constantinople who made a brew of fermented sheep’s milk of which people spoke in glowing terms, even at the Sultan’s court. The King sent for the doctor, who refused to travel except on foot; he walted through the whole of southern Europe, followed by his flock. When he finally arrived before Francois I, the latter’s apathy had given way to a certain impatience but he still did not feel well. After several weeks of sheep’s milk youghurt, the King was cured. The sheep, however, had not recovered from their long walk and caught cold in the air of Paris. Every last one of them died, and the doctor left again, refusing to stay despite the King’s offers. He went home, taking the secret of his brew with him. The health of Francois I continued to improve, which was the point of the exercise, and yoghurt was forgotten for nearly four centuries…The koumis of Central Europe is made from fermented mare’s milk, but its origin lies in farthest Asia. The barbarian’ Huns and Mongols brought it with them. In the past Western Europe made milk-based drinks which were not yoghurt, but were more like kefir or diluted and flavoured curds. Such drinks bear withness to the memory of ancient migrations: they are the beverages of people who did not grow vines and whos only wealth was the flocks they drove ahead of them.”—History of Food, Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat , translated by Anthea Bell [Barnes & Noble Books:New York] 1992 (p. 119-20)
“[Yogurt] first gained international prominence in the early 1900s when Ilya Metchnikov, a Russian bacteriologist, observed that the life span of Bulgarians, whose diet included the consumption of large quantities of soured milk, was eighty-seven years and beyond.”—Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Food Encyclopedia, Joan Whitman compiler [Times Books:New York] 1985 (p. 489)
About Ilya Mechnikov
YOGURT IN AMERICA”Turkish immigrants are said to have brought yogurt to the United states in 1784, but its popularity dates only from the 1940s, when Daniel Carasso emigrated to the United States and took over a small yogurt factory in the Bronx, New York. He was soon joined by Juan Metzger, and the two sold their yogurt under the name Dannon (originally Danone, after Daniel Carcasso whose father was a Barcelona yogurt maker). In 1947 the company added strawberry fruit preserves to make the first “sundae-style yogurt.” Whe nutrition promoter Benjamin Gayelord Hauser published an excerpt from his book Live Younger, Live Longer (1950), in the October 1950 issue of Reader’s Digest magazine extolling the health virtues of yogurt, the product’s sales soared. They leaped again–500 percent from 1958-1968–when so-called health foods were popularized by the counterculture of the 1960s.”—Encyclopia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 355)
About Dannon (popular American brand))
About yogurt (manfacting process)
About yogurt (scientific process)