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Yogurt: One of the oldest processed foods in man's history

guzin.yalin@hurriyet.com.tr | 8/16/2010 12:00:00 AM | Güzin Yalın

Food historians believe yogurt and other fermented milk products were produced for the first time in Central Asia during the Neolithic Age. This production came about spontaneously

A delicious taste on its own and a very good accompaniment to most others, a source of good health and longevity and one of the oldest processed foods of man’s history, this week yogurt is here to salute you.  

Yogurt, as everyone knows, is made through the fermentation of milk. In other words, it can be said that yogurt is actually “bacteria that we eat.” This definition can be off-putting when first mentioned but there is reason to say it. The fermentation in question takes place because of two useful bacteria: lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptocococcus thermophilus. When these bacteria are added to milk at a certain temperature and are allowed to ferment this milk, yogurt, with its unique taste, flawless texture and remarkable consistency, is the end product.

It is accepted worldwide as a food with Turkish origins and still holds its original Turkish name in all languages. Among the top in global yogurt consumption are the Balkan countries, which helped yogurt reach Europe by consuming a lot of it once they learned how to make it from the Turks. As for the New World, yogurt reached it centuries later, mainly through immigrants from the Balkans and the Middle East. Once it reached the continent, it was diversified into light yogurt, homogenized yogurt, probiotic yogurt, fruit yogurt and frozen yogurt, in line with the famous standard American approach of reinventing and adapting. 

Food historians believe yogurt and other fermented milk products were first produced in Central Asia during the Neolithic Age. This early production came about spontaneously, purely by chance. Weather conditions and the method of milk storage must have been the main factors in this adventure. The first findings pertaining to the domestication of cows go back to Libya around 9000 B.C., but it is a known fact that the Central Asian Turks consumed horse milk long before cow milk was utilized. Although there is no definite scientific verification of the consumption of yogurt at that specific time in history, it is not difficult to make an assumption about it, given the living conditions of the day. It is highly probable that the Central Asians observed their main staple food, milk, turn into something else due to the living organisms present in the animal intestines in which it was stored while traveling the steppes.

One thing historians are certain about is that yogurt, although a native of Central Asia, has also been consumed in the Middle East throughout history. This assumption is based on the weather conditions of the region. It is also known that yogurt was widely used in India during the same period. Given that constant reference is made to the health benefits of consuming milk products in Indian Ayurvedic scripts dating from about 6000 B.C., it is no wonder that Indian cuisine has more than 700 types of yogurt and cheese products. As for the Middle East, the cuisines that most use yogurt are that of Turkey, Iran and Lebanon.

The unique savory taste of yogurt is something cherished only in our part of the world. Unlike its style of consumption in the Middle East, yogurt is mixed with fruit, honey or sugar before being marketed to the masses elsewhere in the world. Similarly, many Turkish yogurt products such as the drink (ayran), the cucumber mix (cacık), the soup paste (tarhana) and the yogurt cheese (çökelek) are all food products sought in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. Yogurt is found in warm dishes in very few cuisines, one of the most important being the Turkish cuisine. While it requires special skill to be able to cook with yogurt without clotting it, Turkish cuisine has many warm dishes prepared with yogurt – yogurt soup being the most famous.

Yogurt Soup (Ayran Aşı)

Ingredients

(4 serves)

1 cup whole wheat berries

½ cup chickpeas

1 egg

1 ½ cups yogurt

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon dried mint

Salt

Preparation

Soak wheat and chickpeas in a large bowl overnight.

In a pan, boil soaked wheat and chickpeas with 6 glasses of water until softened. 

Beat yogurt and egg in a bowl. Add flour and beat again. Stir the mixture into boiling pan gradually.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking.

In another skillet, heat olive oil and add dried mint.

Drizzle olive oil over soup and simmer 5 more minutes.

Serve hot or cold. 

*** Güzin Yalın, the president of the Conservatory of Mediterranean Cuisines Turkey, is a food writer and a food communication expert. She designs and organizes food culture-related events and festivals, gives lectures, presents papers and monitors chefs. She lectures at the Department of Gastronomy and Culinary Arts at Yeditepe University. 

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