Food & Drink

Yogurt Has Been Around Forever, But Do We Really Know What It Is?

It all starts with fermentation.

Some of us eat yogurt every morning, and most of us are aware that it's a dairy product, but how many of us really know what yogurt is? Not many. That ends today, right here, with everything you ever needed to know about this healthy breakfast option.

Yogurt is a fermented food -- think kimchi, but with a little less funk. Knowing this, doesn't the naturally tangy flavor of yogurt make a lot more sense? It is commonly agreed upon that yogurt was naturally discovered as a result of milk being stored in warm climates, as early as 6000 B.C. Basically, milk would begin to go bad, but the lactic acid produced during the fermentation process helped preserve it. And so, it was eaten and enjoyed.

Even though the word yogurt is Turkish in origin, there's evidence of yogurt consumption all over the world, dating back thousands of years. But it wasn't until the 1900s that scientists began to understand what actually turns milk into yogurt: It's all about the bacteria, commonly known as yogurt culture.

There are two harmless types of bacteria that make yogurt what it is: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. (We also call these probiotics.) When bacteria is added to milk and reaches the right temperature, the bacteria converts lactose, or milk sugar, into lactic acid. This is what thickens the milk and gives it that tangy flavor.

Scientists began to study these bacteria at the turn of the 20th century, and shortly after were able to create direct-set cultures, a combination of selected strains that would culture reliably. That made it possible to produce the same quality yogurt time and time again -- thereby making the introduction of commercial yogurt possible.

There are many kinds of yogurt on the market today, the most popular being traditional yogurt and Greek yogurt. While a person's preference for one over the other can be strong, the actual difference between the two is slight. Greek yogurt is simply yogurt that has been strained of its excess liquid. But at the end of the day, all yogurt is just a basic combination of milk and cultures. That's it. Simple and great.

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