Types Of Yogurt Around The World
Yogurt as well as other fermented milks like kefir or kumis, have been part of our culture for ages. They are ingredients in many traditional recipes, can be a practical snack and a staple breakfast food, and they might have even been one of the first solid foods many of us had when we were babies. Yet you might not know that yogurt has ancient roots, dating back to 5,000 B.C.E., or that there are many different types of yogurts around the world.
Dairy is believed to have been introduced to the human diet between 10,000 and 5,000 B.C.E.2 Because milk conservation was a challenge back in the day, people eventually discovered that under certain conditions, milk would turn thicker and acidic, but would also be preserved for longer.2 However, it took millennia to learn more about the processes behind this transformation: In the 1800s, Louis Pasteur discovered the culprits responsible for milk fermentation process: microorganisms.4
Fun Fact: You might think that yogurt and fermented milks are the same, but they're actually different! There are some strict regulations around what can be classified in the EU as yogurt.
Different Types of Yogurt In Cultures Around The World
Today, yogurt is well defined as a product made from fermenting cow’s milk with specific bacteria cultures.5 Different regions of the world use various milk sources and cultures, and fermented milks have become a part of traditional and cultural heritage. Here are some examples:
Kefir is a fermented milk, like liquid yogurt, lightly textured and slightly carbonated. It can even contain a little bit of alcohol, which is naturally generated during the fermentation process. This fermented drink has been consumed in Russia and Central Asia for centuries before spreading to other parts of the world. Kefir is made by adding kefir grains (a mix of bacteria and yeast) to cow’s, ewe’s, goat’s or buffalo’s milk and traditionally it was fermented in goatskin bags!6
Originally made from strained sheep’s milk, the famous Greek type yogurt now has many different processes to obtain its thick texture and smooth consistency. In one of the processes, milk is strained to remove the whey and concentrate the protein. Straggisto is mostly used as the base for tzatziki dip and sometimes as a dessert, topped with honey or sour-cherry syrup.7
South Africa: Amasi
Amasi is prepared by fermenting unpasteurized cow’s milk in a calabash by Zulu and Tsonga communities. The empty calabash is used as a bottle or container, and to prevent undesirable microorganisms it is smoked before adding the milk. During fermentation, the milk separates into “amasi”, a thick textured part which tastes like cottage cheese; and “umlaza”, a watery substance used in African cuisine.8
Central Asia and China: Kumis
Legend says that Kumis was developed by Kazakh steppe nomadic tribes. Kumis is produced from the fermentation of mare’s milk with a liquid starter, and it can contain low levels of alcohol.8 Traditionally, kumis is sipped out of small, bowl-shaped cups. It is typically offered to guests on arrival, as a hospitality gesture.9
China: Nai Lao
Nai lao, also called “imperial yogurt”, is a traditional Chinese preparation of cow milk fermented with rice wine. Nuts, raisins and sugar are also sometimes added. The result is a mild, smooth textured product eaten as a treat or dessert.
Lassi is a yogurt-based beverage that can be either sweet or savoury. The savoury lassi drink is made by blending yogurt, water and spices (traditionally cumin or cardamom) and the sweet lassi has added sugar or fruit. They are often homemade, chilled and served with almost every meal.10
Laban is the Arabic version of yogurt and has been part of Arab culture for centuries. It is usually made by straining fermented milk and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Laban can be either served in a bowl or as a cool drink in a glass. It is often used in sauces, or prepared in a refreshing drink, with salt and mint.
Skyr is an Icelandic form of yogurt with a consistency similar to fresh sour milk cheese. The legend says that Skyr was brought to Iceland by the Vikings. It is generally prepared using a bit of old skyr from a previous batch as a starter in fresh milk. Skyr is used in a hræringur, the Icelandic dish of skyr and porridge. Skyr can be served with jam or fruit for a dessert, as a sauce for fish for dinner, or with cereals for breakfast.
Yogurt plays a very important role in Turkey’s national cuisine, particularly in savoury dishes. Ayran is a yogurt drink made by diluting yogurt with ice-cold water. Occasionally salt, pepper and other seasonings, such as mint, lime juice and diced cucumber can be added for a more refreshing flare.
Does your culture have a unique way of eating yogurt? Let us know in the comments below!