Let’s have a chat about yoghurt. We need a chat to clarify what constitutes Greek yoghurt these days, as it has become a term purely for marketing purposes. In Australia, America and Canada it just means ‘strained thick yoghurt Greek-style’. In the European Union it can actually come from Greece – on my travels I came across yoghurt imported from Greece in the UK and France, but these days ‘Greek yoghurt’ is really ‘Greek-style yoghurt’. Not all ‘Greek yoghurt’ here in Australia tastes like real Greek yoghurt and some even have thickeners in them, with only a few that pass the test in my opinion. Not only should ‘Greek yoghurt’ not contain artificial thickeners, it should also not be very sour; it should be creamy and gentle to the palate.
Historical accounts attribute the inception of yoghurt in Central Asia to around 6000BC and it is thought that it came about by accident. Herdsmen began the practice of milking their animals and storing the milk in natural containers like animal stomachs. These containers carried natural enzymes and curdled the milk, essentially making yoghurt, which meant that the milk kept longer. It seems that the taste was acceptable and therefore it become a normal practice that reached centuries into the future and become commercialised.
Recorded history states that Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, and his armies lived on yoghurt. Able to be carried in the containers on their horses, it made for a very convenient and healthy source of food and it was not long before the benefits of yoghurt were adopted by other people in the region. It is known that yoghurt was widely used in India during the same period, as we find constant reference to the health benefits of consuming milk products in Indian Ayurvedic scripts dating from 6000BC, and it is a natural progression for Indian cuisine to have more than 700 types of yoghurt and cheese products today. In the Middle East it is Turkey, Lebanon and Iran that use yoghurt on a daily basis. The word yiaourti is a Turkish word, therefore ‘yoghurt’, and the Balkan countries learned to make it from the Ottomans. Today it’s the Greek yoghurt that prevails in the west, most likely because of its smooth texture and taste.
The health benefits of yoghurt have been known for a long time, just by mere observation, from its conception. These days we know it is high in calcium, protein, vitamin A, riboflavin, phosphorus and potassium. As a matter of fact, a serving of yoghurt contains as much potassium as a banana. Strained (Greek) yoghurt is low in fat and is highly recommended in high-protein weight loss diets. We all know that it is beneficial to our digestive system and for the people who have a moderate intolerance to lactose, strained Greek yoghurt can be enjoyed as it contains lower amounts of lactose. In the making of yoghurt, lactose is converted into lactic acid by the bacterial cultures.
Yoghurt can be eaten plain, with fruit, honey, sugar, and can be used in cooking. Here are some Greek recipes old and new with yoghurt, tested and eaten on many occasions by my family.