Yogurt goes way back when. In fact, as long ago as the 4th century BC, when Hippocrates, dubbed the father of medicine, proclaimed it to be one of the best foods to promote health and longevity. And, indeed, we have been lapping it up ever since.
In its most traditional culturing process, yogurt is made by heating raw milk and allowing it to cool. When it’s warm, the milk is inoculated with a starter culture that contains lots of thermophilic (heat-loving) beneficial bacteria, then left to ferment to create the creamy delicious end result that we know and love. It is this fermentation and the flourishing of bacteria that gives yogurt its high health status. As with other fermented dairy, such as cheese, yogurt is generally much more digestion-friendly, since the lactose is markedly reduced during fermentation, so even those who cannot tolerate milk very well can enjoy the benefits of eating traditional yogurt.
However, the yogurt we see on the supermarket shelves isn’t quite the same stuff that our ancestors were raving about. The commercial version is made using only a couple of strains of freeze-dried bacteria, rather than the more complex, diverse and multiple strains that you’d find in a natural starter culture. Furthermore, it is often heat-treated after this, which reduces the numbers of beneficial bacteria even more. Plus, the fat is taken out and a whole load of sugar or sweeteners are chucked in. It’s far removed from the real deal.
So how to buy? First, you want to be looking for organic, full-fat yogurt, with no added sugars or sweeteners. If you can get one made from non-homogenised milk, that’s even better. And, for the most superior culture, make your own. It’s so easy, and you’ll reap the benefits of one of our oldest ‘superfoods’.
Viili Yogurt Starter Culture – Use these live cultures to make your own unique and healthy yogurt (happykombucha.co.uk).
Court Lodge Organic Pouring Yogurt – This tasty breakfast favourite is created with non-homogenised, organic milk in the most traditional way (ocado.com and some Waitrose stores).
The Yogurt Cookbook by Arto Der Haroutunian (Grub Street, £16.99) – Reissued after 20 years, this book takes you on a delightful voyage of yogurt discovery.