The Nature and History of Yogurt

Yogurt has been around for as long as recorded history. The process by which yogurt is made was likely discovered by accident. Some theorize that a herdsman put milk in a pouch (a.k.a. an animal’s stomach) that contained bacteria which cultured the milk.

Yogurt is prepared with warm milk and a culture which is made of “good” bacteria. After the culture is introduced, it multiplies and the milk sugar (i.e., lactose) is converted into lactic acid thereby curdling the milk and producing a tangy flavor.

The bacteria used to make yogurt are most active at around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Heating the yogurt further may kill the bacteria.

Types of Yogurt

There are a myriad of yogurt styles available these days. Here are some brief descriptions of some of the styles available.

Plain Yogurt

First off, plain yogurt is full of all kinds of nutritional and cultural goodness. While I usually buy a low-fat variety, I’ve been enjoying whole yogurt a great deal lately. Just a couple percentage points of fat makes a huge difference in taste and texture.

If your family is used to flavored yogurt, you may need to flavor your plain yogurt with gobs of sugar at first in order to encourage acceptance. (See Dina Rose’s approach to helping kids learn to love plain yogurt, Yogurt on the Brain.)

A while back, I reluctantly stopped buying flavored yogurt. After a break that stretched on for weeks, I started buying plain yogurt in 32 ounce containers. There were a couple requests for the old stuff, but mostly the transition was smooth. Applesauce yogurt saved the day.

If you’re interested in making your own yogurt at home, Cook Play Explore shows you how without any fancy kitchen gadgets (save a thermometer).

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt is regular yogurt that has had someof the whey removed through a simple straining process. It is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, even when it has low or no fat. Perfect Pantry‘s ode to greek yogurt fills us in on the details.

If you are interested in making your own greek-style yogurt, Mark Bittman offers an excellent article and video to guide you. It’s easy.

Greek yogurt keeps really well, even after it is opened. We don’t buy sour cream anymore and use Greek yogurt instead whenever sour cream is called for.

Icelandic Yogurt

Icelandic Yogurt, a richer and creamier yogurt, recently popped up at my local grocery stores. See my post about my first taste of Siggi’s Icelandic style yogurt. In addition, Serious Eats thinks it’s the bomb.

Drinkable Yogurt

Drinkable Yogurt can easily be made at home by combining 2 parts yogurt, 1 part milk, and whatever fruit/sweetener you desire.


Kiefer is a beverage that is made by fermenting milk with kefir grains (a combination of bacteria and yeast). Inspired by Wild Fermentation, I tried to make my own once and it was extremely sour, potent, and highly undrinkable. The flavored kefir at the grocery store had even more sugar in it than flavored yogurt last time I checked, so we avoid it.

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