The history of yogurt, its health benefits, and the definition of its various kinds are given below; this is followed by a delightful Indian recipe, Dahi Raita, a yogurt-cooling-condiment for hot curries.
The Advent of Yogurt
In early history, with the domestication of animals, useful ways of preserving milk surfaced, which made it a surplus to people’s immediate requirements. This was found in the making, by fermentation, of either fine or coarse curds. These coarser curds, after straining, became the first soft, fresh cheese; the finer curds developed into what is today the yogurt of the Balkans, the taetta of Scandinavia, and the dahi of India-the subject of today’s entry. 1
In the West, we are familiar with fresh fermented milks-yogurt and its relatives soured cream and buttermilk. These are native to a broad and climatically warm area of the Middle East and central and southwest Asia, of which India is a part-from which the ethnicity of this present series of receipts is derived. (See: Tandori Chicken.) It is believed that this area in Asia and the Middle East includes the probable home of dairying, and where still today some people store milk in animal stomachs and skins. 2
The word yogurt is Turkish, meaning milk that has fermented into a tart, semisolid mass; it is derived from a root meaning “thick”. It is known by various names and used in various ways, having been made for millennia from eastern Europe and North Africa across central Asia to India. 3
How Yogurt Grows
The thermophilic, or heat-loving species, lactobacilli and streptococci produce yogurt, when these rapidly and synergistically grow at temperatures up to 113 degrees F, or 45 degrees C, producing high levels of preservative lactic acid. They can set milk into a tart, firm substance in just a few hours. These two species may have come from the cattle themselves. 4
Health Benefits of Yogurt First Discovered in Early 20th Century
Yogurt remained an exotic curiosity in Europe until the early 1920s. At this time, Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Ilya Metchinikov (who had discovered that white blood cells fight bacterial infection) recognized the health benefits of yogurt. He connected the longevity of certain isolated groups, within Bulgaria, Russia, France, and the United States, with their consumption of fermented milks. He theorized that these would acidify the digestive tract and prevent pathogenic bacteria from growing. In other words, he proposed that the lactic acid bacteria in fermented milks eliminate toxic microbes in our digestive system that otherwise shorten our lives. This confirmed the ancient and widespread belief that yogurt and other fermented milks do more than just predigest lactose and create flavor, but rather they promote good health. 5
Yogurt is beneficial to health in numerous ways, though it is not for the lactose-intolerant and those allergic to milk. Some of these proposed benefits are it is rich in important nutrients, such as: calcium, B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D. Likewise, it is high in protein, which benefits appetite and weight control. 6
Varieties containing probiotics, or live bacteria, may increase digestive health by reducing bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. These yogurts, with their probiotics and minerals-especially magnesium, selenium, and zinc-may also strengthen your immune system and therefore prevent certain sicknesses, such as viral infections and gut disorders. 7
High-Fat Yogurt is Best for Health
It is also held that yogurt may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. And finally, it may promote weight management due to its high fat and protein. Note: full-fat dairy products are now regarded by some to reduce the incidence of obesity, contrary to previous popular beliefs concerning fat intake and weight gain. 8
MedicalNewsToday agrees with all the above health benefits of yogurt, and it also states it may help protect against type 2 diabetes. 9 It also state that high-fat dairy products are much healthier than low-fat dairy ones, as these latter may contribute to the risk of Parkinson’s disease (see https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317834#Skim,-low-fat-milk-linked-to-higher-Parkinsons-risk).
Also, there is observational evidence that does not support the hypothesis that high-fat dairy products contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk, but rather suggests that high-fat dairy consumption within typical dietary patterns is inversely associated with obesity risk. 10
Modern Refrigerators Brought Popularity of Yogurt
By the late 1920s, factory-scale production and milder yogurts with fruit were developed. The 1960s, however, brought broader popularity with Swiss improvements in the inclusion of flavors and fruits; there was also the French development of a stable, creamy, stirred version at this time. 11
In Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson draws the parallel between diversified, modern refrigerators (featuring lots of compartments and multi-level shelving) and this advent of yogurt growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry in the West. This began first in the United States. She proposes that housewives were needing something attractive, like the neat little plastic yogurt pots, to put in their new fridges. 12
Before World War II, yogurt had zero potential commercially in the West, but rather it was a traditional food of the Middle East and India, where it was made fresh as needed and kept in a cool place. Wilson says that refrigerators were originally devices for helping us stay safe, but from the 1950s on, especially in America, they became insatiable boxes, which themselves demanded to be fed, with all their fancy features. 13.
She goes on to point out that the wide-spread dairy dessert of homemade milk puddings, such as rice pudding and tapioca, faded away at this time, to be replaced by the ever-growing popularity of these pretty, little, commercial yogurt containers. 14
Food can be medicine for us, as we see in the case of yogurt, where it is believed that the lactic acid bacteria, found in it, eliminates the toxic microbes in our digestive system, thus promoting good health. We, however, not only eat it for its physical health benefits, but also because it pleases the palate.
Likewise, the word of God is our medicine. It promises this, in Proverbs 4: 20-22, KJV, where the original Hebrew word for health actually means medicine.
“My son (daughter), attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.”
God’s word tells us that like a medicine, the word cuts asunder between soul and spirit, destroying all corruption therein. It changes us from the inside out, for it is our gos-pill.
All that is required of us is to attend to the word-fix our attention on it-by reading, pondering, meditating, muttering, hearing, musing it. This fixes this powerful medicine in our hearts, which then eliminates destructive forces; these may be present perhaps due to our ignorance. Indeed, the word is forever quieting and calming us with its perfect truths; thus, it pleases the palates of our souls.
Enjoy this great cooling condiment for curries, dahi raita, by preparing the simple recipe below.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 27, 28, 29.
- Ibid., pp. 46, 47.
- Ibid., pp. 47,48.
- Ibid., pp. 45, 47.
- Ibid., 47, 48.
- Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scriber, 1984, 2004), p 48.
- Bea Wilson, Consider the Fork (Philadelphia: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 241-244.
- Ibid., p. 244.
Dahi Raita Yields about 3 cups. Active prep time: 25 min/ cooking time: 20-30 min/ cooling time for potato: 30 min or overnight.
This is one of my 1980’s recipes; I don’t recall its origin. Its best to assemble this the day of serving, as the tomatoes/cucumbers make it somewhat runny if left overnight. (You may boil the potato a day ahead.)
1 small/med Yukon or red potato, cut in halves or thirds and boiled in salted water
1 c plain yogurt (I like Sierra Nevada, Grass-fed, Whole Milk Yogurt, which is exceptionally thick, rich, and healthy; Greek yogurt is another option.)
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp salt (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive, fine-grind, Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cucumber, peeled, deseeded, and diced small
1 tomato, deseeded and diced small (It’s not necessary to peel the tomato.)
- Measure yogurt in a bowl; mix in coriander, salt, and pepper.
- Cut the potato in halves or thirds. Place it in boiling water and cook it until soft, but firm-not so much that it will fall apart. Discard the water and cool. (May do this the day before.)
- When ready to serve, peel skin off potato and dice in 3/4” pieces. Add to yogurt, making sure small pieces are completely cool first.
- Peel cucumber, cut in half, and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Dice in 3/4” pieces and add to the yogurt. See above photo.
- Cut the tomato in half, scoop out the seeds, and chop in small pieces, by placing the side with peel flat on counter-this makes cutting tomatoes easier.
- Add this to the yogurt, stirring all together; adjust seasonings (see photo below).
- This is a great cooling condiment for Indian food!