History of Yogurt

Yogurt is one of the oldest produced foods in human history. No one knows for sure how long yogurt has been around, but most historians place its discovery somewhere between 9000 and 6000 B.C. Evidence suggests that by 9000 B.C. Neolithic man in Central Asia had domesticated horses, cattle, and camels, and were known to drink their milk. The discovery of yogurt is supposed to have been accidental, a happy mistake made by early man attempting to store milk in a warm climate. The fermentation process was discovered and yogurt has not only survived into modern times, but has spread throughout the world.

One theory of the discovery of yogurt is that early man stored the milk in the intestines of animals. The enzymes that were present in the intestines may have started the initial fermentation process. Early man enjoyed it and continued making it. Another thought is that early man noticed when slaughtering animals that the milk they consumed changed its form once ingested and set out to created the fermented milk intentionally. Whatever the true story behind its discovery, yogurt spread from Central Asia to the Middle East and Europe and throughout the world.

Genesis: 18:8 - Then he (Abraham) took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate. (The curds being a form of cottage cheese or perhaps yogurt.)

Yogurt appears in many ancient texts including the ancient Indian Ayurvedic scripts, the Bible and historic texts by Pliny, Herodotus, Homer, and Galen. In Genesis 18:8, Abraham may have served yogurt and milk to his guests.

The great Mongol warrior Genghis Khan is said to have encouraged the drinking of a fermented horse milk yogurt called kumis. Mongols of all levels of society consumed the beverage, but it was of particular importance to the warriors. The warriors would take their horse herds with them as they traveled the steppes and always have a supply of kumis. Genghis Khan reputedly believed that not only did the kumis keep his warriors healthy, but actually made them more brave when facing their enemies.

Historical record show that in the 16th century a Turkish doctor saved the life of King Francis I by treating him with yogurt made from goat's milk. The king had been suffering from some type of intestinal illness that no other medicine seemed to help, but was apparently cured by yogurt. This wondrous cure brought a new surge in the popularity of yogurt as a health food, though no one quite knew how the yogurt worked.

Elie Metchnikoff

While yogurt continued in its popularity, both for its unique taste and purported health benefits, it was not until the early 20th century that those health benefits were studied. A Russian scientist named Elie Metchnikoff studied the health benefits of cultured (fermented) milk on the people of Bulgaria. He determined that the bacteria in cultured milk products like yogurt helped to reduce the amount of bad bacteria in the gut. He eventually wrote a book, The Prolongation of Life: Studies of an Optimistic Philosophy, which influenced many people including Isaac Carasso, who along with his son founded the yogurt company Danone (Dannon).

It was the Dannon company that first added a fruit on the bottom type of yogurt to the market in 1947, but it was not until the health food craze of the 1950s and 1960s that yogurt really gained a huge popularity in the United States. Now yogurt of many types including kefir, Greek style yogurt, Swiss and fruit yogurts can be found at almost any grocery store.

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