Yoghurt is an ancient food, its origin dating back as far as 6000BC in Central Asia. The most likely explanation for the discovery of yoghurt is the combination of primal milk storage conditions (usually in dried animal organs, which would have been rife with bacteria and enzymes) and the warm climate of Central Asia. However, yoghurt is said to have many unique origins due to ubiquitous food storage methods (most traditional cultures stored milk in animal organ sacks and thus would have experienced the formation of yoghurt without another culture to pass on that knowledge). Therefore, there are many traditions and folklore around the world surrounding yoghurt and its benefits for vibrant health and increased longevity – including the tale of an army which survived on a yoghurt-only diet.
Over thousands of year’s yoghurt spread across the globe, more recently as a health food. An early example of this is when Francis I (King of France in the 1500s), who was suffering from incurable severe diarrhea, found a cure in yoghurt and began to spread the news of yoghurt as a medicinal tool to aid an upset stomach. Indeed, yoghurt first entered America as a tablet for digestive conditions. Long before we had such in-depth knowledge of the different strains of bacteria and their benefits for our health and wellbeing, plenty of anecdotal evidence and traditional folklore told us what studies have since proven; that the bacteria found in yoghurt go a long way in promoting general health.
At The Cheesemaking Workshop, we have two yoghurt cultures – ABT and ABY. Both are built on a base of Lactobacillus acidophilus, probiotic Bifidobacterium strains, and Streptococcus thermophilus (a non-harmful Streptococcus species). The ABY starter (our ‘tart’ mix) has the addition of Lactobacillus delbruekii subspecies bulgaricus. In recent years, the synergistic relationship between these bacteria and their benefits as a probiotic food have garnered a lot of attention.
When your yoghurt is culturing away in your yoghurt maker, these bacteria aren’t just growing alongside each other – they work together as a team. Lactobacillus delbruekii subsp. bulgaricus breaks down some of the milk proteins into amino acids, which are used by Streptococcus thermophilus. Streptococcus thermophilus in turn produces folic acid and formic acid, which are then used by Lactobacillus delbruekii subspecies bulgaricus. Meanwhile, bacterial growth and digestion of lactose produces lactic acid, turning the milk more acidic and creating that distinctive yoghurt tang. This lactic acid production creates the perfect environment for another of our bacteria strains, Lactobacillus acidophilus – an acid-loving bacteria. This increasing acidity is responsible for the texture of yoghurt, as some of the proteins begin to coagulate and ‘set’. And just to tie it all together, throughout this process both Lactobacillus delbruekii subspecies bulgaricus and the probiotic Bifidobacterium strains produce bacteriocins, which selectively kill off competing (usually pathogenic) bacteria so that only the strains we want in our yoghurt get to live happily in the warm milk.
All of our yoghurt bacteria have recently been linked to general health effects as well as benefits in treating specific ailments. Streptococcus thermophilus has been found to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea and demonstrates an ability to increase growth rate in children. Historically, Lactobacillus delbruekii subspecies bulgaricus is linked to the longer lifespans observed in Bulgarian peasants, who consume large amounts of yoghurt. Lactobacillus acidophilus is pure magic. It has been shown to decrease rates of infant diarrhea, and is effective in the fight against salmonella, campylobacter, and other food- and water-borne pathogens. Lactobacillus acidophilus may also reduce serum cholesterol levels (and thus may reduce risk of coronary heart disease – not surprising when you consider the French, who are known for a vastly lower incidence of heart disease and whose yoghurt intake is many, many times higher than Australian or American intakes). And finally, Lactobacillus acidophilus may produce Vitamin K – a vitamin found almost exclusively in animal products which many vegetarians thus are deficient in. Last but not least, probiotic strains of Bifidobacterium are associated with good health in infants, and general gut health for everyone. Bifidobacterium regulate gut flora (it inhibits colonisation of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract), aids in regeneration of the gut lining, and is tied with immune system function and vitamin synthesis.
And that is the incredible magic of yoghurt – one of the oldest cheeses.
Thanks you Sarah. Sarah works with Susan and David in Sydney she does a fantastic job at The Cheesemaking Workshop and spreading the word about home made produce and a healthy diet. Visit her website www.homemadehealthyhappy.com. Lyndall