Yogurt is a Turkish word for a Middle Eastern dish that is nothing more than milk deliciously fermented by particular strains of common bacteria. It has been made for at least four thousand years, and it may be as old as civilization itself!
How yogurt was discovered is of course unknown. But the warm climate of the Middle East would have caused milk to curdle rapidly. In many instances, the bacterial strains present in the milk would have created poisonous toxins causing it to spoil. However, at some point, certain bacteria would have curdled the milk in such a way that it not only tasted good, but also was preserved. (Technically speaking, the lactose sugars would have been converted into the lactic acid that gives yogurt its distinctive flavor.) If more milk were then added to the spontaneously grown yogurt, the bacterial cultures would have continued to flourish – and more yogurt would have been made.
The process for making yogurt has been known for ages. But it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that Russian microbiologist Ilya Mechnikov discovered, while studying the habits of long-lived Bulgarians, the microorganisms that were responsible for this miraculous transformation of milk. Mechnikov named the primary yogurt-producing bacterium Lactobacillus bulgaricus in their honor. (The other is called Streptococcus thermophilus.)
Dr. Mechnikov believed that the life-giving qualities of cultured milk products might extend life-expectancy up to 150 years! Food for thought when it comes to including yogurt in your diet…