YogurtPlain yogurt, fresh blueberries: healthy and heavenly. Photo by Robyn Mackenzie | IST.





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February 2005

Last Updated November 2021

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cheese-Butter-Yogurt

Yogurt Glossary

Yogurt Or Yoghurt, Speak The Language Of These Cultures

Page 1: Terms A To F


Yogurt means “to thicken” in Turkish. Here’s the history of yogurt. Master these yogurt terms and definitions and you’ll be part of the language of fine “culture.” Let us know if you’d like to suggest additional yogurt terms or definitions. Also see our Probiotics Glossary and Glossary Of Organic Terms.

First, a bit of yogurt history (or you can skip to the glossary below).

The origins of yogurt are unknown, but it is thought to have been invented in Mesopotamia around 5000 B.C.E. As with cheese, it is believed to have been spontaneously fermented by wild bacteria in goatskin bags used to carry milk. The agitation of the milk in the bag on horseback or foot caused the milk to curdle into yogurt.

References to yogurt appear in the records of ancient Greece, India, and Persia. These references often mention consuming honey along with yogurt.

The oldest writings that mention yogurt are attributed to Pliny the Elder (23 C.E.-79 C.E.). He remarked that certain “barbarous nations” knew how “to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity” [source].

  • Medieval Turkish sources in the 11th century describe the use of yogurt by nomadic Turks.
  • Sources suggest that Mughal Indian emperor Akbar's (1605-1556) cooks would flavor yogurt with mustard seeds and cinnamon.
  • French king Francis I (1494-1547) suffered from severe diarrhea which no French doctor could cure. His ally Suleiman the Magnificent of Turkey sent a doctor, who purportedly cured the patient with yogurt.

Until the 1900s, yogurt was a staple in diets of people in the Russian Empire, especially Central Asia and the Caucasus, Western Asia, South Eastern Europe/The Balkans, Central Europe, and the Indian subcontinent.

The first scientific study of yogurt was done by Stamen Grigorov (1878–1945), a Bulgarian medical student in Geneva. In 1905 he examined the microflora of the Bulgarian yogurt and described it as consisting of a spherical and a rod-like lactic acid-producing bacteria. In 1907, the rod-like bacterium was called Bacillus bulgaricus (now Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus).

The Russian biologist and Nobel laureate Ilya Mechnikov, of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, was influenced by Grigorov’s work and hypothesized that regular consumption of yogurt was responsible for the unusually long lifespans of Bulgarian peasants. Believing Lactobacillus to be essential for good health, Mechnikov worked to popularize yogurt as a foodstuff throughout Europe.

Isaac Carasso industrialized the production of yogurt. Carasso, originally from the city of Salonica in the Ottoman Empire, started a small yogurt business in Barcelona, Spain In 1919. He named the business Danone (“little Daniel”) after his son. The brand later expanded to the U.S. under the name Dannon.

Yogurt was introduced to the U.S. in the first decade of the 20th century as a health food, influenced by Élie Metchnikoff's 1908 book, The Prolongation of Life; Optimistic Studies

Yogurt was popularized by John Harvey Kellogg at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and later by Armenian immigrants Sarkis and Rose Colombosian, who established Colombo and Sons Creamery in Massachusetts in 1929.

Yogurt's popularity in the U.S. evolved in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was presented as a health food by scientists like Hungarian-born bacteriologist Stephen A. Gaymont. Plain yogurt proved too tart for the American palate, so in 1966 Colombo sweetened its yogurt by adding fruit preserves, creating the “fruit on the bottom” style of yogurt, called sundae style in the industry. It was a big success, causing other brands to do the same.

By the late 20th century, yogurt had become a common American food item and Colombo Yogurt was sold in 1993 to General Mills—which discontinued the brand in 2010. Today, the number of different brands of yogurt in a supermarket is dazzling, including not just American products but imports.


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See L. acidophilus.



In some techniques of yogurt-making the bacteria survive processing, so packages will be thusly labeled. In other techniques, the milk is pasteurized again after the cultures are added, so the bacteria are destroyed. These packages are labeled “heat-treated after culturing.”



A term we’ve only come across once, from Wallaby Yogurt, a California company. The founders were inspired by the yogurts they “discovered” while traveling in Australia. We find no discernable difference from the already established terms for this creamy style of yogurt with fruit blended in (as opposed to sundae-style, fruit at the bottom of the cup): custard-style, French-style or Swiss-style. (The company also makes a fruit-at-the-bottom line.)

The only “Australian-style” yogurt we’ve come across. Photo courtesy Wallaby Yogurt.



Yogurt is made by curdling milk with purified cultures of two special bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The other commonly-used strains are Bifidus, L. Acidophilus and S. Thermophilis. In an attempt to make their products sound more exclusive, some large manufacturers are creating strains with proprietary names, such as Dannon’s L. casei Immunitas™ and Bifidus Regularis™. These strains have no greater functional powers than the publicly-available bacteria. As you may deduce from the names “Immunitas” and “Regularis,” this is product marketing razzelis dazzelis.


A strain of beneficial bacteria that is often included in probiotic cultures. See also probiotic.


Buttermilk is related to yogurt in that it is a fermented (cultured) dairy product. Originally, buttermilk was the liquid left over from churning butter from cream, now, called traditional buttermilk. Cultured buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid bacteria to cow’s milk. Either method produces tart-flavored milk, due to the presence of the lactic acid in the milk; buttermilk is also thicker than plain milk, although traditional buttermilk is thinner than cultured buttermilk. Rich buttermilk is enjoyed as a beverage and used in batters (breading, cake, and pancake, for example). See also kefir.


Made with live bacteria cultures. All yogurt is cultured, and thus is more digestible than milk for some people with lactose intolerance. The live cultures create lactase, an enzyme in which lactose-intolerant people are deficient; and aid in the digestion of casein, a milk protein.


Yogurt with a custard-like consistency in which the fruit is already mixed in and distributed evenly throughout. Also called French style and Swiss style. Many products called Custard- French- and Swiss-style are marketing inventions, “laboratory products,” whether they are artificially flavored and colored or naturally colored, thickened, stabilized, and preserved to a pudding-like hardness. Real yogurt is silky and velvety (except for Greek style, which is deliberately thicker). While the ancient Greeks (and the original inventors of yogurt, no doubt) ate fruit with yogurt, the yogurt they ate was a supple product, not stiffened to hold its form. Even though ingredients such as agar, carrageenan, gelatin, guar gum, locust bean gum and other additives are “natural” and enable products to be called 100% natural, look for products that have none of these.
  Custard Yogurt
Custard-style yogurt is creamy and pudding-like. Photo by d2xed | IST.


A style of yogurt in which the yogurt is cooked in a large vat instead of in individual cups. This enables the curds to be stirred in the vat, before they are poured into the cups, resulting in a smoother, creamier yogurt. Emmi Swiss Yogurt and Straus Organic Yogurt are examples.


The same as custard-style yogurt.


Yogurt that has been prepared in the style of hard or soft-serve ice cream. Generally not a healthy alternative to other treats, it is parallel to ice cream in sugar and fat content. Some brands also have added whole milk or cream for richness. Freezing destroys most of the beneficial, live bacteria. While the FDA has standards for bacterial cultures required to make refrigerated yogurt, no standard of identity exists for frozen yogurt products. They may or may not contain live and active cultures: Read the label, along with this information on live and active cultures in frozen yogurt.

  Green Tea Frozen YogurtFrozen yogurt can be hard or soft serve (above). Photo of green tea frozen yogurt courtesy Pinkberry.


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