If You Love Yogurt, Then It's Time to Explore Its Global Culture

If You Love Yogurt, Then It's Time to Explore Its Global Culture

(Image credit: Cheryl Sternman Rule)

In a world rife with pain, violence, and strife, focusing on shared food traditions can remind us of our collective humanity and refocus us on what we have in common. Yogurt is among the most ancient, truly global foods there is.

Modern Israelis and Palestinians eat yogurt. Armenians and Turks eat yogurt. Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Iraqis, Greeks, Albanians, Russians, Bulgarians, Americans, Serbs, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Filipinos eat yogurt. And that’s just the smallest slice.

As I delved deep into researching my latest book, Yogurt Culture, I was amazed by what I learned about yogurt traditions in faraway lands.

In Mongolia, yogurt is dried and solidified, then cut into portable shapes so nomads can take it on the go. In Iran, yogurt is considered a souring agent, one not traditionally paired with sweet fruits like berries. In Middle Eastern cultures, yogurt is strained into labneh, then labneh is dried further until it can be scooped into little balls. These balls are stored in olive oil, which acts as an even longer-term preservative.

I’ve since learned that yogurt is on the rise worldwide, particularly in China and Brazil. Turkey, a traditional yogurt-eating culture, is eating even more yogurt than ever before.

So it’s time we expand our understanding of this food, drawing from both the classic and innovative traditions of our neighbors near and far. Not just to look beyond familiar pairings of yogurt with honey and granola (which is and always will be delicious), but to embrace the food’s natural tartness and see it as a refreshing change of pace, much like we embrace the assertiveness of sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi, three other fermented foods with long histories and newly rabid adherents.

With a food as comfortingly familiar as yogurt, it’s easy to eat it as we always have. It’s time for us to turn this familiarity upside down and draw inspiration from our brothers and sisters around the globe.

I would love to hear about your own yogurt culture. Did you grow up in a family that used yogurt in a unique way? What role has yogurt played in your cooking history?

More Yogurt to Explore

(Image credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Find Cheryl's new book

Yogurt Culture: How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World’s Creamiest, Healthiest Food

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