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The Secrets of Bulgarian Yoghurt

It is believed that yoghurt was invented in Bulgaria when shepherds put their daily drink of sheep’s milk into their lambskin bags. The bags were slung around their body and the heat given off caused the milk to ferment and turn into yoghurt. Whatever the story there is enough evidence to prove that it was a major part of the Bulgarian diet as far back as 1500 BC when the Thracians ruled the country.

Bulgarian Yoghurt Today

Today's Bulgarian yoghurt known as kiselo milyako is very different to the crude warm fermented sheep’s milk of long ago. Food scientists have found that it contains Lacto bacterium Bulgaricum, bacteria, which rather strangely seem to only be present in Bulgaria. This is the key ingredient that gives Bulgarian yoghurt its unique features and taste.  It is sold everywhere and is used not only as a dessert on its own but in a variety of meals including the cold, summer soup Tarator and the refreshing drink Ayran. Bulgarian yoghurt has a precise taste and bouquet because of the precise culture strains used. The country’s yoghurt producers are taking legal steps to protect the trademark of Bulgarian yoghurt on the European market and to distinguish it from other alleged yoghurts, which do not contain live bacteria.
In villages, homemade Bulgarian yoghurt is frequently strained in a cloth, which is hung over a pot for a few hours to reduce the water content. This yoghurt is often richer and creamier with a mild taste because it has a higher fat content. When the cloth is hung over night the resulting substance is sometimes akin to cream cheese.

The Health Benefits

Many old Bulgarians claim that their long life is all down to the fact that they regularly eat the country’s natural yoghurt. American health experts have proven that Bulgaria’s natural yoghurt is a rich source of probiotics, which play a key role in nutrition. Health experts have proved that yoghurt is extremely beneficial as part of a healthy diet for people of all ages because it contains some anti-cancer and anti-arthritis features as well as many mineral salts and vitamins. It is also low in calories too making it an ideal addition to anyone watching their weight. International yoghurt makers often play on the notion of their product containing "the good bacteria" which really does make the human body feel good.  In effect, the human body actually produces its own probiotics albeit in such small amounts, which alone are not enough to fight some illness and infections.  Thus, health experts advise you to eat regular helpings of natural yoghurt to combat disease. According to a report by the BBC, an unnamed 16th century French king was cured from an infection by eating Bulgarian yoghurt.

Bulgarian Yoghurt Production

Yoghurt is produced by creating lactic acid by fermenting fresh milk at a temperature of around 40 to 45 centigrade. In effect, the lactose in the milk transforms into lactic acid, which is the substance that changes the consistency from a liquid to a thicker matter. Bulgarian yoghurt is made from full fat fresh milk, although low fat versions are now on the market. Its formulation with two bacteria, Lacto bacterium Bulgaricum and Streptococcus Thermophilus create the thick consistency associated with double the amount of Streptococcus Thermophilus being necessary in summer than winter. Bulgarian yoghurt can be made from fresh cows’ or sheep’s’ milk or a mix of the two – it is even possible to make it from less conventional sources like water buffaloes milk and with the opening of the country’s first buffalo farm this is more likely to become a more common ingredient. Buffalo milk contains the most fat at 7.5%, sheep's milk has 6.5% and cow’s 3.6%.

European Intervention

The European Commission is working over a draft directive to give a uniform definition of "yoghurt." It will bring together the standards for the production, composition and quality of this product and will also affect non EU members importing the product into the Union. Currently, each member state has its own standard of products labeled as "yoghurt". In the draft directive, the difference between yoghurt and fermented milk is defined and likely to cause much debate. Yoghurt will be defined as products with living organisms, but not those which have undergone heat treatment.  Bulgarian yoghurt is produced by both methods. According to Boyan Iliev, Executive Director of LB Bulgaricum, Bulgarian yoghurt is a unique product and local producers will urge the Government to fight for a separate definition of European standards to acknowledge this. Evgenia Stoichkova, Marketing Manager of the Bulgarian arm of international yoghurt giant Danone said that yoghurt in Bulgaria corresponds to the global definition of yoghurt.

The introduction of a set of uniform standards defining dairy products across the EU will force hundreds of manufacturers to re-name products. This will not only affect those who produce yoghurt but those who use it in the production of other foodstuffs like chocolate, muesli, baby food and ice cream to name but a few.

Pictures 1 and 2 courtesy of  LB Bulgaricum