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Topics in World History
HIST 104
Section: 99C
Instructor: Joy Dixon
Craig Smith
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Yogurt is a dairy product with ancient origins that has survived and flourished throughout the centuries to become a daily consumption product around the world today. It has transcended geographical and cultural boundaries, and has retained its place in traditions while also having a place in contemporary innovations.


There are several narratives of the discovery of Yogurt. All sources date the discovery to several millennia ago through unexpected events.


Yogurt is generally believed to have originated from Central Asia during the Neolithic period. The exact date is difficult to pinpoint due to the lack of recorded sources. However, through findings that show the domestication of cows existing back in 9,000 BCE, most assume that yogurt was discovered around that time. One of the earliest documented references of yogurt was recorded in Indian Ayurvedic scripts dating back to 6,000 BCE.[1]


Milk was a staple food for the people of Central Asia. When travelling, they would store milk in animal intestines and carry it with them. These animal intestines contained living organisms that ingested the milk, which ultimately broke it down. In combination with Central Asia's warm climate the milk would form into a substance similar to what we call "yogurt" today.[2]

Another theory suggests yogurt was discovered by a Turkish nomad on Mount Elbrus. On a hot day the nomad sat on the mountain with a pitcher of milk. Eventually, organisms that thrived in the warm milk contaminated it and turned it into something similar to yogurt.[3]

A third source identifies Claudius Galenus with discovering yogurt. Galenus was a prominent Roman physician, surgeon and philosopher. He identified that what the ancient Greeks thought was pyrite was actually a type of yogurt. A written description of yogurt can be found in the works of Mahmud of Kashgar, Diwan Lugati't-Turks, which was the first encyclopedia and dictionary.[4]


Ancient Yogurt Uses


Dating back into the ancient times, yogurt was known for its many health benefits. Its uses was known to treat sunburn, prevent small pox, relieve anxiety, cure skin diseases, etc. Yogurt was well known for its promotion of prolonged health, which made it very popular.[5]

Although the exact origins of yogurt are unknown, there are records within the ancient civilizations from India to Iran of its use. It was believed that yogurt was a very highly regarded type of food for healing as well as its delicious taste and was labelled as the “food of the gods” by holy men on the subcontinent in 500 BCE. Many ancient cultures used yogurt as a remedy for internal and external illnesses. This contributed to the image of yogurt being a ‘medicinal’ type of food. It was made into sauces, stews, dips and even creams.[6] One of the stories that revolves around the curing uses of yogurt was when the King of France, Francois I, had diarrhea and could not find a cure until a Jewish doctor treated him with yogurt. The King was said to be so pleased with the results that he spread word of yogurt around Europe.[7]

In addition to being used for remedial purposes, yogurt was also used for beauty enhancement as well as into many culinary dishes. Yogurt was known to be used in India for millennia as a beauty enhancement mainly for the treatment of skin as well as shaping the body.

Introduction to the West

Even though yogurt was discovered at such an early age, the introduction of it into North America didn’t come until around 1492 when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas and brought colonizers along with cattle, seeds, and other animals to the continent.[8] The introduction of cattle to the West began the use of yogurt in North America. In Canada’s case, dairy cattle (the Holstein breed) wasn’t introduced until 1881.[9]

In order to show more of the process on yogurt’s emigration to the West, a major yogurt brand, Danone, was analyzed in detail on how they transitioned from its origins in Spain into North America.


The company of Danone, one of today’s largest manufacturers of yogurt, originated in Spain and was set up by a man named Isaac Carasso in 1919. As a result of the German invasion during the Second World War, Isaac Carasso's son, Daniel, was forced to immigrate into the United States in 1941. It was this period where he set up a yogurt company in North America named Dannon (note the different spelling that indicates a different company at the time). Since the roots of the company originated from Spain, after undergoing several merges in Europe, the European branch finally took the initiative to go global by acquiring the United States’ branch forty years later. As a consequence of the merging companies in Europe, their corporation grew larger and was able to make its presence in the food and dairy industries. Finally, after their global ambitions in expansion showed reasonable results, they underwent a final name change from BSN into Group Danone—which is the long form of the brand Danone today.[10]


Modern Yogurt

Yogurt has continued to be used for the thousands of years since its discovery and adaption to western civilization. Uses have ranged widely but is dominantly used as a consumable food.

In the West

Health Benefits


Yogurt is now widely consumed in the West--to the point where most people probably do not know that it originated in the East. The current popularity is due in large part to yogurt’s various health benefits. The probiotics, literally meaning “for life”, that yogurt contains contribute to the ‘good’ bacteria that the body needs. Yogurt has been found to be a great source of protein, calcium, vitamins B-2 and B-12, potassium and magnesium. Such nutritional values can help to prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of high blood pressure. The probiotics can aid in calming gastrointestinal conditions like lactose intolerance, constipation, diarrhea, and colon cancer.[11]

In order to claim the maximum benefit of yogurt, it must be tailored to each person’s specific needs. Therefore when buying it, several considerations should be taken into account such as fat content (full fat, low-fat, or non-fat), sweetener (natural sugar, artificial sweetener) and the presence of live and active cultures (which should always be preferred). The variety and versatility of yogurt makes it appealing to many; it is not only suggesting the flavours available, but also the different forms and the numerous uses. Whether it is a thinner yogurt that you can drink, thick Greek-style yogurt, or the very popular frozen yogurt, there is a style to suit everyone.[12]

National Yogurt Association

The National Yogurt Association (NYA) is a non-profit organization based in the United States that certifies yogurt companies in Canada and the US.[13] Most yogurt products, such as Danone’s, have the Live and Active Cultures (LAC) seal given by the NYA. This certification ensures that there is “at least 100 million active cultures per gram at time of production and with measurable activity at the end of
 shelf life”.[14] The NYA also sponsors extensive health and medical research to disseminate to the public. Studies backing the benefits of regular consumption of yogurt can be found on the official website,

In the East

Today, yogurt remains to be a prevalent food item throughout Asia with many cultures using it for a variety of reasons including traditional dishes, religious rituals, and most common, everyday consumption.

In the Middle East, countries like Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, use yogurt, or laban in Arabic, for a variety of stews and soups that are popular in Levant cuisine.[15] Mansaf, the national dish of Jordan, requires dried yogurt as one of the dish’s main ingredients. Mansaf is served on special occasions such as graduations, weddings, religious ceremonies, anniversaries, holidays, and Jordan’s Independence Day.[16] This dish can be found throughout the Arab world in places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia.[17]

Compared to the large commercialized market in North America and other parts of the world, many rural communities throughout Asia rely upon yogurt or curd for a main source of food consumption. In Tibet, for example, upland nomads make yogurt from the milk of yaks. These communities rely upon cattle for their milk products since it is their main source of subsistence and nutrition.[18]

Apart from the everyday use of yogurt as a culinary ingredient or dish, its significance in some cultures is essential for sacred and religious rituals. In India, Hindus use yogurt as one of five foods (milk, honey, sugar, ghee, and yogurt)[19] that are used in making Panchamrita, a dish that is offered to Hindu Gods as a religious ritual called Puja.[20]


  1. Bylund, Gösta. Cultured Milk Products. Dairy Processing Handbook. Lund, Sweden: Tetra Pak Processing Systems AB, 1995. 241-62. Print.
  2. Bylund, Gösta. Cultured Milk Products. Dairy Processing Handbook. Lund, Sweden: Tetra Pak Processing Systems AB, 1995. 241-62. Print.
  3. Yalın, Güzin. Yogurt: One of the Oldest Processed Foods in Man's History. Hurriyet Daily News, 2010. Accessed Online 23 March 2013. <>.
  4. Rose, Rosie. History of Yogurt, Yoghurt, Yogourt or Yoghourt. Hubpages. Accessed Online 22 March 2013. <>.
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  6. Batmanglij, K. Najmieh. A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cooking. UK: I.B Tauris and Co Ltd., 2003. 170.
  7. Rose, Rosie. History of Yogurt, Yoghurt, Yogourt or Yoghourt. Hubpages. Accessed Online 22 Mar 2013. <>.
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  9. St. Laurent, Gaston. "Dairy Farming." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Dominion Institute, n.d. Accessed Online 28 March 2013.
  10. Riboud, Antoine. Building Danone – 30 Years of Passion. Danone, 1996. Accessed Online 28 March 2013.
  11. Magee, Elaine. The Benefits of Yogurt. WebMD. Accessed Online 19 March 2013. <>.
  12. Magee, Elaine. The Benefits of Yogurt. WebMD. Accessed Online 19 March 2013. <>.
  13. Health Update. National Yogurt Association. Accessed Online 19 March 2013. <>.
  14. Live Active Cultures. Dannon Company Inc. Accessed Online 20 March 2013. <>.
  15. Laban Recipies. Good Cooks. Accessed Online 25 March 2013. <>.
  16. Mansaf: The National Dish of Jordan. Accessed Online 24 March 2013. <>.
  17. Davidson, A., & Jaine, T. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.
  18. James, F. Yogurt: its life and culture. Expedition, Vol 18. 1975. 32. Print.
  19. Bryant, E.F. The Krishna Sourcebook. Oxford University Press, 2007. 529. Print.
  20. Flood, G. D. The Blackwell companion to Hinduism. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. 6-7. Print.