No matter how you spell, yogurt tastes good

BY ANY OTHER NAME ...

By Norman Knight

As a college student in the early 1970s, I was a part-time driver for a milk testing laboratory. My job was to retrieve milk samples collected from northern Indiana farms.

One evening as I was leaving a dairy I saw some yogurt containers in the freebie milk crates provided for the workers. Yogurt was a new thing back then, at least in my Midwestern world, and I helped myself.

Whoa. I was not crazy about the taste. But like so many new experiences sometimes you have to give things time, and I did. Since those early years, I have become a big fan of yogurt.

I have come to appreciate yogurt’s subtle tartness, and I find its versatility useful in recipes. I like that it appears on lists of healthy foods—as long as added sugars are kept in check. But my high regards for yogurt go beyond the culinary and nutritional. The truth is I find the word “yogurt” interesting.

“Yogurt” is originally a Turkish word that is related to the verb “to knead” or “to be curdled or to thicken.” The food probably originated in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago. Persian tradition says it is the food that contributed to the Biblical Patriarch Abraham’s longevity. It’s nice to know yogurt has a long tradition as a health food.

Early on in my yogurt journey I noticed some variations in the spelling of the word. “Yogurt” seemed the most common but I would occasionally see “yoghurt” and once or twice “yoghourt.”

Back then I found it interesting in a happy way that the spelling was somewhat optional. Since those halcyon days, “yogurt” has become the default spelling, at least here in the United States. Apparently, this is problematic for some purists in Britain where the preferred spelling is “yoghurt.”

Jeni Oppenheimer writes in the Daily Telegraph, “To the dismay of traditionalists, more manufacturers and retailers have been using the Americanized spelling of yogurt that drops the letter ‘h.'” A business spokesperson countered that it’s time to move on and accept the industry’s spelling decision.

Although Ms. Oppenheimer uses the British spelling of “Americanized,” I can empathise/empathize with people who worry over the loss of traditions. If you ask me, English has been going downhill since we Yanks dropped the “u” in “colour.”

What prompted me to consider my history with yogurt was a recent article in USA Today about the newest entrant in the battle for yogurt market supremacy: French-style yogurt. Greek yogurt has been taking an ever-growing share of the market ever since it was introduced in the U.S. in 1998. By 2015 it accounted for more than 50 percent of the market.

Considering yogurt sales in 2016 topped $7.7 billion, you can understand the competition. The challenge for Yoplait’s new Oui brand of upscale French-style yogurt is to knock Greek off its top spot. (The french word for “yogurt is “yaourt” or “yogourt,” which should just add to the fun.)

Both French and Greek yogurts start with whole milk and yogurt cultures. The difference is French style is made in small batches in glass jars while Greek typically is made in large batches and put in smaller containers. Although the French-style has a somewhat thicker texture and a slightly different flavor (or flavour), nutritionists say there is no difference in the health benefits. As a matter of fact, tests show Greek yogurt has more protein per serving than the French version.

Industry experts say the success of French yogurt is about marketing and image. One observer of such trends explains, “Consumers want to know more about the story … the romance of it.” Another notes that the glass jars are “adorable.” A company spokesperson paints a picture of yogurt being made in French farmhouses a century ago, which sort of proves the point.

It’s always a challenge to separate image from substance in the marketplace. Back in the day, I learned to make my own yogurt. Maybe I’ll do that again.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.