The History of Yogurt

The process of natural fermentation precedes written history. Yogurt, which is made by fermenting milk, is one of the oldest foods in the human diet.

Pliny the Elder

Yogurt has its origins in Turkey. The word itself comes from the old Turkish root, yog, meaning ‘condense’ or ‘intensify’, and is first seen in English when a travel writer, Samuel Purchas, notes in 1625 how the Turks did not consume milk unless it was sour, which they called 'yoghurd'. Whatever it has been called though, yogurt was incorporated into the human diet, long before then...

In 1st century AD a Roman philosopher, Pliny the Elder, noted how ancient ‘barbarous nations’ knew how to ‘thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity’. The act of thickening was found by Anatolian goatherds to conserve their milk by preserving it in sheep or goat-skin bags. The milk reacted with the bacteria in the skin of the animals and fermented, creating something like the yogurt we know today. 

Before that, in 6000 BC Indian Ayruvedic scripts (ancient religious texts) refer to the health benefits of consuming fermented milk products. Indeed, some historians interpret the "Land of Milk and Honey" as being a reference to yogurt, with Abraham's long life resulting from its consumption.

Meanwhile, it is understood that Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongul Empire (the largest land empire in history) fed his armies on yogurt because it supposedly made them brave. It was brought to Western Europe in 1542 by King Francois I of France after his Turkish allies offered yogurt to treat bouts of severe diarrhoea. It wasn’t long before people began adding cinnamon, honey or fruit to the yogurt making it a dessert, rather than just a medicinal product.

Although, it was only in the 20th Century that Stamen Grigov, a Bulgarian medical student, identified the bacteria present in yogurt: Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. In Paris, the Russian Nobel laureate Elie Mechnikoff used his work to establish that Lactobillus Bulgaricus andSteptoccicus Thermophilus were responsible for the longevity of Bulgarian peasants. Mechnikoff believed these bacteria lengthened the peasants’ lives because they produced lactic acid, which also creates the sour or tart yogurt taste. Yogurt thus became popularised in the Western world and was sold in pharmacies as a medicine, known for its health benefits.

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Isaac Carasso commercialised yogurt, when he added jam to it in 1919. His son, Daniel founded Danone in France and the first yogurt laboratory and factory was opened in France in 1932. It was only four decades later that Joseph and Edgar Dickinson started making Longley Farm yogurt that we know and love.


Today, we still use the cultures Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and Streptoccicus Thermophilus, and fully ferment our yogurt, letting the bacteria really get to work, creating that distinctive tartness. Indeed, people frequently compliment us on the tartness of our yogurt. Most “yogurt” found on our supermarket shelves has not been fully fermented but have added thickeners, stabilisers and preservatives to make them have the same texture as the real stuff, but not the same taste... Recently, Liliana emailed to tell us of her fourteen-year search:

Elaine Mason (with spoon) in lab c.1980  I am Bulgarian and have been living in this country for over 14 years. My grandparents used to keep sheep and cows and they produced their own (bio)yogurt.

Over the years here, I had given up hope of finding real yogurt, the way we had it in Bulgaria. What one can buy in the UK supermarkets these days, regardless of the brand - and trust me, I have checked many, is creamy and sweet "yogurt", which is miles away from the yogurt produced with L.bulgaricus and S.thermophilis in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian yogurt is sour and firm due to extended fermentation that allow simple carbohydrates to be converted to lactic acid by the bacteria. With such yogurt, a spoon should leave a well, which then would fill partially over time with watery substance released from the yogurt.

Recently I bought your brand (full fat natural yogurt) in a health shop and to be honest, I expected a variation of the artificial supermarket stuff. However, when I tried it, my taste buds went crazy, as they did not expect the taste of real yogurt. The texture is still creamy, but I guess this is to satisfy the market or because of the production process.

Now I am regular at the health shop and I stock up when they have your product. Thank you so much for your delicious artisan yogurt! I am a big fan and I do my best introduce my friends and colleagues it! 

As Liliana says, the tartness and quality of our yogurt is down to our production process. We don’t mess around with adding things, and are proud to say not much has changed since Joseph and Edgar started making yogurt in 1969.  We use quality milk and traditional cultures to make excellent products; letting the goodness come naturally. 

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