Whether on the thicker or thinner side, yogurt is always refreshing. But whenever a recipe calls for the thick, sour ingredient, it is referred to as Greek yogurt, which in Turkey is probably closest to “süzme yoğurdu”, which means strained yogurt.
What is Yogurt?
Yogurt is essentially fermented milk. The aptly named yogurt cultures ferment the sugar in the milk and produce lactic acid, which acts on the milk proteins, giving it its characteristic texture and flavor. Yogurt can be made from many types of milk, although cow’s milk is the most common.Jump to Recipe
Fridges are relatively new in our history, but the same cannot be said about milk. Milk has been consumed for millennia, but since it quickly spoils, it needed to be consumed fast. Ever the animal of ingenuity, people figured out how to make cheese and yogurt to prolong it life. Pastoralists tending their herds in the Middle East thought it a good idea to store their milk in bags made out of animal stomachs. Glass bottles weren’t really a thing then either. As the milk came into contact with the digestive fluids it would curdled and sour, which preserved it (1).
The claim by the Greeks is that they were the first to mention yogurt in writing around 100 BC but noted even there that “barbarous nations” used yogurt. (2) Turkic peoples’ use of yogurt is mentioned in Mahmud Kashgari’s dictionary of Turkic languages from the 11th century, “Diwan Lughat al-Turk” and Yusuf Khas Hajib’s “Qutadghu Bilig”, which was written as a mirror for princes in Central Asia in the 11th century
As great as yogurt is, especially in the hot summer months, its medicinal properties are just as important. Turkic people were the first to discover these and many appreciate its probiotic benefits for the gut (2).
The word yogurt comes from the Turkish “yogurt” which is theorized to come from two different origins. The first and most commonly mentioned is the Turkish verb “yoğurmak”, meaning to thicken, coagulate, curdle or knead. The second is the Turkish adjective “yoğun”, meaning thick. The spellings of yogurt, such as yoghurt, yogourt and yoghourt, come from different interpretations of the Turkish letter ğ, which is silent and lengthens the preceding vowel.
The strained variety emerged with the dairy company Fage (1920s), which put the Greek in front of the yogurt to describe it. But the practice to call it as such in the U.S. has been popularized by the company Chobani, which was founded by a Kurdish man from Turkey.
Yogurt in Turkish cuisine
Yogurt is essential role in Turkish cuisine and is used in many forms. The first and probably most popularly known dip as cacık and ayran, a drink made of yogurt, water and some salt. Of course, to these also have different interpretations and versions, which are all worth trying out.
Yogurt soups are a natural extension to this as well. The various people of this region took the preservation of milk even further by preserving yogurt along with powdered, dried vegetables, together known as tarhana, which can be considered one of the oldest instant soups in history.
Almost every meal in Turkey can be accompanied by yogurt. Dolma and sarma would be incomplete without it and some eat almost everything with yogurt.
As an ingredient, yogurt is often used in a variety of doughs like the one used for the savory, stuffed pastry called “poğaça” and other savory pastries.
Yogurt – cool, refreshing and centuries old
- 1 liter milk
- 1 tbsp yogurt or yogurt cultures
- Heat the milk to about 45-50 degrees Celsius and take off the heat. Stir in the yogurt or the yogurt culture and keep it at that temperature for at least 4-5 hours and as much as 12 hours.
- This sounds simple enough, but one has to keep in mind what kind of yogurt is used. Some might not have as much bacteria or necessary cultures within them. Yogurts sold in Turkey work great in this recipe and when some stronger yogurts are used, even less than a tablespoon might be required. Of course, cultures are available to buy, in which case it is best to follow the instructions given.
- Maintaining the temperature is essential and the pot the yogurt is made in should be kept uncovered. Putting it in the oven at about 45 degrees Celsius is also is an option. There are even yogurt machines that regulate the temperature for you. But the most DIY version is to put the pot onto a blanket, cover it with a lid, wrap the blanket all around it and let it rest.
- Whichever method you choose to maintain the temperature, once the yogurt has cured, it shouldn’t be eaten right away. Store it in the fridge and let it rest for another day or at least overnight.
- Once that is done you have yourself some yogurt, but if you want to have it even thicker, the strained variety, you’ll need to add about 1.5 teaspoons of salt for every 1 kilogram of yogurt (or more if you like it saltier) and strain it through a cheesecloth. If you don’t have a cheesecloth handy, you can use very thin cotton fabric, as well, so long as it allows the excess whey to drip out. Hang that bundle over a bowl and let it drip for a few hours and then you’ll have some homemade strained yogurt.
Bibliography(1) H. McGee, “Fresh fermented milks and creams” in “Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”, eds. Dorfman, P; J Greene; A McGee,New York: Scribner, 2004.
(2) Mauro Fisberg and Rachel Machado, “History of yogurt and current patterns of consumption”, 2015.