A dish that is to be accompanied by yogurt is a must on any traditional Turkish table - unless of course, there is already another dish whose main ingredient is yogurt. For thousands of years, yogurt has been an indispensable element on Turkish tables. It is consumed plain or as a side dish, and it is a crucial part of Turkish Cuisine. Yogurt is used to make soups, sweets, and the favorite drink ayran, which is made by mixing in water, mineral water and salt. Another reason why Turks hold yogurt dearly is that all over the world it is consumed and known as “yogurt,” which is a word of Turkish origin.

About a thousand years ago, Turks were the first to make Yogurt. The oldest known lexicon of the Turkish language, Kasgarli Mahmut’s Divân-i Lûgat’i Türk has an entry for the same word, and it has the same meaning. At the time, Turks still led nomadic lives and had devised numerous methods to preserve their food for their long journeys. This is one of the reasons why milk was made into yogurt. The best quality yogurt is produced through the fermentation of cow and lamb’s milk. It is not surprising that dairy products made from these animals are Turkish inventions; Central Asian Turks were the first to domesticate lambs and cows. As it was first spreading into Europe and elsewhere, this thick, white dairy product was used for therapeutic purposes; in the 20th century, its daily use spreads all around the world.

The transformation of milk into yogurt is the feat of lactic acid-yielding microorganisms. Yogurt is basically coagulated milk produced by the partial transformation of milk lactose into lactic acid through the effect of yogurt yeast. The initial production step is to boil the milk. The boiled milk is left to cool until it won’t burn your finger and then two teaspoons of starter yogurt added gently from the edge of the container. The container is then sealed and usually placed in a nest of towels to keep the milk warm and the fermentation going. Fermentation takes 4 to 5 hours at a temperature of approximately 37 degrees.

Yogurt can be classified under three groups depending on the production method; in addition to the regular yogurt whose production has been outlined above, there is also the Silivri Yogurt and strained yogurt. Silivri style yogurt is proper to the Istanbul region, and it is produced with lamb’s milk only. This is a tasty, firm and very creamy variety of yogurt. The procedure involves first boiling the milk in large cauldrons. Then the milk is poured into containers in a way to develop froth. Blazing coals are placed under these containers, and the yogurt is left to sit. Consequently, a harder and slightly cooked creamy top is obtained. When the containers are cool enough, glass syringes are used to inject yogurt yeast to the mixture from all four corners. Following this procedure, the containers are sealed with large wooden covers. After settling for 4 to 5 hours, the Silivri yogurt is then ready for consumption. The same initial procedures are followed to produce strained yogurt, however the creamy top is later removed and the remaining yogurt is placed in finely woven cloth bags. The bags are then hung at a height to allow the liquid to strain off. Finally, the strained yogurt is transferred to tin containers. Strained yogurt contains no vitamin B, since this ingredient is moved out along with the liquid as it is strained off.

It would be almost impossible to find a Turkish household that does not have yogurt in the refrigerator. Turks, who use yogurt widely, believe that it is a health food, with ability to cleanse the body from toxins and poisons. Even dreaming of yogurt is considered a good omen as a sign of upcoming wealth and a long life.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)/Turkish Cultural Foundation

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