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Yogurts of the world

Ethnic yogurts are smooth, tangy, and sometimes thick enough to cut with a knife.

Mango Delight: A mango and cardamom lassi, or yogurt smoothie, is a popular beverage enjoyed in India and found in most Indian restaurants.

Joanne Ciccarello – staff

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Walking down the dairy section of the supermarket, a yogurt aficionado finds plenty to choose from. Among the multitude of flavored yogurts with varying percentages of fat, some have toppings, others have preserves at the bottom, still others can be sipped from a plastic bottle. Yet all this variety leaves old-world yogurt lovers wanting more.

Plain yogurt, pure as snow and without additives – that is the prize some immigrants crave. Traditionalists value pristine yogurt for its delicate tanginess, a subtle flavor often masked in commercial varieties of this dairy product. Many ethnic groups have time-tested ways of using this unsweetened and unsalted staple in their cooking.

The name yogurt comes from the Turkish word for milk that has fermented into a tart, semisolid mass. Culinary lore has it that milk – probably from goat or sheep – stored in an animal skin bag, transformed into this ready-to-eat, custard-like product overnight.

In the United States, yogurt, by definition, should have at least two species of bacteria – Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus – in the culture used to ferment milk. Typically, traditional yogurts contain at least half a dozen different friendly bacterial strains. Myriad microbes feast on lactose, the sugar found in milk, and convert it to lactic acid, which makes yogurt slightly tart. "It is true that some yogurts taste more delicious than others," says David Fankhauser, a biology professor at the University of Cincinnati Clermont College. A yogurt lover himself, he once stopped at an island in the Bosporus Strait in Turkey to sample ayran, a refreshing local drink made of yogurt.

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