The secret life of Bulgarian natural yoghurt

Lactobacillus bulgaricus bacillus. Sounds like an infectious disease, does it not? It is actually the essential compound of a dairy product many Bulgarians love and grow up with. Bulgarian natural yoghurt tends to sit in the shadow of its Greek cousin, but its refreshingly zingy flavour and healthy properties are in a league of their own.

Natural yoghurt is not supposed to be sweet or flavoured. It is the particularities of the region, climate, air and water that make the distinctly zingy flavour of natural Bulgarian sour milk, or as locals say, ‘kiselo mlyako.’

The freshest milk always makes the tastiest sour milk. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The first thing that strikes you is the taste. Sour milk is sour, obviously. There is not a hint of sweetness in sight, just a delicate acidity dancing around your taste buds. As it slides down your throat, it leaves a teasing sour taste that lingers with an exceptional mouth-watering quality. Bulgarian sour milk produces a different sensation on the palate.

It is not as thick and rich as Greek yoghurt but has a distinctly silky touch to it. The structure is noticibly smooth and silky, which provides for a sliding, melting sensation on the palate. On the nutritional front, it is low in saturated fats and is used for maintaining cholesterol levels.

Production: Asya Gadzheva

Sour milk and its variations are extremely popular In South-Eastern Europe, where they have been a staple of people’s diets for centuries.

The Origins

Yoghurt as a product can be traced as further back as Mesopotamia, around 5000 BC. The Thracians were the first to produce sour milk in Bulgaria. Stock-breeders would carry lambskin bags of sheep’s milk around their waists, which would ferment from their body heat. The word yoghurt derives from ‘thick’ and ‘milk’ in ancient Thracian.

A Bulgarian microbiologist and physician, Dr Stamen Grigorov, first examined the bacterial contents of Bulgarian natural yoghurt in the early 1900s. He went on to discover the agent responsible for the fermentation: lactobacillus bulgaricus bacillus. Additionally, he managed to isolate two other bacteria, non-existent in the human intestinal tract, but very beneficial when introduced to it.

Russian Nobel Prize laureate in Physiology and Medicine, Ilya Metchnikoff, inspired by Grigorov’s findings, would later conclude that the regular consumption of natural Bulgarian sour milk increases the average life expectancy and slows the process of ageing.

And this is just the beginning of the long list of health benefits Bulgarian sour milk can boast about.


A health-packed spoonful

The presence of active live bacterial cultures helps to maintain the state of the digestive and immune system. It enhances the body’s natural defence mechanisms against infection and decease and is said to aid with a number of conditions such as constipation and diarrhoea.

Regular consumption of natural yoghurt prevents tumour growth and reduces high blood pressure. It is a source of healthy proteins, making it a recommended part of any balanced diet.

Bulgarian sour milk has long sat in the shadow of its southern cousin Greek yoghurt. Both delicious, and both cultural gems on their own, but there is just something about that zingy, silky, mouth-watering acidity… Pure bulgaricus magic.

Words: Asya Gadzheva | Subbing: Amelia Walker-Hall

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