Yogurt: A Gut Feeling in the Mind

When I was younger, yogurt repulsed me. This was no small thing because my parents come from southern India, where yogurt seems to serve as a sort of digestif without which meals don’t feel complete. There was always a pot of homemade yogurt in the fridge or on the kitchen table.

Family members would marvel (and sometimes take offense) that I wasn’t finishing up my meal with yogurt, mixing it up with rice or using it to temper the spicy foods or pickles. Imagine a grandma’s Ayurvedic admonitions in place of a Robert Mitchum voiceover and a symphony of joyful slurping instead of Copland’s “Hoe-down” and you’ll have an idea of what the Yogurt, It’s What You Eat After Dinner experience was like. Some of the reasons why I was supposed to eat it:

  1. It tastes good. They felt sorry for me that I was missing out on so much tart-y goodness.
  2. It had calcium and protein, both of which I needed to grow up strong and healthy.
  3. Something to do with eating compatible “hot” and “cold” foods. I know it has less to do with food temps than other characteristics, but don’t know enough.

Perhaps you can think of more reasons to add to the pro-yogurt chorus. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests another possibility—that maybe probiotic bacteria, the microorganisms typically found in yogurt and dairy products and known to have benefits in the gut, also have positive effects on the brain, reducing psychological distress and increasing confidence. Tests with mice found that mice given Lactobacillus rhamnosus behaved more confidently and with less anxiety and had a more positive mood than those not given the bacteria. Read the article at the Journal and the Economist for more information about this research.

I can’t say that I like yogurt as much as one company seems to think women would (nor can I figure out what “zen wrapped in karma” might mean), but nowadays I do like yogurt very much, in pretty much all of its forms—plain, homemade, Greek, frozen, non-fat, 2%, full-fat, etc. Not sure how or when this change in attitude happened, but surely it must have involved a taste of perugu vada.

Possibly interesting: Why Indians and Europeans Tolerate Milk  

Image: Flickr photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnnystiletto/

27 thoughts on “Yogurt: A Gut Feeling in the Mind

  1. The “hot and cold” foods is about spice (heat) versus foods that have a nullifying effect on it. Things like curd, cucumber, rice are considered “cold”, while spice, ginger/garlic is considered hot.

    The thing about “behaved more confidently and with less anxiety and had a more positive mood” might also be true, because it is a long held belief in northern India that a cup of yogurt before sitting for an exam makes you calm and confident. Sometimes Grandma’s Ayurvedic beliefs are validated by new science.

    Yogurt with rice and pickle is to south Indians what mac-n-cheese is to Americans: comfort food. The only American curds I like are the ones with L. Bulgaricus (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Lactobacillus_delbrueckii_subsp._bulgaricus)

  2. It seems yogurt has been hammered into your life (like the munni and sheela songs…;-)), and you liking it now is a result of years of conditioning. We accept things more easily as we age, and the rebellion slowly fades out.

  3. “Perugu-annam” !!! (Telugu: Perugu=Yoghurt, Annam=Rice) with Mango Pickle 😉 Im vegan now so soy Peruguannam! 😉 Thanks for the yogurtalgia

    /\ \/

  4. To all of you out there: Please look into Greek-strained yogurt. The Greeks know nothing about fiscal responsibility, but they sure know everything about yogurt.

    Greek-strained yogurt (GSY) has a TON of protein, and if you get it fat-free, has no fat, of course. A 110 calorie serving has ~40% of all the protein you need in a day.

    Finally, if you eat full-fat GSY, it has less calories and more protein than ice-cream. Both are very decadent. They have tons of saturated fats, and I believe that the GSY has less, but still, the GSY full-flavor has more protein and less calories.

  5. For best effects, you should get a culture from India, or from locals who have already smuggled in a version, and make yoghurt yourself. The ready-made version from the store is not as effective.

    • One has to use half a cup of yogurt not a teaspoon as we do in India. The milk has to be way warmer than in India. Around 120. I make perfect yogurt and there are many, many people who make perfect yogurt. Our starter is usually Dannon.

  6. So funny that you linked to that “zen wrapped in karma” commercial. I remember when that came out. I found it to be the most annoying commercial on the planet. I mean, wtf… ZEN wrapped in KARMA? Do people even look up these words in the dictionary, or do they just believe women are dumb enough to think that that actually means something… as a follow-up, this reminded me of this online comedian, Sarah Haskins. She does videos where she mocks very products that target women. I find her yogurt one to be good:


  7. What? I LOVE the taste of zen wrapped in karma! It’s the only way to eat yogurt! (Good to know about those depressed mice, too. It was their zen being blocked by their karma. I don’t know why the WSJ didn’t mention that.)

    • I heard today that yoghurt is good for stain removal and may remove the stains I have on my brand new quilt. Can you tell us how to do it, pleeeease??

  8. I loved yougurt! It was the only reason it took me years to go vegan. Cheese/milk not such a big deal.

    My family is astonished that I won’t eat yougurt, I’m not “out” as a vegan with my family.

    Now if only someone could create vegan yogurt thats creamy and tart. Soygurt is not thick enough and doesn’t have the tang I crave.

  9. I detested homemade yogurt as a child (and really still do) and my entire family thinks I’m strange. Good to see that I’m not the only one. BTW, I recognize the health benefits of yogurt down and do manage to eat some on a semi-regular basis. Yogurt rice is out of the question though.

  10. I didnt’ realize that yogurt is a stain-remover. I did know, however, that yogurt is supposed to be a good meat tenderizer. I don’t know why, but it is.

  11. I belong to a Telugu family too and my relatives would be surprised that I did not like yogurt. Funny thing is I grew to like the yogurt filled concoction used in biriyani. And I don’t mind Thaiyir Vada which is pretty much Vada mixed in a yogurty mixture. But plain yogurt with rice . Ughh for me. It’s a shame because like it has been mentioned here, it seems to be good for you. It is one of the very few dairy products I don’t care for. Maybe I will try the greek version.

    But I would very much rather eat that than the other common stuff Telugus eat – dal (Pappu). – more like poop. Oh god. I have puked very few times in my life and almost every single time was because of this.

  12. It’s not the same ‘My3’ , ‘localize’ knows what she is talking abt. You can of course use any american store bought yogurt but the taste is always diff. from India dahi and so is presumably the lactic bacteria mix. Your best bet ..save the Amul masti dahi served en route coming from India and use it as a starter.Pass it on to all indian families you know in case you by accident finish yours out 🙂

  13. Family members would marvel (and sometimes take offense) that I wasn’t finishing up my meal with yogurt

    Does anyone else think that desis are too fixated on food? Taking offense to a kid not eating yogurt seems crazy to me, and in my family it was like this all the time too. There was the “right way” to eat and the “wrong way”. No flexibility in that concept whatsoever. Even now, my parents are crazy sticklers about how food is prepared and what order things are eaten. Also, the timing is very important. If food is 2 minutes late, they go crazy, literally tantrums. I know tons of other desis, mostly immigrants, that are go completely crazy when it comes to food. Reading this article, my childhood came rushing back. Now as an adult, I see how nuts the whole desi food thing was.

    • Its so true, and when i go to India, i notice that its mostly the women who know about this. This is because when they go to their In-laws place they have to learn their food system, and hush up about the way they grew up eating food. In my dad’s family house in India you have to eat in order of dry to wet (ex: sabji–>dal—> rasam) If you eat it differently then you will get weird looks. My mom said in her house she always ate dal first, but she got used to this dry to wet after marrying my dad.

  14. Yoguhrt is an age thing. Like wine, you like it more as you get older. For me, a portion of dhain needs lots of boondis and salt.

    It’s also useful as a skin / hair treatment.

  15. Apologies for the bump. Has anyone tried dahi and honey-nut cheerios?. It’s the awesome Sweet and sour. It kind of reminds you of boondi-raita, except that it’s sweet.

  16. Im not surprised at how many people can’t eat yogurt rice, i find it difficult to eat too ! But some how if I eat it with pickle or some vegetable chunks from the sabji of the day, this simple and boring food transforms into a delectable goodness! Another thing I love is the yogurt rice tempered the oil and seasonings (tharka). Adding some cut up cucumber or pomegranate seeds adds a nice crunch to this preparation.

    When I’m trying to cut down on rice, i make this masala-lassi drink instead: 1) In a large glass add 2 heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt and whisk until smooth 2) Add as much water as you want depending on how thick you like it. 3) Add some or all of the following: salt, jeera powder, a few cilantro leaves, a few mint leaves, a pinch of grated ginger, some bits of kari-patta, a chunk of green-chilli, a pinch of kala-namak (black salt). 4) Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours to let the flavors seep in. 5) Before serving strain** and add a few drops of lemon/lime juice stir and enjoy :]

    ** you don’t have to strain it if you don’t mind the bits of seasonings coming into your mouth, but i strain just in case there are bits of clotted cream which would make me gag like anything.

  17. I come from a Telugu family too, and we eat some of the spiciest dishes, but honestly its not because we’re super-humans, its the yogurt.