Yogurt is not considered a major product in the dairy industry with cheese hogging all the lime light, rightly or wrongly. But its probiotic credentials are increasingly being recognized and there are many yogurt based products flooding the market. Live cultures present in yogurt have protective effect on the Gastrointestinal tract, preventing many diseases. The product has a history as old as 4500 years and its value as a protective food comes mainly from proteins, calcium, riboflavin, pyridoxine and vitamin B12 present in optimally fermented yogurt. Microorganisms like Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bifidus are used in the production of yogurt by the dairy industry. Refrigerated yogurt must contain at least 100 million live cells per gm and frozen yogurt 10 million live cells per gm to be eligible for branding as a probiotic product.
Yogurt production and marketing pose great challenges to the food technologists because of the rapid changes in texture and taste that can occur if not properly processed. Especially in warm climates there are critical issues like lack of cold chain facility, frequent exposure to increased heat and unpredictable behavior of the cultures if not properly developed. If yogurt is to become a popular processed product for the consumers, newer approach is called for. Improved cultures to speed up fermentation without compromising on mildness and stability of acidity, improving viscosity and creaminess and stability under warm conditions are prerequisites for expanding yogurt production world wide. Developments on these lines are underway in Europe and special cultures are now available to produce yogurts that can resist organoleptic changes under the marketing conditions that prevail in Asia, the Middle East, South America and Eastern Europe where yogurt is increasingly becoming popular.
Global market for yogurt is currently placed at 20 million tons and the annual growth rate is estimated at 4-6%. In the US alone the per capita consumption of yogurt increased from 1.1 kg per year to 3.3 kg within a span of two decades. In India only 2% of the milk produced goes for yogurt, that too mostly at the house hold level, with the organized dairies having very little presence in the market. While world milk production exceeds 600 million tons, Indian share is more than 15% and considering the importance of yogurt as a health food, its growth can be expected to be dramatic in the coming years.