Which Indian does not like the curd that has been an integral part of cuisine in the country for ages? Whether it is in the form of Lassi, Chaas or plain curd a substantial part of milk production in India goes for making these fermented dairy products. It is a paradox that modern generation, in pursuit of new and exciting culinary experience is shunning healthy products like curd, also known as Yogurt with its high probiotic and prebiotic ingredients. On the flip side the western world is discovering new virtues in yogurt with thousands of studies bringing out the ability of yogurt to prevent development of many modern diseases. While every one understands what yogurt is, emergence of products like frozen yogurt, refrigerated yogurt, flavored yogurt, Greek yogurt etc tends to confuse the consumer regarding the linkage between old fashioned cultured yogurt and modern day yogurt preparations.
According to dictionary meaning "yogurt is a product which is slightly acidic, semi solid, curdled milk preparation from either whole milk or skimmed milk solids by fermentation with organisms from the genus Lactobacillus. It is rich in B complex vitamins, a good source of protein. It also provides a medium in GI tract that retards the growth of harmful bacteria, aids mineral absorption". As its history dates back to 5400 years, continuous changes are taking place regarding the preparation mode, type of cultures used and products derived from it. As acidity is raised due to conversion of lactose in the milk to lactic acid during fermentation, before the advent of modern refrigeration in a big way, yogurt was required to be consumed within 48-72 hours of its making. Subsequently addition of sugar and flavor became an accepted practice, especially for those not liking the sour taste characteristic of yogurt. But invariably yogurts were consumed without any heat processing which can cause protein separation, an ungainly sight not considered desirable. Modern day yogurt products do not have much of a resemblance to the good old traditional products prevalent earlier, most of them being practically not sour but also sweetened and flavored.
Compulsions of modern day life has made it imperative to come up with technology to pack and preserve yogurt that can keep well for two-three weeks al least, if not more. Temperatures below 4C can prolong the life for a couple of weeks and if frozen to -4 to -6C yogurt will keep well for a few weeks though its typical texture is likely to be adversely affected. In a remarkable development in India, packed curd manufactured by the cooperative dairy sector has made curd practically a commodity, distributed through the same milk distribution net work through out the country. Packed in poly pillow pouches, the product keeps in good condition for at least a week in the refrigerator with slight increase in acidity as at these low temperatures the fermentation is only retarded but not arrested altogether. With millions of nuclear families with both parents working having limited ability to make curd at home, packed curd has become a boon to them. Otherwise Indian urban middle class would be raising a whole generation with limited exposure to fermented milk products with such high nutritive value.
Interestingly the term frozen yogurt as is being used to day is not targeted at traditional yogurt consumers but deployed as an alternate option for consumers of ice cream looking for products containing lesser fat. According to the Association of Yogurt Manufacturers, the term frozen yogurt can be used only when there are at least 10 million active cells per gm of the Lactic acid bacteria while refrigerated yogurt must have 100 million live cells per gm. According to present practices, the Association provides its seal of certification only to products as per the specification given above. it is beyond any body's comprehension as to how a yogurt, even if it is sweetened, can be a substitute or alternative to ice cream. Probably this practice may be attributed to the strict standards for butter fat in ice cream which is not less than 16% while most frozen yogurts contain less than 10% fat. Also possible is the desire of the industry to exploit the health associated attributes of prebiotics like yogurt in evolving this distinct class of desserts. Frozen yogurts are mostly proprietary products with no standards of identity in any statute books and there fore it is left to the food standards agencies to regulate their manufacture and sale based on label filing before them.
Another interesting question that ought to be answered by the yogurt industry, especially in industrialized countries is whether the products made by them can be rightfully claimed the advantages of a prebiotic or/and probiotic as being done now. Since most products do not undergo proper lactic fermentation during the manufacturing process, it is doubtful whether any significant production of typical nutrients associated with bacterial growth really takes place. Also of some concern is how far the live cultures added during the packing will survive the passage through the highly acidic stomach medium without destruction. Why is that therapeutic doses of lyophilized lactic cultures recommended after an antibiotic therapy is encapsulated by the industry? Mainly for protecting the bacterial cells from the acidic conditions that prevail in the stomach. Therefore there is a case for reviewing the current practices and standards for yogurt to benefit the consumers.