Cultured yogurt is a popular dairy item made from cow's, goat's or sheep's milk, and contains beneficial bacteria for the body known as probiotics. A cultured yogurt must contain at least one culture probiotic to help break down the naturally occurring sugar lactose contained within the milk. These yogurts are often marketed as being a healthy addition to any diet that can tolerate dairy, as these cultures have been shown to ease digestion and provide protection against some diseases. Dairy-free versions of yogurt exist, using added sugar to replace dairy sugar, which is fermented with the culture to create the yogurt.
All dairy yogurt starts with milk, as this milk contains a sugar known as lactose which breaks down in reaction to added cultures or probiotics. When cultures are added to the milk and the sugar reacts, the milk starts to ferment and eventually becomes a thick, creamy yogurt. During the fermentation period of cultured yogurt, which often lasts anywhere from 12 to 24 hours, beneficial bacteria called probiotics start to multiply and grow within the yogurt. Some yogurt manufacturers add more than one beneficial bacteria to the yogurt to increase the probiotic count.
Research on cultured yogurt has shown its beneficial effects on the digestive system, as the good bacteria contained within the yogurt are helpful in breaking down food within the body. Although individuals with lactose intolerance cannot handle pure dairy because of the lactose, there are a small number of individuals who can tolerate cultured yogurt. The probiotics in yogurt have also been shown to strengthen the immune system in some studies, suggesting a possible role in protecting against some immune-related diseases. Many nutritionists often recommend yogurt to individuals who suffer from poor digestion.
Those who are vegan or allergic to traditional dairy in any form can sometimes find dairy-free cultured yogurt made from soy, almond or coconut milk. Since these milks lack lactose, which is an essential sugar that helps feed the culture and bacteria, a small amount of sugar is often added to the dairy-free milk. Bacteria such as lactobacillus bulgaricus and acidophilus are added to feed the sugar and aid in the fermentation process. These types of yogurts, although varying in taste and texture, often contain the same probiotic counts as traditional dairy yogurts.