American Yogurt from a South Indian viewpoint
This blog was originally a response to an email from my brother who had just returned from a vacation in Europe and wanted to know what a "bio" yogurt is.
I think "bio" is the same as the American term, "organic". It means using all natural products and no additives. It may also imply that the animals producing the base product (milk from cows or eggs from hen) are treated better than "normal" and are kept in "organic" farms. That is, they are not pumped with harmones for higher production; they are fed what they normally like to eat, rather than things that make them produce more. I could go on and on ... I love this topic. But for now, I will just point to the links of two popular non-organic and organic brands of yougurt:
Yogurt is made from milk - all over the world! Cow's milk, Buffalo milk, goat milk, lactose-free milk, or maybe even soy milk and rice milk. And all yogurt is made by "spoiling" the milk using a bacterial culture. It is these bacteria that make yogurt so intestine-friendly. But, store-bought yogurt may or may not contain any live bacteria! Here's a link that talks all about live and active cultures: http://www.aboutyogurt.com/lacYogurt/facts.asp
I strongly believe that Westerns do not have (or have under-developed) tastebuds for anything other than sweet, salt or bland. They do not have much in their cusine that can be classified as bitter (vepampoo or karela) or "kaaram" or sour/tangy. If such tastes are encountered, they neutralize it with lots of sugar. And that is exactly what they have done with the original tangy taste of yogurt. They added sugar (or sugar substitutes) and flavor. Just as we, south indians neutralize a sour thayir saadam with pickles.
Westerns also love variety and color and choices - they have a problem with the simplicity of repetitive things. So, they added different kinds of fruits to yogurts - strawberry, blueberry, banana, peach, mango, guava, etc. But, fruits have acids. So, they added even more sugar to yogurt to neutralize the taste. But there are some fruits like apple and pineapple that are never added, maybe because they do not "blend" well with the consistency of yogurt or maybe they have acids that do not get along with those in the yogurt.
Appearance matters a lot for the average American. So, they want yogurt - whole fat or low-fat ot fat-free - to all look the same - firm, not slushy. So, they add gelatin, a product derived from bones! The "organic" folks sometimes achieve this effect by using a seaweed product called agar-agar.
So you see, the "non-organic low-fat sweetened fruit yogurt with no live/active cultures" that you buy in an average American store is far from the original yogurt! And ironically, this variety of yogurt is refered to as the "original" or "standard" yogurt. And the original one has to be refered to as the special "organic plain yogurt". And one has to go looking for these special "organic" products in speciality stores that charge 3 times the price of the "standard" product.
When I came to the US twelve and a half years ago, I was amazed that the average cost of food per person was less than $100/month. This was less than a tenth of even my student scholarship. On the other hand, 75% of the income of an average Indian household was spent on food. My conclusion: Food is cheap in the US. That is, when you are buying the "standard" stuff. But, once you start buying the "special" natural foods, and add to it the cost of driving to these far and few speciality stores, food is not cheap anymore in the US. Food also seemed abundant in the US. But, now that more and more people are buying "organic" milk, the supply often cannot keep up with the demand. And we are just talking about less than 5% of the population and that too only in bigger cities.
The American eating habits and lifestyle can be summarised in one simple statement - "far from natural". They are slowly beginning to realise that eastern (Indian & Chinese) lifestyles are a better choice. But, indians love to ape the West! And Indian markets are now stocking western products!