Not as Simple Anymore!
Haider Khattak & Naazish YarKhan
It has been around for at least 4,500 years and still keeps evolving. These days you can grab it and go, eat it as a snack or an after-meal dessert. Last time you stood in front of the chillers in your grocery store, its flavors were mind-boggling, your children insisted on buying some, and it came in low-fat, sugar-free and no-fat varieties. It is drinkable, scoop-able and comes in kid-sized squeeze packs. It often comes with fruit stirred into it or fruit on-the-bottom and health-and-wellness types generally love it. Yes, it’s yogurt!
Yogurt is mainly produced by bacterial fermentation of milk. Fermentation of lactose (milk sugar) produces lactic acid, which acts on milk protein to give yogurt its texture. Dating to 2000 B.C. in the Middle East and countries of southeastern Europe, including Bulgaria and Romania, yogurt was believed to aid in digestion and help relieve acid reflux. That belief, and its rich, creamy taste, make it a favorite food amongst children and adults alike, to date. Whether it is store-bought or prepared at home, it stands second to liquid milk in dairy product consumption. In the summer months, consumption increases and it is often liquefied into a drink commonly known as lassi in the South Asian community.
Yogurt is nutritionally rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. It has nutritional benefits beyond those of milk. Yogurt is also an excellent source of calcium. Some yogurts contain up to 35 percent of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for calcium. An average eight-ounce serving of live and active culture contains approximately 20 percent of the Daily Value for protein.
As for probiotics, are they all they are cut out to be or is it just hype? Probiotics are live cultures that, when consumed in sufficient quantities, provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. When added to yogurt, they work alongside the already-present bacterial cultures to initiate additional positive effects in your body. Yogurt is believed to promote good gum health and a variety of gastrointestinal benefits, possibly because of the probiotic effect of lactic acids present in yogurt. Besides probiotics, whey proteins and omega-3s are two of the other functional foods that are being added to yogurt to make it exceptionally ‘good for you’.
But is it halal, you ask? Unfortunately, not always. Most yogurts have added pectin or gelatin to artificially create thickness and creaminess, as well as emulsifiers, flavors, and colors. Gelatin is one of the most widely used ingredients in yogurt, especially in flavored and low-fat yogurts. Gelatin from prohibited sources like porcine makes the yogurt unfit for Muslim consumption. Kosher gelatin is not considered as halal. Fruit jam is sometimes used instead of raw fruit pieces in fruit yogurts.
Halal gelatin is now available and so are other halal-texturizing ingredients, including pectin, guar gum, agar, locust bean gum, carrageenan, and modified starches, which are suitable as gelatin replacements. Dairy products can be halal as long as a halal approved stabilizer is used in its making instead of gelatin. Furthermore, the starter culture must be halal certified. IFANCA has certified various starter cultures produced by major companies like DANISCO, Cargill, Chr. Hansen, which can be used in the preparation of halal yogurts. Bacterial cultures are generally halal, as long as the media they are grown in are halal. IFANCA has also certified many stabilizers produced by reputable companies such as Danisco, CP Kelco and Cargill. Microbial and plant enzymes are considered halal while enzymes from animal sources are halal when extracted from halal-slaughtered animals.
In the old days, making yogurt meant boiling milk, cooling it, adding starter (yogurt), and incubation usually over night at ambient temperature until it was firm and ready for consumption. Today, yogurt is made in a continuous process but the goodness it offered back then still holds sway!
IFANCA has been certifying many dairy companies which produce yogurt and yogurt-based products:
Johanna Foods, Inc., USA, produces different types of halal-certified yogurts including Desi Natural Dahi® Whole Milk Yogurt, La Yogurt® Plain Nonfat Yogurt Fat Free Unsweetened, La Yogurt® Plain Lowfat Yogurt Unsweetened and La Yogurt® Plain Yogurt Whole Milk Unsweetened.
Western Creamery brand of Liberté Natural Food Products Inc., Canada, produces IFANCA halal-certified yogurt including plain yogurt with no fat, 1.1% MF, 2% MF and 3.2% MF. These are available in almost all major Canadian grocery chains.
Happy and Healthy Products, Inc., USA, produces frozen yogurt bars, such as Fruitfull Vanilla Yogurt, Fruitfull Blueberry Yogurt and Fruitfull Chocolate Yogurt.
Fountain Food and Beverages Ltd., Canada markets a yogurt beverage known as ‘Ayran’, which was recently certified by IFANCA. The owners do not use any chemical or preservative in their beverage.
Please check out IFANCA’s website, www.ifanca.org for complete up-to-date halal certified product listings.