Bulgarian Soured Milk

Soured milk or “yogurt” as it’s the term adopted in English, is a longtime staple of Bulgarian diet. We’ll explore the purely Bulgarian version of soured milk, its history, and dietary benefits.

When and how did soured milk start?

This food is so ancient, that its origins are lost in history. The Bulgarian soured milk is speculated to have originated from ancient Thracian sheepherders. They mixed the soured milk with regular milk in order to make “prokish.” This new food lasted longer. Another theory for the origins of today’s soured milk comes from the Bulgar tribes.

The ancient Bulgars were horse warriors from Asia. They often consumed a horse milk drink called “kumis”. When the Bulgars settled in present-day Bulgaria and mixed their culture with the local Slavs and Thracians, the soured milk we know today probably got its start.

In more recent history, the Bulgarian doctor and microbiologist Stamen Grigorov was the first scientist to discover the bacteria Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus in 1905. This organism is part of the fermentation process that makes Bulgarian soured milk.

The Bulgarian National standard for soured milk

Many countries have their own version of soured milk. The fact that you probably know it by its Turkish name “yogurt” is a testament to that. However, Bulgarian soured milk has to have these specific qualities – it has to be made out of cow, sheep, buffalo, goat milk, or a mixture of these kinds of milk. It also has to have the bacteria Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles that were cultivated in Bulgaria without any genetic modifications.

Types of Bulgarian soured milk

Bulgarian soured milk has about as many uses as regular milk, perhaps more when it comes to traditional Bulgarian cuisine. You can make just about anything out of it – drinks, sauces, desserts. You can also eat it at any time of day (or the night). There's soured milk from different animals, but the most popular one is cow milk. Still, the sheep, buffalo, and goat milk are also great, and usually, have a stronger taste and a higher price tag. Here are some of the most popular ways to consume Bulgaria soured milk:

Ayran

This is a drink made by mixing sour milk, water, and some salt. Mix them up very well until all the small lumps of sour milk are gone. Bulgarians drink ayran with many different dishes, the most popular of which is the Bulgarian banitsa, but its also consumed with stuffed peppers, tripe soup, and many other foods.

You can also add some fruits, jams, or sugar in order to make your ayran into a sort of milkshake.

Tarator

Perhaps the best and easiest to make cold soup in Bulgarian cuisine, you can probably make a family-sized tarator in less than 20 minutes. The basic ingredients are soured milk, water, cucumbers, dill, peppers, some sunflower oil, salt, and some chopped walnuts. In fact, you can probably skip most of the ingredients besides the soured milk and him cucumbers and still get a pretty good cold soup.

Just cut or chop the cucumbers into small pieces, mix them very well with the milk and water depending on how thick you want your tarator to be. In the end, add the pepper, sunflower oil, salt, and chopped walnuts, and mix again. That’s it, now you have a nice tarator soup for a hot summer day!

Sweet soured milk

Similar to the sweet ayran and tarator, this recipe is pretty easy and quick to make, but it doesn’t require any additional water. Just mix the soured milk with your favourite jams, fruits, or honey. There’s little limit to what you can add, but the favourite combinations of Bulgarians are with strawberries, raspberries, and red berries.

If that’s too fancy for you, try out soured milk just with cinnamon and some honey. It's pretty good. Indeed, you can also use the same combination to add to cereal but bear in mind that it’ll take longer for them to absorb the mixture than it would take with regular milk.

 

Benefits of soured milk

The bacteria present in soured milk is speculated to be the source of the longevity of those that consume it. The genius inventor Nikola Tesla, who grew up in Serbia, another soured milk country, mentions it in his autobiography, and its known that milk made a large part of his diet. Who knows, maybe if he could get his hands on real soured milk in America he would prefer it to the regular milk?

In any case, the specific bacteria mentioned above are not present in non-soured milk. They can have a pro-biotic effect and improve gut health. Some of the ingredients from soured milk are concentrated and used in digestive medicines.

As most natural miracle cures, soured milk is claimed to cure all problems known to man, from indigestion to the geopolitical situation in the Near East, but that’s not to undermine its effects. Soured milk is a good, natural product, and its proven to have a positive effect on the immune system, teeth, bones, and gut health. To get the most out of those effects, consume it cold, natural, and not mixed with any artificial sweeteners.

Don’t call it yogurt

This is probably a general advice that you should follow when discussing soured milk with Bulgarians. The first cardinal sin is to call it “yogurt.” Yogurt is sold in Bulgaria as a completely separate product and it doesn’t enjoy a particular popularity. For Bulgarians, yogurt and soured milk are not interchangeable terms.

Where to get soured milk?

The answer to that would be anywhere in Bulgaria. It’s sold in virtually every store that sells food, and you can find it in many smaller shops as well. Virtually all restaurants also offer ayran, tarator, and soured milk as a sauce to add to your dish. You can also try Bulgaria’s first historical fast food, the banista stores on Bulgaria’s streets. They all sell ayran. Indeed, it’s a vital part of Bulgarian street culture that wasn’t erased with the invasion of big Western fast food restaurants for burgers and barbeque or Middle-Eastern really popular places for kebabs or doners.

As you may have guessed, we Bulgarians love soured milk quite a lot, and not just due to our blind loyalty to a national food. Soured milk is proven to be one of the best, most versatile, and healthy ways to consume milk.

Alex Dimchev

Alex Dimchev is a writer, editor, and weapons master for EUscoop.com

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