What is Live Culture Yogurt? 

 September 23, 2020

By  Diane Miles

Yogurt is a food product that’s widely consumed all over the world that’s produced by fermenting the milk using bacteria. Yogurt has been an appealing food for people of all ages. It is not only a delicacy but also contains various potential health benefits due to the live and active cultures it possesses.

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However, with more and more technological advancement in the food industry, the authenticity of yogurt, which is mainly defined by the live and active cultures it contains, is being brought down gradually. 

To give an overview, the bacteria that are used to ferment the yogurt are known as yogurt culture. These are important for multiple health benefits. These bacteria are the ones that lend the final product the texture and thickness it carries.

A lot of factors determine how the yogurt will turn out, and these factors are primarily meant to save the live cultures, i.e, bacteria in the yogurt. For instance, it’s critical to maintain just the right temperature since the change in temperature beyond what’s required can easily kill the cultures.

These days, with the advent of fast-moving eatables, we get frozen yogurt jars in the supermarket. To make these, the milk that’s used in fermenting the yogurt is pasteurized, which often kills the live cultures. 

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To understand that, let’s first find out what are live cultures in yogurt. Live and active cultures in the yogurt, also called probiotics, are the healthy bacteria necessary to keep the health benefits of yogurt and keep the immune system working fine. 

In general, yogurt contains a lot of different materials like protein, calcium, potassium, and different vitamins necessary for the body like vitamin B and D. These, if combined with the live active cultures, exponentially increase the potential health benefits of yogurt. Now, originally, yogurt needs to be fermented using the bacteria Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.

These are important components of yogurt. However, as we mentioned before, some of the processing methods, with the type of heat used in the method, function to kill these bacteria. These thermophilus are highly beneficial and the extra heat devoids the yogurt of their benefits.

Apart from these bacteria, yogurt can contain other live active cultures that are included in the fermentation process of the milk that’s turned into yogurt originally. These bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei and Bicfidobacterium bifidum, among others.

How Does It Work?

How the process works is that to make yogurt, the milk is heated to around 85 degrees (Celsius) and then it’s made to cool down to a temperature of about 45 degrees (Celsius). After the milk has cooled down and reached the optimum temperature, the live culture is added. Then, the fermentation of the milk with the bacteria takes place for about 12 hours at a constant temperature of 45 degrees (Celsius).

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Any misadventure with this temperature is enough to kill off the most important bacterial cultures in the yogurt. The National Yogurt Association (NYA), through its Live & Active Culture seal initiative, has set its own rules for live and active cultures. So, all frozen yogurt sold in the market must have at least 100 million live active cultures per gram at the time of processing.

Only if this condition is achieved can the yogurt manufacturers get the seal of National Yogurt Association, 

These live active cultures of the two main living organisms, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, along with other cultures like Lactobacillus acidophillus and Bifidus are killed when the yogurt is heat treated after fermentation.

What Are the Benefits of Live Active Cultures?

Different types of bacterial cultures, or as we technically call them — probiotics — can have different health benefits with respect to the physical being. Some may directly benefit a particular organ or some may benefit the immune system by increasing the defense function of the body.

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The live active cultures added in yogurt function the same way. For instance, according to research published in a leading European health journal, yogurt that contained the culture L. casei proved to be a lot more beneficial to the immune system of students appearing for their examinations. These cultures are also known to help more than just being a placebo.

Some particular health benefits of the live cultures in yogurt are:

  • Cure for Antibiotics: Most antibiotics given in any treatment are strong enough to damage and kill the bacteria already present in the body, even the ones that are necessary for the functioning of the internal mechanism. This reduces the strength of the immune system as it’s capacity to fight with external negative stimuli diminishes greatly. Yogurt containing live active cultures helps in reversing this process and recover the body faster. It can also be a treatment for the side effects of antibiotics, like gas, digestive tract damage and more.
  • Immune System: The live active cultures in yogurt are specifically good for the immune system and help in strengthening it. The bacteria in yogurt have the capacity to regulate the body’s immune system and protect it against the external bacteria that can prove infectious. Thus, eating yogurt with live active cultures might directly help in making your body internally strong with a solid wall of defense.
  • Calcium Component: Calcium is a vital element to maintain a healthy body and strong bones. Yogurt inherently is rich in nutrients like calcium that helps in maintaining the strength of bones. The ones that have live active cultures further increase the effect.
  • Fights Diarrhea: While it may take a stronger culture to fight extreme types of diarrhea, inherently, the live active cultures present in yogurt can prove really effective in fighting diarrhea. These cultures are likely to prevent diarrhea that’s caused due to antibiotics or outside infections. Some probiotics can also be effective in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Generally, the probiotics present in yogurt can be used to treat types of diarrhea like traveler’s diarrhea that’s caused by eating bad or stale food. It can also benefit other diarrhea related to rotavirus.
  • Good for Lactose Intolerance: There are millions of people who are lactose intolerant, which means that can’t eat any dairy products. All dairy products can result in digestive problems and infections along with severe cramps and pain in the digestive tract. However, eating yogurt that contains live active cultures isn’t so much of a problem for even lactose intolerant people. The bacteria present in the yogurt make it easier for the lactose to get digested by breaking it down so that the body can easily digest it, thus, avoiding any side effects that are faced due to eating dairy products.

In general, yogurt is a rich source of some of the most essential proteins, minerals and vitamins. The live active cultures in yogurt also work as probiotics helping the immune system.

Some of these cultures have also been known to help in cancer treatment, as has been revealed by extensive research. Not to mention, these live active cultures in yogurt actively work to strengthen the bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Difference Between Heat-Treated and Live Active Cultures Yogurt

The main thing to remember while buying processed yogurt is whether it contains live active cultures or it’s heat treated. Heat-treated yogurt is processed using heat after it’s fermented which damages the live cultures.

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The National Yogurt Association has explicitly laid down the guidelines for the quantity of cultures that yogurt must contain when it is being manufactured according to the health benefits these cultures offer. 

To make sure that you buy only the yogurt that contains live active cultures, you need to seek out the products that have the official Live & Active Cultures seal of the National Yogurt Association certifying the presence of adequate live active cultures in yogurt. 

A valid question to ask here would be that if the live active cultures in yogurt are so beneficial, why do manufacturers heat treat the yogurt in the first place. This is primarily for the commercial success of the product since the heat treatment increases the longevity of the food product and reduces the natural sourness that it possesses. Many side products of yogurt are devoid of these cultures, including yogurt pretzels and candies. 

The Live & Active Cultures yogurt seal program is a voluntary initiative and the only way for the manufacturers to get the seal of the association is by presenting a lab report as evidence of the live active cultures in yogurt produces. 

Popular Brands of Live Culture Yogurt

Different brands offer different types of yogurt. Some may include live cultures while some may be heat treated. Some popular live culture yogurt brands that contain beneficial bacteria like L. acidophillus include the following:

  • Chobani: Chobani is a brand of Greek yogurt and one of the most popular yogurt brands. The yogurt from Chobani is a live culture yogurt that contains active cultures including Streptococcus thermophilus and L. acidophilus.
  • Siggi’s: A US-based yogurt brand, Siggi’s manufactures Icelandic yogurt known as skyr that has a fairly sour texture. It contains multiple probiotics and live cultures including L. acidophilus.
  • Fage: Fage is a multinational conglomerate that manufactures yogurt and several by products of yogurt. Each of the products includes probiotics like L. acidophilus.

It’s important to know live culture yogurt from the heat-treated one, especially if you are a regular consumer of yogurt.

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