Yogurt, also called dadhi in India, leben in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon, tiaourti in Greece, madzoon in Armenia, yaourt in Russia and Bulgaria, and mast in Iran, is one of the oldest and most popular forms of fermented milk in the world. It has been an important food in Asia, central Europe, and the Middle East, especially in countries bordering the east Mediterranean coast, since 5000 b.c. (1). One of several legends suggests that yogurt was first discovered after goat milk, stored in gourds in the hot climate of Mesopotamia, naturally formed curd (2). A brave soul tasted the curdled mass, reported it to be delicious and survived, thus yogurt-making soon thereafter became an art. Commercial production of yogurt reportedly began in Europe in the early twentieth century, after Nobel laureate Dr. Elie Metchnikoff published his endorsement of regularly consuming cultured milks, especially yogurt, for ''prolongation of life'' (3-5). Commercialization of yogurt in the United States reportedly began in 1939 in New York City (3).

Yogurt is an acid gel resulting from the fermentation of skim or low-fat milk by lactic acid bacteria; sour cream or cultured cream is an acid gel resulting from the growth and activity of lactic acid bacteria in light to heavy cream. It is likely that the production of sour cream was delayed only by the discovery of separation and utilization of cream, since the methodology of sour cream production does not differ profoundly from that of yogurt production.

Between 1980 and 1999, yogurt consumption typically rose (Table 1). The most significant growth (23.3%) occurred in 1983. Not shown in the table is the reported 10.5% increase in yogurt sales experienced between 1999 and 2000, with an additional increase of 7.9% through 2001 (6). Furthermore, sales of yogurt and yogurt drinks topped 2,326 million during the 52 weeks ending March 19, 2002, a 7.7% increase from the previous year (10). Although generally on the rise, consumption of yogurt in the United States, at 2.0 kg per capita, pales in comparison to international consumption patterns. Per capita consumption in Japan and France is about 3.6 and 20 kg, respectively (7). The disparity in numbers between the United States and other parts of the world shows the potential for growth in yogurt consumption. Mounting consumer awareness of the health benefits of yogurt and

Table 1 U.S. Yogurt Sales and Per Capita Sales, 1980-2000

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