Thursday, 29 November 2007 by Dr Maytel
Here's the deal: like with plant varieties, globalization of taste is leading to the reduction in the genetic variability of yoghurt cultures. Ever wondered why different kinds of laban and labneh taste differently? and why yoghurt in Europe (yaourt in France) tastes differently from the laban from Lebanon? and why suddenly the taste of factory-made laban has changed and is now less acidic? and why the yoghurt (laban) from the village tastes differently, and is more acidic than the shop-bought laban? It's all in the culture. In villages and in some homes in beirut (although much less now) people make laban at home using a starter culture called "rawbeh" from the previous laban batch, or from the neighbour's laban. Over time, this culture becomes specific to people and to environments, and produces a typical taste that varies from home to home and from village to village. This is the essence of food biodiversity. Enter corporations and industries: They identified strains with "desirable qualities" and commercialized them. The danger: Most yoghurt is made from the same culture, with similar taste: bye bye diversity of tastes, now we all eat the same thing. And it is so much easier for corporations to make only one "taste" while varying other ingredients like colors and sugar content, and to drop the "special" yoghurts (which were the run of the mill originally). But the corporations and the industry are not solely responsible for that: consumers who accept without questioning or demanding something else, share part of this blame, although it is understandable that they should prefer the cheapest, mass-produced product that is dumped on them instead of looking for that "special taste". People are too busy making a living and trying to make ends meet to go "discern" from shop to shop. Policies are needed for that, strong food policies promoting food biodiversity.