Some bacteria are good and some obviously are bad. Make sure you get enough good ones in…

From north to south, we have been calling it as dahi, thayir, perugu, mosuru or more... In English, it is called curd because the acidic bacteria that is introduced, as a starter, curdles the milk. Yoghurt is quite a recent christening.

Healthy discovery

Our diets have been quite balanced because of this healthy, or should I say, the healthiest preparation in Indian cuisine. In the West, similarities can be seen in sour cream, cultured milk and in yoghurt.

Fermentation of foods with or without the addition of a ‘starter' organism has been in use for a very long time. There is no record of when it was discovered.

Research in the area of probiotics and prebiotics has been recent, though it has been known that certain bacteria are ‘good' for us and some are ‘bad'. Some clever people discovered that these good bacteria will produce curd and preserve milk for a longer period without refrigeration.

Have you ever tried leaving milk aside from morning to night? It will curdle to a smooth, sticky consistency with a bad smell and a bitter taste, may be due to the ‘not so good' bacteria... However, when warm milk is set to form curds, with a ‘starter', it curdles to a slightly sour flavour, due to the lactic acid forming bacteria. In both cases, bacteria are responsible, but the latter is a welcome development, while the former is not.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Fortunately, in good health, the friendly bacteria are evidently more and ready to attack the unfriendly ones. This is called, immunity. In addition, we can introduce some more through our fermented curds to help the intestinal flora, as they are called.

But recent research has identified the organisms which are not just friendly, but can be our ‘best friends' and named them probiotics. Being living organisms, they also need suitable food to grow inside the body in the form of substances called prebiotics which our body does not or cannot use and are normally present in the large intestines.

Since probiotics depend on prebiotics for growth and stimulation, both are symbiotic and are prescribed to be taken together, for therapeutics.

Curd is good for health, no doubt, but it comes along with saturated fats which are known to increase body weight, blood lipids and cholesterol. So, probiotics, which are available in many forms, can be considered for better results. Recently, companies have introduced probiotics in curd, ice-cream, buttermilk and other drinks, as supplements.

Have you read about ‘the nutritious scoop'? Ice-cream researchers at the University of Missouri, USA, have recognised the function of ice-creams as comfort foods which are consumed in plenty, and therefore they have added probiotics and fibre to improve ‘digestive health'! Thus, they have converted a comfort food to a functional food and hope consumers will not be upset with the tampering!

Probiotics are also available in powder form, pills and capsules, for therapeutic doses. Looking for a common sense approach to probiotics and prebiotics is to consume curds and fruit regularly. Our elders were very wise, were they not?