Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Imported cultures

"The global food market experiences an increasing demand for dairy products with low fat or low sugar claims. During the last year more than 30% of new dairy/food products globally came with a low fat claim and 7% with a low sugar claim (Mintel GNPD). And the trend shows no sign of cessation.

“We develop high quality solutions that meet the global health trend, which in yoghurt often translates into low fat and/or low sugar. With our Yo-Flex® range, which we launched last year, we have succeeded in creating a series of cultures for low fat yoghurt with high texture and mild flavor. And we have taken the range one step further with our freeze-dried line extension that also provides new flavor characteristics, “explains Morten Boesen, Marketing Manager, Yoghurt Cultures, Chr. Hansen."

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 (dai3a) 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.

I wrote earlier about wheat and how Lebanon, the place of origin of wheat, now eats bread exclusively made from imported wheat, bred for different climes, and how we are about to lose our local races of bread wheat, and become totally dependent on Australian and Canadian and US wheat. How ridiculous. How outrageous. Now for laban: when I was little, my teachers told me that Lebanon (in arabic lubnan) was called this way because its snowy peaks looked white like laban and also because it is the country of laban and asal (milk or yoghurt and honey). Well, now we have to import the starter cultures to make the food that gave Lebanon its name. How befitting.

1 comment:

Leila said...

The extinction of unique yogurt cultures: now THAT makes me really sad.