Bacteria Superhero

Why Bulgarians put yoghurt on everything

Sophia Pavlova Sophia Pavlova
+4 imagesBacteria Superhero

In times when the most commonly used word is 'virus', we choose to attack it with 'bacteria'. A good one at that. A rod-shaped bacteria growing at 45o to 50-53° C - the first proven microorganism with probiotic, prophylactic and healing properties. What could that be? Lactobacillus bulgaricus, of course.


In 1904, shortly after his wedding in Bulgaria, Dr Stamen Grigorov went back to the Medical University of Geneva, where he was a student. He brought a traditional clay pot (a rukatka, correct guess!), containing homemade yoghurt (known as “kiselo mlyako” in Bulgarian).[1] A part of it would be eaten right away, the other half –  examined at a lab. The result was a discovery that changed the course of microbiology and provoked the interest of the entire global scientific elite.

Photo credit: history.framar.bg

Dr Grigorov identified the essential bacterium that caused milk to ferment and turn into yoghurt. The microorganism became known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus, in honour of its home country. What is so special about it? And what exactly are the probiotics that became so popular? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) probiotics are ‘living microorganisms’ which exert a prophylactic and therapeutic effects by improving the internal microbial balance.[2] Keeping our gastrointestinal microbiota in check helps our intestinal walls to stay healthy, keeps the bad bacteria at bay and reduces the risk of chronic diseases.


Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, stated: ‘All diseases begin in the gut’. According to nutrition and immune expert Meydani, ‘The gut is the largest immune organ in the body, accounting for 25% of the immune cells which provide 50% of the body’s immune response’.[3] Therefore it is crucial to maintain a well-functioning intestinal barrier. Our intestines are the watchmen, so to speak, of our bodies. They let the good nutrients in and send the harmful ones away. That is why it is so important to have a balanced diet, getting enough good bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus) in. Studies also show that humans form their gut microflora according to the environment in which they live, and therefore it is essential to consume indigenously produced products.

Photo credit: Ilian Iliev


Bulgarian yoghurt is the oldest probiotic in the world. Bulgarians knew it without necessarily understanding the meaning of the word 'probiotic'. That's why yoghurt has always been part of the national diet for both children and adults. After Dr Grigorov’s discovery, the Russian Nobel Prize-winner Elie Metchnikoff found a connection between Bulgarians consuming a lot of yoghurt and living very long lives. Indeed, Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains have been recorded as holding one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in Europe. The idea that yoghurt prolongs life fueled a health craze for the product in European countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Great Britain.[4]


Here we have to point out the important difference between Bulgarian “kiselo mlyako” and the rest of the yoghurt products that can be found in many countries. The international varieties lack one key ingredient – live culture. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles are the perfect partners. The symbiosis between these two bacteria living in Bulgaria and added to milk to turn it into sour milk give the specific taste and aroma of authentic Bulgarian yoghurt. Each of them has a role to play in the fermentation process. They originate from plants. It is believed that when the animals come in contact with the plants during grazing, the bacteria stick to the animal’s udder and, when milking, they fall into the fresh milk. In this way, the formation of yoghurt becomes possible.[5]


Unfortunately, despite the introduced Bulgarian State Standard (BDS) for production, it turns out that much of the yoghurt we buy today is prepared with imported cultures and powdered milk. When choosing which product to buy, the ingredients on the label should, in addition to the cow's milk, contain only 2 other components: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles. It is this inseparable and powerful pair that you will find in our “Rukatka”.


In today's hectic lifestyle, it is more important than ever to maintain a healthy stomach and a healthy spirit. We should all be taking care of our immune system in the most natural way possible. We are lucky to share a home with a superhero bacteria and it would be foolish of us not to take advantage of its enormous power.

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