Yogurt: Suleiman’s Magnificent Solution

painting of Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent

Yogurt: Suleiman’s Magnificent Solution

By Patricia Tennison

This story starts in the 16th century when the guy on the left (Francis I of France, black hat, nice necklace) had a problem—diarrhea.

Fortunately, his ally on the right (Suleiman the Magnificent, the other partner in the Franco–Ottoman alliance, hat like an awesome bowl of yogurt) had the solution.

It was a tangy concoction, easy to digest, and—although the ads probably didn’t promote it at the time—rich in calcium, protein, and some very useful bacteria.

Yes, in addition to collecting fine art, financing the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris, declaring French, not Latin, the official language of France, enticing Leonardo da Vinci—and his La Joconde (the Mona Lisa)—to France, plus variously torturing and burning, Francis I introduced his kingdom to yogurt.

My knowledge of this whole history story is sketchy and, since it started with Wikipedia, should not be used for scholarly reference. However, my empirical evidence about yogurt in Paris is solid: it’s all over the place.

Stroll down the dairy aisle

Before living part time in Paris, I could take yogurt or leave it. Then, in Paris I’d see my friends eating it, then, I’d see it in the grocery stores—rows and rows of it.

Pretty soon, I stepped closer and began to read the labels: yogurt with fruit, yogurt without fruit, Greek-style yogurt, sheep’s milk yogurt, goat’s milk yogurt.

Yes, goat’s milk yogurt! It makes sense. Around the world, people make yogurt from the milk of goats and sheep and mares and camels and yaks—not just the cow’s milk yogurt that hit the U.S. market in the early 20th century.

And now I’m hooked.

The goat’s milk yogurt tastes—no surprise—like a mild and light, fresh chèvre but with a creamy-milk texture. Ditto for the brebis (sheep) yogurt. The Greek-style cow’s milk yogurt, even the low-fat version, makes a healthier substitute for tangy crème fraîche. I buy it plain and add my own fresh berries or nuts for breakfast or a snack.

The next time you’re in Paris, walk into a grocery store, even a small grocery store like the one where I took the above yogurt photos. Explore the dairy section. You’ll find some familiar-sounding brands such as Danone (renamed Dannon in the U.S.) and Activia (another Danone product), but you may want to reach for something newer to you, maybe a little bio (organic) version in little glass pots.

Easier done than said

The French word yaourt, derived from Turkish, is a challenge to pronounce. At first I cheated and just pointed. Then I progressed to mumbling. Then I would just blurt out “yogurt” in English—and yes, the French understand that word.

However, it’s more courageous to give it a go. Dictionaries advise this pronunciation: jaur(t). That is, it’s as if you say ya–ooot, but put a quick little “r” before the “t” and finish the “t” very lightly.

Still working on the pronunciation? Here’s a little extra practice, an idiom you can mix into your next French conversation:

Pédaler dans le yaourt. Translation: To be at a complete loss. (Literal translation: To pedal in the yogurt.)


The photos: From the left, just some of the yogurt at a small Monoprix grocery in Paris; painting of Francis I and Suleiman the Magnificent; yaourt de brebis (sheep’s milk yogurt).

To email or to unsubscribe: info@www.pariscafewriting.com

Copyright 2010 Paris Café Writing–All Rights Reserved

Scroll To Top