Thursday, March 07, 2013

"Greek" Yogurt: How a Corporation Limited Strained Yogurt's Geography

If I were hosting a party and said I wanted everyone to try a dish of Palestinian yogurt I can imagine half my guest would be confused and the other half would imagine that it was somesort of sick joke where I would have miniature bomb-shaped objects in the yogurt.  If I were to say it was Indian yogurt I imagine most people would think there is probably somesort of exotic spice in the yogurt.  However, all I would be serving is strained yogurt, popularly known as Greek yogurt.

When I was in Afghanistan, one of the interpreters and several Afghan National Police I was with made their own yogurt by straining it and wanted me to try some.  To my surprise they gave me a honey flavored yogurt with the consistency of what I knew as Greek yogurt.  From that day one I wondered how strained yogurt became known solely as Greek yogurt in the United States.

I recently discovered the answer.  No one should be surprised that the answer is in fact: business.  In the early 2000s the Greek company FAGE expanded into the United States.  FAGE was the first company to massively market strained yogurt in the United States.  FAGE gave the yogurt "Greek" in its title, probably because Greek yogurt sounds more appealing than strained yogurt.  FAGE became massively successful and now other companies are trying to cash in on what they consider to be Greek yogurt.

The Greek stereotyping of strained yogurt is part of its advertising appeal.  How many Greek yogurt ads feature either ancient Greek ruins or images of beautiful Greek islands.  The appeal has turned into a stereotype meant to be laughed at as well.  However, I challenge anyone to imagine the below commercial with a disapproving secular Syrian Baathist, Afghan Muslim, or Hindu woman instead of an old Greek Orthodox woman.  The commercial would be decrying as distasteful and hateful and pulled immediately.

7 comments:

Dina said...

Funny to be watching and reading this over breakfast of labaneh and pita.

Karen said...

I heard a story on NPR recently in which they mentioned that companies that produce "Greek" yogurt, like Chobani, have had to find creative ways to dispose of what is left over after they strain it. Apparently it isn't the most environmentally friendly process but apparently some farmers buy and reuse it.

Catholicgauze said...

Dina,
Sounds like the breakfast of champions. In FAGE's defense, my American tongue can say "Greek Yogurt" much more easily than "labaneh".

Dina said...

Oh you can do it: LA-ba-neh
It just rolls off your tongue. :)

This "yogurt cheese" is sometimes defined as "quark cheese." Now THAT is hard to pronounce.

Catholicgauze said...

Dina,
I've tried saying La-ba-neh, it just doesn't roll off the tongue as easy as the purely English-origin word of "yogurt". *looking around nervously* Maybe a company needs to start selling labaneh in the US with a catchy commercial tune.

Dina said...

Haha. Don't let the Turks hear you say that about their word.

Anonymous said...

Yoghurt has a proper Turkic etymology (like pastrami and dolma and doner and kebab and kefir and lavash and baklava and pirogi and tzatziki and believe it or not knish :)