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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: Greek Yogurt Has an Ancient Heritage

Greek yogurt with strawberries and honey.
flickr user Janine (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
Greek yogurt with strawberries and honey.

Where would you find the most authentic Chicken Kiev? Probably Ukraine. The definitive Peking Duck? Certainly Beijing. The perfect Swedish Meatballs? Obviously Sweden. Or maybe Ikea.

And where would you go to find the ultimate Greek yogurt? That’s not so easy a question to answer.

Of course, you can get what we call Greek yogurt in Greece , and it’s the best you’ll ever taste, but they don’t label it “Greek” there. Despite what marketers in this country might have us think, it’s nothing revolutionary. It’s the way most people eat yogurt over there.

But Greek yogurt has taken its place alongside Boston Market’s roast chicken with lemon and oregano or just about any restaurant’s salad with feta cheese as Hellenic culinary inventions exploitatively marketed in this country to the tune of billions of dollars.

Once a niche product that you had to go to a specialty store to find, Greek yogurt now constitutes 40% of the U.S. yogurt market. Its defining characteristic, of course, is its thickness (the word yogurt being derived from a Turkish verb meaning to thicken).

But for the Greeks this is nothing new. Their yogurt has an ancient heritage. Its origin can be traced back to an accidental discovery around 6000 B.C. when milk storage in warm climates was, like a lot of things back then, rather primitive. The milk fermented and people began to notice that it kept longer and tasted pretty good as well.

By the time Pliny the Elder wrote about yogurt, his being the oldest known discussion of the subject, it was the 1st century A.D., so the stuff had already been around for several millennia.

And it wasn’t until the 20th century that yogurt caught the attention of Americans, and not until the 21st century that, thanks to Fage and Chobani, that Greek yogurt became a sensation.

Meanwhile, over in Greece , they’ve been enjoying yogurt all along and though they don’t call it that, it’s all Greek to them.

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Beet Tzatziki

The most classic use of Greek yogurt, tzatsiki is typically made with cucumbers, but it can be made with beets, as in this colorful recipe adapted from the Chobani Company.

1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 medium red beets
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 and ½ tablespoons chopped dill
2 tablespoons chopped mint
3 tablespoons chopped chives
salt and pepper

Drain yogurt overnight in the refrigerator. Toss beets with 1 tablespoon oil, season with salt and pepper, wrap individually in foil with a sprig of thyme, and roast at 350 degrees until tender, about 30 minutes to an hour. Cool, peel, and mince. Combine with drained yogurt, remaining tablespoon oil, mint and chives, season with salt and pepper, and mix well. Serve with pita bread.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.