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Confused about which yogurt in Japan is best for you? You’re not alone! At the request of one of our readers we have delved into the yogurt aisle to get a better grasp on what lines the shelves in the dairy cooler. Buying just about any product in Japan can be a daunting task if you don’t speak the language and yogurt in Japan is no exception.
Commercial yogurt making is thought to have evolved from Neolithic herdsman, when milking their animals used empty animal stomachs as containers to carry the milk. The enzymes present in the stomach lining curdled the milk, essentially making yogurt. It quickly became a more suitable way of transporting milk, more tasteful and the healthful properties became soon became widely known. Thankfully today we’re not buying our yogurt in Japan in animal skins although it may be less confusing than the wide array of yogurt products on the shelf!
The benefit of probiotics is well established in the health and wellness industry and we all know the importance of maintaining our intestinal flora. It is known that if your gut health is off, your entire system will struggle. The different strains of probiotics found in fermented foods, such as yogurt can help aid digestion, reduce inflammation in the body, boost your immune system, enhance your metabolism and bolster overall energy levels to name just a few. The two most common strains in yogurt in Japan, bifidobacteria and lactobacillus help to create environments in the gut that make it more difficult for harmful bacteria to survive and help to create beneficial acids that assist in breaking down food. Yogurt in Japan is an excellent source of these but its important to know the yogurt you are buying actually contains the active live cultures.
All those little drinkable yogurts in tiny little bottles, the individual pods in a pack, the tubs – all labeled with different numbers and ingredients. What does that all mean? We’ve done some investigation on popular brands you’ll find in most Japanese grocery stores and have some tips on buying. First, always look for a brand that lists raw milk (which doesn’t mean raw in terms of non-pasteurization) but refers to natural milk is the main ingredient. Mainstream milk in Japan undergoes one of three types of pasteurization processes and actual unpasteurized raw milk is very uncommon, particularly in regular grocery stores.
Two popular yogurt makers, Meiji and Moringa add live culture bacteria to the yogurt at very specific points in the fermentation process to ensure viability of the active cultures when delivered to consumers. Both these manufacturers have proprietary patents on the actual numbers of live cultures and formulation, hence the specific number system on their labeling. One of my favorites is the 100% natural type from Koiwai Farms. Along with no added sugar and extremely high counts of live active cultures it has an incredibly smooth creamy texture. Greek yogurt, while higher in protein may actually be lower in probiotics as most of the whey is removed to make the dense yogurt and it is in the whey that the naturally occurring probiotic strains exist.
One of the best things about yogurt in Japan is the tangy crisp taste so avoiding those with added sugar is always on my agenda. Many of the yogurts list sugar as one of the top ingredients so while you may be getting some benefit from the cultures, sugar is adding a ton of unnecessary calories. Don’t be fooled by even those with wholesome farm looking labels. Shockingly many list glucose or fructose at the top of the ingredient list and taste extremely sweet.
Keep in mind that consuming yogurt as your main source of probiotics may not be the magic answer your gut needs. Recently there has been much controversy about relying on strictly yogurt for intestinal health and claims have been refuted about how a serving of yogurt a day will take care of our needs. It seems one would have to consume many servings a day to accrue the amounts of bacteria promised for repopulating needed good bacteria in the gut. Eating plain natural unsweetened yogurt on a daily basis is certainly a great part of an overall healthy gut plan, but look to add into your diet other foods containing beneficial bacteria also. Here in Japan we are blessed with so many fermented foods such as miso, amazake, natto, umeboshi, shoyu, rice vinegar etc. Even if you aren’t overly adventurous with your eating it is easy to consume miso, rice wine vinegar, shoyu or the ever-present pickled vegetables to round out your intake of good bacteria and keep you running in optimal form. And remember, a happy gut equals a happier, healthier life.