From Greek to Icelandic, you can find yogurts from every corner of the globe in the dairy department. But betcha didn't know that all of these yogurts owe their probiotic strain to one lesser-known kind: Bulgarian yogurt.
It's true: The bacteria culture that you see listed on every yogurt label — Lactobacillus bulgaricus — originates in Bulgaria, hence the name, Ella Davar, RD, CDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
This OG of yogurts touts a tangy, tart flavor and oh-so-creamy texture, but where it really shines is its health benefits, such as promoting a healthy gut and supplying a slew of nutrients. Here's why Bulgarian yogurt definitely deserves a spot on your weekly grocery list.
What to Look for in Bulgarian Yogurt
The best quality Bulgarian yogurt should check all these boxes:
- No added sugar: When choosing Bulgarian yogurt, just like with other yogurts, opt for unsweetened versions, says DJ Blatner, RDN, and author of The Superfood Swap: The 4-Week Plan to Eat What You Crave Without the C.R.A.P.
- Minimal ingredients: "Traditional Bulgarian yogurt will not be flavored and will not have any additives, stabilizers or thickeners," says Kristy Del Coro, RDN, a registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist. "Ingredients should just be milk and live cultures."
- Whole Milk and Grass-Fed: Whole milk produced by grass-fed cows is a great source of essential fatty acids CLA and omega-3 as well as vitamin A and K2, Davar says.
- Milk from A2A2 Cows: Cows that carry only A2 genes appear to have produced the milk used for the original Bulgarian yogurt, Davar says.
- 24-hour fermentation process
- Certified Organic
Bulgarian Yogurt Brands to Try
Bulgarian Yogurt Nutrition
One cup of plain, whole-milk Bulgarian yogurt contains the following, according to the USDA:
- 141 calories
- 8 g fat
- 5 g saturated fat
- 91 mg sodium
- 10 g carbs
- 0 g fiber
- 6 g sugar
- 8 g protein
Bulgarian Yogurt Benefits
1. It Supports Gut Health
The primary benefit of Bulgarian yogurt is its high probiotic content, which supports digestion and a healthy gut microbiome, Del Coro says.
Indeed, a particular strain of L. bulgaricus (called G-LB-44) that's found in some Bulgarian yogurt can hinder harmful bacteria and help replenish the healthy bacteria in our bodies, according to the research of microbiologist Andrew B. Onderdonk, PhD. That's important because bad bugs can disrupt the balance of your gut flora.
A May 2018 study published in Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment also concluded that the probiotic strains in Bulgarian yogurt can inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria. What's more, researchers noted that Bulgarian yogurt also possesses prebiotic activity. ICYDK, prebiotics — a type of carb found in certain foods — provide food for probiotics. In other words, they help the good gut bacteria thrive.
2. It Might Help With Constipation
Like most fermented foods with probiotics, Bulgarian yogurt can support healthy digestion and keep you regular, Blatner says. In fact, Bulgarian yogurt can help relieve constipation, according to a small study in women published in the March 2021 issue of the NFS Journal.
As a bonus, the same study also discovered that eating Bulgarian yogurt could support mood. The researchers theorized that this may be a result of the stimulation of the gut-brain axis.
3. It Has a Low Lactose Content
Plus, Bulgarian yogurt might be easier to digest thanks to its lower lactose content, which is the result of a longer fermentation process. Some Bulgarian yogurts like the Trimona brand go through six to eight hours of "aggressive fermentation" in an incubator followed by 24 hours of slow fermentation at a lower temperature in a cooler, Davar says.
"During this process, the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose, is being synthesized by the bacterial cultures, making the yogurt more tolerable for most lactose-intolerant consumers," Davar explains.
In comparison, other yogurts are typically only fermented for an average of eight hours, sometimes less, Del Coro adds.
4. It Supplies Essential Nutrients
Bulgarian yogurt isn't strained like other varieties such as Greek yogurt, so it still contains the whey, Blatner says. Here's why that's important: Whey is the most nutritious part of the yogurt as it's rich in vitamins and minerals, Davar explains.
Indeed, 1 cup of whey fluid contains the following essential nutrients, per the USDA:
- Calcium: 19 percent Daily Value (DV)
- Potassium: 7 percent DV
- Magnesium: 6 percent DV
- Zinc: 10 percent DV
- Phosphorus:15 percent DV
- Selenium: 8 percent DV
- Thiamin: 9 percent DV
- Riboflavin: 26 percent DV
- Vitamin B5: 19 percent DV
- Vitamin B6: 6 percent DV
- Vitamin B12: 18 percent DV
- Choline: 7 percent DV
Plus, whey boasts a bounty of amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine and valine, which provide your muscles with energy when digested, Davar adds.
- NFS Journal: “Bulgarian yogurt relieved symptoms and distress and increased fecal short-chain fatty acids in healthy constipated women: A randomized, blinded crossover controlled trial”
- Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment: “Microbial diversity and health-promoting properties of the traditional Bulgarian yogurt”
- “Research Summary for Lactobacillus bulgaricus G-LB-44”
- My Food Data: “Whey Acid Fluid”