Things about France that surprised me: the French love of yoghurt

In France, yogurt isn’t just a good source of protein, it’s a national pastime. Picture Willy Wonka’s namesake factory, but filled instead with an intense variety of fermented dairy products. Welcome to the yogurt aisle in France. C’est bon! There are plain yogurts anchored with fresh fruit, riddled with nibs of chocolate, and lined with bases of caramel and chestnut puree. There are desserts lactés, which contain additional sugar and eggs and take the form of chocolate cake, tiramisu, creme brûlée, or clafoutis. There are organic yogurts, sheep and goat milk yogurts, and non-dairy yogurts. There are mass-produced yogurts and yogurts made in small batches on family farms. My beloved favours the latter.

78,968 Natural Yoghurt Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

So why is yogurt is such an intrinsic part of French life? France is Europe’s second-largest dairy producer after Germany, but that doesn’t explain the allure of yogurt. And while the Germans consume more fermented dairy products than the French, their yogurt aisles are good but are not as fabulous. So I decided to do some research.

The History of Yogurt | RecipeReminiscing

Yogurt has had a few centuries to gain a foothold in French culture. It first made a splash in France back in 1542, when King Francois I suffered a stomach bug that doctors could not cure. The sultan of the Ottoman Empire (where yogurt is said to have been discovered in the third millennium B.C, by goatherds who preserved milk by fermenting it in sheepskin) was friendly with the throne and sent the king a doctor who cured him—with yogurt. News of this miracle food subsequently spread.

The Fascinating & Disturbing Story of How Yogurt Was Accidentally Invented « Invisiverse :: WonderHowTo

In the early 20th century, science stepped in to explain the miracle. First, a medical student in Bulgaria isolated a bacteria native to his country’s yogurt called Lactobacillus, which was not naturally present in the human intestinal tract. Using this research, a scientist at the Institute Pasteur in Paris linked the same bacteria to longevity in Bulgarian peasants. In the French imagination, yogurt became tied indelibly to health, and thus a culture of already sensible eaters pledged their devotion to it.

The History of Yogurt | RecipeReminiscing

At the same time, two of the world’s largest multinational yogurt companies appeared in France: Danone, which was founded in Spain in 1919 before relocating to Paris a decade later; and Yoplait, conjoined in 1965 by the French dairy coops Yola and Coplait. Conveniently, the company’s formation coincided with the advent of TV and television advertising in French homes.

France consumes over 20kg (44 lbs)  of yogurt per capita – that’s a lot of yoghurt! The majority of the French population eats at least one serving of yogurt daily, and one third consume five servings weekly.

In the past few years, there have been considerable changes in the buying habits of French consumers owing to the busy lifestyle, health trends, veganism and changing perceptions of the younger generation. For instance,  plant-based and gluten-free yoghurt is gaining popularity among consumers while organic and all-natural are the new keywords in the French yoghurt market.

Health benefits and effective advertising aside, is there something else, something more intrinsic that explains yogurt’s outsize presence in French culture?

I think it’s all down to daily habits in the home and the continued ritual of the three-course meal. Most families will eat a salad, main course and dessert but that dessert is often a healthy alternative, fresh fruit or yogurt. It goes back to the French obsession for balance; always eating meals at the same time and no snacking. But even within this regimen, yogurt has its place. Morning, noon or night, it fits all appetites and (rarely) breaks the rules. It is a food that improves but never steals the show.

Next time you go to a French supermarket, spend a few extra minutes strolling by all the French yogurt varieties. You may be there awhile. Even in the smaller shops, the yogurt selection is award worthy.

yogurt culture in france




49 Comments on “Things about France that surprised me: the French love of yoghurt

  1. I agree that the yogurt aisles here in Germany “are good but are not as fabulous” as the ones in France. That said, I must admit that our household does not encourage diversity in the stores’ yogurt offerings, because we always buy the same basic variety of plain (mild, bio, 3,8%) yogurt and make our own variations at home.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mmmmmm….yogurt. i prefer the thicker geek style. there has been a couple of companies here in the usa selling “french style” yogurt but i cant really tell the difference from any other yogurts. lol i go on binges about yogurt.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Dear Sheree,
    we lived for a while in Germany and didn’t like the yogurt there, it’s often sweet with different tastes we don’t like. In France it’s even worse. The more varieties the more yogurts we don’t like. We go for for the quality. The best yogurts we had when we lived in Finland, addictive natural yogurt.
    We eat yogurt every day although England has no yogurt-culture at all. But we get German bio yogurt in every shop here actually we could buy French yogurts as well.
    We found your post about yogurt in France quite interesting. Nicely illustrated.
    Keep well
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband who’s the yoghurt fan swears by two organic, artisan French brands which are not sweetened and are definitely full-fat. I can’t comment as I don’t eat dairy but I’m sure there’s a brand for everyone out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. One gourmet store in my area sells what is supposed to be authentic French yogurt. I don’t know if it’s authentic, but it’s definitely the best yogurt ever

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When a young married lady, my mother made herself yogourts. I remember that she received ” ferments ” regularly, and she had the ” yaourtière ” – so home made yogourts with natural milk.

    Liked by 2 people

    • When we were first married, we used to have a machine like that here in Germany and make our own yogurt. I forget how long we actually did this, but with both working full time and raising three children the yogurt-making got to be more trouble than it was worth, also it didn’t really make enough yogurt for a family of five so we had to buy more at the supermarket anyway.
      I don’t know what happened to that machine, but I suspect we’ll find it if we ever get round to sorting all the stuff in the basement.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The best yogurt I have ever had was in France. Multiple homemade flavors at a small bed and breakfast in Normandie. I will never forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve made it a couple of times but our local cheese shop has my hubby’s fave which is also organic.


  7. We’re big yogurt fans, too, having it in our breakfast smoothie daily. I did the math and we eat more than the French per capita at roughly 52#/yr. That was a surprise! As we’re dairy-free, we’ve switched to coconut-based, mostly French vanilla, of course! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is my third comment on this post, but I recall our city council claiming there are people of 179 nationalities living here in Frankfurt. My theory is that each of these has its own variety of yogurt.
    Also, there are masses of office workers here in Frankfurt, and for them the packaging people have long since come up with plastic containers consisting of a large compartment for yogurt, plus one or two smaller compartments for a fruit topping and/or nuts, linseed or whatever, often with a plastic spoon built in to the cover. These are sold not in the yogurt aisle, but in the urgent-office-lunch cooler by the store entrance, along with pre-packed sandwiches and one-person sushi packages. Sales of these products do not seem to have been affected by the pandemic, so I think people must be eating them while working from home as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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