Friday, June 13, 2014

Persian Yogurt

A wonderful reader suggested a post about yogurt a few months back (I didn't forget about you!), but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it. Today I was watching the morning news when there was a segment about how people eat yogurt thinking it's healthy, but it's actually loaded with sugar. I turned to my mom and said that in Iran they just eat plain yogurt or put veggies in it, but in the U.S. most people eat fruit flavored yogurt. 

Yogurt, anyone?

ماست Māst (pronounced with a long "a" and not to be confused with mast with a short "a" which means drunk) is a staple of the Iranian diet. A lot of times my relatives just have noon-māst, bread and yogurt, as a light dinner. I'm sure many Iranian moms still make their own. I have many memories of my mom making it but forgetting about it until it was too late and the milk had already boiled over, creating a rancid smell and a mess to clean up. 

When Greek yogurt finally came around, my first thought was: this is totally māste chekidehdripped yogurt! If only an Iranian had marketed this! We take normal yogurt, pour it in a cloth sack, hang it from the cupboard with a bowl under it, and let the water drip out. The next day, you have wonderfully thick, creamy yogurt. If only we had thought of the international market sooner, it would have been known as Persian yogurt.

I remember buying satlbuckets, of yogurt in Iran and having to scrape off the thick skin on the top known as sar māst (but in the Neyshaburi dialect it's known as gheymāgh). The thicker the skin, the fattier the yogurt. I never liked this part, but others really do and eat it with bread. 

And as I mentioned before, whereas in the U.S. there is a plethora of yogurt with mixed fruit, fruit at the bottom, fruit in the corner, fruit mousse on the top, in Iran, it's not common to mix fruit in yogurt. Instead, we have māst o khiār, yogurt and cucumbers, māste musir, yogurt with shallots (common at kabob restaurants), māst o esfenāj, yogurt with spinach, māst o laboo, yogurt with beets, sir māst, yogurt with garlic (common to eat with fish). And a refreshing summer snack is ābdooghkhiār which is essentially a watered down māst o khiār with raisins, walnuts, and pieces of dried bread known as noon kāk. You also add whatever herb you like- dried mint, basil, oregano, dill, etc. We often (especially if we have guests) like to decorate yogurt with dried mint and/or radishes. In the picture below, you can see the radish and dried mint flower my wonderfully bāsalighe, tasteful, cousin made. 

I wouldn't end this post without a couple of language-related notes on yogurt: if you describe someone as māst, as in "Felāni kheyli māste!, So-and-so is very māst, yogurt! it means that they are vanilla- plain, boring, etc. There is also the phrase māst māli, literally yogurt wipe, used to describe a person's half-assed work. Like on a scale of 1-10, you put in about a 3 in effort. Towards the end of the semester when I'm suffering from teacher burn-out, I complain to my Iranian friend that I don't feel like planning lessons anymore. She says just show a movie and ask some questions about it! I can't māst māli, I gasp! 

To the person who suggested this post, thank you again for your wonderful suggestion. It took me forever to write it, but I hope you aren't too disappointed with the result. :)



  1. Thank you for this information!
    What is known as Greek yogurt is actually Bulgarian yogurt. The specific bacteria in it is known as Lactobacillus bulgaricus. People here still make it at home.
    Also,the Bulgarian "mast o khiar" is called "tarator". It's very popular here. :-)

    1. Ah, so in fact it's Bulgarian! :) thanks for sharing. I've heard some Americans in Iranian restaurants call mast o khiar "tzaziki". I guess the Greeks get all the credit in the yogurt department ;)

  2. Hi. I think the Greeks use dill and Iranian use mint. In general, Iranian cuisine dates far back than many other cultures.


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