The Power of Lassi, an Underappreciated Fermented Food

Lassi, you probably know, is an Indian drink made from yogurt. It is rarely sold outside Indian restaurants and supermarkets. However, last week at Whole Foods I saw a product called Pavel’s Pro Sea Salt Lassi Yogurt Drink, so new it is not yet on the company website. I have no idea why Pro is part of the name. I bought a bottle. I was surprised how good it was.

I tried making it myself. I found I could easily make better lassi than Pavel’s by optimizing the amount of salt, adding an optimal amount of sweetener (xylitol — Pavel’s lassi was unsweetened), and flavoring it, for instance with vanilla.

Yogurt companies of the world (except maybe Pavel’s) seem to have failed to notice that lassi is a very unusual food. It provides pleasure in eight ways: (1) satisfies thirst, (2) creamy, (3) frothy (if you shake the bottle before drinking), (4) salty, (5) sour, (6) sweet, (7) complexity (yogurt alone is slightly complex, vanilla increases complexity) and (8) flavor novelty (if you vary the flavor). To a small extent, (9) it satisfies hunger and, if you’re hot, (10) cools you off. It’s also (11) very convenient — easier to take a swig of lassi than a spoonful of yogurt — and (12) very healthy. I can’t think of another food with twelve strengths. My friends’ pizza provided pleasure in ten ways but wasn’t convenient or healthy. There are several similar yogurt drinks in other cultures,  such as doogh, perhaps because lassi has such a high benefit/cost ratio.

To make lassi, mix 3 parts yogurt with about 1 part water, add sweetener and salt and flavoring to taste, mix. I’m going to try adding cardamon and maybe replace the water with tea, to increase complexity.


10 Replies to “The Power of Lassi, an Underappreciated Fermented Food”

  1. My sweet version: yogurt, frozen mango, pinch of salt, sweetener.

    Basic version: yogurt, ice water, lemon juice, pinch of salt.

    I started making lassi using a recipe from one of Madhur Jaffrey’s early cookbooks.

  2. Sounds like kefir. Try kefir made from goat’s milk. It’s got all 12, too.


    Seth: do you make your own kefir? I have found it harder to make than yogurt.

  3. In my experience kefir has exactly the same difficulty as yogurt — almost no difficulty at all.

    I don’t follow instructions to strain the kefir, just skim some off the top for the next batch. That’s because I let it ferment until a small 1 cm band of clear whey appears on the bottom.

    I do use my yogurt maker since our house lacks central heating, Temperature setting is 28C. After 12 hours it’s done. Delicious, carbonated, complex.

    Seth: That’s a good idea, use a yogurt maker to make kefir.

  4. To Seth: No way! Too doggone lazy for that. Plus, I have no access to fresh goat’s milk.

    I get this brand:

    The plain goat’s milk kefir. I get it at a local health food and nutrition store. It seems to be very highly rated, too. It’s so tasty that I have to watch that I don’t drink too much. I drink about 6 ounces per day. It’s delicious!

    Seth: Thanks for the recommendation. Yeah, maybe I should be that lazy.

  5. A couple of years ago in Turkey we discovered Ayran. After learning it was yogurt, we ordered it every time we ate out. Usually the wait staff were surprised and amused when we did, but I’m convinced it protected me from stomach complaints due to unusual foods for the duration of our trip. It was also very tasty. I found Ayran to be saltier than the sweet Lassi we order at the Indian restaurant. More similar to the Salt Lassi, although thinner.

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