While foreigners might hesitate before taking a swig of ayran (pronounced “eye-ron”), it is a staple in the Turkish diet. Served cold as a perfect thirst quencher, it is known as a healthy way to replenish sodium after hot summer days. Simply put, ayran is a refreshing, salty, yogurt drink. This may offend those of you who are used to yogurt paired with jam, honey or the other various forms of sugar packed into popular yogurt cups but surprisingly this savory alternative is deliciously addictive. Instead of milk cartons, ayran is packed into lunch totes to make for a well-rounded meal for school kids. It is also the perfect pair with other Turkish food staples such as lahmacun, pide or dürüm.
The drink includes thick yogurt, water and salt which is then blended together. The difference between açık (open) and kapalı (closed) ayran comes down to who prepared the drink. Homemade ayran (açık) is light, frothy and bubbly from the mixing process. It varies in flavor and consistency due to slights variations in the recipe. Kapalı ayran comes from larger companies, like SEK or Ulker, and the container is usually sealed with a foil lid and is consistent in flavor and texture.
People buy jugs full of ayran on a weekly basis or make their own ayran at home. One of my favorite versions is called naneli ayran (ayran with mint), where bits of mint are mixed into the ayran and the drink becomes even more refreshing. While many Turkish regions and cities make delicious ayran, Susurluk, a small town in Balıkesir Province is the most well-known for is creamy and thick ayran preparation. It is also important to note that many surrounding countries like Greece, Lebanon, Albania, Iran, Armenia, and many more, make their own version of this drink varying only in name. The theme of hydration and staying cool in the warm months by eating or drinking yogurt runs throughout this region of the world.
So don't be shy, embrace the versatility and refreshing use of yogurt by ordering ayran with your next Turkish meal. Keep your mind open and see how you fall in love with this simply profound mixture of yogurt, water and salt.
P.S. Read below for an easy recipe for ayran!
Recipe for Turkish Ayran
Makes 4 Servings
1 Pint of plain yogurt
1 Pint of cold water
Salt to taste
Optional: 2 tbsp crushed, dried mint
Pour yogurt into a bowl and beat until smooth, add water and continue beating until thoroughly blended, or combine in an electric blender and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and dried mint. Chill thoroughly.
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