If you’ve ever been to Turkey you’ve probably come across ayran. This much beloved yoghurt drink is pretty much omnipresent in the country and is especially popular alongside kebabs..
Ayran has been one of the most popular drinks among Turks ever since they were nomads in the central Asian region. After discovering yoghurt, Turks quickly figured out a way to make the slightly bitter cultured milk product more palatable: By diluting it with a little water and adding salt. Hence, ayran was born. Since then, both the tradition and the drink’s popularity has remained almost unchanged among Turks for thousands of years, even spreading far beyond. Ayran of various types (and names) is also very popular both east and west of Turkey, in areas such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Azerbaijan and the Balkans.
Turks eat a lot of yoghurt, almost exclusively as part of a savoury meal (unlike much of the western world where yoghurt is usually mixed with sugar and berries). It is therefore perhaps not surprising, even though I admit it sounded weird to a Norwegian, that ayran is particularly popular with grilled and fried meat. In fact, it works incredibly well – the light and tangy notes balancing the fat and density of meat perfectly. Sceptical at first, I am now the first to order ayran on that rare visit to a kebab restaurant…
Ayran may also be enjoyed on its own, especially in summer when it works a treat on particularly hot days. And though commercial varieties are available at any cornershop, nothing beats the homemade variety. The good news? It takes only two minutes to make!
When making ayran, the result is nearly completely dependent on the quality of the yoghurt used. I’m lucky enough to be able to source home made yoghurt, made fresh daily, from my local cheese shop. On occasion, I’ve even made yoghurt myself – it’s not at all difficult and its flavour is far superior to commercial brands.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to buy fresh homemade yoghurt locally, and most don’t eat enough yoghurt to justify the time commitment of making your own. Shop-bought yoghurt works well when making ayran too, but do feel free to try different varieties to find a type you like particularly well. For ayran it isn’t necessary to buy the more creamy varities of yoghurt, typically labelled Greek yoghurt – in fact I’d say the more runny types are better suited as they typically have a slightly more tangy flavour, which is what we’re looking for in a good ayran. If using Greek yoghurt – or any other thickened/strained variety – you may have to use a little more water, depending on what sort of consistency you prefer.
The ayran served in kebab restaurants often have lots of light foam with large air bubbles on top. To many Turks, the foam itself is the highlight of the ayran. Unless you’re ready for a relatively complicated process involving more ingredients than just yoghurt, water and salt, it is difficult to achieve the same at home. Some recipes suggest substituting sparkling water for some of the water to increase the amount of foam, though I couldn’t notice any difference in my testing of it.
I prefer my ayran plain, however some also add some dried or fresh mint, either in the ayran itself or to garnish on top. Some recipes, particularly outside Turkey, also suggest adding finely chopped cucumber. To me, that sounds more like cacık, the Turkish equivalent of tzatziki, which may also be served diluted with water as a soup. But do try a little mint if you like, it’ll freshen up the drink. Yields two glasses.
Ayran (Turkish yoghurt drink)
- 300 ml natural yoghurt
- 200-300 ml water (very cold)
- salt, to taste
Add yoghurt, water and salt to a blender. I use approx. 1/4 tsp salt. Blend until a little foam has formed on top, a minute or so. Check for consistency and salt levels, adding more yoghurt, water or salt to get it to your pleasing if necessary. If adding something extra, whizz for a few more seconds. Serve immediately.