Stamen Grigorov – The Man Who Brought Us Yogurt

Stamen Grigorov is the individual who unearthed and has the credit for finding the bacteria that produces the most beloved food in the world – Yogurt. Let’s take a closer look at the man and explore further.

Stamen Grigorov

Stamen Grigorov pursued a career as a microbiologist. His inquisitiveness led to the discovery of Lactobacillus bulgaricus, triggered by a touch of homesickness and nostalgia.

Shortly after becoming a microbiologist, Stamen Grigorov, following his marriage in Bulgaria, left his home to take up a position at his alma mater, the Medical University of Geneva.

Since the university was located in Switzerland, he had to depart from his newly established marital abode to a foreign land.

His new role was that of a research assistant. As a memento to his wife, Stamen Grigorov brought along a clay pot of his wife’s homemade Bulgarian yogurt.

The Initial Revelation

It is worth noting that historically, yogurt was an essential part of Bulgarian cuisine for centuries.

Households used to craft their own yogurt and store it in clay pots.

The same clay pot, received from Mrs. Grigorov as he left for a foreign country, played a pivotal role in his discovery.

During that period, there were already studies heralding remarkable health benefits of yogurt.

This captured the curiosity of Stamen Grigorov, who, perhaps reflecting on his recent marriage, viewed the yogurt under a microscope, abstaining from tasting it (maybe), and delved into a microscopic examination.

Who was Stamen Grigorov?

This microbiologist and physician, born on October 27, 1878, had his roots in the tranquil village of Pernik Province in Bulgaria.

He completed his secondary education in Natural Sciences in Montpellier, France. He then pursued his medical degree in Geneva, Switzerland.

At the age of 27, Stamen Grigorov discovered the bacteria responsible for yogurt production.

The Discovery of Lactobacillus Bulgaricus

In 1905, a newlywed Stamen Grigorov worked in Professor Leon Massol’s microbiological laboratory.

After observing a sample of yogurt under a microscope, he identified a specific strain of bacteria responsible for the renowned food.

Subsequently, the state-owned company patented the bacteria. The company promoted a blend of bacterial strains labeled as official Bulgarian yogurt, which was exported to many countries, yielding substantial profits for the nation.


Interestingly, the primary motivation behind this groundbreaking discovery, which was Stamen Grigorov’s wife, remains a mystery in history.

We are unaware of his wife’s reaction when the esteemed microbiologist unearthed such a crucial bacteria from her homemade yogurt.

This particular yogurt made a mark in history, propelling Bulgaria to fame and transforming the entire country’s industry.

However, it is important to mention that the discovery involved hours of peering through the microscope.

In 1905, the microbiologist identified the rod-shaped bacteria that transforms milk into yogurt.

Lactobacillus bulgaricus feasts on lactose, subsequently producing a specific set of fatty acids, resulting in a thick, slightly creamy substance that is enjoyed as delectable food worldwide.

Pre-Discovery Yogurt

It has been observed since ancient times that farmers and communities have been consuming dairy products for thousands of years.

While it might have been a serendipitous discovery, the value lies in the rich, transformed product churned from milk.

Bulgaria, the Middle East, and central Asia have a long history of such processed dairy products, especially in regions where climatic conditions favor their production, such as hot climates.

These are the places where bulgaricus bacteria thrive and convert lactose into yogurt.

Legacy of Stamen Grigorov

A glacier on Brabant Island in Antarctica has been named the Grigorov Glacier in honor of Stamen Grigorov.

In addition to his contribution to the realm of yogurt, Stamen Grigorov played a role in tuberculosis treatment alongside Albert Calmette in 1906. They employed penicillin fungi for treatment, conducting experiments on lab animals and subsequently on human subjects to showcase the benefits of penicillin fungi in tuberculosis treatment.

Yogurt Prior to the Discovery

Prior to Stamen Grigorov’s identification of lactobacillus bulgaricus in 1905, some scientists were publishing papers highlighting the longevity benefits of yogurt outside of Europe and the Middle East, where the term was relatively unknown.

Through scientific endorsement by Stamen Grigorov and other scientists, Bulgarian yogurt gained recognition beyond Europe, swiftly becoming the preferred choice due to its proven health benefits.

Commercial Yogurt Yielded Disparities

By the 1920s, yogurt became commercialized. However, publicly available yogurt did not match the quality of Bulgarian yogurt, instrumental in Stamen Grigorov’s discovery.

Commercial producers used cow’s milk instead of sheep’s milk, marking a significant difference.

Bulgarians utilized sheep’s milk and their own bulgaricus strain, while industrial production resulted in variance from homemade strains.

This divergence could be attributed to the standardized protocols adopted by industries. Typically, household methods differ from industrial processes, incorporating natural microflora and eschewing measurements and scales.

Modern Yogurt

Observing this shift, the Bulgarian state took action. Bulgarian yogurt gained popularity and became a national icon, coinciding with Bulgaria’s integration into the Warsaw Pact and substantial Soviet influence.

In 1949, Bulgarian state microbiologists collected various bulgaricus strains from households to create an official yogurt, which Bulgaria would be renowned for.

To this day, Bulgaria possesses the patented strain discovered by Stamen Grigorov; it also has exclusive export rights.

On his 67th birthday, Stamen Grigorov passed away on October 27, 1945.

Recently, Google celebrated the late microbiologist, ensuring that people worldwide will remember him every time they savor yogurt as their favorite food.

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