The next dairy 'superfood' could be... fortified buffalo yogurt

By Teodora Lyubomirova

- Last updated on GMT

Getty/	nensuria
Getty/ nensuria

Related tags Yogurt functional benefits Dairy cholesterol reduction Antioxidants Nutrition Essential oils Protein Health claims Sustainability

A nutritional powerhouse that packs more protein and less cholesterol than cow's milk yogurt, buffalo yogurt is ripe for functional innovation, a study suggests.

Popular across the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and Southern Europe, buffalo yogurt is more of a novelty food in the US and Western Europe, where untapped commercial opportunities are abundant.

With a dense, creamy texture similar to that of Greek yogurt, buffalo yogurt has a distinct flavor profile that ranges from mild to tart depending on the mix of grass, clover and straw that the animals consume.

Buffalo milk’s nutritional profile is also head and shoulders above cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk. According to the American Water Buffalo Association, buffalo milk has 58% more calcium, 40% more protein, and 43% less cholesterol than cow's milk. It’s also a rich source of iron, phosphorus and vitamin A and contains high levels of the natural antioxidant tocopherol.

These unique sensory and nutritional properties prompted a cohort of dairy scientists to develop a new functional yogurt made from buffalo milk and fortified with edible essential oils.

‘Richer, creamier, more nutritious’

Researchers from Egypt’s Cairo University alongside colleagues from Belgium’s KU Leuven leveraged marjoram and geranium essential oils to supplement samples of buffalo yogurt and find out how the oils’ inclusion impacted the yogurt’s sensory, functional and bioactive properties.

Is buffalo milk good for health? Its nutritional value trumps cow's milk.

Constituents

Cow

Goat

Sheep

Buffalo

Protein

grm

3.2

3.1

5.4

4.5

Fat

grm

3.9

3.5

6.0

8.0

Carbohydrate

grm

4.8

4.4

5.1

4.9

Energy

K cal

K J

66

275

60

253

95

396

110

463

Sugars (Lactose)

grm

4.8

4.4

5.1

4.9

Fatty Acids-

Saturated

Monounsaturated

Polyunsaturated

 

grm

grm

grm

 

2.4

1.1

0.1

 

2.3

0.8

0.1

 

3.8

1.5

0.3

 

4.2

1.7

0.2

Cholesterol

mg

14

10

11

8

Calcium

iu

120

100

170

195

 

Nutritional information via the American Water Buffalo Association

“Buffalo milk - the primary ingredient for buffalo yogurt - has a higher fat content, protein concentration, and mineral content compared to cow's milk,” explained Ahmed M. Hamed, one of the study’s authors. “These characteristics make buffalo yogurt richer, creamier, and more nutritious, which can potentially enhance the beneficial effects of fortification with marjoram and geranium oil.

“Moreover, buffalo yogurt's inherent qualities could improve the flavor and texture when combined with these essential oils, making it an ideal candidate for creating a novel functional food product.”

The researchers picked geranium and marjoram because of their ‘significant health benefits, natural preservative properties, flavor enhancement potential, cultural relevance, compatibility with dairy products, and the opportunity for scientific innovation,’ Hamed told us. “These factors combined make these essential oils ideal candidates for fortifying buffalo yogurt to create a functional food product that meets consumer demand for health-enhancing and natural ingredients,” he added.

From functional to pharmaceutical potential

The researchers prepared seven samples of pasteurized buffalo milk’s yogurt – one control sample and three each fortified with different amounts of geranium and marjoram essential oils, respectively.

The samples were tested at day 1, 7 and 14 of storage to note their bioactive properties – e. g. antioxidant and antimicrobial activity; functional properties – e.g. whey separation and viscosity – and sensory appeal, such as texture and taste.

The study found that both essential oils raised the yogurts’ total solids and fat content; increased viscosity, and reduced the level of whey separation, particularly where higher amounts of essential oils were used. This suggests that the essential oils can act as natural stabilizers.

The fortified samples also had increased shelf life, suggesting that the essential oils can be used as natural, clean label preservatives against common bacteria like Listeria monocytogene, Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

The two essential oils were also found to increase the yogurt’s antioxidant activity, particularly where marjoram oil was used. The results confirmed similar findings from previous studies, adding to the body of available science-backed evidence.

GettyImages-1455611350
Buffalo yogurt has a dense, creamy texture, but fortifying it with essential oils improved its viscosity further, the study found. Image: Getty/Kwangmoozaa

The samples were also tested for anticancer activity against liver cancer-causing cells. Here, the researchers observed increased anticancer activity in all fortified samples, and particularly where geranium oil – known for its antitumor properties – had been used. The way the essential oils acted was to de-activate the cancer cells, the paper explained, with the highest activity observed on days 1 and 7, dipping ‘slightly’ after 14 days.

"Incorporating geranium and marjoram essential oils into buffalo yogurt enhances its functional properties, offering significant opportunities for health claims and marketing," Hamed told us. "By focusing on the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and potential anticancer benefits, manufacturers can target health-conscious consumers, fitness enthusiasts, and individuals interested in natural remedies. Educational campaigns, strategic partnerships, and clear, compliant health statements can further strengthen the product’s market position and appeal."

‘Unusual’ flavor that opens commercial opportunities

When it came to rating the fortified buffalo yogurt’s sensory properties, a panel of experts was trained and asked to assess the samples’ appearance, taste, texture, and overall acceptability.

Here, the non-fortified sample yielded the highest overall score. The panellists liked the plain yogurt’s taste and appearance best, but preferred the creamier texture of the fortified yogurts.

Overall, the essential oils lent the yogurts ‘unusual’ taste, but the taste acceptability was deemed satisfactory. This suggests that a ‘commercially acceptable’ yogurt fortified with marjoram and geranium oils can be produced – though a major question mark remains.

Would consumers buy yogurt formulated with essential oils?

Ahmed Hamed explained that several factors – from increased health awareness to demand for unusual flavors – can make the case for consumer demand for such functional dairy product.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the health benefits associated with essential oils,” he told us. “Essential oils such as marjoram and geranium are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. This awareness drives interest in fortified yogurt as a functional food that can contribute to overall well-being.”

In particular, the fortified buffalo yogurt’s unique nutritional profile, coupled with the oils’ therapeutic and preventative potential, may be of interest to both regular health-conscious consumers and those looking to manage specific health conditions.

In addition, yogurt formulated with natural ingredients like essential oils aligns with the demand for foods that offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition, Hamed said. “Essential oils, being natural ingredients, can help meet the demand for clean-label products by providing a natural way to enhance the yogurt's properties,” he added.

As buffalo yogurt is less prevalent in the US and Western Europe, there’s a novelty aspect to it that can be commercially exploited, too. “There is a segment of consumers who are interested in trying innovative and novel food products,” Hamed said. “Yogurt fortified with essential oils represents a novel approach that can attract adventurous eaters and those looking to diversify their diet with functional foods.

“The addition of essential oils can enhance the flavor and sensory appeal of yogurt. Marjoram and geranium oils can impart unique flavors and aromas, potentially making the yogurt more attractive to consumers looking for new and interesting taste experiences.”

What are the barriers to consumer adoption?

While there are strong trend drivers in favor of consumer adoption, there are several barriers that may need to be addressed by manufacturers, the research suggests. This includes the higher cost of raw materials, the prototype yogurts’ taste profile, and how to appeal to the correct consumer groups.

Hamed told us that the most likely target market for a buffalo yogurt formulated with marjoram and/or geranium essential oils would be health-conscious consumers, individuals with specific health conditions, early adopters, and trend seekers, as well as those interested in natural and organic products. 

“Additionally, the aging population, specialty diet followers, and consumers with dietary restrictions would likely find this product appealing," he added. “Effective marketing strategies focusing on the unique health benefits, natural ingredients, and potential wellness advantages of the yogurt can help attract these target groups.”

Other barriers, for example to do with taste preferences, price sensitivity and label claims and regulation should also be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“While our expert panel found the fortified samples to be acceptable, real-life consumer acceptance and purchase behavior are influenced by a range of factors including sensory preferences, health perception, cultural and regional preferences, price sensitivity, market competition, marketing effectiveness, and regulatory concerns,” he explained. “Understanding and addressing these factors is essential for predicting and enhancing the market success of yogurt fortified with essential oils.”

What’s the climate impact of buffalo milk?

According to 2022 life cycle analysis of three buffalo farms in southern Italy, buffalo milk has a larger carbon footprint than cow’s milk, largely because cows produce more milk than buffaloes.

As with cows, enteric emissions were the largest source of emissions from milk-producing buffaloes, though this could be reduced through diet changes, the researchers noted.

Other emissions come from indirect sources such as feed, digesters and machine operation, which can be addressed through precision agriculture techniques, according to the study.

Sources:

Enhancing functional buffalo yogurt: Improving physicochemical properties, biological activities, and shelf life using Marjoram and Geranium essential oils
Authors: Ahmed M. Hamed, et al
Published: May 14, 2024, Journal of Dairy Science
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2023-24281

Life Cycle Assessment of buffalo milk: A case study of three farms in southern Italy
Authors: Roberto Chirone, et al
Published: September 10, 2022, Journal of Cleaner Production
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.132816

Related topics Nutrition Middle East Dairy

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