Take a sip: the cult of Yakult

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Drink your Yakult
Unlike millions and millions of adherents around the world, I didn't grow up drinking Yakult, the treacly 77-year-old Japanese probiotic yogurt water that is slowly sweeping across the planet. So when one of the squat 80-milliliter bottles of the stuff is placed in front of me after I eat sushi or Korean food it summons up unpleasant memories of children's cold medicine rather than some happy childhood treat. It tastes like liquid SweeTart, slightly tangy, overwhelmingly cloying, and imperceptively gritty in a way that will easily distract you from whatever you ate as the main event.

If that's not the intention it certainly is intestinally, since the eight-million-some probiotic organisms in every bottle are supposed to best whatever "bad" bacteria are lurking in your gut. Created by researcher Dr. Minoru Shirota, who cultured a strain of hardy Lactobacillus casei that could stand up to stomach acid, its name was derived from the word "yogurt" in Esperanto, indicating that its slow and steady creep toward world domination was part of the plan all along.

According to the company timeline, the stuff first entered the U.S. through Asian markets in 1999, but it caught on stronger in Mexico, and seven years ago the company began a push north of the border through Hispanic markets. If you search the store locator you'll see that the large majority of outlets selling it in Chicago are supermercados, which is where I came across a company rep giving out free samples right across from a solid wall of imitations in all flavors. Yakult, as manufactured in the company's Mexico City plant, only comes in one, and it is the only one, she assured me, that contains the beneficial Lactobacillus casei Shirota. That may but true, but I'd rather get my probiotics from drinking imitation fermented mare's milk.

Yakults imitators

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