Traditional Udmurt Yogurt – Yölpyd

Editor’s Note: This contribution by Tatiana Minniyakhmetova comes to the AIMA thanks to a collaborative effort with the Ritual Year Working Group, a section of the S.I.E.F. (International Society for Ethnology and Folklore)  Its members are experts in calendar studies of all hues and, often as a consequence, in food cultures and festive events attached to the agricultural, as well as the broader ritual year. To introduce us to the many hues of “yoghurt”, Tatiana Minniyakhmetova can tell us a tale or two about the traditional yoghurt of the Udmurts, who call it yölpyd, a sour clotted milk in both everyday and ritual meals. Please note this contribution links fruitfully with our articles devoted to rye bread.

Udmurtia is in the Volga Federal District of the Russian Federation, with its capital in Ishevsk on the River Izk, although there is a considerable diaspora within the Federation and around the world. The Udmurt language is in the Permian group of Uralic languages, classified as Finno-Permic within the larger Finno-Ugric group. See the corresponding Wikipedia articles.

Fig. 1. Eating pancakes dipping them in yölpyd. Chinder, 2022. Photo by Ranus Sadikov.

A widespread and favorite dairy product, yogurt has its analogues in the traditional food cultures of many peoples. One of the variants of yogurt is the Udmurt meal / dish yölpyd, sour clotted milk, which is both an everyday and ritual meal to this day. The etymology of the word means yöl – ‘milk’, pyd obviously means pydes – ’bottom’, which means that what settles from milk at the bottom. This explanation indicates that the appearance of yölpyd occurs as a result of souring of milk, the thickened part of which settles on the bottom, and the liquid part floats up. Currently, the Udmurts know three main traditional methods of cooking yölpyd. To do this, first it is necessary to boil fresh milk, pour it into a glass or enamel vessel and let it cool to a warm state, then to add the sourdough starter to the warm milk, usually the sourdough starter is a few spoonfuls of the old yölpyd which remained or was retained from the existing yölpyd. If the old yölpyd was not available, then the sourdough starter, a piece of bread, preferably baked from rye flour, is placed in warm milk. After that, the vessel is closed with a napkin or a piece of cloth or gauze so that the dish can “breathe”. Then the vessel is put in a warm place for fermentation, usually on the warm stove, or close to the stove, and in summer in the fresh air under the sun in a windless place. Another way involves pouring fresh milk into a pot or enamel vessel to be put in a hot oven (today it is often put in an electric or gas oven) to melt to a brown colour, then removed from the oven, allowed to cool to a warm state and fermented with sour cream or old yölpyd, and finally the vessel is also put in a warm place for fermentation. Yölpyd can be ready in an hour, sometimes in half a day. Ready-to-eat yölpyd is stored in a cold place in a cellar or refrigerator.

Fig. 2. Pancakes and yölpyd. Vilgurt, 2023. Photo by Faniya Nikolaeva.

In everyday life, Udmurts eat yölpyd as a third course for breakfast or dinner. Usually they eat yölpyd with bread or butter-bread adding sour cream, and nowadays, sugar, jam or berries can be added to yölpyd. The Udmurts call yölpyd a food, not a drink. Hence the consumption of yölpyd is called eating, and not drinking, as among some other peoples. Since yölpyd is eaten with bread, chopped pods of green onions, both homegrown and wild, parsley or dill are added to it. Yölpyd may also be flavoured with grated garlic or horseradish. The traditionality of this dish is indicated by the custom of its ritual use. Thursday among the Udmurts is a day of commemoration of the dead, when it is customary to bake pancakes, dedicated to and commemorating the dead. Usually, hot pancakes are eaten with yölpyd. (Fig. 2) On Friday, the most revered day of the week when heavenly deities are worshipped, it is also customary to bake pancakes for the family prayer in the house; while eating pancakes, yölpyd is also served. Even in everyday life, when pancakes are baked, yölpyd is served on the table. Hot pancakes are eaten by dipping them in yölpyd. (See Fig. 1 above)

Fig. 3. Pancakes, yölpyd and meals from the cooked first milk after calving. Chinder, 2022. Photo by Ranus Sadikov.

The most ritualized use of yölpyd takes place during the feast of eating beestings. This feast-custom takes place after a cow bears a calf, when various meals from the cooked first milk after calving are served for the invited guests for the celebration. Among those foods, yölpyd also occupies an honoured place. (Fig. 3.)

Yölpyd is also used as a medicinal. In case of sunburn and if the skin is scalded with hot water or steam, the injured area is smeared with yölpyd. For a sore throat, cough or cold, the patient drinks warm yölpyd. Women also spread it on their faces to whiten their skin.

Tatiana Minniyakhmetova, Innsbruck, Austria


Dushenkova, Tatiana = Душенкова Т.Р. Пищевой код: названия молочных и кисломолочных напитков в удмуртском языке и культуре (Food Code: The Names of Dairy and Fermented Milk Drinks in the Udmurt Language and Culture). In: Историко-культурное наследие народов Урало-Поволжья (Historical and Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of the Ural-Volga Region). 2019, 1 (6). Pp. 67-75.

Minniyakhmetova, Tatiana. “Eating of Beestings as an Original Calendar Rite of the Bashkirian Udmurts.” In: Mare Kõiva, Kai Vassiljeva (eds.) Folk Belief Today. Tartu, Estonia: Estonian Academy of Sciences,  1995. Pp. 330–334.

Tatiana Minniyakhmetova. Manifestation of Various Values in Traditional Udmurt Feasts. In: Bożena Gierek, Wojciech Kosior (eds.) Feast as a Mirror of Social and Cultural Changes. San Diego, CA: Æ Academic Publishing, 2020. Pp. 99‒115.

Sokovnin, German = Соковнин Г.И. Удмуртская кухня (Udmurt cuisine). Izhevsk: Udmurtia, 1975.