Tzatziki: The Greek Version Of India’s Raita

Tzatziki is a sauce or dip popular in the Middle East and Mediterranean region.

Tzatziki and tarator sauces share the same roots. Tarator came along during the Ottoman Empire’s Medieval period and took on different incarnations from region to region. Tzatziki is one of those incarnations. While some versions of tarator involve sesame seeds or walnuts. The most familiar version is the Greek one that consists of yogurt, cucumbers and garlic among other ingredients.

The most likely story of its origin has tarator/tzatziki making its way to Greece from India via Persia while the Ottoman Empire controlled much of the world. Persia once ruled over India and enjoyed classic Indian dishes like biryani.

Unaccustomed to the spice, some Persians would use a yogurt-based condiment called raita sauce to help cool the heat. Raita sauce consists of yogurt and cucumber just like tzatziki. The Persians brought raita with them from India to the Middle East. When they controlled Greece, the dish passed to the Greeks who readily adopted it. It would evolve to become more Greek but would not lose its Indian roots entirely.

The word tzatziki is Greek but it originated in the Turkish language. The Turkish word for it (cacik) most likely originated with the Persian word zhazh, which means herb mixture.

Tzatziki flavor profile

The main function of tzatziki is to enhance dishes with its creaminess but it will also have a noticeable tartness because of its yogurt and lemon content. Garlic will also be one of the stronger elements in the flavor profile. Garlic gives it an earthy umami quality. The versions that contain dill will have that herb’s grassy, citrusy qualities.

Health benefits of tzatziki

Even though it is not a super-food, tzatziki does contain moderate amounts of a few compounds that are beneficial for health. Nutrients in tzatziki include:

  • Protein: The fact that it is made with Greek yogurt is why tzatziki is such a good source of protein. You can get about 5 grams of protein from a 2-tablespoon serving. In other words, you can get almost a quarter of your daily protein requirement from a 150-gram serving of yogurt.
  • Vitamin A: The yogurt that makes up most of tzatziki sauce is a modest source of vitamin A.
  • Calcium: Tzatziki sauce contains a significant amount of calcium because of its yogurt content.

If you regularly consume tzatziki, you may be able to forestall or treat these conditions:

  • Osteoporosis: The calcium in yogurt can help to mitigate the loss of bone density that characterizes osteoporosis, which is a condition that can occur as a result of menopause.
  • Poor gut health: Because tzatziki consists mostly of yogurt, it will provide many of the health benefits associated with yogurt such as its ability to improve gut flora due to its bacterial content.
  • Obesity: The positive changes to gut flora that you can get from consuming the yogurt in tzatziki have been shown to help prevent weight gain.

Common uses

Tzatziki is a key part of Greek food culture. It Is commonly served alongside souvlaki or on gyros. It is also a great accompaniment for kebabs and other kinds of grilled meat. Use it as a dipping sauce for fried calamari or fried eggplant. It can also work as a part of a meze platter along with hummus.

Its flavor profile is also versatile enough to work in some Western applications. Use it as a substitute for sour cream or as a healthier and more flavorful alternative to ranch dressing.