SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria, the country whose name is attached to the culture used for yogurt, wants to promote its own versions as nourishing – and a good way to eat healthily. «Demand for health food in the world is growing and yogurt is a unique product that has many positive health effects,» Hristo Yungarev, chief executive of research company LB Bulgaricum, told Reuters in an interview. «We have to focus on that to find new markets.» The Balkan country proudly claims to have invented yogurt. Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the bacteria that curdles milk, is named after Bulgaria. The state-run company, licensed to export yogurt know-how, expects to sign a contract with Meiji Milk Products giving the Japanese company rights to sell Bulgarian yogurt in nine Southeast Asian countries. Yungarev said French, South African, Moroccan and Indian companies had also expressed interest in acquiring a license to produce Bulgarian yogurt. His company has developed new products that can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure based on research by Bulgaria’s national metabolic disease clinic, said Svetlana Minkova, head of research at LB Bulgaricum. It has also invented bulgaricus products that boost the immune system and get rid of toxins. The company, which owns a unique collection of over 700 strains of bulgaricus found in nature, is carrying out research with the national oncology institute to further explore yogurt’s anti-cancer effects. International food giants such as Danone and Nestle have been using bacteria to produce healthy food known as probiotics over the past few decades. LB Bulgaricum has sold yogurt know-how to more than 20 countries in the world over the past 40 years. But the license is now owned by companies only in Japan, Korea and Finland as Bulgaria has been slow in promoting its sour and thick yogurt. Sales abroad and at home have dropped in the past 15 years as the ex-communist country moved to a market economy. Bulgarian yogurt has long been known to be healthy. In the early 1900s Russian scientist Ilya Mechnikov, a 1908 Nobel Prize winner, linked yogurt with longevity.