Many consumers are unfamiliar with kefir or assume that it has the same properties as a drinkable yogurt, but that is not the case. There are actually several differences between yogurt and kefir, including how each is made, the types and amount of bacteria present, flavor, and consistency.

WHAT IS KEFIR?

Kefir is a cultured, fermented dairy product that has a thick liquid consistency. It’s made using a starter culture called “kefir grains.” The kefir starter culture is a complex polysaccharide with a casein center that is home to symbiotic colonies of yeast and beneficial bacteria. Kefir is most commonly made using dairy milk, but it can also be made from non-dairy alternatives such as coconut milk, goat’s milk, rice milk, soy milk, and even coconut water [1].

Kefir is made with a mesophilic culture (medium-loving) while yogurt is generally made from a thermophilic culture (heat-loving). Mesophilic cultures propagate best at room temperature up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Thermophilic cultures propagate in the heat, fermenting at about 110 degrees Fahrenheit [2]. This brings up an important point for those who want to make their own kefir or yogurt; kefir requires daily maintenance while yogurt can be made in bigger batches and left alone for longer periods.  

While yogurt is generally thick and consumed using a spoon, kefir is more of a liquid consistency and is generally consumed as a drink. As far as taste goes, plain kefir and plain yogurt taste rather similar though some feel that kefir is slightly more sour. Those that find kefir too taste sour should consider blending it with a handful of berries to increase sweetness without having to add sugar.

Another main difference is in the bacterial cultures each product contains. Yogurt usually contains 2-7 strains of beneficial probiotics [3].  On the other hand, kefir will contain around 12 strains of live and active cultures in addition to beneficial yeast, which is not present in yogurt. These beneficial yeasts can help keep pathogenic yeasts in the gut under control, such as Candida which can overgrow and cause yeast infections and thrush [3].  

 

HEALTH & NUTRITION BENEFITS OF KEFIR

Kefir is packed with protein, B vitamins, potassium, and calcium. Most importantly, kefir offers a good source of probiotics, which can help to improve the healthy bacteria ratio in your gut, treat or prevent diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, prevent and treat vaginal or urinary tract infections [1].

Another benefit is that kefir is generally well tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant. This is because the lactic acid bacteria found in fermented dairy foods like kefir and yogurt turns the lactose sugar into lactic acid, causing the lactose content to be much lower than milk. Fermented dairy foods also contain enzymes, which help break down the lactose even further [4]. If lactose is a main concern, you can also choose lactose free kefir made from coconut water or fruit juice!

Since kefir is safe to consume as a food, it is known to have fewer side effects and is more nutritionally dense than probiotic supplements [1]. It should be known that kefir could cause constipation and abdominal cramping, more commonly when you first start consuming it. These side-effects are often called “die-off” symptoms which are caused by a Herxheimer reaction. When the consumption of beneficial bacteria starts to kill off pathogens they release toxins that can overwhelm the body and make it difficult to clear them out. A Herxheimer reaction is a systemic inflammatory response to these endotoxins in the bloodstream. Generally the “die-off” symptoms do not last more than a week or so.

Knowing the differences between these cultured dairy products should help decide which is best for you!

 

TIPS/RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Use kefir as a liquid base for your smoothies
  • Substitute yogurt or buttermilk with kefir in your favorite baked goods
  • Use kefir as a base for creamy salad dressings that normally call for yogurt

 

 

 

 

Written by Tess H., Bastyr University student

 

Resources

  1. Gotter, A. “What is Kefir?” Healthline. October 9,2017. https://www.healthline.com/health/kefir
  2. The difference between kefir and yogurt. Cultures for Health. Accessed July 27, 2018. https://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/milk-kefir/difference-between-kefir-yogurt/
  3. Pope, S. “Why Kefir is a Healthier Choice than Yogurt”. The Healthy Home Economist. April 4, 2018.  https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/kefir-healthier-than-yogurt/
  4. Leech, J. “9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Kefir”. Authority Nutrition. January 24, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-health-benefits-of-kefir

 

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