Yogurt and Kefir.
Both are dairy products inoculated with beneficial bacteria cultures, giving them unique physical and nutritional characteristics. Both versatile in culinary potential. Both delicious. So what’s the difference? Why choose one over the other?
I think it’s safe to assume that more people are familiar with yogurt, and less so with kefir. Yogurt is thick, creamy, and a little sour. Kefir tends to be thinner (more of a beverage), carbonated, and more sour.
There are several different types of microorganisms responsible for kefir’s unique characteristics. Similar to yogurt, kefir contains various bacterial cultures such as Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species. The main difference is that kefir has more strains, and in higher amounts. Kefir cultures also contain yeasts Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir which are not found in yogurt. Both microorganisms break down milk sugars, but result in different end products and impart the different sensory characteristics. The sour flavour is developed from the production of lactic acid during fermentation process. Yeast cultures contribute the carbonation qualities in the digestion of milk sugars. In this process, some of the sugar sugar is converted to carbon dioxide – this is why kefir beverages often have some carbonation in them!
Both yogurt and kefir are touted for their probiotic value. Probiotics are beneficial flora (bacteria) that reside in our digestive tract helping the breakdown and digestion of food, and resisting the growth of harmful bacteria and pathogens. When it comes to probiotics, kefir trounces yogurt. Kefir has more varieties of beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures, and greater overall population numbers. While yogurt does provide some probiotics, kefir is much more potent and uniquely capable of colonizing the intestinal tract and producing more lasting beneficial effects. Additionally, kefir provides a good sources of nutrients vitamin A, B1, B2, B6, B12, vitamin D, folic acid, nicotinic acid, as well as calcium, iron, and iodine.
While there are many options for buying kefir, it’s extremely easy (and cost effective) to make your own!
Can’t have dairy? Not to worry. Kefir will ferment more than just milk products – you can ferment most non dairy milk substitutes (such as soy, rice, almond, and coconut based products) and fruit juices. Similar to kombucha cultures you have to get some kefir culture, called kefir “grains”, from someone who’s already making their own. Here’s a great tutorial and FAQ by the food blog Food Loves Writing on how to make it!
Check out some recipe ideas for kefir! Most of these can be altered for those that are gluten free.