What Is the Difference Between Kefir and Yogurt? A Cultured Explainer

Have you ever taken a big old bite of yogurt and thought to yourself, “I wish that this was a lot tangier, and I was drinking it?” No? Well, I’m still going to tell you about kefir, anyway. Kefir may be the new kid on the block in dairy departments in many parts of the United States, but it’s actually been around for years. It’s believed to have originated centuries ago around present day Turkey. Which means it is not named after actor Kiefer Sutherland. His name is spelled and pronounced differently. The correct pronunciation of kefir is ku-fear. I don’t know where you learned that Kiefer Sutherland thing in the first place or why the heck you would even think that.

What’s the difference between kefir and yogurt? Both kefir and yogurt are fermented products made with milk, so it’s easy to assume that they’re practically the same thing. Some people may even use terms like “kefir yogurt.” But they are actually very different things that are made in very different ways. Yogurt is made by adding bacteria to milk and heating it, fermenting it quickly (usually two to four hours). Kefir, on the other hand, is made by adding kefir grain to milk and allowing it to ferment over a longer period of time (usually 14 to 18 hours). The kefir grain contains both bacteria and yeast, which ferments the milk. 

What is a kefir grain exactly? It’s not what we’d normally think of as grain, like wheat or something harvested in a field. Kefir grains are small, jelly-like, white balls that are clustered together sort of like cauliflower. These living little gel balls hold billions of microorganisms. 

Yogurt and kefir are similar because they are fermented dairy products. The big difference between yogurt and kefir is the way in which they are fermented. Because kefir is fermented with the kefir grain, which contains bacteria and yeast, and its fermentation process takes so much longer than yogurt, it has a tangier, more sour taste. And as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great tang comes great probiotics.” Kefir has lots of those gut-helping goons swimming around in there. The average kefir contains three times more probiotics than the average yogurt. A typical yogurt has one to five active cultures with six billion colony forming units while kefir comes with 12 live and active cultures and 15 to 20 billion colony-forming units. What does all that mean? It means they are both good for your tummy but kefir is a little better. 

Even though kefir is a dairy product, it’s usually tolerated pretty well by the lactose sensitive as the enzymes present in kefir break down the lactose. Also, like yogurt, kefir comes in all sorts of varieties and can be made completely dairy-free. There are soy-milk, almond-milk, coconut-milk, and coconut-water varieties. Kefir can even be made with plain old water. Kefir really is one of the healthiest and tastiest fermented dairy products that’s definitely not named after an actor.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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