Kefir vs. Yogurt: What’s the Difference?

Originally published October 20, 2017

The other day my wife brought home single serve “yogurt” containers. When I looked again at the packaging, I noticed they were labeled “Kefir,” not yogurt. It got me wondering, what’s the difference between yogurt and kefir? 

Kefir involves a milk being fermented at room temperature using kefir grains (the mother culture). This defines what kefir is but doesn’t necessarily distinguish it from yogurt.

A brief history of kefir is that was developed by shepherds in the Caucasus mountains of the former Soviet Union. These people were known for their longevity. Hospitals in the region used kefir to treat people with a range of maladies from digestive upsets to allergies to heart disease.  Milk from goats, sheep, or cows was placed into animal skins and purposefully suspended in a doorway in the sun during the day. People passing through the doorway would indirectly mix the product by pushing the suspended skin aside. Marco Polo referred to tasting kefir in his eastern travels. After reviewing this history, I discovered that a significant difference between kefir and yogurts is that kefirs are made with several strains of bacteria and yeast whereas yogurts are made with just one or a few bacterial strains. 

This begs the question, to be effective do probiotic products need to contain multiple strains of bacteria and yeast or just a few bacterial strains?  What is the best approach – many diverse microbes or just a few key strains? 

In the next installment, we’ll discuss some considerations for the use of few or many microorganism strains for digestive health.

In the meantime, feel free to leave comments on this subject. Following is a review of fermented foods and their health benefits. Review of Fermented Foods and Health

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