Q: What is kefir? Is it like yogurt?
A: Kefir is a cultured dairy product, similar to a yogurt drink, that originated in the Caucasus Mountains straddling Europe and Asia. Promoters call it “miracle milk” because of its alleged health benefits.
Traditionally, kefir is made by fermenting milk with kefir “grains”—a mixture of bacteria and yeast bound in a gelatinous matrix. The result is tangy like yogurt, but it may also be slightly alcoholic and fizzy, depending on the fermentation time and technique. For safety and consistency, most commercial kefirs use powdered starter cultures instead of the grains. In contrast, yogurt is typically fermented with different strains of bacteria, and no yeast.
Like yogurt, kefir contains probiotic bacteria. Probiotics may reduce antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and they may help irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal conditions. Because kefir has more strains of bacteria than yogurt, it may have a wider range of effects. But don’t believe claims that kefir lowers blood pressure or cholesterol, increases energy, strengthens nails and hair, or prevents cancer and diabetes.
Kefir is rich in protein, calcium, B vitamins, and other nutrients. Choose low-fat or nonfat varieties to reduce calories. Kefir made from soy milk is also available. Traditional kefir is not sweet, but most commercial products have added sugars, along with fruit (or fruit flavors), which add calories. Commercial brands don’t contain alcohol.