Kefir vs Yogurt, Which Fermented Milk Drink Is Better?

Kefir making at home

Yogurt Might Not Be the Best Fermented Milk Drink

Kefir is a fermented milk drink, similar to yogurt, with a milder taste and a different probiotic composition. Kefir is gaining popularity more and more, because of its specific taste that appeals to many people, and because of its increased health benefits.

Yogurt on the other hand is the most popular fermented milk product, the number one favorite on the market.

Kefir and Yogurt are cultured milk products with great nutritious value, and health benefits stemming from the probiotics content. They are both considered functional foods, because they improve our health in a few ways. They have a similar taste, and they look like any other fermented milk drinks. One would be tempted to say that the two are the same thing, but they are quite different in many aspects, and I’ll try to shed some light on that.

Kefir vs Yogurt – How Does Kefir Taste compared Yogurt?

There is a consistent difference between the taste of the two fermented milk products, and people are quite attached to one versus the other. For instance, I find the yogurt a little too tart for my taste, whereas my wife loves the sourness in yogurt, the more tart it is the better it tastes for her. My daughter doesn’t mind the lighter tartness of kefir, but she doesn’t like the specific fizz of kefir. I love that fizz.

That’s not to say that kefir cannot be very sour if you let it ferment too much. Bacteria will just eat more of the sugars in milk and transform it in lactic acid. But that doesn’t increase the effectiveness of kefir as a probiotic drink, I dare to say that it could even lower it.

Home Made KefirConsistency – Yogurt vs Kefir

Yogurt is the thicker of the two, and it’s usually made into an almost solid product, similar to sour cream. The thickness of yogurt can be controlled in a few ways, through the fat content, the more fat, the thicker the end result, through culture selection, some cultures will produce a thicker end result, by adding powdered milk to the mix, and by straining the fermented milk product. These are techniques used by both commercial yogurt makers, and home based yogurt makers. More than that, kefir can benefit the same techniques. In fact, some kefir makers, alter the kefir cultures by adding certain bacteria, to turn the otherwise runny kefir into a thicker consistency product, spoonable, that appeals to yogurt lovers. I personally love kefir as it is, a drinkable fermented milk. As a general rule, straining fermented milk products, kefir, or yougurt, or viili make them more apealing as foods, but it lowers the probiotic effects.

Probiotic Content Comparison – Is Kefir Healthier than Yogurt?

Kefir is healthier than yogurt. It contains more beneficial bacteria, more strains, and a higher count. Yogurt can contain various strains of Lactobacilli, but commercial yogurt makers will restrict the number of bacteria to a few, for profitability. When you make your yogurt, you can add various bacteria as your starter, and you can combine various starters to get a more complete probiotic profile. With kefir, there is no need for this, the kefir grains have all the bacteria and yeasts, there is no need to modify, improve, or control in any way the cultures, unless you want to make it thicker. Kefir contains 4 to 10 times more probiotics than yogurt. There are also more type of strains, both bacteria and yeasts, in kefir so potentially, there are more health benefits. As anecdotal evidence, people who drink kefir report that it is better for their health than yogurt.

The greatest benefit of kefir vs yogurt is that some of the probiotics in kefir will populate your gut. Probiotics in yogurt are transitory, they help you for a limited time as they pass through the digestive system. Kefir on the other hand, provides long term health benefits by repopulating the intestines. The more diverse microbiota in the kefir also targets more aspects of your health.

The probiotic profile of yogurt is very simple containing 2 up to 10 bacteria strains to help with the fermentation. The average though is under 5. Kefir on the other hand, if it’s made traditionally, with kefir grains as a starter, contains around 50 strains of yeasts and bacteria.

Yogurt contains one or more of the following bacteria:

  • Bifidobacterium bifidum
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Bifidobacterium longum
  • Bifidobacterium lactis
Other fermented milk drinks called yogurt, but somewhat different from the traditional one are Viili, Filmjölk, Matsoni, Piimä, and they are cultured with some of these bacteria.
  • Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris
  • Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis biovar. diacetylactis
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
  • Lactococcus lactis
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides
  • Lactobacillus lactis subsp. cremoris
  • Acetobacter orientalis
  • Streptococcus lactis var. bollandicus
  • Streptococcus taette

Kefir milk is fermented with a symbiotic culture of over 40 yeasts and bacteria, in a perfect balance, and helping each-other thrive. The cultures are enclosed in a polysaccharide shell, created by one of the bacteria in the symbiote, and which gives the structure the aspect of cauliflower florets.

While kefir grains are not always the same, and the microbiological composition can be different from symbiote to symbiote, a lot of the microorganisms are common to most cultures. Here is a generic possible microbiological composition of kefir, according to the studies made by a Chinese research team and a Mexican research team.

Bacteria in Kefir

  • Lactobacillus brevis
  • Lactobacillus acidophilus
  • Lactobacillus casei
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
  • Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis
  • Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens subsp. kefiranofaciens
  • Lactobacillus helveticus
  • Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei
  • Lactobacillus kefiri
  • Lactobacillus plantarum
  • Lactobacillus sake
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides
  • Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. dextranicum
  • Pseudomonas
  • Pseudomonas putida
  • Pseudomonas fluorescens
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
  • Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris
  • Lactococcus lactis

Yeasts in Kefir

  • Kazachstania exigua
  • Kazachstania unispora
  • Candida humilis
  • Kluyveromyces siamensis
  • Kluyveromyces marxianus
  • Kluyveromyces lactis
  • Saccharomyces unisporus
  • Saccharomyces martiniae
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Fermentation, Multiplication, and Propagation – Kefir vs Yogurt

Yogurt uses thermophilic cultures, which means they need higher temperature for fermentation, while kefir cultures are mesophilic, that means they can ferment at room temperature. For full disclosure I have to mention that some special yogurt types, such as Viili, Filmjölk, Matsoni, and Piimä use mesophilic cultures though. I personally don’t consider these yogurt, but most people refer to them as such.
Yogurt as a simple food can be obtained in as short as 8 hours at high temperatures. But this kind of fast fermentation destroys the bacteria in the fermented milk, and the result is a product with a low count of probiotics. When making SCD yogurt you have to make sure the temperature doesn’t go above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Very high temperatures will make yogurt faster, but will not result in a high count of probiotics. The fermentation time for “SCD legal” yogurt is 24 hours, this ensures that much of the sugars in milk are turned into lactic acid.
Kefir on the other hand is a mesophilic culture, which means it can be fermented at room temperature. The fermentation time for kefir is anything from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the room temperature, and your taste. The longer you ferment it the more sour it becomes.
Propagation for yogurt is ensured by using a small portion from the last batch. With careful planning a batch can virtually be used to culture an infinite number of batches. A small portion of the yogurt batch should be kept and used to start the next one.
Kefir propagation is ensured by the grains. The cultures are enclosed in the polysaccharide matrix, and they grow. The grains are always kept for the next batch.
The best kefir and yougurt are home made, because you are in complete control over the fermentation process and you can refine it to get maximum health benefits, and the perfect taste. Check this page if you want to start to make probiotic milk at home.