What’s the deal with kefir, plus 15 ways to eat it


Closeup of water kefir

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A lot of buzzwords get bandied about when it comes to nutrition, chief among them the term “superfood.” The latest would-be sensation is kefir. Both types of kefir — one made from milk, the other from water — are probiotic-rich beverages. They are like yogurt, but they are made differently, they have different types of bacteria, and yogurt tends to be thicker than even milk kefir. In addition, kefir also contains yeast, which makes it taste different from yogurt.

Cultures for Health explains the difference between milk kefir and water kefir. The milk variety is made with cow, goat or coconut milk, while water kefir is dairy-free and made with sugar water, fruit juice or coconut water. Milk kefir can be drunk plain or flavored, but many tend to use it as a base for salad dressings and smoothies or as a substitute for buttermilk or yogurt in recipes. Water kefir tends to be substituted for soda and juice, and can be used as a base for dairy-free smoothies, popsicles or fruit gelatin desserts.

An article in the Huffington Post sings kefir’s praises, and rightfully so. The food is rich in calcium; protein; and B vitamins, particularly B12, which is vital for the nervous system and blood, and B1, which helps the body cope with stress. It is also rich in phosphorus, which, according to the article, helps “our bodies use carbohydrates and proteins for cell growth and energy.” It also mentions the probiotics, but takes care to point out that it may only help with some digestive issues.

According to WebMD, consuming “kefir can cause intestinal cramping and constipation, especially when use is started,” which is why it tends to bring relief to people suffering from upset stomach or diarrhea. After all, you don’t want to worsen your digestive issues. WebMD also cautions those with “AIDS and other conditions that weaken the immune system” against consuming kefir. The actively growing bacteria and yeast may cause those with deficient immune systems to develop infections from the bacteria or yeast.

So beware of falling for the hype and don't expect something that is actually good for you to do more than it can — or to end up causing precisely the condition you were trying to treat or avoid. Ready to try some and not sure where to start? How about with one of the following 15 recipes?


1. Peach cobbler smoothie

Peach cobbler smoothie

Put those peaches to good use in this smoothie from Mountain Mama Cooks that incorporates kefir.


2. Kefir blini or Russian crepes

Kefir blini

Vikalinka substitutes sour cream with kefir to complement these crepes.


3. Strawberry kefir popsicles

Strawberry kefir popsicles

The Nourishing Gourmet uses kefir in this simple recipe for popsicles that will satisfy your sweet tooth without all the extra guilt afterward.


4. Grilled kefir chicken

Grilled kefir chicken

We love Oh, Sweet Basil's recipe for grilled chicken topped with mango orange pineapple kefir.


5. Buttermilk kefir biscuits with summer berry compote

Buttermilk kefir biscuits

Domestic Superhero uses kefir to make these light and fluffy biscuits.