The latest probiotic power players might give yogurt a run for its money. While kefir and skyr may differ from yogurt in many ways, these two cultured dairy products offer similar benefits.
Kefir is a low-fat fermented milk drink made with kefir grains, which aren’t really grains at all — they’re a mix of yeasts and lactobacillus bacteria. Because kefir is fermented with more and different types of bacteria, in addition to yeast, it offers about three times more probiotics — the microorganisms that promote digestive health — than yogurt. It’s also packed with calcium, protein and potassium.
In terms of texture, kefir has a much thinner consistency than yogurt and can actually be drank out of a straw, poured over cereal or granola, or mixed with fruit to make a smoothie. It’s got the same kind of tangy flavor as yogurt with a tiny bit of fizz, which is a result of the carbon dioxide, alcohol and aromatic compounds produced by the cultures, according to nutritionist Nicholas Perricone.
Kefir originated in the Caucasus Mountains in the former Soviet Union and dates back as far as 3,000 B.C. Today, it’s slowly making its way to American consumers, with two big brands available in the United States: Lifeway offers a Greek-style drinkable kefir, and Evolve has 6-ounce cartons of thicker Greek kefir that can be found in NYC grocery stores.
Though many claim kefir’s benefits extend beyond digestive health, there’s currently not enough scientific evidence to back this up. If anything, you’ll benefit from the probiotics, which help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, while aiding digestion and nutrient absorption.
Skyr is an Icelandic cultured dairy product that’s marketed as yogurt even though it’s technically a strained, skim-milk cheese. It’s made with pasteurized skim milk, rennet (a complex of enzymes) and the same live active cultures as yogurt.
Like Greek yogurt, skyr is strained so that the final product is thick and creamy. We’re talking really thick and creamy. This stuff is thicker than yogurt, making it a great substitution for high-fat dairy products like sour cream or perfect for a creamy smoothie. Did we mention it’s naturally fat-free?
Skyr is tangy like yogurt but slightly less sour. Because it requires three times more milk to produce than yogurt does, it offers more protein and calcium.
According to Skyr.com, Icelanders have made skyr since the Norwegians settled there in the 9th century. These days, it’s popping up in the U.S. market under two brand names: Skyr.is and Siggi’s Skyr. The former is the Icelandic import and can be found in Whole Foods from Virginia to Maine, according to Serious Eats. The latter is made in Brooklyn and is even thicker than other types of skyr. It’s sold in Whole Foods and specialty markets on the East Coast and in the Midwest.