The Real Differences Between Kefir and Buttermilk
Both milk kefir and buttermilk are probiotic-rich drinks full of gut-healthy bacteria. The main difference between kefir and buttermilk is in the number of beneficial bacteria each has to offer.
Depending on the variety that you use, milk kefir grains may contain up to 60 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. See the full list here (source). While buttermilk only has one strain, either Lactobacillus bulgaricus or Lactococcus lactis, depending on the manufacturer.
So if you are trying to decide which one is better for your gut health, then kefir is the answer.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms that help balance the good and bad bacteria that live in the digestive system.
Good bacteria in the gut ensure the appropriate absorption of vitamins and minerals and synthesizes them as well. A well-functioning gut with healthy gut flora holds the roots to good health; the rest of the body cannot thrive without a well-functioning digestive system.
A healthy gut provides a more balanced metabolism, body weight, and a stronger immune system. It also helps produce essential vitamins and nutrients for your body, improves brain function, and elevates your mood.
The diverse and multiple functions of gut flora reach far beyond the gut itself. A build-up of negative microbes or bad bacteria in our digestive system can cause toxicity build-up. So, no matter what you do, you can’t get better.
One of the easiest ways to balance your gut microbiome is by consuming fermented foods, i.e., kefir and/or buttermilk.
Nutritional Differences Between Kefir and Buttermilk
Actually, kefir and buttermilk have quite a few similarities in their nutritional profile. The following stats are for a one-cup serving.
Both kefir and buttermilk contain a similar amount of potassium. An 8 oz. serving of Lifeway plain kefir contains about 376 mg of potassium (source) and 2% buttermilk just surpasses it with 439 mg of potassium. (source)
|Protein||6 grams||7.83 grams|
|Carbohydrates||15 grams||11.9 grams|
|Fat||2 grams||8.08 grams|
|Potassium||376 mg||370 mg|
Benefits of Kefir
Kefir grains are a mixture of bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars. Many say this symbiotic matrix forms grains that look like tiny cauliflower florets. Kefir is packed with many vital nutrients and vitamins.
- vitamin B12
- vitamin D
- vitamin K2
- bioactive compounds
- organic acids and peptides
Milk kefir is rich in calcium and vitamin K2, which can increase bone health and with regular consumption it has been shown to reduce the risk of bone fractures by 81%. (source)
The K2 vitamin helps calcium metabolize and get into the bone to prevent fractures and keep your bones strong,
While it is true kefir is a source of K2, it actually depends on the quality of the milk used to make the kefir. If the milk is from grass-fed cows then the amount of K2 will be higher. Furthermore, the bacteria in the kefir grains also produce some K2.
Nailing down the exact amount of K2 that is in kefir was difficult. I was able to find one scientific study that states there are 5 µg/100 g (or 3.5oz.). However, it did not list the type of milk used in the kefir sample or how much derived from the milk or the bacteria that is also in kefir grains. (source)
Compare that to other sources of K2 (source)
Natto 939 mcg
Goose Liver 370 mcg
Beef Liver 263 mcg
Kimchi 42 mcg
Kefir 5 mcg
Per (100g) or 3.5 oz. of food*
µg and mcg are the same measurements.
To make a dairy-free version of kefir, you can substitute coconut water, coconut milk or other sweet liquids for the milk. However, these will not have the same nutrient profile as dairy-based kefir.
Benefits of Buttermilk
Buttermilk is similar to yogurt, and it’s highly popular in India, Asia, Europe, and the Balkans.
Buttermilk packs a lot of nutrition into a small serving.
- lactic acid
- vitamin B12
- vitamin A
- vitamin D
2% buttermilk has 250 mg of calcium per cup, which can be helpful in preventing osteoporosis, making it especially good for people concerned with their bone health. (source)
Buttermilk has the same amount of protein as skim milk and less fat than regular milk because the fat is skimmed off the top during the process of making butter. The leftover liquid is now lower in fat.
It is very versatile since you can buy it in a few different forms. Fresh, frozen, and powdered are all available on the market, making it easy to incorporate into any recipe.
The probiotics in buttermilk help with digestion and aid with stomach issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s, flatulence, and acid reflux. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Buttermilk is full of electrolytes and is a great drink to prevent dehydration. If you are working out in the hot summer sun, buttermilk can help the body maintain its fluid content.
Flavor and Consistency of Kefir and Buttermilk
Buttermilk and kefir both have very similar tastes, with kefir being a bit tangier. Buttermilk has a very tart and sour taste, similar to unsweetened yogurt or sour cream. They both have a similar appearance, being a white liquid that could be tinged a slight yellow or brown.
They may have bubbles, and they’re known for having a very thick and creamy texture, much thicker than regular cow’s milk. You may also notice a slightly sour scent, but again, don’t be alarmed. It’s perfectly normal, and drinking it won’t hurt you, and you just may find yourself a little bit surprised by the flavor and scent.
It’s absolutely worth it for the health benefits you’ll receive by incorporating it into your regular diet, and there’s plenty of ways to use both drinks that don’t involve drinking it straight if you find yourself truly put off by the flavor.
How Kefir is Made
Kefir starts with grains that are small colonies of proteins, yeast, sugar, and bacteria. Milk is added to the grains. It doesn’t necessarily need to be cow’s milk, sheep or goat milk can be used as well. Once the kefir has fermented for approximately 12 -24 hours, the active cultures are strained out. What is left behind is a smooth and tangy flavored drink.
How Buttermilk Is Made
Buttermilk has been around for hundreds of years and originally was made with unpasteurized cow’s milk. Back then, people would make butter by letting the whole milk stand to allow the cream to separate. After the cream rose to the surface it was skimmed off, leaving “skim milk” behind. Buttermilk is the byproduct or liquid that’s left behind, as a result of making butter from cream. As you can probably guess, this process was not sterile, resulting in a natural fermentation of the skim milk.
The lactose, which is milk sugar in the cream would mix with bacteria in the air. It would then metabolize into lactic acid which is the reason for the tangy flavor.
Today, buttermilk is made by adding lactic acid to pasteurized skim milk to increase the acidity. This acidification gives the buttermilk it’s unique, tart taste and adds additional proteins to the milk.
How to incorporate Kefir and Buttermilk into your diet.
Now that you have all of the details about kefir and buttermilk, you’re probably wondering what the best way to incorporate each one into your diet.
Of course, you can drink each just as they are and it’s probably the most efficient way to do it, but why not have a little fun with it? Your food doesn’t have to be boring.
For starters, buttermilk is a great substitute for butter or sour cream, especially because it has a very yogurt-like flavor.
Add buttermilk or kefir to your smoothie.
A simple smoothie recipe to include these in your diet might look like a ½ cup of kefir or buttermilk, ½ cup of frozen strawberries, one tablespoon of lemon juice, one teaspoon of honey and run it through a blender. You could add some cacao nibs or chia seeds to the recipe. It sounds like the perfect start to a morning. Try my kefir smoothie recipe.
Buttermilk pancakes and buttermilk biscuits are two tried and true recipes.
Kefir, makes fantastic bread, like lemon loaves or carrot loaves. You can use them as a sourdough starter if bread baking is your thing.
Both make excellent meat tenderizers.
To make a deliciously moist chicken, on the inside and crispy outside, first, soak the chicken breast in kefir or buttermilk.
Kefir or buttermilk can also be used for frozen treats like ice cream or popsicles.
Buttermilk salad dressing is delicious on a blend of collard, kale, and mustard greens for a Southern-inspired summer salad.
Kefir also comes in flavored fruit varieties, so as long as you’re mindful of your sugar intake, that could be a great option as well.
Both drinks have amazing qualities and a very similar nutritional profile. However, because kefir is made up of approximately 60 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts compared to buttermilk’s one strain of good bacteria I believe kefir is your best option.
Whichever you choose, you’ll know that you’re making a great choice with your health in mind, and you can look forward to reaping the benefits every single time you use them.