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Kefir vs Kombucha

Check out our detailed comparison between kefir and kombucha. See which of these probiotic drinks has the most culture and health benefits in this fermented beverage face-off.

Various kinds of fermented drinks on a white table against the window.

The importance of good gut health is all the rage in the natural health community. Since there are ten times as many bacteria in your body as there are human cells, it would be wise to keep these little bugs happy! If your gut is in a rut, you may want to consider a fermented beverage.

Kefir and kombucha are fermented drinks that are rich in probiotics and nutrients. These drinks both stimulate digestion and inoculate the gut with beneficial bacteria. As functional foods, fermented beverages have benefits beyond nutritional value.

In today’s world, gut health plays a pivotal role in overall wellbeing and vitality. Is it worth adding fermented drinks to your daily health regimen? Should you be sipping on kefir or kombucha? Which drink will benefit your gut the most?

Comparing the two probiotic heavyweights will reveal which has the most culture and holds the key to good gut health.

Kefir

[kee-feer]

What Is Kefir?

Pitcher and glass of milk kefir with Tibetan mushroom.

Kefir is a fermented drink traditionally made with dairy milk, although vegan options are available such as coconut water and plant-based milk.

A probiotic and nutrient-rich drink is created by fermenting milk or water with kefir grains (tiny colonies of bacteria and yeast). Kefir is left to ferment at room temperature for 1-3 days before consumption.

  1. Milk Kefir
  • The ‘original’ kefir, made with raw, unpasteurized cow’s or goat’s milk.
  • Milk kefir grains are added as a starter culture to ferment the milk to produce a probiotic-rich beverage similar to drinkable yogurt.
  • Plant-based milk such as coconut, almond or soy can be used as a dairy alternative.
  1. Water Kefir
  • A lower calorie option, made with a carbohydrate-rich liquid such as fruit juice, coconut water or sugar water.
  • Water kefir grains, called tibicos, are added as the starter culture to ferment the sugars present in the liquid, which results in a probiotic-rich fizzy beverage similar to soda.
  • Water kefir is cheaper and easier to make than milk kefir.
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What Does Kefir Taste Like?

Glasses of kefir yogurt topped with flax seeds.

A creamy texture complements the tangy and slightly sour flavor of milk kefir. It is similar to Greek yogurt but with a thinner consistency.

Water kefir is sweet, slightly tart and fizzy. You can compare this refreshing drink to soda, only more nutritious and without the excess sugar!

Kefir is usually flavored with a delicious blend of fruit or vegetable juice and spices.

The History Of Kefir

Traditional kefir is thought to have its roots in the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe. It was made by combining kefir grains and fresh milk, which was left to ferment in goatskin bags. Kefir has been used for centuries in Russia, Georgia, Turkey and Central Asia.

In the early 1900s, Dr. Ilya Ilyich Metchnikoff (a Russian Nobel prizewinner and immunologist) completed research that confirmed that kefir was one of the keys to the extraordinary longevity of the Caucasus population.

Following Metchnikoff’s discovery, the All-Russian Physicians’ Society made it their mission to obtain the kefir grains from the tribes of Caucasus (who were highly reluctant to share their beloved secret) to produce and use kefir as medicine in hospitals.

Kefir gained popularity in the west by the 1960s and is considered a superfood for the gut and longevity to this day.

Cultures For Health has a step-by-step video tutorial for homemade water kefir.

The Potential Health and Nutritional Benefits Of Kefir

Kefir yogurt with a glass bowl of berries.

  1. Kefir is rich in many nutrients:
  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Vitamins B, C, and K
  1. Kefir is fantastic for supporting digestive health:
  • It inoculates the gut with probiotics, which restores the balance of friendly bacteria.
  • Treats chronic constipation, diarrhea and peptic ulcers
  • Alleviates digestive discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  1. People with mild lactose intolerance may still be able to consume kefir:
  • Kefir contains less lactose than regular milk.
  • The bacteria produced during fermentation break down the lactose into lactic acid, which is easier to digest.
  1. Studies show that regular consumption of kefir may have the following health benefits:
  • Relief from the symptoms associated with GERD or chronic acid reflux
  • Support cardiovascular health
  • Alleviate allergy and asthma symptoms
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Aid in weight loss
  • Anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce the risk of illness and disease
  • Enhance bone health by improving bone mineral density
  • Strengthen the immune system
  1. Compared to kombucha, kefir:
  • Is less acidic
  • Contains less sugar
  • Is caffeine-free
  • Provides a greater variety and more potent concentration of probiotics (beneficial bacteria)
  • Is a better choice for people with a yeast infection/overgrowth, such as Candida. Unlike other fermented foods, kefir does not feed yeast but instead inhibits it.
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The Possible Drawbacks Of Kefir

  • Commercial kefir products are often fermented with kefir powder instead of kefir grains. The grains produce a more superior product with a richer diversity of probiotics.
  • Store-bought kefir can contain high amounts of sugar.
  • Certain people are sensitive to high amounts of probiotics and may experience digestive discomfort such as gas and bloating.
  • Kefir is high in calories, fat and carbohydrates.

5 Ways To Use Kefir

Kefir yogurt with chia parfaits and blueberries.

  1. Drink ½ – 1 cup of kefir first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, or 2-3 hours after meals. This will be enough to feed and replenish the gut with beneficial probiotics and nutrients.
  2. Blend ½ – 1 cup kefir into your smoothies as a probiotic-rich replacement for yogurt.
  3. Pour kefir over your cereal just like you would milk.
  4. Use kefir in a salad dressing as a wholesome, zingy substitute for yogurt or buttermilk.
  5. Create a delicious parfait using kefir, granola and fresh fruit. The sour taste offsets fruit perfectly!

Kombucha

[kom-boo-cha]

What Is Kombucha?

Man placing the scoby in a glass jar to make kombucha.

Kombucha is a fermented, probiotic beverage made with tea, sugar and a starter culture known as a scoby.

How Kombucha Is Made

    1. Traditional kombucha is made with black, green or white tea.
    2. Sugar is added to the brewed tea and left to cool in a sterilized glass jar.
    3. The SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as the ‘mother,’ is placed in the tea to start the fermentation process by feeding on the sugar. The scoby is round, dense and rubbery. It looks like a mushroom or jellyfish.
    4. The mixture is covered with a cheesecloth or kitchen towel and left to ferment at room temperature, anywhere between two to four weeks.
    5. When the kombucha is ready, the scoby is removed and the tea is flavored with fruit or vegetable juice. You can store kombucha in the fridge for 6-8 months.
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What Does Kombucha Taste Like?

Assorted flavors of kombucha with fresh berries on the side.

Kombucha has a pungent, sweet and tangy taste with a vinegary aroma. The carbon dioxide produced during fermentation creates a refreshingly fizzy and effervescent drink. The tea is often infused with fruit puree, herbs and spices.

Kombucha can be compared to a sparkling cider, and the majority of people prefer it to kefir.

The History Of Kombucha

Kombucha teas on a stump wooden board.

The first recorded use of kombucha was in Northeast China, around 221BC. The ‘Tea of Immortality’ was renowned for its healing qualities. The fermented tea spread throughout the Silk Road, earning the name “kombucha” after Dr. Kombu, a Korean physician who used the tea to treat the Japanese Emperor.

After fading during World War II, kombucha re-emerged after a 1960s Swiss study compared its health benefits to yogurt. In the 1990s, natural health enthusiasts testified to the many benefits of kombucha as it rose to popularity in the US and domestic markets.    

The late 1990s saw George Thomas Dave brew a fortune as the first person to commercialize kombucha. GT’s Living Foods is still the largest kombucha producer in the US.

In response to the rising awareness of gut health, kombucha consumption and popularity continues to increase.

The Potential Health and Nutritional Benefits Of Kombucha

Woman drinking kombucha tea.

  1. Kombucha is a rich source of probiotics, which is good for digestive and overall health:
  • Improve gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, gas and bloating.
  • Lower inflammation in the intestinal tract.
  • Strengthen the immune system.
  1. The tea in kombucha provides benefits such as:
  • Polyphenols: may protect the body against heart disease, inflammation and certain cancers.
  • Catechins: potent antioxidant that protects the cells from damage and aging and boosts the metabolism.
  • Other antioxidants may promote weight loss, improve blood sugar control and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  1. The fermentation process produces various health-promoting compounds:
  • Acetic acid: promotes blood sugar control, weight loss and antimicrobial activity, which kills harmful bacteria.
  • Lactic acid: Effectively breaks down food in the body for optimal digestion.
  1. Kombucha boosts liver function and reduces the impact of toxins on the liver
  1. Compared to kefir, kombucha:
  • Has more digestive enzymes
  • Is lower in calories
  • Is a great dairy-free option for vegans and lactose intolerant individuals
  • May be more pleasant to drink
  • Contains higher amounts of antioxidants
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The Kitchn has a very informative guide on kombucha and how to brew your own batch at home:

The Possible Drawbacks Of Kombucha

  • Store-bought kombucha can contain high amounts of added sugar.
  • Kombucha contains traces of alcohol due to fermentation (between 0.5 to 3%).
  • There is a substantial amount of caffeine from the tea.
  • People with yeast infections (such as Candida) should avoid drinking kombucha.
  • Drinking kombucha may cause uncomfortable side effects such as nausea and gas.
  • Kombucha is lower in probiotics than kefir.

4 Ways To Use Kombucha

Man mixing kombucha cocktails.

  1. Refreshing, gut-friendly drink

Serving Size:

  • Drink ½ cup of kombucha daily
  • Or: 4-oz (118ml) shots 1-3 times per day.

Time:

  • First thing in the morning on an empty stomach to replenish the gut.
  • 20 minutes before or after a meal to aid digestion.
  • Mid-afternoon or after a workout, for a boost of energy.
  1. Use kombucha as a delicious and healthier alternative to soda or lemonade in cocktails or mocktails.
  2. Kombucha can be used in place of vinegar for salad dressings and marinades.
  3. Blend kombucha with fresh fruit and freeze to make popsicles.

The Verdict

While the fermented beverage face-off confirms that both beverages contain beneficial bacteria and nutrients, you will find me sipping on kefir. Overall, kefir delivers a more potent and diverse supply of probiotics and lactic acid – without the caffeine and alcohol that are present in kombucha.