In recent years kefir has taken a major backseat to kombucha. Maybe because a lot of people think kefir is just some kind of offbeat yogurt-cousin with not much to offer. But oh, does it.

True, milk kefir is a dairy product. And while the tart and tangy taste might be similar to drinkable yogurt or buttermilk, its health benefits rank right up there with other fermented good guys like sauerkraut and kimchi. In fact, “keif,” the root word of kefir, means “to feel good” in Turkish.

Makes a whole lot of sense considering kefir provides high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics. Yep.

How is kefir different from yogurt?

Both kefir and yogurt start out as milk, and both are fermented. But kefir is actually a much more potent and powerful source of probiotics (good-for-you-bacteria). While kefir contains 10-34 different strains of probiotics (plus beneficial yeast strains), yogurt only has two to seven. (Sorry Chobani, it’s the facts.)

But the biggest difference? According to Dr. Josh Axe, the bacteria in yogurt are transient, meaning they go in to help clean and line the gut, but they don’t stick around. The probiotics in kefir can actually attach to intestinal walls, make up house and colonize there. They’re also aggressive enough to actually go out and attack pathogens and bad stuff in your gut.

Here are six more health benefits of kefir that may surprise you:

Other uses for kefir

Sure you can drink it or mix it into smoothies—kefir is after all, the “champagne of dairy.” But the makers of Lifeway® Kefir say you can also use it as a healthy substitute for sour cream, yogurt, buttermilk, or mayo in all kinds of recipes, from dips and salads to pizza and mac and cheese. Bob’s Red Mill says plain, unsweetened kefir lends a moist, light and airy texture to baked goods such as waffles, cupcakes, quick breads, and muffins, too. How about an olive oil kefir donut?

But is it better than kombucha?

Kefir (made with milk) and kombucha (made with tea) both begin with live cultures to kick off the fermentation process. And they both contain a bounty of health-boosting probiotic bacteria. (Yay.) And while kefir has more calories per cup (135 vs. 25) it’s also much more nutrient dense. That one cup of kefir contains 10 grams of protein, 30% DV of calcium, 25% DV of vitamin D, and 10% DV of vitamin A.

Also, making homemade kefir is a much easier task. You simply add kefir culture (called “grain”) to milk and let it hang out on the counter for 24 hours. If you’re staying away from dairy, there are also versions of kefir made with coconut milk, coconut water or filtered water.

Think you should give kefir a try? Go with your gut.

About the Author

Diane Bobis

Diane Bobis is a Chicago-based lifestyle writer and mom. Since graduating from Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, she has covered food, fashion, health, wellness, and beauty for dozens of outlets, including Womensforum.com, HowStuffWorks.com, BigOven.com, Hungry? Chicago Family, Winnetka Living, and Daily Dose of Knowledge: America. Wellness Habitat: Ashwagandha, Plant Therapy, Rachel Macy Stafford, Panda Planner, morning snuggles, and laughter.