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Look—It’s a Milk! It’s a Yogurt! It’s… Kefir!

For all the innovation and artistry in the dairy world, it can seem like the uses of milk products are rather confined. Apart from cheese, milk, and yogurt, what is there? The answer, as it turns out, is a whole lot. Hardly innovative or revolutionary, many of these products are ancient foods that haven’t caught on as tenaciously with the general public (and don’t have a magazines committed to them). Kefir stands tall in this category. A delicious fermented-milk drink, kefir could be compared to either very thick milk or very thin yogurt. But we don’t need those rigid dairy-categories any more—kefir is neither milk nor yogurt. It is kefir, and it is delicious.

Kefir is made by adding kefir-grains to milk, then letting it sit at room temperature. These “grains” are cell structures that house the bacteria that turn milk into kefir. Unlike yogurt, the milk does not need to be heated first—kefir isn’t so high maintenance. Originating in the northern Caucasus Mountains, kefir originally was made in skin bags hung in doorways. Upon entering, passers-by would slap the bags, a good way to keep the grains well mixed. (Due to its country of origin, perhaps kefir is exempt from Putin’s ridiculous dairy purge>)O

Apart from being super easy to make, the benefits of eating/drinking kefir start at strengthening your gut bacteria and end with reduced flatulence. My favorite aspect of kefir has got to be the most basic feature—it’s drinkable! If you remember Gogurt, you’re bound to love this grown-up version.

Kefir Kefir, the magical drink The more you sip, the less you stink.

Kefir, kefir: the magical drink
The more you sip, the less you stink.

If you live in Chile, you might know of it by its local name, “yogurt de pajaritos” (the yogurt of little birds). Available for more than a century, it’s possible that its South America debut was at the behest of immigrants from the Ottoman Empire. Most of our readership does not live in Chile, however, and thus will not be able to find very much little bird yogurt. Fortunately, Kefir is growing in popularity in America, and it is getting easier and easier to find. You can get little smoothies like these at Whole Foods, or you could just buy your own kefir grains and start your own operation. Whatever route you go, make sure you try our delicious Rum Apricot Kefir recipe!

Feature Photo Credit: Milk kefir grains on a wooden spoon overhead shoot by Dusan Zidar | Shutterstock

Robbie Herbst

Robbie Herbst is a summer editorial intern and an undergrad at Dartmouth College, where he enjoys access to the unimaginably quaint cheese-makers of the upper valley. When he isn’t writing or playing violin, he likes to take bricks of Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar on long hikes through the White Mountains.