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New in the Market: Kefir – The Greek Gods, Helios and Lifeway

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on July 15, 2013 · 50 comments

Kefir_LineUp_Ph15_v1We love to try new foods. Some are great. Some don’t measure up and some become staples in our kitchen. See what you think. 

Each time you go to the supermarket you are seeing more brands of kefir in the dairy case. We all know about yogurt. Many of us have switched to the ever expanding Greek yogurt line, but know there is kefir, used and enjoyed for years in Europe. What is the difference between kefir and yogurt?

Both are cultured milk foods rich in protein, calcium, B vitamins and potassium. Unflavored they both are tart with a slightly sour flavor. When flavored they are sweeter and less tangy tasting. The prime difference is in consistency, kefir is thinner and normally used as a drink, and in the number of beneficial bacteria the product contains. Kefir almost always contains more strains of friendly bacteria (probiotics) than yogurt which normal only contains a few. Eating foods containing probiotics protects your immune system and digestive health and may protect against many serious health problems such as heart disease and colon cancer. Kefir is also much lower in lactose (milk sugar) than milk, so it is a good option for those with lactose intolerance.

Kefir can be used as a drink or over cereal or granola or blended into a smoothie. It can be substituted in any dish that calls for yogurt. We recently tried 3 brands.

The Greek Gods expanded its yogurt line to include drinkable lowfat kefir. It is available in 4 flavors – Plain, Vanilla Honey, Honey Strawberry, and Honey. Each is made with 12 types of probiotics. We tasted all four flavors.

  • Plain is tangy like traditional kefir. A 1 cup serving has 140 calories and 400 milligrams of calcium (40% of the daily recommendation).
  • Vanilla Honey is a milder, sweeter taste with no tangy aftertaste, a good choice for those that don’t like traditional kefir. A 1 cup serving has 220 calories and 400 milligrams of calcium.
  • Honey had a mild sweet honey flavor. A 1 cup serving has 230 calories and 400 milligrams of calcium.
  • Honey Strawberry was the sweetest but the strawberry flavor was mild and not overpowering or artificial. A 1 cup serving has 220 calories and 400 milligrams of calcium.

Our 3 year old taste-tester could not get enough of the flavored varieties. It is a good, healthy substitute for milk on occasion and a pleasant, filling snack for kids.

Helios-Kefir-Plain-300Helios Organic Nonfat Greek Kefir has recently been brought under the Lifeway Foods product line. It comes in Original, Plain, Vanilla, and 6 fruit flavors. Helios Kefir is made with 7 active cultures plus inulin, a plant-based fiber that promotes the health of your gut bacteria and enhances calcium absorption.

We tasted the Original flavor which is the same effervescent cultured milk beverage popular in Eastern Europe for thousands of years. Traditional kefir is slightly bubbly and may “splash” when opened if you shake the bottle. Other brands make a “flat” kefir drink that should be shaken before pouring. A 1-cup serving of Original Helios Kefir has 120 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 300 milligrams of calcium (one-third of the day’s requirement). The brand is kosher certified (cRc).

Lifeway produces an extensive line of kefir products. Its kefir beverages are all made with 10 active probiotics which provide 7 to 10 million CFUs (colony forming units) per cup. We tasted the Lowfat Plain variety which has 110 calories and 300 milligrams of calcium in a 1-cup serving. It had a tangy traditional kefir taste. The Lifeway kefir bottles explain that the beverage is slightly effervescent and a rounded or slightly bulging bottle can be expected.

Lifeway also makes a line of frozen cultured dairy treats. We were curious as to how the live probiotics stayed viable through the freezing process. The company said that heat destroys the cultures but freezing simply put them in to a dormant or sleeping state. Once eaten, the cultures become active again and provide all the health benefits of refrigerated cultured dairy foods.

Probugs-300Probugs Frozen Kefir are push-up dairy pops in kid-friendly flavors – Goo-Berry Pie, Orange Creamy Crawler and Strawnana Split. The come in a 6-pack of 3-ounce pops each having 70 calories and 100 milligrams of calcium — a good 99% lactose-free snack or dessert . Our official kid-tasters really enjoyed the samples we received.

Lifeway Frozen Kefir is sold in pints and is available in Original, Strawberry, Pomegranate, Mango, Pumpkin, Chocolate, and Dulce de Leche flavors. We tasted the Original which has a very pleasing sweet tangy taste with a less creamy mouthfeel than ice cream. A half cup serving has 90 calories, 5 grams of fat (0.5 are saturated) 5 milligrams of cholesterol and 150 milligrams of calcium.

To capitalize on the popularity of Greek yogurt, Lifeway has just introduced Greek Style Fro-Yo available in 3 flavors – Honey Swirl, Chocolate Swirl, and Blood Orange Swirl. We tasted Honey Swirl. It had a pleasant mild honey taste with none of the tang of frozen kefir. A half cup serving has 110 calories, 1 gram of fat (no saturated) 10 milligrams of cholesterol and 60 milligrams of calcium.

The Lifeway brand is kosher certified (cRc).

If you enjoy yogurt, kefir is a product you should try.

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