Kefir is an incredibly healthy and fermented milk drink full of live bacteria and probiotics. Some popular cooking and baking recipes call for a good amount of kefir. But what if you just noticed there is no kefir around? Is there a good kefir substitute?
The best kefir substitute is plain, unflavored yogurt. You will get a similar texture and taste to kefir with a 3/4 yogurt to 1/4 milk ratio. If yogurt isn’t an option the next best substitute to use is buttermilk. For a vegan alternative to kefir, coconut milk can substitute kefir in most recipes.
In this article, we’ll discuss what you can substitute for kefir in cooking and baking. We’ll go over the 3 best options you have in terms of texture and taste.
I’ll also go into a bit more detail on how exactly to use these kefir substitutes in cooking and in baking as there are different factors (e.g. heat) we need to consider.
The 3 Best Kefir Substitutes
Maybe you forgot to get kefir on your last grocery haul or you simply dislike its sour taste and are looking to substitute kefir with something more neutral. In any case, these three kefir substitutes can be used with almost any recipe.
Ideally, we want something that can emulate kefir in texture and taste so that we’ll get the same end result in cooking and baking whether we are using kefir or not. Yogurt, buttermilk and coconut milk can all achieve this result.
So, let’s go through them one by one!
Yogurt is definitely the best kefir substitute for most recipes. However, to get the consistency just right we need to thin the yogurt out a bit with milk. Also, make sure to use organic, natural yogurt without any added sugars.
- Texture: Naturally, the texture of yogurt is a bit more solid than that of kefir. In order to achieve a similar consistency, we need to mix the yogurt with some milk. I’ve found that a ratio of 3/4 yogurt and 1/4 milk usually works best.
- Taste: With regard to taste, plain unflavored yogurt can also make an excellent kefir replacement. Since yogurt is a fermented food itself it has plenty of live bacteria and a slightly sour taste.
One additional benefit of using yogurt as a kefir substitute is that you’ll also add some live cultures and probiotic effects to your food. However, to preserve the beneficial live bacteria it is important for yogurt and kefir not to be exposed to too much heat. Anything above 30° C / 86° F will likely be damaging to the bacteria.
The next best thing to substitute kefir for is buttermilk. If you’ve run out of yogurt but have some buttermilk in your fridge, we can work with that! Buttermilk is also available at most grocery stores in the dairy section. Make sure you get the natural, organic one for enhanced flavor and nutrition.
- Texture: In terms of texture buttermilk might even be better than yogurt. It is naturally more heavy than milk but lighter than yogurt. If fermented long enough kefir will in fact take on a very similar texture as that of buttermilk.
- Taste: The only downside to using buttermilk is the lack of sourness. With a flavor profile closer to milk than to yogurt buttermilk will not give you that same sour edge in your recipes that kefir does.
As with yogurt, you will also get plenty of probiotics and beneficial gut bacteria with cultured buttermilk. If you have the possibility of fermenting your own buttermilk at home and plan on using it as a kefir substitute, just make sure to let it sit just a bit longer to acquire that extra bit of tartness.
If both yogurt and buttermilk are not available to you or you simply prefer not to use any animal products, coconut milk is your third option. You can get natural, unprocessed coconut milk at most organic grocery stores or Asian markets.
- Texture: One disadvantage to using coconut milk as a kefir replacement is that it will usually be more liquid than fermented kefir. Since it is difficult to alter the texture of coconut milk and make it more like that of kefir, I’d recommend just using a bit less. If the recipe calls for 1 cup of kefir, try using a 3/4 cup of coconut milk.
- Taste: When it comes to taste you’ll also have to make some sacrifices with coconut milk. It will be almost impossible to replicate kefir’s tanginess with coconut milk. Furthermore, coconut milk has a stronger flavor profile than both yogurt and buttermilk and can affect the end-taste of your entire dish.
Coconut milk does also notably lack any probiotic benefits and live cultures. But if you’re going dairy free or kefir, yogurt and buttermilk are just not an option for you, coconut milk is a decent third choice.
How To Substitute Kefir
Lastly, I just wanted to touch on a few issues I’ve come across while cooking and baking with kefir substitutes. One of the most important issues to be aware of when cooking with any food that contains live cultures is that you want to avoid excessive heat.
Anything above 30° C / 86° F will likely damage bacteria and reduce their probiotic benefit. Thus, the longer these good bacteria are exposed to heat, the more of them will die.
Kefir Substitutes in Cooking
When cooking with fermented foods or drinks we want to keep the temperature of our pots and pans as low as possible. To achieve we can steam our dishes instead of cooking them or simply using a low-temperature setting on our stove.
Of course, if you’ve chosen coconut milk as your kefir substitute you don’t need to worry about overheating your food as there are not live bacteria in coconut milk to begin with.
Kefir Substitutes in Baking
Baking with live cultures and preserving the probiotic effects is even harder since most recipes require an exact baking time with a set oven temperature. One option you have is to reduce the oven temperature and try extending the baking time as much as possible.
Another option with requires a bit more effort and time is to use a dehydrator instead of an oven. A dehydrator will keep the temperature low while also removing any excess water from the dough mixture. That way you’ll preserve those gut-friendly microorganisms!
Substituting kefir in cooking and baking doesn’t have to be hard. Yogurt, buttermilk and coconut milk can all be used to replace kefir in recipes.
Yogurt thinned with milk is the closest you will to kefir in terms of texture and taste. Buttermilk also does a fine job with regard to emulating kefir’s texture. Coconut milk is your last option if all else fails.
Experiment in your cooking and baking with fermented foods. If done right foods with live cultures can be a wonderful addition to almost any recipe!