Kefir: What It Is, Its Benefits And How To Make Kefir Water Or Milk
When you start your path to a healthier life, and begin searching for other alternatives to your food, it’s likely you will come across the name kefir.
Kefir seems to have been “rediscovered” by researchers recently – but this drink is quite old, and has several beneficial properties for your health.
In this complete article, I will cover everything you need to know about kefir.
By reading carefully until the end you will discover:
- What is kefir
- why so many people are taking kefir,
- how to make kefir at home , and
- if kefir really is safe for you.
So let’s start by explaining what this mysterious drink really is.
What Is Kefir?
In brief, kefir is a probiotic drink traditionally made from the fermentation of milk.
But kefir is such a fascinating food that you may be interested to know some curious facts about it.
The word kefir is derived from the Turkish word “keif” or “keyif” meaning “to feel good”.
That’s because that’s how the ancients felt after ingesting it – probably because these traditional cultures attributed a great deal of healing powers to kefir.
This is something that only now is being well researched by science.
The kefir beverage is the result of adding “kefir grains” to milk.
These kefir grains are not real “grains” (like wheat and rye, for example).
Instead, kefir grains are cultures of yeasts and bacteria that aid in milk fermentation – they look similar to a small head of cauliflower:
When the kefir grains are placed in the milk (or other solution with sugar, as we will see below), they multiply and ferment the milk sugars.
So, the grains are what turn the milk into kefir.
After the milk has been fermented and turned into kefir, it is customary to remove the kefir grains and reuse them.
People then drink the resulting kefir to reap its numerous health benefits.
If you are itching to try this yourself, don’t worry I will be explaining how to make kefir at home in more detail below.
In a nutshell, what you need to know is: kefir is the drink, and kefir grains are the “starter kit” you use to make the drink.
Milk Kefir And Water Kefir Grains
There’s a lot of talk about kefir being made from milk fermentation.
That’s because the kefir came from the caucasus region, where traditionally many shepherds were found.
Thus, kefir tended to be made using goats milk, cows or sheep.
However, this region was not the only one to develop powerful probiotic drinks – and these beverages don’t necessarily need milk to exist.
We know this because “water kefir” is also making strides in the kefir drinking world.
It is not known exactly how it came about, but indications suggest that it was in regions of America that today are part of Mexico.
Known as “tibicos”, water kefir has not been as widely researched as milk kefir.
However, it also possesses probiotic properties, and many of the benefits associated with milk kefir.
It is important to note that water or tibicos kefir grains are different from milk kefir grains.
They even ferment from different sugars.
In the case of milk kefir, kefir grains will ferment the sugars naturally present in milk (lactose).
In the case of water kefir, it is common to add some type of sugar so that kefir grains can ferment it.
A typical addition is brown sugar, but some people also report good results using other options, such as rapadura sugar.
Anyway, it’s a good option for those who do not want or cannot consume milk.
Kefir And Low Carb Diet
As mentioned previously, kefir is a subject that comes to the forefront when you start worrying about your health.
And, if you care about your health, then you’re likely to follow or at least have already heard of the low-carb diet.
In that case, you’re probably wondering if there’s room for kefir in a low-carbohydrate diet.
Nutritionally speaking, every 100 g of kefir milk should contain about 7 to 8 grams of carbohydrates, meaning it’s a very acceptable amount of carbs for most people who do low-carb successfully.
Being that kefir water has a very similar amount of carbohydrates, this will be fine too.
However, if you are on a very restricted carbohydrate diet such as a ketogenic diet or the first phase of the Atkins diet , then it becomes a considerable amount of carbohydrates.
In this case, it’s worth checking the amount of kefir you consume daily and policing yourself so you don’t drink too much.
Especially because there are so many delicious recipes that can be made with this drink, so it’s easy to overdo it.
In terms of the paleo diet, clearly we did not evolve drinking milk – or fermented milk.
However, human beings back then lived much less sanitized world than we do today – which means they had access to more beneficial microorganisms.
So from the evolutionary point of view, it may make sense to consume kefir (of water or milk) even if the Paleolithic man did not consume it.
How to consume Kefir
In terms of consumption, it’s worth saying that kefir has a slightly sour in taste – a bit like natural yogurt.
However, in terms of consistency kefir is less thick than yoghurt, which works better as a beverage.
Generally kefir is taken pure or even beaten with some fruit for an added flavor boost.
Kefir can still be used to prepare low-carb recipes
However, I’m sure you want to know the exact benefits of drinking kefir.
8 Proven Benefits Of Kefir For Your Health
Benefits of kefir # 1: great source of various nutrients
A 200 ml serving of milk kefir contains approximately:
- Protein: 7 grams.
- Calcium: 23% of recommended daily values.
- Phosphorus: 23% of recommended daily values.
- Vitamin B12: 16% of recommended daily values.
- Riboflavin (B2): 22% of recommended daily values.
- Magnesium: 6% of recommended daily values.
- D vitamin: 25% of recommended daily values.
In addition to good amounts of thiamine and vitamin K2.
All this abundance of micronutrients comes in at around 100 kcal, with 7 to 8 g of carbohydrates and 3 to 6 g of fat, depending on the type of milk that is used.
On top of that, kefir is a good source of biotin, a B vitamin that helps the body to assimilate other B-complex vitamins.
Kefir also contains a wide variety of bioactive compounds, including organic acids and peptides, all of which are essential to health.
Non-lactose versions of kefir can also be made with coconut water, coconut milk, sweetened water or other sweet liquids (this is because kefir needs to feed on some kind of carbohydrate to grow).
But it’s important to note that, despite the various benefits, these variations will not have the same nutrient profile as kefir made with milk.
To summarize: Kefir is a fermented milk beverage, grown from kefir grains. It is a rich source of protein, calcium and B-complex vitamins.
Benefits of kefir # 2: Probiotic more powerful than yogurt
Some microorganisms can have beneficial health effects when ingested.
Known as probiotics, these microorganisms can influence health in many ways, including digestion, weight control and mental health.
Yogurt is the best-known probiotic food in the Western diet.
However, kefir is a much more powerful source.
Kefir grains contain about 30 types of bacteria and yeast, and are a very rich and diverse source of probiotics.
Other fermented dairy products are made with fewer types of bacteria and contain no yeasts – so kefir can be considered a superior choice.
To summarize: Kefir contains about 30 different microorganisms, making it a more powerful source of probiotics than other fermented dairy products.
Benefits of kefir # 3: great antibacterial properties
It is believed that certain probiotics in kefir protect against infections.
This includes the probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri , which is unique to kefir.
Studies show that this probiotic can inhibit the growth of several harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, Helicobacter Pylori and E. coli .
This antibacterial property can also be conferred by kefiran, a type of carbohydrate present in kefir, which is capable of reducing allergic inflammation.
To summarize: Kefir contains the probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri and kefiran carbohydrate, both of which can protect against harmful bacteria.
Benefit of kefirs # 4: improved bone health and decreased risk of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis (“porous” bones) is characterized by deterioration of bone tissue and is a huge problem in Western countries.
It‘s especially common among older women and dramatically increases the risk of fractures.
Ensuring an adequate intake of calcium is one of the most effective ways to improve bone health and slow the progress of osteoporosis.
Kefir made from whole milk is not only a great source of calcium, but also vitamin K2.
Vitamin K2 plays a key role in calcium metabolism, helping to deposit calcium in appropriate places (such as bones and teeth) and preventing it from going where it should not (such as soft tissues and arteries).
Since kefir is rich in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin K2, it makes sense to drink kefir if you want to improve your bone health.
Even recent animal studies have shown that kefir can increase calcium uptake by bone cells.
This leads to better bone density, which should help prevent fractures.
To summarize: Kefir made from milk is an excellent source of calcium. In the case of whole milk, it also contains vitamin K2. These nutrients bring great amount of benefits to bone health.
Benefits of kefir # 5: protection against cancer
Cancer occurs when there is uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body, such as a tumor.
It is believed that probiotics in fermented dairy products inhibit tumor growth by reducing the formation of carcinogenic compounds as well as by stimulating the immune system.
This anti-cancer protective role has been demonstrated in several in vitro studies.
In one, it was found that kefir extract reduced the number of human breast cancer cells by 56%, compared to only 14% of the yogurt extract.
However, this data should be taken with caution, since there are no studies done on humans to prove this.
To summarize: In vitro tests and animal studies have shown that kefir can inhibit the growth of cancer cells. However, this has not yet been proven in humans.
Benefits of kefir # 6: help against digestive issues
Probiotic foods like kefir can help restore the balance of the gut friendly bacteria.
That is why they are highly effective against many forms of diarrhea.
There is also plenty of evidence that probiotics can help with all types of digestive problems.
This includes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers caused by H. pylori infection and several others.
In addition, certain types of bacteria from the kefir culture help in the treatment of colitis by regulating the inflammatory response of intestinal cells.
For this reason, kefir may be helpful if you have any problems with digestion.
To summarize: Probiotics such as kefir can treat various forms of diarrhea. They can also lead to major improvements in various diseases of the digestive system.
Benefits of kefir # 7: It is well tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant
Whole dairy products contain a natural sugar called lactose.
Many people, especially adults, are unable to break down and digest lactose properly. This condition is widely known as lactose intolerance.
Lactic acid bacteria in fermented dairy products (such as kefir and yogurt) turn lactose into lactic acid.
Therefore, these foods have much less lactose than normal milk.
They also contain enzymes that can help break down the lactose even further.
Because of this, kefir is generally well tolerated by people with lactose intolerance, at least when compared to whole milk.
But people who do not tolerate lactose or casein in any way can also reap benefits.
This is because, as mentioned prior, it is possible to make 100% lactose-free kefir, using coconut water, fruit juice or some other sweetened liquid that is not derived from milk.
Summing up: Lactic acid bacteria have pre-digested lactose in kefir. People with lactose intolerance can often consume kefir without problems.
Kefir # 8 Benefit: Improvement of Allergy and Asthma Symptoms
Allergic reactions are caused by inflammatory responses to harmless environmental substances.
People with a very sensitive immune systems usually suffer from some kind of allergy.
Allergies, in turn, can lead to diseases such as asthma.
In animal studies, kefir has been shown to suppress inflammatory responses related to allergy and asthma.
In addition, when applied topically, kefir and its polysaccharide compounds have proved effective as antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents, improving the healing process.
However, further human studies are needed to better explore these effects.
To summarize : ingesting kefir can be beneficial to your immune system, and thus reduce the symptoms of allergy and asthma.
Now that we have seen the key benefits that kefir has on health, I’ll show you how you can start your own homemade kefir production!
How To Make Kefir At Home
In some countries around the world, you can already find kefir even for sale in markets.
However, even if it’s not widely available where you live, you can still make kefir at home.
For this, you can search for donations or sales of kefir grains over the internet.
This donation practice is very common and you can find several people willing to share their kefir grains.
How to make milk kefir
The process is very simple:
- Put 1-2 tablespoons of kefir grains in a small pot (the more you use, the faster the culture will grow).
- Add about 2 cups milk, preferably organic or even fresh. Leave 3 fingers of space on the top of the bottle.
- Optionally you can add a little fresh cream if you want kefir to be thicker.
- Cover and leave for 12-36 hours at room temperature.
- When it starts to lump ( make clots), it’s ready.
- Then gently remove the liquid, preserving the original kefir grains.
Now you can put the grains in a new container with a little milk, and the process starts again.
How to make water kefir
I talked at the beginning about the history of water kefir.
Even today, it continues being the favorite option for those who can’t tolerate milk.
A popular way to prepare water kefir is as follows.
- Heat 250 ml of filtered or mineral water.
- Add 4 tablespoons sugar (preferably brown sugar) and mix well.
- Complete with more 750ml of filtered or mineral water.
- Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Place the mixture in a glass container.
- Add the kefir grains (3 to 4 tablespoons to each liter of water).
- Cover the mouth of the container with a paper towel or cloth and fasten with an elastic band around the neck.
- Leave to fermenting between 24 and 72 hours at room temperature and in a place away from light.
- After fermenting, strain the kefir grains and store the fermented liquid in a capped container.
- Return the grains to a container of sugar water to restart the process.
It’s worth noting that for both processes, the higher the ambient temperature the faster the fermentation will occur.
And also, the longer the fermenting time the less sweet the kefir will be.
The best way to discover the form that most pleases your taste is by making your own experiments and thus arriving at the ideal amount of kefir grains, time and temperature for fermentation.
The result will be delicious, nutritious and highly sustainable.
However, as a result of a fermentation that uses sugar, it’s normal for kefir to contain a small amount of alcohol.
But rest assured, the alcohol concentration usually doesn’t exceed 0.5%, which can be considered negligible.
It’s also worth mentioning if you do want to try the milk kefir, that practically all the lactose will be consumed during the fermentattion process.
Therefore, even kefir made from milk can be consumed by the majority people with lactose intolerance, except in very severe cases.
Final Words about Kefir
In this article, I discussed what kefir is, along with its history and also explained the difference between milk kefir and water kefir.
In addition, I have mentioned eight health benefits of kefir that science has already proven – along with teaching you how to make kefir at home.
I think I’ve said enough, now it’s over to you.
Have you ever used kefir or regularly consumed it?
Do you prepare yours as we explain or have a different method?
Tell us in the comments, so we continue to learn more about this powerful ancestral food.
To make reading more fluid, we separate some of the references used in the text and group them here: