So you are making kefir but want to know more? Here’s everything you need to know about this healthy fermented milk drink, rich in probiotics, vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids, and helps support a healthy gut, aids digestion, boosts the immune system, and promote overall well-being.
What is milk kefir?
Milk kefir is a cultured, fermented milk. It’s a little like drinking yogurt, but tends to be slightly sour and can be a tiny bit fizzy. If you like yogurt and drinking yogurt, try kefir.
It’s made with regular milk, but has a thick and creamy consistency, about the same as double (or heavy) cream.
I’ve been making kefir once a week for at least the last ten years, so well over 500 batches. My favourite use for kefir is to make overnight oats, or bircher muesli; an easy way to get my daily serving.
Water kefir is a different ferment, made with its own particular grains and sugared water. This post is only about milk kefir.
So time to get geeky about milk kefir.
- How to make kefir – with a step by step photo tutorial
What do I do with milk kefir?
The most common way to enjoy kefir is simply to drink it.
If drinking it, I suggest you start slowly, with a small glass or so or even just a tablespoon or two.
You can then see how you get on. Too much too soon can cause a tummy upset – give yourself time to adjust before drinking larger quantities.
Kefir can also be used in recipes; as detailed above.
What are kefir grains?
Milk kefir is made by adding kefir grains to milk, and allowing fermentation to happen.
See my post about making kefir for detailed instructions.
Kefir grains are a combination of yeasts and bacteria which together form a SCOBY – a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.
The exact composition of bacteria and yeast in the the SCOBY will vary between different grains, but up to 23 different bacteria [source] and nine yeasts have been found in kefir cultures. This is many more than is found in yogurts, even live yogurts. This variety of yeasts and bacteria gives kefir its healthy reputation.
Where did kefir come from? How do I get hold of some grains?
Milk kefir probably originated in the Caucasus mountain of central Asia.
You can buy grains online, or at a health food shop, but many people who make their own kefir are happy to give grains away: they grow as part of the kefir making process. As a result, there are generally always spare grains around.
There are also quite a few Facebook groups for kefir, and group members will frequently offer their spare grains to newbies – we’ve sent several pouches off to people already this year!
If you do buy them, you have the choice between buying dehydrated or hydrated, ready to use grains. I would recommend you go for the hydrated and ready to use option.
What are the benefits of drinking milk kefir?
- As it’s made from milk, it’s a good source of calcium and protein.
- It’s a powerful pro-biotic. Kefir grains can contain 30 different types of microbe; many more than yogurt, so kefir is a great way of supporting gut health, particularly for those with digestive problems.
- Drinking kefir boosts calcium intake, giving stronger bones and helping to prevent osteoporosis.
- The bacteria in kefir transform the lactose in milk into lactic acid, making it far more palatable to those who are mildly lactose intolerant.
- Studies have shown that drinking kefir can help those with allergies and asthma, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- It’s a great source of protein, phosphorous, vitamins B2 and B12 and calcium.
As we said earlier, go slowly when you start drinking kefir, it is packed with powerful pro-biotics, your digestion will thank you for adding it to your diet, but introduce it gradually
Can I flavour kefir?
Yes, absolutely! Once the kefir has fermented, you can add some fruit or fruit puree, and blend together either in a jug blender or with a stick blender. Start with any fruit that you use in a smoothie, and adjust the sweetness with a little sugar.
The added sugar might lead to further fermentation and the flavour to change. Either enjoy it straight away, or allow the flavour to mature. With practice, you’ll find your preferred method.
Other flavours to try are almond or vanilla extracts, or peanut butter, Nutella spread or cocoa powder. Simply add and mix thoroughly.
Can I drink kefir if I follow a keto diet?
Kefir is generally suitable for those on a ketogenic diet. If your kefir (or other fermented milk product) uses full fat milk and contains no added sugars or flavourings, most people on a keto diet can have it.
Kefir made from milk contains far less sugar than the original milk. When whole milk is fermented, most of the lactose (milk sugar) is consumed during the process. This leaves it with a relatively low carbohydrate count.
Commercially available kefir has about 3% sugar. If you make kefir at home and leave it for a secondary fermentation, the sugar levels may be even lower.
Can I make kefir with non-dairy milk such as coconut or other nut milk?
Yes. However, as the grains need lactose to survive, you have to refresh them in full fat dairy milk to keep them healthy.
Also, the plant-based alternative should have a high calorie content and about 3.5% sugar by weight to allow the grains to ferment.
You should refresh the grains by fermenting once in dairy milk after three lactose-free fermentations, in order to keep them in tip-top condition.
Also, you should note that because the grains digest the lactose in milk, you may well find that you can tolerate kefir made with dairy milk if you are otherwise lactose intolerant.
Can I use my milk kefir grains to make water kefir?
I’m afraid not, no. To make water kefir, you need a completely different type of grain and a dilute sugar solution. Water kefir grains are available from many of the same sources as milk grains.
What do I do with kefir? What recipes are there using kefir?
Drinking milk kefir has been shown to be beneficial to gut bacteria, so that’s a great place to start. We frequently make overnight oats with kefir for a healthy ready-to-go breakfast. We also have a small glass first thing in the morning.
What else can I do with kefir?
Give it to your dog! Seriously, your pet can really benefit from a regular helping of a small amount of diluted kefir. Give him any spare grains from it too! We give Herbert a tablespoon every day. He comes running to the kitchen when he hears the fridge open and the kefir jug taken out!
Can kefir aid digestion and gut health?
Yes! Kefir is an excellent source of probiotics, which have been shown to aid the digestive system. It’s a good idea to introduce kefir gradually to your diet. Start with a couple of tablespoons per day before working up to a small glass.
Kefir overnight oats
One of my favourite uses for kefir is to make overnight oats. It makes it easy to get my daily helping.
Kefir vs yogurt
Kefir is thinner than most yoghurts, having a thick, pourable consistency similar to heavy or double cream. Although home-made kefir varies depending on your grains, it generally has many more varieties of bacteria than yoghurt – 61 different bacteria.
Kefir for the lactose intolerant
The process of turning milk into kefir significantly reduces the amount of lactose in the kefir, compared to milk. The lactose intolerant might, therefore, find that they can drink kefir even if they can’t drink milk.
More information about milk kefir
Some articles that I have found useful