Learn About Milk Kefir
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FAQ: Milk Kefir Intro
Questions in this Section:
What is milk kefir?
How do water kefir grains convert the milk they're in to kefir?
What other names does kefir go by?
How are kefir grains different to powder starter (such as Body Ecology's products) or store-bought kefir?
What's the difference between dried and fresh/live kefir grains?
What is the advantage of taking kefir instead of a probiotic supplement?
Why is Kefir good for your health?
Why is kefir generally tolerated by the lactose intolerant?
Is Kefir a good option for those with Candida?
What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?
Can you make your own kefir grains or get kefir from just milk?
What milks or other liquids can you ferment with kefir grains?
What about raw milk?
Does Kefir contain alcohol?
What does milk kefir taste like?
What should kefir grains look like?
Are all kefir grains the same?
How long do active kefir grains last?
Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?
What other uses does milk kefir have?

What is Milk Kefir?

Milk Kefir (pronounced keh-FEER) is a wonderfully delicious slightly carbonated fermented milk drink similar to yogurt (or buttermilk) that originated roughly 2000 years ago in the Caucasus Mountains. It is one of the oldest milk ferments in existence. The word Kefir is derived from the Turkish word "Keif" describing a state of 'feeling good'. It is milk fermented at room temperatures with kefir grains generally overnight for about 24 hours. It has many wonderful health benefits and is also generally tolerated well by the lactose intolerant.

What other names does kefir and its grains go by?

Snow lotus, Tibetan mushroom, Kefirs, Keefir, Kephir, Kewra, Talai, Mudu Kekiya, Búlgaros, The Grains of The Prophet Mohamed, The Drink of the Prophet, Tibetan Mushrooms, Tara, Yogurt Plant, Yogurt Mushroom, Kin-oko, yogoot-tane-oko (Japanese) Tibetanischer Pilz (German), Galodium (Romanian and/or Polish) and Kefyras (Lithuanian).

How are Kefir Grains different to powder starter (such as Body Ecology's products) or store-bought kefir?

Genuine kefir is different than the pricey kefir you can buy in the stores. Manufactured kefir is a simulated drink, mimicking the flavor of genuine kefir. It is not produced by the traditional method. It is produced instead by a variety of bacteria and yeast (that they purchase individually) and combine. These are typically freeze-dried powder forms of bacteria and yeast, and like the Body Ecology products, are not reproducible. Traditional Kefir Grains are a formed symbiotic mass colony of various bacteria and yeast that are living, and will thrive and grow on their own in the milk, sometimes out-living its owner!

What's the difference between dried and fresh/live Kefir grains?

We offer both choices because there are unique benefits to each. The fresh or live kefir grains re-balance quickly and begin producing drinkable kefir within just a few days of arriving after shipment. This is an excellent option if you live within the U.S. and are able to be home to receive the grains when they arrive and attend to them immediately. If you are either a) not located within the U.S. or b) not able to attend to the fresh grains immediately upon arrival, then dried kefir grains might be the best option for you. These can take a little longer to activate - sometimes about a week or so to 'wake up' and balance to where they are producing a drinkable kefir. This is a great option if they will be in transit internationally, since they are in a dormant stage and will not degrade or be as likely to be damaged as the fresh grains. This also gives you the option to stick the dried grain in your cupboard or refrigerator if you receive them but are not yet ready to use them (or want to hang onto them as a backup source or a gift to give). Keep in mind that dried milk kefir grains can sometimes take significantly longer to start growing than live grains.

What is the advantage of taking Kefir instead of a probiotic supplement?

Fermented milk products such as kefir are considered functional foods because they offer enzymes, pre-digested nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, calories/energy and billions of probiotics. Probiotic pill supplements contain just one or a select variety of bacteria, and usually that's it. It's always better to eat something in its whole form when possible, because each part makes the other more digestible. This is why they are now adding fiber back into cereals and fruit juices, and citric acid into calcium - you often need all the parts to assimilate nutrients correctly.

Why is Kefir good for your health?

It is loaded with valuable enzymes, easily digestible complete proteins, vitamins and minerals. Milk kefir is also generally suitable for the lactose intolerant. Kefir also supplies your body with billions of healthy bacteria and yeast strains. Some foods like yogurt can help, but they are not as potent, and do not contain the beneficial yeasts (just bacteria). Within your body there are already billions of bacteria and yeast. Your internal microflora support proper digestion, synthesis of vitamins and minerals, and your immune system by warding off foreign and harmful bacteria, yeast and viruses. It has thus long been known to promote and aid in digestion and overall health. Some studies show it may be antimutagenic and help manage free radicals in the body. Folic acid (and B vitamins) increases as the length of the ferment increases. Some people let the strained kefir sit on the counter or the fridge another day to increase the folic acid and B vitamin content before drinking. Kefir may also help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. As with most things we've personally found, food and health is too difficult to reduce to facts and statistics. While kefir is not a magic bullet for health (what is) we believe kefir has a myriad of possible health benefits, and those will be individual for everyone. Some feel it helps them digest better, others get colds and flus less often, some get more energy, and some people feel nothing much in particular, but enjoy the taste and value of it over store-bought yogurt or kefir.

Why is kefir generally tolerated by the lactose intolerant?

The bacteria and yeast produce the enzyme lactase in order to consume the lactose (milk sugar) for their own food supply. Because of this, much of the lactose in the milk is converted to simpler forms of sugar (glucose and galactose). These digestible forms of sugar, along with the extra lactase enzymes which act as a catalyst for digestion, make for an easily digestible food! 'Ripening' kefir can even further reduce the lactose, if desired.

Is Kefir a good option for those with Candida?

Many people experiencing Candida issues have reported that Kefir has been beneficial for them. Kefir is a balanced symbiotic relationship of both bacteria and yeast, which is also what we strive to achieve within our bodies for optimum health. Kefir grains and kefir itself does not contain Candida Albicans and has no reason to aggravate the symptoms of Candida. Some sources say that the kefir yeast can even help to decrease the candida yeast. But as with all things, the best advice we can give is to listen to your own body's response to kefir over time and determine if your health seems to improve, remain stable or if your symptoms are aggravated by Kefir (in which case you should take a break and try again at a later time).

What strains of bacteria and yeast are found in kefir grains (and kefir itself)?

To view a list of all the bacteria and yeast strains found in kefir, please view our 'Strains' section.

Can you make your own kefir grains or get kefir from just milk?

No, kefir grains must be obtained. Kefir grains reproduce, but one cannot create the grains or have them spontaneously occur in milk. Raw milk traditionally was let to sit out (there were no refrigerators not too long ago!) which would turn to buttermilk. Raw milk contains naturally occuring bacteria and yeast, which will slowly ripen and convert milk to buttermilk. Pastuerized (any store-bought) milk is not capable of doing this since most of those natural bacteria and yeast are killed in the heating process. UHT milk is even more devoid of these. Either way, kefir cannot be created and is not reproducable without obtaining real kefir grains to start with.

What milks or other liquids can you ferment with kefir grains?

Its possible to ferment all forms of mammalian milk (mare, goat, sheep, cow, buffalo, camel etc). Some people with cancer have even experimented fermenting human milk as a medicinal therapy. You can also try to ferment other non-milk mediums such as coconut milk, coconut water (also called juice), soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk. You can also convert them to be used in making water kefir with sugar and water or juice and water. In this case you will have to convert the grains gradually and keep some on back-up in case they fail to thrive. Kefir can also in a pinch be made from re-hydrated dry milk, or UHT (ultra-pastuerized) milk, though they are not the best options for continued grain health.

What about raw milk?

Kefir grains love and thrive on raw milk, be it cow or goat or even donkey or camel raw milk. Raw milk is really the optimal way to consume milk if you can find a reliable trusty-worthy local source. You will want to be sure that the cow is healthy and the owner is using sanitary methods to ensure your milk is safe. Besides the fact that it will most likely be coming from a cow that is not confined (thus less stress and other issues like growth hormones), raw milk is much healthier and some argue it tastes much better, too. It contains many more enzymes and natural healthy bacteria of its own, the proteins have not been cooked, and the fat has not been homogenized. These enzymes and bacteria are sensitive to heat and unfortunately destroyed during the pasturization process. Raw milk also has the cream which floats to the top and can be used to make butter, whip cream, cream cheese, sour cream, etc.! Homogenization is used in manufacturing to break up the fat globules until they are very fine and unable to separate and rise to the top. This process uses a forceful spinning motion to break the fat globules of milk by propelling them at high speeds against the sides of the container, bursting the globules into small pieces (like paint hitting a wall). How far pastuerization and homogenization affect our health is a hot topic of debate and subject of much current research. As far as we're concerned it only makes sense that milk in its natural form has more to offer and is sometimes better digested or tolerated. It also supports a more natural, sanitary and less stressful environment for the cow, the farmer and the world at large while promoting local foods and respect for and connection to the animals and their farms we consume from. We encourage you to read more about raw milk safety and FAQ's at Raw Milk Facts.

Does Kefir contain alcohol?

Yes it contains about 0.08% - 2% alcohol. With the normal amount being around .08 (for a 24-hour ferment). Kefir that is stored and ripened for a few of days will continue to increase in alcohol, up to 2-3% (when it is sealed tightly).

What does Milk Kefir taste like?

It has a tart effervescent yogurty flavor. Some refer to it as the champagne of milk. It can also be compared to a thick Italian soda (carbonated water with cream mixed in). This is not something you have to 'tolerate', it is actually very delicious and most days we prefer it over our homemade yogurt! It's also very good blended with honey, fruit or other flavorings. It also subs in well for buttermilk, half and half or yogurt in recipes!

What should Kefir Grains look like?

Kefir grains look a lot like little cauliflower florets. Up close, their pattern is somewhat like coral, or a brain. They can also look like smooth, flat shreds of ribbons during the warmer months (or when crowded in a jar).Their color ranges from creamy off-white to white. They are soft, bouncy and squishy, like a tiny squeeze toy. Dried kefir grains color is usually like a light cheddar cheese, becoming darker (deeper orange) as it gets drier and ages.

Are all kefir grains the same?

All kefir grains are alike, but they are not the same. Just as all people are humans, but none are exactly alike, kefir also varies from one to the next. Some kefir grains ferment more quickly than others, some more tangy, some more sweet, and some more fizzy. You will see that your kefir grains will be continuously morphing themselves from season to season and year to year. Part of the kefir process is learning to let go of the desire to keep them exactly the same (no matter what you do, they will be in a constant state of growth and change) and learning to look forward to its many suprises, just like raising a pet or child.

How long do active Kefir Grains last?

Indefinitely with good care - they are a living, consuming organism that are in a constant state of reproduction. Some may get weaker over time for one reason or another (neglected, frozen, etc), but they will nonetheless do all they can to keep marching on! They have already lived over a thousand years as it is.

Do kefir grains need to be fed every day?

The short answer is yes. Kefir grains need to be strained every 24 hours (or 48 at the max) and given fresh milk. If you or your grains would like to take a break, stick them in the fridge, refreshing them weekly with new milk. This can be done for a couple weeks, then they should be brought back out to room temperature. If you need a longer break, view our section on storage.

What other uses does milk kefir have?

Kefir and its grains are valuable for far more than just a beverage! It can be used to fertilize and nurture house plants, flowers, your lawn, or your garden. The bacteria and acidic nature can be very beneficial for plants. Did you know its essential to have bacteria in your dirt to convert nitrogen to an edible source for your plants? Kefir can also easily be made into cream cheese or other forms of cheese (such as making ricotta). Kefir serves as a great starter for breads and pizzas! Use it in place of a sourdough starter or yeast packet. Excess whey both in the past and present is also commonly incorporated into chicken feed to boost the nutrients (and not waste the whey) and pigs enjoy it as well (and so do many cats and dogs!). Whey can also be used in your hair as a clarifying conditioner (as can kefir). Whey, believe it or not, makes one of the best shaving lotions we have ever tried. It also serves as a nice ingredient in lip balms and lotions. Kefir can be used in place of yogurt, cream cheese or sour cream in many recipes. It can also be made into delicious popsicles. Whey can also be used in place of vinegar (often with a more beneficial affect) in many cases such as to soak grains, soften rice, add to soups and stocks (to help extract the nutrients from the bones) or use in place of some of the salt in making fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut. Kefir whey also keeps far longer than the normal unfermented whey seperated from milk. It also adds a delicious hearty flavor to sauces and gravies. Did you know that US EPA's proposed enhanced biological treatment (to clean up toxic waste in California) uses cheese whey and molasses as a food source for natural microbes that live in the soil and ground water (go figure!). These microbes can then break down the contaminants in soil into carbon dioxide, water and salt.
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