Learn About Milk Kefir
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Commercial vs Home
What are the reasons behind all the recommendations to use genuine milk kefir grains to make home-made kefir, vs buying it at the store?
Like most things in life, a good thing just cannot be packaged or processed. It always ends up taking away some portion of the quality or essence of the food when creating something 'safe' and with a shelf life. Commercial Kefir found in stores is limited by the bottling process. Companies need to suppress or halt yeast fermentation and culturing in order to prevent continued carbonation or the bottles could explode. This process leaves you with commercial kefir which, while still good, typically has mild and/or suppressed culture, and less varieties of bacteria and yeast.

Although most all of the commercial kefir contains live probiotics, the companies have limitations as to how they can process kefir so that it can be 'standardized' and regulated. Some companies have a 'mother batch' with live grains, which they then take kefir from, to use as the starter (instead of the grains), to make their kefir. Others combine carefully chosen strains of bacteria and yeast to mimic the flavor of genuine kefir. While both are still healthy choices, you are not getting the full spectrum at the full potency (some brands advertise 10 strains, genuine kefir has upwards of 40-60 strains) that home-made kefir with kefir grains will give.

You may notice that most store-bought kefir is not carbonated. While a lot of people don't care much if their kefir is carbonated or not, you do have the option to make your home-made kefir nice and fizzy - a unique treat!

Popular Kefir starter packets, while nice, do not produce genuine kefir and do not offer the same qualities that exist in traditional milk kefir made by milk kefir grains. These packets are often mistaken as genuine but only live kefir grains produce the traditional genuine kefir. Kefir packets do not offer the same probiotic content (only 7 strains of probiotics, genuine kefir has around 40-60 strains), acid contents, the kefiran (possibly one of the most health-promoting agents in kefir, a special polysaccharide formed by the grains) and many of the other natural healthful by-products that occur specifically during fermentation from the live grains.

Unlike packets or store-bought kefir, kefir grains are self-sustainable, since they actually grow and make new grains at a rate of 10-15% each time they're fed. If this was the case with commercial, they would go out of business over-night.

You know what is going in it - forget about worrying about what they use to preserve, thicken or flavor it with - this can be quite the ordeal when on a special diet or if you have allergies. No guar gum or yellow #5 involved here! Just milk!

The cost you will be saving is enormous. Commercial kefir is pricey. This is what first led us to discovering kefir for ourselves. Learning how to make your own beverages at home will save you a bundle in the long run.

If you were to go through two or three store-bought 32-oz kefir bottles a week, that would total between approx. $415-$622 a year. The cost of the milk needed to make kefir with grains at home will cost you far less, coming out to only around $72-$108 a year for the same amount (64-96 oz a week). While packet kits are substantially cheaper than store-bough kefir, they will still cost you about $27 a year, plus the cost of milk, so about $99-$135 a year (for the same amount).

That is a substantial savings of around 84%! You can still easily come out ahead even after investing in some exotic and fun flavorings to add to your kefir with that kind of savings.

• To break that down, store-bought kefir averages around 3.99 for a 32-oz bottle. This is about .12 an ounce. You will spend a minimum of $415 a year if your purchase two 32-oz bottles or a maximum of $622 a year when purchasing three 32-oz bottles. Packet starters must be re-purchased every 42 gallons. These packets average about 0.03-0.04 an ounce when factoring in the cost of milk, or roughly $99-$135 a year. Milk, on the other hand, has an average cost of around $2.75 a gallon (based off all available milk %'s and pricing throughout the year) - this comes to about .02 an ounce, or about $72-$108 a year for the same amount (64-96 oz a week, 26-39 gallons a year).
• Homemade kefir is one of the easiest ferments to do. You get to choose the type of milk and simply pour it over the grains, and you've got kefir in 24 hours, no incubating or other tricky steps. You'll wonder why you ever purchased it.

• You are able to
choose your own flavoring or other additional supplements to put in. Typically the easiest and most delicious way is to add your favorite fruit, syrup or jam to it - such as fresh bananas and strawberries, a little maple syrup and pecans, some stevia, cinnamon and dried apple pieces, or some orange marmalade!

• You are able to tweak it to
satisfy your tastes and dietary needs, making it less or more sweet as needed (even after its done - its such a flexible culture to work with). This is great for lactose intolerant individuals or diabetics or anyone concerned with the lactose/sugar content involved. You can have one bottle sweetened with sugar and another plain - each person in your family can create their own custom kefir.

• You can even
experiment with goats milk and other non-dairy milks such as soy, rice, coconut and almond milk, which have proven to culture successfully for many people.

• You will have
excess milk kefir grains to do whatever you want with - eat (they are yummy! and good for you - check out our health section for more detail on this) share, dry, give to your pets, etc. Some people have even found medicinal use from taping grains to their feet or blending them into mush to treat foot or nail fungus, etc.

• You can
dry the grains and make your own probiotic supplemental powder to fill into capsules for you and your family, sprinkle over your plants and garden as (excellent for composting too, or to acidify/lower the ph in your soil), or sprinkle on your food or salad to add probiotic value (has a flavorful mild tang).

• One of the by-products of over-fermented kefir is whey.
Whey has dozens of household and cooking uses, including as a cheese starter (like ricotta), an excellent cleaner, aids in composting, meat tenderizer, soup and stock flavorer, soak grains and beans in it (recommended by Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions), as a bread starter (like sourdough) a hair/face/body ph stablizier (some people find it effective for treating dandruff or other skin problems), nutritional supplement in sports drinks/smoothies (whey carries a lot of proteins and is popular with athletes). Whey, believe it or not, makes one of the best shaving lotions we have ever tried. It also makes a nice bath soak for soft skin. Milk kefir and its by-products are also excellent nutrition to put in your feed for your any pigs and chickens you may have! Read more in-depth about other uses for kefir here.
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