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Ranking the different types of milks for making kefir

by Nathan Pujol January 24, 2019 6 Comments

Raw milk kefir grass-fed benefits

Ranking the different types of milks for making kefir

1st - Grass-fed Raw milk

The gold standard for making milk kefir. Funny enough, this was essentially the only milk available back when kefir originated and was traditionally used. Nowadays, in some locations the government thinks that we are not capable of making our own health choices and then outlaws it or it is just very difficult to find.

Grass fed raw milk has the best of both worlds. Rich in nutrients and omega-3’s from the grass foraging and rich in bacteria, undamaged fats and enzymes from the lack of pasteurizing and processing. When used to make kefir, it enriches those qualities even further. Now you have a drink that has huge bio-diversity due to both the natural bacteria in milk and the kefir grains. Also, the healthy grass-fed nutrients are even easier to digest due to the kefir fermentation.

The kefir grains absolutely love this milk. This is the milk that our grains are grown in. With high quality raw grass-fed milk, its hard to go wrong. The grains will stay bacteria-rich and balanced even with accidental over-ferments or longer than usual storage.

*If you are looking for the absolute best kefir in terms of nutrition, digestion and health, try raw goats milk(non-grain fed) kefir. Goats milk is similar to human milk and typically easier to digest.

Note: Just make sure you trust your raw milk source as poor methods can lead to contamination.

Advantages:

  • Very rich in nutrients
  • High omega-3 to 6 ratio
  • Less toxins
  • High natural bacteria in milk and natural enzymes

Disadvantages:

  • Costly – Typically the most expensive milk you can find. Plus add in travel costs if its located a distance away.

2nd - Raw milk (not specified grass-fed)

Not all raw milk is created equal. Technically you could feed the cow GMO corn and soy in a closed space and get raw milk from that. That’s not a milk I would recommend. However, in reality the people who are selling their milk to the raw milk community, know that they are selling to health conscience people and will usually try their best to give the cows more space, more grass / hay, better food and less toxins. So most raw milks will be grass-fed to some degree and have a good diet and hopefully a good life to boot. You are what you eat, so if the animal is in stressed confined conditions, that quality of milk will go way down. So, the key is to find out as much about your raw milk as possible. Healthy, happy cows, make better milk and even better kefir.

Advantages:

  • Typically nutrient rich with good omega-3’s. However, it can vary greatly.
  • High natural bacteria in milk and natural enzymes

Disadvantages:

  • Costly – Raw milk is not usually cheap

3rd – Grass fed milk, pasteurized

My personal favorite when raw milk is not available. It may or may not be organic. Even if its not technically organic, if its truly grass-fed (no grains), then its good. Compare to organic brands which only require 30% grass-fed. I’ve personally compared grass-fed milk vs a standard organic brand, and most of the time I would take the grass-fed brand over the organic any day. It tastes better, goes down better and the grains prefer it as well.

The downside is that its pasteurized. Which means lower bacteria, some measure of denatured enzymes, proteins and immunoglobulins. As well as possibly damaging the vitamin A

Advantages:

  • Nutrient rich and very high in omega 3's
  • Some natural bacteria and enzymes as compared to ultra-pasteurization

Disadvantages:

  • Costly - Many times its more expensive than standard organic brands.
  • Pasteurization destroys bacteria, enzymes, etc.

4th– Organic milk, pasteurized

This one can be surprisingly hard to find as they love to ultra-pasteurize organic milk. This is mostly because it moves through the supermarkets slower than traditional milk and needs a longer shelf life. If you can find it, then it is a good option. The organic standards for milk are pretty good. You know you are not getting GMO’s and the cows do have access to the outdoors and they get 30% grass-fed diets. They don’t use hormones either, but many traditional brands have stopped that practice as well.

Advantages

  • Higher in omega 3's than regular milk
  • No GMO's, toxins, etc.
  • Some natural bacteria and enzymes as compared to ultra-pasteurization

Disadvantages:

  • Costly - More expensive than regular milk.
  • Lower omega-3's as compared to grass-fed milk
  • Pasteurization destroys bacteria, enzymes, etc.

5th– Organic milk, ultra-pasteurized

This one is probably the easiest high-quality milk you can find. Yes, unfortunately its ultra-pasteurized. It’s sterile. No bacteria and nor enzymes. However, the organic nutrients and higher omega 3's are still there and there's less crap in the milk. I don’t personally like ultra-pasteurized milk and typically would not drink it by itself, but the kefir does make it much better. It will add bacteria and make it more digestible. It does counter the sterile nature to a large degree. Try to find a grass-fed milk option first, but if you can’t, then this is still a decent choice. The grains will still ferment the milk and they will do their best to make a good kefir for you.

Advantages:

  • Higher in omega 3's than regular milk
  • No GMO's, toxins, etc.

Disadvantages:

  • Costly - More expensive than regular milk.
  • Lower omega-3's as compared to grass-fed milk
  • Sterile due to the ultra-pasteurizing.

6th - Regular pasteurized milk

This is the milk that most people buy. It’s cheap, its easy and it’s also pretty bad for you. The kefir grains will make it significantly better though. Making kefir out of it is still much better than most foods out there. The problem is they can’t really fix the poor fatty acid profile, poor omega 3 ratio, GMO's, hormones and other stress related contaminates.   

Advantages:

  • Cheap

Disadvantages:

  • Low omega-3's
  • GMO's and toxins
  • Sterile due to the ultra-pasteurizing

7th - Ultra-pasteurized regular milk

Sterile in nature as well as nutritionally deficient. Not recommended unless you live remotely and you have no other option.

Advantages:

  • Long shelf life - more flexible. May be the only option in remote areas.
  • Cheap

Disadvantages:

  • Low omega-3's
  • GMO's and toxins
  • Sterile due to the ultra-pasteurizing

8th - Powdered milk powder 

If its organic powdered milk, it’s a little better, but not much so. It's another layer of processing and dried into an unnatural state. One product of this drying process is that the cholesterol gets oxidized which is really bad. However, there's not a huge amount of cholesterol in milk so that impact if fairly limited. Still, its processed, its unnatural and not recommended unless you have no other choice.

Advantages:

  • Long shelf life - more flexible. May be the only option in remote areas.
  • Cheaper than regular milk

Disadvantages:

  • Oxidized cholesterol
  • Sterile due to the processing
  • May contain all the toxins of regular pasteurized milk

Bottom Line

The first consideration is to go for the milk that is closest to 100% grass-fed within your budget. The 2nd consideration is to find the milk with the least amount of processing (Raw to pasteurized to ultra-pasteurized) within your budget. When it comes to kefir, I put more weight on the first considerations (nutrition of the milk, omega-3 ratios and lack of toxins) than how pasteurized it is. That is because the kefir will help compensate for the lack of bacteria and digestibility, but they can't really change the omega-3's, GMO's and toxins. That's why I would recommend organic ultra-pasteurized over regular / traditional milk (pasteurized).

Other considerations:

What about buffalo, goat, sheep, camel or donkey or horse milk?

Cows milk and goats milk to a lesser degree are readily available, so in that sense they are easy to purchase. Goats milk is considered very similar to human milk except for the folic acid and vitamin C (which it is quite deficient in). The other animal milks have their advantages as well. I've heard horse milk has an amazing compatibility to human milk. If any of them are available to try, I say go for it, the grains will adapt and do just fine.

Milk Fat?

The grains prefer whole milk. I tend to agree with the grains. Like most things in life, I personally prefer what is the most natural. Taking the fat out creates a food that is not in its natural state. Issues like less vitamin D absorption may be a result. Low fat milk (2% or 1%) milk will also work fine, but the grains lose a bit of their vibrancy. Fat-free milk is the hardest for the grains and many times will require a boost of cream once in a while to sustain the grains long term.

What about non-homogenized milk?

Raw milk is non-homogenized and it works just fine with kefir. If they have the option of non-homogenized from pasteurized milk, then go for it. The evidence at this point for non-homogenized milk is mostly anecdotal, but anything that requires less processing and is more natural is always a bonus.





Nathan Pujol
Nathan Pujol

Author

Co-founder and author of yemoos.com. Graduate degree in clinical psychology. Researcher with emphasis on the gut microbiome, fermentations and their connection to mental and physical well-being. He has 15 years of experience with making, sharing and teaching about traditional ferments.


6 Responses

Yemoos Nourishing Cultures
Yemoos Nourishing Cultures

October 01, 2019

Hi Levi, unfortunately it can be hard to find regular pasteurized organic milk in some areas where its not very popular. They need that extra shelf life or they may go bad before the customers buys it. I do love grass-fed milk though and even if its ultra-pasteurized it still has some good fats and better nutrition. I can really taste a difference, even between organic milk and grass-fed organic milk. The kefir will help improve the digestibility as well. Hopefully you can find the best of both worlds with less processing as well as it being grass-fed. In the mean time, enjoy the kefir you have, its still a very healthy food.

Levi
Levi

October 01, 2019

Thanks for this post. I just received milk kefir grains from you guys, and am on my way to making milk kefir. Unfortunately where I live currently doesn’t have very good sources of milk. The best I’ve been able to find is organic grass-fed, which is great, except it is ultra-pasteurized. Pretty much all the milk I’ve found so far is ultra-pasteurized. It’s better than nothing I suppose. I’m going to keep hunting for a better milk source.

Yemoos Nourishing Cultures
Yemoos Nourishing Cultures

March 08, 2019

Hi Dodie, That’s a great question! In the short term, the milk kefir grains will ferment the heavy cream without too much trouble. However, the heavy creams lacks the usual amount of lactose sugar so eventually the grains will have trouble as they need the sugar in order to survive and thrive. You could always switch between the cream and regular milk though to sustain them long term if desired.

Dodie
Dodie

March 08, 2019

Great article! It has made me wonder, can you use heavy cream to make kefir? Is it sustainable?

Yemoos Nourishing Cultures
Yemoos Nourishing Cultures

January 28, 2019

Hi Richard,

Thank you for the comment and pointing out CLA. From what I understand CLA is usually associated with weight loss, but they are also finding out that it has many other beneficial properties. And I also keep hearing about how good horse and donkey milk is. We are yet to try it, but its definitely on our list.

Richard K Remmen
Richard K Remmen

January 26, 2019

Greetings you wonderful folks. You’re doing a lot for humanity with your business. Something I should tell you about milk is this: very little omega 3 in ruminants. The rumen bacteria biohydrogenate the om 3 from the grass the animals eat, so the bacteria use the om 3 for their own metabolic processes and very little om 3 passes through to the milk. Young ruminants eat grass and other foliage early enough that they don’t require other sources of om 3. Grass and other green stuff is a good source of om 3 if eaten in substantial quantities. One of the main values of grass fed animal milk though is that the milk has much higher CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) content than grain fed. CLA is probably very good for us. In contrast, horses and donkeys are monogastric, eat grass and their milks are excellent sources of om 3. Horse milk anyone?

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