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All about kefir

by Amber Fairweather |

Fermentation is not just about turning your vegetable garden into something deliciously healthy to eat. You can also make your own fermented drinks and snacks, such as kefir. It’s a great source of probiotics and calcium, easy to make and a good alternative for those suffering from lactose intolerance or poor gut health. But what is kefir and how is it made?

Milk kefir vs water kefir

There are 2 different kinds of kefir which each are made up of grains. However, unlike the name suggests, these have nothing to do with cereals. Instead, the grains are a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria and other beneficial bacteria.

Water kefir is a mildly fermented sugar and water drink; making it a great alternative to sweet fruit juices. It has a light and refreshing taste and is free of caffeine. You can make water kefir by simply culturing water, sugar and kefir grains at room temperature. It’s still fairly new and possibly originates in Mexico where the grains were found on cactus pads feeding of the sugar extractions. You may have heard of Tepache, a sour drink made from brown sugar, pineapple and cinnamon.

Milk kefir, however, is considered to be the oldest cultured, fermented milk drink that we know of today. It most likely originates in the Caucasus mountain regions between Asia and Europe where it has been consumed for more than 2000 years. According to historians, the mountain shepherds of the region learned that milk put in leather bags with milk kefir grains would ferment into a fizzy drink. Each tribe had their own variety of milk kefir grains which were considered to be sacred.

Health benefits

In Turkish, the word ‘kefir’ simply means ‘wellbeing’. And indeed, whether you’re opting for water kefir or milk kefir, there are a range of health benefits attributed to either beverage due to their nutritious content and live cultures, which have been proven scientifically. 

Kefir is high in amino acids, calcium, folic acid and B vitamins. Through the fermentation process the milk becomes a lot easier for the human body to digest and allows it to absorb more of the nutrients. It also means that it’s usually safe for people with lactose intolerance. 

It generally supports a healthy digestive tract and immune system and because kefir cultures create antibiotic substances, they can help control harmful microorganisms such as cancer and other diseases. Milk kefir is often used to combat indigestion, stomach aches, diarrhea and IBS symptoms and hospitals in the former USSR were known to prescribe it for allergies, cancer and tuberculosis.

How to make milk kefir

To make milk kefir, simply add a teaspoon of milk kefir grains to a cup of milk. If you use raw milk, it is sometimes best to pasteurise it first, otherwise the bacteria in raw milk can outcompete the bacteria in milk kefir. If you can get your hands on organic milk- even better!

If you don’t like cow milk, try almond milk, coconut milk, goat’s milk or any other dairy or animal milk alternative, though some people say the results are not as good. Cover the glass jar and let it sit at room temperature for about 24 to 48 hours.

The healthy bacteria and yeast from the kefir grains will ferment the milk and transform it into kefir, a thick and creamy texture similar to yoghurt or buttermilk. 

Strain out the grains by using a stainless steel strainer and use them in for your next batch of milk kefir. Once you have drained your milk kefir you can drink it straight away or flavour it with fruits. You can also use kefir in baking as well as a healthy substitute for milk or yoghurt.

Kefir grains are reusable indefinitely as long as you store them properly, either by making kefir on a regular base or by storing them in a cup of milk in the fridge. Don't worry if you want to take a break, simply store them in the fridge in fresh milk for up to a week.

They were traditionally used to make milk last longer in hot climates with the healthy bacteria and yeast in the kefir grains preventing any unhealthy bacteria to take hold and spoil the milk.

How to make water kefir

Water kefir works on the same principal whereby you simply add a tablespoon of water kefir grains to two cups of sugary water and leave it to ferment over 24 to 48 hours. Over this period of time the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts consume the sugars resulting in a yummy soda like drink.

Flavouring Kefir

Both milk and water kefir can be flavoured with your choice of fruits, vanilla beans, ginger and so much more. It's simply a matter of experimenting with your favorite flavours. 

For more details on kefir and some delicious recipe ideas follow our blog or subscribe to our email list.