What is milk kefir? How's it made? What are the health benefits?
October 6, 2023
What is milk kefir?
MILK KEFIR is similar to a drinkable yogurt but with a unique, tangy taste and a little fizz. Depending on how it's made, it can be thicker, thinner, smooth, clumpy, flat, or bubbly. Some describe it as "the champagne of dairy". You can drink it (or give it to your pets to lap up), pour it over cereal, use is as a base for smoothies, or incorporate it into various dishes that call for dairy.
Milk kefir is known for its probiotic content, which means it contains live microorganisms that can be beneficial for gut health. These probiotics may support digestion, boost the immune system, and have other potential health benefits (you can read a lot more about that below).
How is kefir made?
MILK KEFIR is a fermented dairy beverage, traditionally made for thousands of years by inoculating milk with kefir grains. Kefir grains are not "grains" in the traditional sense (they're not corn or soy!). They're actually small, gelatinous, clearish, whitish, squishy colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. When added to milk, these grains ferment the lactose (AKA milk sugars), resulting in yummy kefir.
In modern times, kefir can be made in two ways:
- Cultured with kefir grains. This results in a robust drink. It will likely be bubbly and a bit clumpy. And the flavor can be strong. It contains the most diverse range of probiotics. *Any MILK KEFIR that Miller's makes with real kefir grains has the word "Bursting" in the name, since it's super bubbly.
- Cultured with a freeze dried kefir culture. This results in a milder and more predictable kefir. It will be smoother, have a milder flavor, and be a little bubbly. In contains a predictable number of probiotics. The culture is typically purchased as a pre-made product.
No matter which type of culture you use, the process for making kefir is the same. Here's how you typically make it:
- Add culture to milk: Kefir grains or kefir culture are added to milk. Raw or pasteurized milk can be used.
- Let it ferment: Let the cultured milk sit at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours. The microorganisms will metabolize the lactose in the milk. This fermentation process produces lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and a range of other compounds. The lactic acid gives kefir its tangy flavor, while the carbon dioxide creates effervescence, giving kefir a slightly bubbly or fizzy texture.
- Strain: If using kefir grains, you will strain out the grains when it's done fermented. Then, the grains can be reused to make more kefir. If you prefer silky smooth kefir, you may also want to strain kefir made with a freeze dried culture.
*It's worth noting that kefir can also be made with non-dairy milk alternatives like coconut milk, almond milk, or soy milk, resulting in non-dairy kefir, but the traditional version is made with cow's milk or goat's milk.
What are the health benefits of kefir?
MILK KEFIR is often touted for its health benefits. Here are some potential advantages associated with consuming milk kefir:
- Probiotics: Milk kefir is rich in live beneficial microorganisms, including various strains of lactic acid bacteria and yeast. These probiotics can help maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, potentially improving digestion and promoting gut health.
- Digestive Health: Probiotics in milk kefir may alleviate digestive issues such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and lactose intolerance. They can help break down lactose, making kefir easier to digest for some lactose-intolerant individuals.
- Immune Support: A significant portion of the immune system resides in the gut, and a balanced gut microbiome can help strengthen the immune response. Consuming kefir may contribute to immune system support.
- Nutrient Content: Kefir is a good source of essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamins (e.g., B vitamins), and minerals. It can be a valuable addition to a balanced diet.
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Some studies suggest that kefir may have anti-inflammatory effects, potentially helping to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Potential Weight Management: Probiotics in kefir may play a role in weight management and metabolism.
- Skin Health: Improved gut health can sometimes be associated with healthier skin, as an imbalance in gut bacteria may contribute to skin conditions. Kefir's probiotics might help support better skin health.
- Bone Health: Kefir is a source of calcium and vitamin K2, both of which are essential for bone health. Consuming kefir may contribute to maintaining strong bones.
It's important to note that the health benefits of milk kefir can vary among individuals, and more research is needed to fully understand its potential impacts on different aspects of health. Additionally, the quality of kefir can vary depending on factors such as the source of milk, the specific strains of bacteria and yeast present, and the fermentation process.
How is kefir different from yogurt?
MILK KEFIR and yogurt are both fermented dairy products, but they have key differences:
- Microorganisms and Culture: Yogurt is made from strains of probiotic bacteria only. Kefir is made from a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. Because of this, kefir has a wider variety of probiotics when compared to yogurt.
- Probiotic Benefits: I've heard it said that yogurt cleanses the gut but kefir adds to the gut's microbiology.
- Taste and Texture: Yogurt has a creamy texture and a tangy taste. It's smooth and relatively thick (and can be made thicker with straining). Kefir has a thinner consistency, a more sour flavor, and is often a bit lumpy and bubbly.
- Fermentation Temperature: Yogurt is cultured at a higher temp (100-110F), whereas kefir is cultured at room temp (70-80F). Kefir can also be cultured for longer periods of time, adding to its robust microbiology.
- Lactose Content: Since kefir is typically fermented for a longer period of time, kefir will often have less lactose than yogurt.
Both yogurt and milk kefir are nutritious, probiotic-rich dairy products with potential health benefits. Choosing between the two comes down to personal taste preferences and specific dietary and health goals. Some people enjoy both for their distinct flavors and textures, while others may have a preference based on the types of probiotics they want to incorporate into their diet.
Ready to incorporate kefir into your diet?
If you're interested in incorporating MILK KEFIR into your diet for potential health benefits, it's a good idea to start with small amounts and monitor how your body responds. As with any dietary changes, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions.