Kefir is a fermented milk and is seen as the healthier version of yogurt. It is rich in probiotics and nutrients.
More and more people are discovering kefir as a better alternative to regular milk or yogurt. A few years ago you still had to make your own kefir or buy it in a health food store. Nowadays there is so much demand that you can even choose from multiple brands in the regular supermarket.
In this article you will discover to which (proven) health benefits kefir owes its popularity.
This is what you are going to learn:
- What is kefir
- What types of kefir there are
- Nutritional value of kefir
- What are the health benefits of kefir
- How to make kefir yourself
What is kefir?
Kefir is a drink that is made from fermented milk. This fermented drink is created by putting a mixture of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in milk. This gummy-like mixture is called the kefir granules.
The lactic acid bacteria and yeasts live off the lactose (milk sugars) in milk. You can make kefir from all types of milk that contain carbohydrates (sugars). This is usually done with cow’s milk but can also be done with goat’s, sheep’s, rice’s or soy’s milk.
The latest trend is to make kefir from coconut milk or coconut water. You can read how you can make this yourself below.
Origin of kefir
Kefir may be the last ‘fashion phenomenon’ in the field of nutrition, the fact is that kefir has been drunk for thousands of years.
Kefir was probably the first in the northern part of the Caucasus Mountains . An area that lies between Russia and Georgia.
The tribes who lived here let kefir grains ferment in simple leather cases with cow and goat milk. The bags were hanging on the door and everyone who went in or out was supposed to push the bag in so that the milk would mix with the grains and the fermentation process would continue.
Milk was continuously added to the leather bag without completely emptying it in between. Making kefir was a continuous process that always went on.
She believed that Kefir gave them powers that they would lose if the Kefir grains fell into the hands of others. For centuries they kept their kefir granules a secret from others and passed on this generation after generation.
Only at the end of the 19 e kefir became first produced industrially century. This is because kefir was thought to help fight tuberculosis. This happened in Moscow where in the 30s of the 20 e century widely kefir produced.
Kefir grew into a popular dairy product in Russia. In Russia, 4.5 liters of kefir are consumed per capita every year. Kefir is also widely consumed in the Eastern and Northern European countries around Russia.
Among the population in the Caucasus Mountains, who originally drink kefir, there are relatively many 100 year olds. Kefir owes in part its popularity to this fact. It is not known, however, whether these people are healthy thanks to kefir or whether they owe this to other eating or lifestyle habits.
Because lactic acid bacteria and yeasts live on lactose, the lactose content of kefir is lower than that of normal milk. That is why kefir is sometimes said to be lactose free. However, this is not the case.
After the fermentation process, Kefir ultimately still contains 20% to 50% of the original amount of lactose.
The lactic acid bacteria and yeasts largely convert the lactose into lactic acid which gives kefir its sour taste.
Kefir and lactose intolerance
Because kefir contains (much) less lactose than regular milk, it is better tolerated by people who cannot tolerate lactose well.
Some types of kefir granules exhibit active β-galactosidase enzymes (lactase) that remain active even after consumption. This makes the kefir of these kefir granules suitable for people with lactose intolerance.
Lactase ensures the hydrolysis of lactose to glucose and galactose.
If the kefir you buy is lactose-free, this is explicitly indicated on the packaging.
People with a lactose intolerance can better make a kefir based on a vegetable milk substitute such as almond drink, rice drink, soy drink or coconut milk. Another option is water kefir .
Water kefir is made from water that contains (dried) fruits. These provide the sugars on which the lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can feed. Further on you can read how to make water kefir.
Kefir granules are 1 to 10 cm in diameter and feel a bit rubbery. Kefir grains grow and will get bigger and bigger. The microorganisms grow from the lactose in milk.
If you are going to make kefir yourself, you will see that the amount of kefir grains you have has become twice as large after 2 weeks. You can then make someone else happy with half of your kefir grains.
Kefir grains look like small cauliflowers. However, they are not plants, nor yogurt plants or kefir flowers as they are sometimes called. It is a cohabitation form ( symbiosis ) in which the various micro-organisms live together in harmony.
Kefir granules consist of lactic acid bacteria that are anaerobic. This does mean that they can live without oxygen. They can therefore be dried or frozen without any problems. They convert carbohydrates (sugars) into lactic acid.
Kefir granules must not come into contact with metal. This causes the effect to deteriorate because it affects the grains. If you are going to make kefir yourself, then you should always use a plastic sieve and wooden spoons.
You have dozens of types of lactic acid bacteria. Some tribes live in our bodies; in the intestines and the vagina. They are important for a healthy intestinal and vagina flora. Some strains can cause tooth decay, the lactic acid they produce in the mouth affects the teeth.
The strains used for kefir granules are mainly from the Lactobacillus genus . These strains give right-turning lactic acid . Right-turning lactic acid is well absorbed by the body because it is identical to the body’s own lactic acid.
These strains of the Lactobacillus genus are seen as ‘good bacteria’. Probiotics as it is called with a nice word.
In total there are approximately 30 strains of bacteria including yeast species in kefir granules that together form the basis. All lactic acid bacteria of kefir have in common that they produce right-handed lactic acid.
The fermentation process begins by adding kefir granules to milk. This is best at a temperature between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius.
For a good kefir it is necessary that you let it ferment for a minimum of 24 hours to a maximum of 4 days. How long you have to let milk ferment depends on the quality of the kefir granules that are used, the ratio between milk and kefir granules, the temperature and the season.
In addition to lactic acid, the bacteria and yeasts from the kefir grains also produce carbon dioxide and alcohol . Kefir is slightly tingling due to the carbonic acid.
You will not normally taste the alcohol. Kefir contains between 0.2% and 2% alcohol. The longer you let the kefir ferment, the higher the alcohol percentage will be.
The kefir that you buy in the supermarket contains no alcohol (unless this is indicated on the packaging). The kefir from the supermarket is not really a kefir either. No kefir granules are used in the production, but a mixture of bacteria is added to the milk without yeasts.
Leaving out yeasts prevents the package from bulging and no alcohol. Due to the lack of yeasts, the ready-made kefir will have a different composition than self-made (traditionally) kefir.
In addition to kefir, many more foods are obtained through fermentation. This includes yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, wine, beer, sourdough bread, dry sausage, tempé, kimchi, vinegar and pickles.
The fermentation of food, such as vegetables, meat and fish, has been going on for thousands of years and people have started to do this to preserve food for longer. With this fermentation the taste of the food also changes.
The fermentation that is still being done these days is often because of the taste and not so much that a product can be stored for longer.
By eating fermented food you get good bacteria that are important for a balanced intestinal flora. Probiotics helps the digestive system by cleaning up bad bacteria. This provides health benefits and reduces diseases.
Probiotics has the following health benefits ( source ):
- It improves digestion
- It regulates the microorganisms in the digestive tract
- It strengthens the immune system
- It protects against infections (inflammation)
- It ensures better absorption of nutrients from food
- Lowers cholesterol
- Lowers the risk of colon cancer
- Helps the body to absorb calcium better
- Lowers the risk of allergies in some people
Nowadays there is no longer the need to ferment food.
To be able to store dairy for longer, it is pasteurized (heated). This not only kills the bad bacteria but also the good ones. And that is a big disadvantage of the way the food is processed nowadays. Because of this you get less good bacteria and you will have to actively search for sources of good bacteria (such as kefir).
The difference between kefir and yogurt
Kefir and yogurt have a lot in common but there are also important differences. Both are made of milk and the flavors are similar. They both taste slightly fresh acid.
Yogurt is thick and you eat with a spoon. Kefir is thinner than yogurt but thicker than milk. You can drink Kefir as a drinking yogurt.
Because kefir and yogurt are made from milk, they both have a comparable nutritional value. They are a good source of high-quality proteins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A and B vitamins.
Kefir normally contains less carbohydrates than regular yogurt. This is because in kefir the lactose (milk sugars) are partly converted into lactic acid.
The fat content of kefir depends on the milk from which it is made. This will remain the same because the bacteria do not feed on the fatty acids.
The main difference between kefir and yogurt are the probiotics cultures. Kefir contains 3 times as many probiotics than yogurt and moreover more different types of good bacteria.
There are normally 12 active and living bacterial cultures in kefir, while there are no more than 6 in yogurt. This is the main argument for many people to replace yogurt with kefir.
These are the 12 probiotic cultures in kefir:
- Lactobacillus Lactis
- Lactobacillus Rhamnosus
- Streptococcus Diacetylactis
- Lactobacillus Plantarum
- Lactobacillus casei
- Saccharomyces Florentinus
- Leuconostoc Cremoris
- Bifidobacterium Longum
- Bifidobacterium Breve
- Lactobacillus Acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus Reuteri
A similarity between kefir and yogurt is that they both contain right-handed lactic acid.
Nutritional value of kefir
The nutritional value of kefir depends on the ‘raw material’, this can be milk but also water or a vegetable milk.
The nutritional value found here is that of milk kefir, made from organic whole milk.
|Nutritional value kefir||Per 100 ml|
|Of which saturated||2.35 grams|
|Of which unsaturated||1.40 grams|
|Of which sugars||2.92 grams|
|Egg whites||3.75 grams|
|Vitamin A||0.03 mg|
|Vitamin B1||0.03 mg|
|Vitamin B2||0.15 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.04 mg|
|Vitamin B12||0.2 mcg|
|Vitamin C||1 mg|
The nutritional value of different brands of kefir that you find in the supermarket can differ.
Differences arise from the milk used to make the kefir and the bacterial cultures that are used.
Health benefits kefir
Everyone who follows this blog knows that I am not a fan of milk. Milk has a number of health benefits. However, there are serious health disadvantages .
In summary, milk has the following health disadvantages :
- Contributes to bone loss
- Increases risk of thrombosis
- Increases the risk of type 1 diabetes
- Skimmed milk increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease
- Increases the risk of certain types of cancer
- Contributes to the development of acne
- May cause psychological symptoms because it inhibits the effect of endorphins
- Drinking a lot of milk increases the risk of premature death
Replacing your milk with kefir is definitely a step in the right direction for improving your health.
It is best to make your kefir yourself from organic whole milk. A number of health disadvantages of milk are specifically burned with skimmed milk. This while a number of health benefits are only attributed to wholemilk.
Because cow’s milk is the basis of kefir as it is sold in supermarkets, I am not entirely enthusiastic about it.
The disadvantage of this supermarket kefir is that it is made from skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and that lactic acid bacteria are added to it without adding the important yeasts (at least with the brands that I have researched). In addition, the kefir in the supermarket is not organic (you can buy it in organic stores).
Melkkefir has a number of health benefits (which are discussed below). All in all, I am therefore neutral on cow’s milk kefir (which you make yourself from organic whole milk).
I am positive about kefir that you make yourself based on goat’s milk, sheep’s milk or a vegetable milk such as almond drink, coconut milk or coconut water. Your body will benefit fully from the probiotics without the health disadvantages and risks of cow’s milk.
Another option is of course the water kefir that you make from water with some dried fruits in it. However, this is not a protein source, but rather intended as a source of probiotics and therefore does not fit entirely in the list of comparison material.
Ultimately, everyone will have to decide for themselves whether they choose kefir based on cow’s milk or another basis. Whatever your preference, it’s always better than regular milk or yogurt.
Health benefit # 1: reduces risk of osteoporosis
Milk is often said to reduce the risk of osteoporosis (bone loss). While studies do not confirm this . At kefir, research results do point in the right direction.
A recent study showed that kefir improves calcium uptake by the bones ( source ). This ensures strong bones which is important to prevent fractures. Certainly for older women this can be an issue. This study was also done with rats.
Kefir made from whole milk is a good source of vitamin K2 . This vitamin plays an important role in calcium metabolism. Research shows that vitamin K2 can reduce the risk of fractures by up to 80% ( source , source ).
Health benefit # 2: extremely good source of probiotics
Kefir and probiotics are inextricably linked and these good bacteria are the reason for many to start drinking it. Because kefir contains 30 cultures of bacteria and yeasts, it is one of the best probiotics (and perhaps the very best).
IBS is common and includes abdominal complaints for which doctors cannot find any visible abnormalities. These are complaints such as abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, peasants, diarrhea or blockage.
The probiotics in kefir also help against infection with Helicobacter pylori ( source , source ). It is estimated that 15% of Dutch people are infected with this bacterium that lives in the lining of the stomach lining. This bacterium can lead to a gastric mucosa infection or a stomach ulcer.
Health benefit # 3: antibacterial effect
Kefiran, an insoluble polysaccharide, in kefir also has antibacterial properties. It would also fight Candida Albicans ( source ). This has been tested by applying a 70% kefir gel to the skin.
Health Benefit # 4: Kefir may help with allergies and asthma
A meta-study (of 23 studies with almost 2000 participants in total) showed that probiotics improved the quality of life and reduced the allergic reactions ( source ). Some researchers assume that allergic reactions are the result of a lack of good bacteria in the intestines.
Health benefit # 5: prevents possible types of cancer
A study showed that the probiotics in kefir cancer cells in the stomach destroyed themselves ( source ).
In other studies, too, there are indications that probiotics of fermented dairy products (such as kefir and yogurt) can delay or prevent the development of certain tumors ( source).
Which kefir do I recommend and where do I order these?
Kefir has pre- and probiotic effects to improve the intestinal flora. The kefir capsules that I use are specifically highly concentrated.
To improve your intestinal flora you can also opt for regular pro-biotics. Symflora basis of Vitakruid is one of the best regular pre- and probiotics.
Side effects of kefir
Some people starting with kefir suffer from side effects. This concerns constipation and abdominal pain . This usually passes over time. If you start with kefir, it is best to start with half a glass and watch how your body reacts to this and then build it up.
Kefir from cow’s milk, like milk, contains A1 casein proteins that are difficult for people with a lactose intolerance . This will also be the case with drinking cow’s milk kefir.
People whose immune system is weakened, as is the case with AIDS, must first consult their treating physician before starting kefir (or probiotics in general). If an immune system is already out of balance, probiotics can bring this out of balance.
From 1 year it is safe to give kefir to children (check with the health center if in doubt). You give children under 1 year the best breast milk or bottle-feeding.
Make kefir yourself
You make Kefir of the best possible quality yourself. You can make the following types of kefir:
- Cow’s milk kefir
- Goat milk kefir
- Sheep’s milk kefir
- Coconut milk kefir
- Coconut water kefir
- Almond drink kefir
- Soy drink kefir
- Rice drink kefir
- Oat drink kefir
- Cashew drink kefir
- Water kefir
All these types of kefir are made with kefir grains. You can order the kefir granules online at various specialized web shops. You use the same kefir grains for any type of kefir.
Kefir granules always need sugar to live on. That’s why you need to add something sugary to the water for water kefir. With milk or vegetable milk as a basis, this is usually not necessary, because this naturally contains sugars.
Making milk kefir
Milk kefir is made from cow, goat or sheep milk. The better the quality of your milk, the better the quality of your kefir will be.
Cows that eat grass give more omega 3 fatty acids and more fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins K1 and K2. For example, organic milk contains more omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins because these cows get more grass to eat and no ‘concentrates’.
Whole milk is preferable to skimmed milk because certain health disadvantages are specifically associated with skimmed milk.
It does not matter whether you use pasteurized, sterilized or raw milk. Kefir has a strong preservative effect.
Whether you go for cow, goat or sheep milk kefir; the best you choose for a biological and full variety.
What you need to make the milk kefir:
- Melkkefir grains
- A weck jar
- A plastic strainer
- A wooden spoon
- Paper coffee filter
- Rubber band
The kefir grains are put in a clean weck jar. It is important that there are no soap residues in this weck jar as this will affect lactic acid cultures.
With these kefir granules you put 10 times as much milk as there are kefir granules in the weck pot. If you have just bought new kefir granules, you cannot make as much kefir yet. However, these kefir grains will grow fairly quickly every time you make kefir so that you can make more and more kefir in one go.
If it is pretty cool in your house in the winter then you can use a little more kefir granules in the winter months. You can then maintain a ratio of 1 to 7 instead of 1 to 10. The cooler temperature will make the fermentation process a little slower.
After you have added the milk to the kefir granules, close the weck jar with a paper coffee filter (or an air-permeable cloth) and an elastic band.
Leave the weck jar somewhere at room temperature for 24 hours. Do not put the pot full in the sun.
In the meantime you can gently stir the contents of the weck-pot once in a while with a wooden spoon or shake the pot a little so that granules mix well with milk that has not yet been fermented.
After 24 hours the kefir is ready and the kefir grains must be filtered out. You can immediately use these kefir granules for your next batch of kefir. Put the contents of the weck jar in a plastic sieve that you hold above a large bowl. To speed up the leaking of the kefir through the sieve, you can use a wooden spoon to stir through it.
It is important that you do not use a metal strainer or spoon. This will affect the lactic acid bacteria so that the quality of your kefir granules can continue to deteriorate.
When all kefir has passed through the sieve, the kefir grains remain behind. You can rinse this under running water with running water before you use it for your next batch. Rinsing is optional, this is not necessary. If you rinse the kefir granules often, they can be disturbed too much.
The kefir that you caught in the large bowl is immediately ready for drinking. Personally, I prefer to cool the kefir in the fridge first. You can keep the kefir in a sealed glass bottle or weck jar in the refrigerator.
The kefir is naturally sour in taste. To make the kefir sweet you can add honey, coconut blossom sugar or pure stevia extract. For a taste you can add a few drops of vanilla extract or some pureed fruit such as pureed raspberries.
Making coconut kefir
You can make coconut kefir from coconut milkor coconut water .
Coconut milk and coconut water are two completely different drinks. Coconut milk is made from the flesh of the coconut and is thick and creamy.
Coconut water is clear water that is naturally at the core of the coconut and is known to hydrate well thanks to the minerals and electrolytes that make it suitable as a sports drink.
Both coconut milk and coconut water are naturally lactose free and you don’t have to add anything extra to make it kefir. They naturally contain sugars on which the lactic acid bacteria can live and convert into lactic acid.
Coconut kefir is made using the same procedure as ‘regular’ milk kefir.
Both coconut milk and coconut water retain their nutritional value by fermenting it, but with the addition of probiotics.
Make coconut ‘yogurt’
To make a thick (like thick as yogurt) coconut milk kefir you can use coconut cream : the coconut cream that you find in the department with Asian cooking products in the supermarket.
The higher the fat content of the coconut cream, the better and preferably not a canned coconut cream but from a cardboard or plastic packaging.
The great thing about a thick coconut milk kefir is that you can use it well as a base for your muesli or as desserts with some fruit in it.
The procedure for making thick coconut milk kefir is the same as for making milk kefir.
Make kefir from a vegetable milk
The procedure for making a vegetable kefir is the same as that of regular milk kefir. You can make kefir from:
- Soy drink
- Almond drink
- Rice drink
- Coconut drink
- Oat drink
- Cashew drink
The kefir granules live on sugars (carbohydrates). Sugars are already in most vegetable milk substitutes that you can buy in the supermarket. For example, oats and rice drinks are rich in carbohydrates, you don’t have to add anything.
Cashew drink and (unsweetened) almond drink do not contain that much sugar. To this you can add some sugars on which the lactic acid bacteria can live. What you can use as a carbohydrate source in your kefir is explained below when making water kefir.
To make water kefir you will have to make the water sweet. The lactic acid bacteria need sugars to live.
What you need for 1 liter of water kefir:
- 1 liter of water (preferably spring water because the chlorine from the tap water can eventually affect the kefir granules)
- 100 grams of kefir granules
- 30 to 80 grams of sugars (to taste); organic Maple syrup, an organic sugar, organic coconut blossom sugar or organic thick juice. Note: use organic sugars so that there is no contamination that can be harmful to the lactic acid bacteria. Never use honey, this is antibiotic, the lactic acid bacteria will not like that.
- 2 or 3 dried fruits such as dates, apricots, figs or a handful of raisins (always use sulfur-free fruits without flavorings)
- Half a whole organic lemon
The lemon is not necessarily needed for making water kefir, but this is usually done because it adds an extra dimension to the taste.
- Put the water in a weck-pot with the sugar. Stir in the sugar until it has dissolved.
- Cut the lemon and put it in the weck jar
- Add the remaining ingredients and close the weck jar. Place the pot in a spot out of direct sunlight.
- Let the weck jar stand for 2 days
- Remove the dried fruit from the water kefir and throw it away. These have lost their taste
- Squeeze half the lemon over a plastic strainer over the water kefir
- Drain the kefir granules on a plastic strainer. You can rinse the granules under running water and immediately reuse them for your new batch of water kefir
The water kefir is best when you store it in the fridge as soon as it is ready.
Kefir is a delicious fresh drink that can also be used well in recipes. We will give you a number of recipes here so that you can get an idea of the possibilities and get inspiration.
Recipe 1: piña colada salad with kefir dressing
I love the combination of coconut and pineapple and in this fruit salad these flavors come into their own. This salad is ideal for a BBQ and the fresh kefir dressing makes this piña colada fruit salad complete.
- 1 fresh pineapple
- 1 ripe banana
- 100 grams of dried coconut flakes
- 200 ml of kefir
- 50 ml coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Peel the pineapple and cut it into cubes of an inch
- Peel the banana and cut into pieces
- Put the pineapple, banana and coconut flakes in a large bowl and mix them together
- Put the coconut milk in a saucepan with the honey and heat it just enough to dissolve the honey well in the coconut milk
- Turn off the heat and add the kefir and stir well
- Pour the dressing from the saucepan over the fruits and let everything cool in the fridge for half an hour before you serve the salad
Recipe 2: Eastern dip
This is a delicious, fresh, oriental dip sauce for your raw vegetables or Lebanese bread based on kefir.
- 250 ml of kefir
- 2 tablespoons freshly cut dill or 1 tablespoon dried dill
- 2 cloves of freshly pressed garlic
- A pinch of Cayenne pepper
- A pinch of ground dried chili pepper
- A pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Put the ingredients in a bowl with the exception of the olive oil and mix well
- Put the dish in the fridge for a few hours before serving so that these flavors can absorb well
- Sprinkle the dip with olive oil (to taste) before serving
Recipe 3: gluten and lactose free pancakes
By using buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour, you make these pancakes gluten-free . By using kefir from a vegetable milk substitute, you also make these pancakes 100% lactose-free.
- 150 grams of buckwheat flour
- 250 ml of kefir
- 10 grams of baking powder
- 10 grams of sourdough starter
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Half a teaspoon of salt
- A few tablespoons of butter
- Put the buckwheat, kefir, sourdough starter in the food processor and mix
- Cover the dish and leave the dough in the fridge overnight
- Beat the eggs and add the salt, baking powder and cinnamon
- Add the eggs to the dough and mix
- Melt some butter in a frying pan and add a tablespoon of dough to the pan as soon as it is hot. Bake the pancakes on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes.
Enjoy your meal!