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Kefir 101: What, Why, and How

If you’re not acquainted with kefir, it’s time to catch up! Though it’s recently come into mainstream cultural consciousness, this antiquated grain is far from a fleeting fad. Before going crazy for kefir, get the facts first.

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a beverage made from cultured, fermented milk. A cousin of yogurt, kefir is thinner in consistency, making it drinkable. First developed in the mountains of North Caucasus (psst – that’s between Europe and Asia), kefir is made by soaking gelatinous ‘kefir’ grains in whole milk to produce a beverage teeming with probiotics.

Though regional recipes have variations, the ratio of kefir grains to milk is pretty precise, and the mixture must be left at room temperature for at least 24 hours. This provides enough time for the bacteria and yeast to activate and trigger fermentation. Before it’s ready to drink, kefir milk must be strained to remove the original grains.

These grains retain their potency and can be reused again and again in new batches of milk to create more kefir. Talk about a sustainable fermentation process!

Benefits of Kefir

When it comes to nutrition, kefir packs a similarly powerful punch as yogurt. A great source of calcium and protein, the fermentation process gives it at an edge over plain milk. Because of this, kefir is packed with probiotics, the good type of bacteria that help with digestion. Some varieties of kefir can have 30 or more strains, including lactobacillales – the lactic acid bacteria that’s awesome for the immune system.

What does all this mean on the day to day? The most notable benefits are better digestion, the reduction of inflammation, the promotion of bone health, and weight loss assistance. There’s a lot going on in the gut, and kefir can help in myriad ways!

Types of Kefir on the Market

Traditional kefir is made from whole cow’s milk, but the use of goat’s milk and sheep’s milk is popular, too. Plus, a strong market demand for alternative milk products has jump-started many other types of kefir produced with nontraditional substitutes, like coconut milk, rice milk, and soy milk. Another alternative is water kefir, which requires the addition of sugar or fruit extract for fermentation to activate.

No matter what type of kefir you decide to pick up, remember that different recipes can result in various potency levels. In addition, calcium and protein levels are not consistent across all types of kefir; dairy milk kefir will provide a much different composition of nutrients than water kefir.

Where to Get Kefir

Most grocery stores now carry at least one type of kefir product in the dairy aisle. Many kefir products are sold as ready-to-go drinks in single-serve bottles, so be sure to check the refrigerated beverage aisle the next time you’re out.

Feeling adventurous? It’s also possible to make kefir at home! Several homemade kefir recipes are available online. Just be sure to follow recipe instructions precisely, since fermentation is an exact science – errors in temperature, time, or equipment can jeopardize the batch.

Kefir can have great gut benefits, translating to better health overall. Any time you try a new food item, however, it’s best to take it slow and gauge how your body responds.

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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