Everything you need to know about milk kefir and water kefir. All in one site.
Kefir is loved by millions of people all around the world. You're probably here because you heard it from a friend. I've tried my best to break down everything I know about milk kefir and water kefir in this site. I hope you'll love it. Enjoy!
Listen to yourself say it, “kefir” (keh’-feer). Now say it over and over until your tongue gets used to verbalizing it and your ears to hearing it. The name might sound alien for now, but believe it or not, once you’ve learned more about it, the more kefir will become a part of your language, your diet and your life.
What exactly is kefir? Check out a short and long description of what many refer to as a miracle health drink that can change the way you see health and wellbeing completely.
Here’s a short description according to Wikipedia: “Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains.”
This definitely begs a longer and more exhaustive description. So here goes: More than a fermented drink resembling yogurt, kefir is a cultured probiotic food that is packed with living bacteria, phosphorous, folic acid, lactic acid, biotin, vitamins K, and vitamin B, among others. Its main ingredients are kefir grains and it is in these grains where the magic begins.
There’s more to this description than meets the eye. To learn more about kefir grains and what type of “magic” powers they possess, read my other posts about Kefir.
There is another word in the description that needs to be explained further: “probiotics” (from “pro” and “biota”, which means “for life”). What does it mean?
Again quoting from the free encyclopedia, “Probiotics are live microorganisms that may confer a health benefit on the host … ‘live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance’ … commonly consumed as part of fermented foods with specially added active live cultures.”
In other words, probiotics are friendly bacteria that promote good health.
The human body is made up of many things, including bacteria and microbes. There are trillions and trillions of microbes living inside the human body, which literally means we are 90% bacteria and 10% human. This sounds sci-fi-ish but it’s true. Tiny microbes live within us and help us live life as we know it.
We often associate bacteria and microbes with diseases, but in reality, we need them in order to live. A doctor from the University of Washington explains that “these microbes living in our bodies aren't just there for the ride — they're actively contributing to the normal physiology of the human body”.
It is the harmful types of bacteria that make us sick; not the helpful ones. When we ingest a probiotic drink, when we drink kefir, we are letting in more helpful bacteria into our systems so that they can promote intestinal microbial balance.
Probiotic drinks and foods have long been consumed in Northern Europe and some parts in Asia. They are relatively new in the American health and wellbeing circuit.
Now let's take a brief look at kefir’s history beginning from the Caucasus Mountains.
Names Kefir is known by many other names, and most of them hint at the fact that people are amazed at what kefir can do. Alternate names include: “Grains of the Prophet Mohammed”, “Drink of the Prophet”, “Tibetan Mushrooms”, “Snow Lotus”, “Balm of Gilead”, “California Bees”, kombucha, tibicos, and beer seeds . Two other names, “Yogurt Plant” and “Yogurt Mushroom”, point to kefir’s physical similarity with yogurt. But are they really similar? (Learn more about the differences of yogurt and kefir below.)
Kefir also has international names: Japanese water crystal, Kin-oko, yogoot-tane-oko (Japanese), Tibetanischer Pilz (German), Galodium (Romanian and/or Polish), and Kefyras (Lithuanian).
Folklore Perhaps the most intriguing of these names is “Grains of The Prophet Mohammed”, which pertains to a historical encounter (regarded by many as nothing more than folklore) between the prophet and Tibetan monks—although some say they were Orthodox Christians, to be precise. The story tells about Prophet Mohammed’s journey to the Caucasus Mountains and a short stopover at a Tibetan monastery where he gave out kefir “grains”. The prophet strictly forbade the people to give away the grains or talk about them to other people or else the grains would lose their magical powers. This explains why not many people know much about kefir until today. Kefir is still hiding in the shadows of the much more popular yogurt.
Even the folklore involving the prophet is shrouded with so many mysteries. It leaves us with more questions than answers: Where did the prophet get those grains? From whom did he learn about their magical strength? Why did he prohibit the people from letting kefir known?
We may never know the answers, unfortunately. That said, we are finding out more about kefir every day as researchers begin to take an interest in it and its secrets.
History Meanwhile, a more acceptable historical account of kefir’s beginnings is much less dramatic. The fermented dairy beverage was most likely discovered more than a thousand years ago by shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains who accidentally fermented milk inside their leather pouches. What used to be fresh milk turned into an effervescent beverage, which the shepherds later discovered to have a number of health benefits.
Somehow, word got out that the tribes-folk living in the northern portion of the mountains had a magical beverage that allowed the people to live longer. Russian doctors of the Victorian era later picked up on reports about the beverage’s power to treat tuberculosis and intestinal disorders. They believed that kefir was truly magically beneficial to one’s health. Since then, kefir has become a popular health drink in the Caucasus region, Russia, and southwestern Asia, and recently in Western Europe.
Fellow kefir fan & Karachay native, Boris Tekeev contacted me and shared some kefir history. There is a town in Russia called Karachayevsk or Karachay, where a statue of a Karachay girl with a cup of Kefir welcomes quests of the town. Karachay is actually a region of Caucasus near mount Elbrus where kefir originated.
Hospitals in the former Soviet Union used kefir to treat atherosclerosis, allergic disease, digestive disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, tuberculosis, and even cancer.
Simply put, the history of kefir is quite sketchy. Both stories – that of the prophet who forbade people to talk about it and the accidental discovery by shepherds – make it clear that (1) kefir is very potent and (2) the surrounding circumstances made it difficult for anyone to really document how kefir was discovered.
Another group of kefir-lovers actually argue that the biblical manna mentioned in the Old Testament was kefir grains! They were white, fluffy, satisfying, and fermented when stored.
To better understand kefir, it is important to compare it with yogurt. Everybody knows yogurt. Mainstream health buffs and health gurus know yogurt as a probiotic drink that promotes good health. But not many know that kefir is much more potent and beneficial. Below is a short description and history of yogurt, and then a rundown of what yogurt has and what kefir has, as well as what yogurt can do and why kefir can do it better.
Yogurt, according to Wikipedia “is a dairy product produced by bacterial fermentation of milk.” Bacterial yogurt cultures are added to pasteurized milk in order to ferment the milk’s lactose content and produce lactic acid. Cow’s milk is typically preferred over goat, water buffalo, camel, sheep, nut, or soy milk.
It is most likely that yogurt was discovered not long after early man learned to domesticate animals. Yogurt probably became a staple drink in Mesopotamia around 5,000 BC. It is also most likely that its discovery was accidental, just like that of kefir’s. We can imagine early drinkers of milk suddenly discovered that their drink has thickened and gone sour after being stored for some time. They used to store their milk in bags made from animal stomachs. We can guess that their “animal stomach bags” still had bacteria in them, which eventually fermented the milk.
They decided to drink the sour milk anyway and eventually learned to love it. “Yogurt” is Turkish for “to curdle” or “to thicken”.
Historical records reveal that the first people to produce and consume yogurt are those living in the Middle East. And since it had so much acid in it, yogurt was also used as lotion and cleaning product, believe it or not.
The most common yogurt today contains two types of bacteria: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. These are helpful bacteria. Lactobacillus bulgaricus breaks down lactose, fights diseases, and produces vitamins B and K. Streptococcus thermophilus, on the other hand, cleans the intestines.
Now here is where kefir takes the limelight and stands tall over yogurt. While yogurt has two bacterial strains, kefir has 30-40!
These friendly bacteria are found to contain enzymes, yeasts, phosphorous, folic acid, lactic acid, biotin, vitamins K, vitamin B, and other helpful vitamins and minerals. Kefir also has different strains of yeast.
Not only does kefir have more bacteria than yogurt, it also has bacteria of the better kind. Kefir contains right-turning bacteria, which is a type of bacteria that is “far superior and much more beneficial to the digestive tract”, while yogurt has left-turning bacteria, a type that is harmful to nursing mothers and young children.
Also, “Yogurt contains transient bacteria and will not repopulate the digestive tract, but the active, growing, living cultures in kefir will.”
It has also been said that a cup of yogurt contains up to 1 trillion bacteria, but a cup of kefir can contain up to 5 trillion.
The real good news, however, is that you win with either drink since both are beneficial. But if you have to choose one, kefir is the clear winner. Kefir bacteria stay in your stomach to keep it healthy. They keep working long after the yogurt bacteria have gone.
Now that you know kefir is not yogurt, let’s take a closer look at the different types of kefir.
When you say “kefir” you mean the beverage. It is made up of milk and kefir grains. But since you can use water instead of milk, too, you can actually make two types of kefir: milk (or dairy) kefir and water kefir. And since there are different types of milk, you can come up with a variety of dairy kefir as well.
Milk Kefir Kefir grains can ferment all forms of mammalian milk – cow, mare, goat, sheep, buffalo, camel, etc. In fact, according to Yemoos, some have tried fermenting human milk to hopefully help treat cancer.
It is also common to use non-milk mediums such as soy milk, rice milk, nut milk, almond milk, and coconut milk. Talk about limitless varieties, although non-milk kefir drinks lack the nutrients you get from dairy milk.
Meanwhile, dairy milk is classified according to how it was processed before it reached your doorsteps. Milk is classified as raw, pasteurized or homogenized.
Raw milk comes straight from the farm to your kitchen; pasteurized milk is what you buy from the grocery; and homogenized milk is pasteurized milk whose fatty contents have been further processed and broken down.
Many kefir drinkers prefer using raw milk since there is a common thinking that everything raw and organic is healthier and more nutritious than processed drinks. If you’re in the United States, however, it is not easy getting raw milk since several states think it is unsafe and unsanitary, and therefore prohibit its distribution and sales. If you do manage to find raw milk in health stores and farmer’s markets, make sure it’s from grass-fed cows, goats or sheep.
This shouldn’t bother you, though. If you ask the kefir grains themselves (pretending they talk), they’d tell you they won’t mind diving into any type of milk. They’d feed and ferment any kind – raw, pasteurized or homogenized. Other sub-types of milk that you can buy from the grocery are whole milk, standardized milk, UHT (ultra-heat treatment), fresh milk, low-fat, non-fat, and skimmed milk.
But what about the less popular but equally beneficial water kefir?
Water Kefir Water kefir is popular in its own right. It is known by many other names such as tibicos, California bees, African bees, ginger beer plant, and Japanese water crystals. Water kefir doesn’t have that white, creamy look that makes kefir popular because water kefir grains are not white and fluffy. They are crystalline grains and the drink is fizzy and bubbly. While milk kefir looks like yogurt, water kefir looks like soda or beer. Here's a nice way to drink water kefir as an alternative to sodas from Audry of ANutritionalMakeover.
Water kefir drinkers usually add fruit juice or slices for chaser. Water kefir can be made much more flavorful and delicious than its dairy counterpart. It is also a good beverage to drink while at work. Wanna know why? BerryRipe.com has summed it up into 7 reasons as to why we should have a bottle of water kefir during workdays.
Here is a nice trivia for you about water kefir. Did you know that water kefir is an aerobic ferment, and can also be anaerobic?
To lay down a clear-cut comparison, milk kefir and water kefir have five distinct differences: the grains, the base, physical appearance, taste, and contents.
Water kefir is made from crystalline-like and salt-like grains that feed on sugar.
Milk kefir is made from white, fluffy grains that feed on milk lactose. They look like tiny cauliflowers. Milk kefir grains have more bacteria.
Water kefir grains munch on sweetened water.
Milk kefir grains munch on milk (of any type).
Water kefir is clear, fizzy and bubbly like carbonated water.
Milk kefir is white and rich like yogurt with curds, whey and cottage-cheese-like grains.
Water kefir is sweet, but will lose its sweetness when fermented longer. Ginger ale water kefir will taste almost like beer.
Milk kefir is sour and tart-tasting, and will get more sour when fermented longer.
Water kefir is non-dairy, which makes it perfect for vegans. If you’re making the coconut water kefir variety, it contains calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, electrolytes, enzymes, amino acids, potassium, sodium, phyto-hormones, and cytokine.
Milk kefir has calcium, protein, fat, vitamins, and different carbohydrates, including lactose or milk sugar.
Note: Both kefir variants have tiny amounts of alcohol. (It’s so tiny, about 0.8-2%, it won’t get you drunk. Although you might wish it could as you start making your own water-based ginger ale kefir.)
That pretty much sums up the differences.
Meanwhile, citing their similarities is actually easier. Both milk kefir and water kefir can make you healthy and may be stored for a long, long time. The bacteria in the grains can potentially live forever if cared for properly.
To start your journey to a life of better health, it is necessary to first learn how to make kefir. An initial reaction is to simply buy ready-made kefir and skip the hassles of creating your own drink. But as already mentioned, store-bought kefir are artificial and may not have living bacterial strains. Forget about it.
Get real kefir grains online and make your own authentic, nutritious kefir drink. Making kefir is easy and making it yourself gives you control on how thick you want it to be.
Here are three easy steps:
Let’s break these steps down further.
One: Get started by acquiring real kefir grains online. Let me say this again: the grains sold in health stores are not real kefir grains. They are good copies; they could be beneficial, but they are not the magical grains that could change your life; they are not the ones handed down by the Prophet Mohammed to generations and generations of kefir sharers around the world.
You can get real kefir grains online. Click here.
I have a few testimonials and feedback from some of my readers about their experiences with getting and growing kefir.
In my personal experience, I really had a hard time getting my first grains. I got in touch with a lot of people who share their kefir grains for free, but most of the time, I just never got my grains. Most of them seldom reply to my questions, or totally never replied. Sad to say I wasted a lot of kefir grains back then. I suggest that if you are just starting, or having a hard time growing your kefir, then get/buy your kefir grains from Michael. I easily got my grains from him and he has an awesome video course. Plus he replies fast. :) He was patient with me when I was having trouble with my grains. It was a bit of an investment because I bought all the materials he had to help me perfect my kefir drink (yes, I was obsessed that way! :D )
Two: Let the grains do their work. Don’t forget that in your hands are tiny living organisms. Think of them as pets that you need to feed. As you place them in a clean glass jar with milk, they will begin to feed and ferment your milk right away. Mix them well. If you’re making kefir for the first time, put 2 tablespoons of grains for every 2 cups of milk. You can change that ratio later on if you wish.
Let your grains feed for 24 hours. Place them somewhere warm because they like it and work faster that way. If you’re in a cool place, you might need more than 24 hours. After that much time, check your kefir if it looks thick or sour enough for you. Ferment more if you want it thicker and more sour.
If you’re finally happy with how they look and taste, stir and then strain. You can use the grains for a second fermentation. Place them in a new glass for the time being, and with new milk.
Meanwhile, there are other ways to do Step Two if you’re trying out different kefir varieties. For instance, if you want to make coconut milk kefir, you can also try these instructions. Let me know which steps are the easiest to do.
If you want to try your hand in making water kefir, meet the Wellness Mama at to see how it is done.
I've also posted my own experience of culturing kefir. You can check here how I make my own milk kefir and my own water kefir drinks. My fav baby blog (& mommy blogger) also drinks kefir regularly.
Three, bottoms up to better health. Be warned: kefir is not delicious. It is healthy; it is very nutritious, but not delicious. You can add some fruit slices to make your kefir more flavorful if you wish, but you should not get your expectations too high from the start. Some people do like it, but it’s more of an acquired taste than anything else.
If you can’t drink it all, store inside the fridge. Make sure to keep away from metal or dirty containers to avoid getting your kefir contaminated.
Other than for its health benefits, kefir is also amazing for the fact that you can store the grains for future use. Not only are you storing them for safekeeping, you’re making them grow and thrive as well. Here’s how you do it.
Dont's First, learn the Don’ts when storing your grains:
Kefir grains thrive in temperatures between 22°C and 30°C (72°F and 86°F). You have to maintain balance in temperature, as a farmer would when hatching eggs. Again, you are fostering live bacteria when storing the grains.
Bacteria don’t easily die (except when heated) and could outlive any human being on earth. Remember, they survived quite well in the Caucasus Mountains in olden days when there were no refrigerators, coolers, glass jar containers, and other conveniences that we have now.
Do's Now the Do’s:
Time to Wake Up Here are some things you can do to wake your grains up.
One, dissolve sugar in water; place the grains, cover the container and let it stay for 3 days. Get the grains and place in a cup of fresh milk every 24 hours.
Two, feed them with lactose (milk sugar). It’s time for your grains to eat again. Place them in a clean glass jar with milk. Cover the jar and let it stay for another 24 hours.
Three, mix to thicken and allow to sit for another 12 hours or more. After such time, your grains should be up and active once again.
Waking them up will take some time. According to the Kefir Lady, the grains “will be sluggish at first and you will think they are dead. They did not die. Give them a fresh change of milk every day, keeping your culture jar at room temperature. Taste every batch. Notice how your kefir gets a little better each day. Be sure to adjust the milk according to the taste and not the consistency.”
The name “kefir” doesn’t do justice to what this drink can do. It’s such an awkward name for an extremely beneficial drink. Through the years people thought so, too, which is why they also named it “The Grains of the Prophet”, “Drink of the Prophet”, “Snow Lotus”, and “Balm of Gilead”. These names suggest mystery, of something sacrosanct, and hinting that kefir can do a lot of good to people.
So, what can kefir do?
Kefir is a double-barreled gun, a two edged sword, a double whammy since it can do two things at the same time: cure diseases and promote good health.
It is known to treat the following diseases: tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes, ulcer, diarrhea, colitis, reflux, depression, anxiety, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), urinary tract infection, eczema, acne, arthritis, gout, lactose intolerance, leaky gut syndrome, bronchitis, asthma, osteoporosis, allergies, migraine, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and possibly HIV/AIDS.
At the same time, kefir is known to regulate the immune system, provide natural protection against diseases, regulate blood pressure, promote production of bile, produce natural antibiotics, improve blood circulation, calm the nerves, strengthen the kidneys, regulate cholesterol level, regulate metabolism, promote weight loss, improve skin tone, cleanse the digestive tract, regulate blood sugar levels, protect the prostate, and slow the aging process.
Don't get me wrong, though. Some of these health claims are still under scientific studies, and most are from personal experiences of kefir drinkers. It is important to note that personal experiences do not equate to scientific and medical proof. Still, it doesn't hurt to drink kefir because of these health benefits, right? :) To give you a better understanding of kefir's health claims, this post from LA Times is a good additional read.
Truth Believe it: Do you think it’s too good to be true? Perhaps you’re now saying, “That can’t be true. It must be a scam.”
Well, here are three reasons for you to believe that kefir can indeed offer such benefits.
From “Rejoice in Life”
“Greetings. I'm still having great success with my Kefir. And to think I couldn't drink milk without the reaction of a bloating stomach for 60 years! Kefir has actually reduced bloating as well as calmed nerves, reversed insomnia pattern and taken away carbohydrate cravings. Been drinking it for a month now, noticed the benefits immediately. And... my morning kefir smoothies keep appetite stable all day... such a blessing, this healing drink!” --- Clara Angelyn, a massage therapist from Texas
“I have been drinking kefir since I have received the kefir grains sometime in March / April this year, 2004. I think it really strengthens my immunity system. Despite people falling sick around me and sometime literally coughing in my face, I seem to be keeping the bugs at bay. The only time I was under the weather was recently, when I didn't have enough rest. However, once I gotten back my good night rest, I seem to recover pretty fast. I think all the goodness in the kefir must have helped.” --- Hwee-Kheng Tan in Singapore
"I have recently found Kefir, and been drinking it for about 2-3 months. I am absolutely delighted with it. It has solved my digestive problems, my hair has become thicker, and I feel on a high quite often, because I feel so fit and well. I can highly recommend it, and I am passing some on to my friends.” --- Win Nitschke in New Zealand
From Nourish Kefir
“I can't emphasise strong enough how beneficial it has been for me as I have suffered from poor health recently and was taking antibiotics for quite a while. With the kefir it has brought in so much beneficial Bacteria to my gut and my wound is now heeling much quicker thanks to the kefir. Many many thanks and keep up the good work.”
“I did realize the other day that mum hasn't had thrush after her last lot of very strong antibiotics. No other yoghurt has been able to do that for her. Thank you.”
“I am taking Kefir to hopefully help with the symptoms left behind by HelicoBacter Pylori (fatigue, nausea, bitter taste, acid reflux) After just a few days I have definitely noticed a difference in my fatigue. I have been taking 250ml a day and will continue to do so. Many thanks, Julia”
“My 6 year old daughter has suffered from thrush and discomfort since she was tiny. We tried creams, acidopholus, live natural yoghurt and leaving well alone but nothing seemed to help. Within a few days of drinking a bottle of the fruity kefir a day, she has stopped scratching and her skin is no longer red or inflamed. If we run out of kefir, the itching starts up again, so I am convinced the kefir is the reason for the improvement. When I was breastfeeding I suffered from ductal thrush which was agony. The natural kefir helped me to fight this off too. I recommend your product to anyone who is looking to deal with thrush of any kind. It is such a relief to have a happier daughter.”
From The Kefir Company (They promote Young Coconut Water Kefir, which you guys should try as well!)
“I’ve been taking a daily dose of kefir for over a year now and my overall well being has never been better. It’s certainly helped support me during the winter months of ills and chills and I get heaps of compliments about my skin - even though I’m of a ‘mature’ age. The Kefir Company is wonderful to deal with and their passion for their product is certainly an endorsement to the benefits it provides.”
From fellow Kefir enthusiasts
"Since I had started washing my hair with Kefir Whey and Kombucha my hair has become noticeably thicker and shinier. I am almost 50 years old now, and prior to using the kefir and kombucha my hair had been starting to turn grey. My hair is now coming in healthy, shiny and back to it's original blonde color for the most part." - Barbara, SeizeTheDayz
Kefir has one downside – it is not delicious for everybody's taste. It is not something anybody would ingest for it's taste alone. It is for this reason that kefir lovers have been creating recipes to be more creative, flavorful and appealing when it comes to downing this miraculous beverage.
You can cook kefir; mix it with vegetables and make bread, but know that heating kefir grains would kill them. So, you may cook kefir but cooking is not the best thing to do with it.
But if you must, here are some tips:
Use kefir to replace milk, yogurt or sour cream in any recipe that uses them.
You can try making sourdough bread, cheesecake, salad dressing, pasta, and a variety of soups with kefir.
Use kefir-whey for baking, making pickles and mixing fresh vegetables. (Some people gargle kefir-whey.)
Are you used to saying and hearing “kefir” just yet? To discover more exciting ways of preparing or cooking your kefir and really benefit from it, join discussion sites about this miracle drink. Learn from those who’ve been making, storing, cooking and ingesting kefir for some time already.
Hop in, ask, share your own story, and win friends.
You can look around the Web for different forums but you might want to start at the following sites:
You can also start your own “forum” by talking about it with your friends. Ask yourself what is that one thing you can boast about among your friends. The birth of your child? Your wedding day? A new car? How about this:
You just got rid of your migraine, lost 10 pounds in a month or got over your depression. Or perhaps you feel more calm, your blood sugar level is right on spot, or you just feel better all over. You feel refreshed, cleansed and with renewed energy for life.
These things need to be celebrated, and these things you can achieve with kefir!
Start the magic! Begin feeling super by learning more about this magical beverage.
I've gotten a TON of questions over the past decade of being into kefir. I've compiled the most common questions on my FAQ page here on the site.
Whew! That was long!!
I would definitely appreciate if you could share this page or my kefir infographic (yes, very proud of this) on your blog as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I'll continue to update this page over time.
Last updated: May 2019.
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