What Is Kefir? Its Types, Benefits And How To Make It

Kefir, also known as kephir is a fermented drink originated from the northern parts of Caucasus Mountains that divides Asia and Europe. The name kefir originated from the Turkish word 'keif', which means 'good feeling'. The beverage is cultured and fermented, and is made using 'starter grains'. The grains used to make the fermented beverage can be reused, and has to be stored in a cool place so as to avoid being spoilt.

For centuries, kefir has been used in European and Asian folk medicine due to the wide range of medicinal properties it encompasses. High in nutrients and probiotics content, kefir has become the newfangled trend in the health community. Well, it is even dubbed as being the most probiotic-rich food in the face of the earth. Recent research on kefir is to be pointed out for its rapid growth of prominence in the health arena, as studies have revealed a plethora of health benefits [1] of kefir.

Kefir

The probiotic-rich beverage has a slightly sour taste with a little bit of a fizz, which is the result of the carbon dioxide content developed during the fermentation process. The probiotic-rich beverage can be consumed every day as it does not result in gaining extra weight or fattening; with the recommended quantity being about 200-300 ml.

You can drink kefir at any time of the day, as you prefer. Although, the best time to drink is considered to be 1-2 hours before your bedtime as it can enhance your sleep. Kefir has been proven to aid balance the 'inner ecosystem' within your body, through the supply of essential minerals, complete protein and valuable B vitamins. Kefir, rich in taste and encompassed of proven health [2] benefits, is of two types - milk kefir also known as bulgaros and water kefir, also known as tibicos. So, let's get to know the different types of kefir.

Types Of Kefir

The fermented drink Kefir is of two types; milk kefir and water kefir. Both the drinks are highly beneficial to your health and rich in probiotics. The most relevant distinction between the two types of kefir is that milk kefir is dairy, whereas water kefir is non-dairy.

Milk kefir

When it comes to the types of kefir, milk kefir is the commonly known and consumed one. Similar to yoghurt in texture and taste, milk kefir is made from 'starter' grains. The starter grains are a combination of milk proteins, bacteria and yeasts.

The grains are small in size, translucent, white in colour and are jelly-like in texture, which looks similar to tiny pieces [3] of cauliflower. Milk kefir has a creamy tart flavour, and is packed with probiotic health benefits. The rising popularity of milk kefir is due to the line of benefits it has for your body, especially your gut.

Milk kefir grains, that makes the milk kefir primarily consists[4]   of Lactobacillus kefiri bacteria. The kefir grains are then added to the milk of choice to make kefir milk. During the process of consuming the lactose content in the milk, the kefir grains release the probiotics [5] into the fermented beverage. The complex microbial symbiotic mixture of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a polysaccharide and protein cluster in the kefir grain is the central health benefit of milk kefir.

Containing over 40 strains of bacteria, milk kefir is more probiotic than yoghurt. The fermented drink can be consumed by individuals who are lactose intolerant! Yes, it can be. The large amount of bacteria present in milk kefir aid in the digestion of the lactose, therefore stopping any symptoms of lactose intolerance. Kefir milk can be made from a variety of source of milk such as cow, sheep, goat and even rice, soy or coconut.

Water kefir

Water kefir is produced from water kefir grains that are comprised of Lactobacillus brevis, Streptococcus lactis [6] and Saccharomyces cerevisiae bacteria primarily. Studies have found the presence of other forms of bacteria and yeasts in the water kefir grains, although these three are the central ones contributing [3] to the health benefit functions of water kefir. Water kefir is mostly consumed by mixing the grains in water, sugar and any dried fruit for a distinct flavour. It naturally has a lemonade sort of flavour but less acidic and milder. Water kefir is loaded with benign food enzymes and bacteria that boost your health.

Water kefir can be made using coconut water and normal water, and does not contain any dairy content. The water kefir grains look similar to milk kefir grains, small baby cauliflower florets. The grains are held together by dextran polysaccharide, produced by Lactobacillus higarii [7] . The sugar used in the preparation of water kefir does not impact your body directly as it used up during the fermentation process. The bacteria and the yeasts in the kefir grain utilise the sugar for the production of a small amount of ethanol, carbon dioxide [8] and lactic acid.

Nutritional Value Of Kefir

1 cup of milk kefir consists of 152 calories and 1 cup of water kefir contains 16 calories. Milk kefir has a cholesterol value of 27 mg [22] .

1 cup of milk kefir contains approximately

  • 7.9 grams protein
  • 8.1 grams fat
  • 12 grams carbohydrates
  • 257 milligrams sodium
  • 331 milligrams potassium
  • 280 milligrams calcium
  • 80 milligrams vitamin A.

1 cup of water kefir contains approximately

  • 1.6 gram protein
  • 0.3 gram fat
  • 2.3 grams carbohydrates
  • 12 milligrams sodium
  • 38 milligrams potassium
  • 10 milligrams calcium.
Kefir

Benefits Of Kefir

Milk kefir and water kefir are equally beneficial to your body. As there is a lack of research done on the exact health benefits of water kefir, we will be looking at the health benefits of milk kefir closely. However, it will also be focused on water kefir and its health benefits.

1. Aids in weight loss

The fermented drink is a powerhouse, tightly packed with a plethora of bacteria. The diverse pile of bacteria comprised of Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus amylovorus, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus rhamnosus [9] are proven to aid in weight loss.

The bacteria regulate ANGPTL4, the fat burning protein serum hormone in your body. Studies have revealed the impact of kefir consumption on weight loss, revealing that the individuals who underwent the process lost 3-4% of their body fat in six week's time.

Read also: How Probiotics Help You To Lose Weight, Check It Out!

2. Improves immunity

Nutrients and compounds such as folate and biotin in kefir help improve the function of your immune system. The Lactobacillus kefiri bacteria in kefir aids your body in the defence against harmful bacteria like E. Coli[10] and salmonella. The abundance of good bacteria in the beverage helps in strengthening your immune system and stops the growth of predatory bacteria.

Kefiran, an insoluble polysaccharide found only in the probiotic drink has antimicrobial properties which help in fighting against the most common type of yeast [11] infection, candida. By contributing towards improving the immune system, kefir has been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

3. May prevent cancer

The probiotics present in kefir play a major role in helping your body fight against the onset of the deadly disease, cancer. By stopping the multiplication of cancer-causing cells, the probiotic-rich drink has been proven to be effective in causing the cancer cells [12] to self-destruct. The anti-carcinogenic role played by kefir slows the growth of early tumours and stops its enzymatic development from non-carcinogenic to carcinogenic.

A study conducted by the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at the Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Canada contributed to the role of kefir in preventing and fighting cancer cells by revealing [13] that it has resulted in the reduction of the cancer cells by 56 per cent.

4. Improves digestion & treats IBS

Kefir helps improve your digestion by restoring the 'friendly and good' bacteria in your gut. The probiotics in kefir help with many digestion problems such as diarrhoea, constipation, Crohn's, ulcer [14] caused by H. pylori infection and various others. The most critical role played by kefir is in combating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The probiotics help your gut by fighting against the pathogens[15] and restoring the intestinal or gut flora. Consumption of kefir also helps your gut feel balanced after taking antibiotics.

Read also : The different ways to restore your gut flora

5. Cures allergies & inflammation

The inflammatory issues in your body result in the development of allergies and asthma. The intake of kefir has been proven to reduce the disruption in the lungs and air passages by the inflammatory[16]   cells. The microorganisms within the beverage help prevent mucus build up as well. It helps promote your immune system, therefore resulting in the natural suppression of allergic reactions, as well as strengthening your body to withstand[17]   the onset of allergies. A study conducted by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center revealed the positive impact kefir consumption has had on individuals suffering from allergies & inflammation.

6. Improves lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance restricts your body from the proper breaking down and digestion of lactose. Lactose is the primary content in any regular dairy food, making it impossible to be consumed by individuals suffering from lactose intolerance. But in the case of kefir, the fermented beverage converts the lactose into lactic acid which results in the dairy product being consumable.

Apart from the lactic acid, it also contains enzymes that further break down [18] the lactose content. The bacterial strains and nutrients in kefir aids in almost entirely removing the lactose in the dairy product. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics supports the claim by pointing out that kefir does improve the lactose digestion and tolerance [19] .

7. Improves bone strength

Kefir, especially milk kefir, is a great source of calcium and vitamin K2 that aids in improving your bone strength. It improves your calcium metabolism, thus preventing the onset of osteoporosis which has become a major concern in today's fast-paced living. Osteoporosis causes the bones to deteriorate, resulting in weak bones. Along with the abundance of calcium present in the beverage, the bioactive compounds help stop the bone degradation by absorbing the calcium [20] .

The probiotic content in kefir helps the absorption of nutrients, directly impacting the improvement of bone density. The nutrients such as phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2 all act in unison to help prevent the onset of osteoporosis and improve your bone [21] strength.

Read also: Health Benefits Of Fermented Foods

Kefir Recipes

Now that you are aware of the amazing health benefits of the types of kefir, let's get to know the steps in making some refreshing kefir for yourself, at your home!

1. Milk kefir

Ingredients

  • 1-2 tablespoons of active milk kefir grains
  • 1 cup of fresh milk (you can use any kind of milk according to your choice)

Directions

  • Pour the kefir grains into a glass jar.
  • Add 1 cup of milk into the jar.
  • Stir the contents with a wooden or plastic spoon.
  • Cover the jar with a coffee filter or a butter muslin and secure it with a jar ring/rubber band.
  • Keep the jar in a warm spot (68°- 85°F) to culture for 24 hrs.
  • Let the mixture turn thick and sour.
  • Strain the kefir, separating the liquid from the grains.
  • You can place the grains in a jar and use it again.
  • Keep the kefir in a refrigerator - cool it & Enjoy!

2. Water kefir

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup of water kefir grains
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 5-6 cups filtered water

*Optional - Lemon or vanilla extract for taste

Directions

  • Pour a cup of water into a pot and add sugar.
  • Heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves, but do not boil it.
  • Keep the mixture aside, let it cool.
  • Add 3 more cups of water into the mixture and transfer into a glass jar.
  • Add 1-2 cups of water again.
  • Add the kefir grains and cover the jar.
  • Wait for 24 hrs.
  • Let the mixture thicken in texture and become sour in taste.
  • Strain the liquid and separate the grains using a plastic strainer.
  • If preferred, you can add lemon or vanilla extract for taste!

Kefir Vs Yoghurt

Kefir and yoghurt are both cultured dairy products, but that does not make it the same. There is a common misconception that yoghurt and kefir are the same and there aren't any differences between the two. From consistency to the preparation, both dairy products stand apart. First, let's see how both the products can be confused for each other; both yoghurt and kefir have a similar taste, are rich in calcium, protein and vitamins and are thick and creamy in texture. Now that the similarities are out in the open, let's get to know why these two dairy products are disparate from each [23] other.

What Is Kefir

On going back and forth to find out the better fermented dairy product between kefir and yoghurt, it can be pointed out that kefir is, in fact, the superior beneficial product. Although yoghurt does have its own positive properties and health benefits, kefir can be concluded as being more beneficial to your body in comparison to yoghurt. But it does not state that yoghurt is entirely devoid of any form of health benefit.

Precautions While Using Kefir

It is noted that before you start the regular consumption of kefir, it is preferred to talk about it with your doctor. Because, the plethora of bacteria and probiotics in kefir and its introduction into the body and system can cause temporary symptoms such as acne, diarrhoea, headache, nausea, bloating [24] and gas.

View Article References
  1. [1] Kim, D. H., Jeong, D., Kim, H., & Seo, K. H. (2018). Modern perspectives on the health benefits of kefir in next generation sequencing era: Improvement of the host gut microbiota.Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 1-12.
  2. [2] Simova, E., Beshkova, D., Angelov, A., Hristozova, T., Frengova, G., & Spasov, Z. (2002). Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in kefir grains and kefir made from them.Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology,28(1), 1-6.
  3. [3] Neve, H., & Heller, K. J. (2002). The microflora of water kefir: a glance by scanning electron microscopy.Kieler Milchwirtschaftliche Forschungsberichte,54(4), 337-349.
  4. [4] Miguel, M. G. D. C. P., Cardoso, P. G., de Assis Lago, L., & Schwan, R. F. (2010). Diversity of bacteria present in milk kefir grains using culture-dependent and culture-independent methods.Food Research International,43(5), 1523-1528.
  5. [5] Leite, A. M. D. O., Miguel, M. A. L., Peixoto, R. S., Rosado, A. S., Silva, J. T., & Paschoalin, V. M. F. (2013). Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage.Brazilian Journal of Microbiology,44(2), 341-349.
  6. [6] Gulitz, A., Stadie, J., Wenning, M., Ehrmann, M. A., & Vogel, R. F. (2011). The microbial diversity of water kefir.International journal of food microbiology,151(3), 284-288.
  7. [7] Pidoux, M. (1989). The microbial flora of sugary kefir grain (the gingerbeer plant): biosynthesis of the grain fromLactobacillus hilgardii producing a polysaccharide gelFlore microbienne du grain de kefir sucré (plant de la bière de gingembre): biosynthèse du grain par Lactobacillus hilgardii produisant un gel de polysaccharide.MIRCEN journal of applied microbiology and biotechnology,5(2), 223-238.
  8. [8] Waldherr, F. W., Doll, V. M., Meißner, D., & Vogel, R. F. (2010). Identification and characterization of a glucan-producing enzyme from Lactobacillus hilgardii TMW 1.828 involved in granule formation of water kefir.Food Microbiology,27(5), 672-678.
  9. [9] Lee, H. G., Cho, Y. J., Seo, K. H., Yokoyama, W., & Kim, H. (2018). Anti-obesity Effect of Prebiotic Polyphenol-rich Grape Seed Flour Supplemented with Probiotic Kefir-derived Lactic Acid Bacteria.Journal of agricultural and food chemistry.
  10. [10] Carasi, P., Díaz, M., Racedo, S. M., De Antoni, G., Urdaci, M. C., & Serradell, M. D. L. A. (2014). Safety characterization and antimicrobial properties of kefir-isolated Lactobacillus kefiri.BioMed research international,2014.
  11. [11] Rodrigues, K. L., Caputo, L. R. G., Carvalho, J. C. T., Evangelista, J., & Schneedorf, J. M. (2005). Antimicrobial and healing activity of kefir and kefiran extract.International journal of antimicrobial agents,25(5), 404-408.
  12. [12] Gao, J., Gu, F., Ruan, H., Chen, Q., He, J., & He, G. (2013). Induction of apoptosis of gastric cancer cells SGC7901 in vitro by a cell-free fraction of Tibetan kefir.International Dairy Journal,30(1), 14-18.
  13. [13] Chen, C., Chan, H. M., & Kubow, S. (2007). Kefir extracts suppress in vitro proliferation of estrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells but not normal mammary epithelial cells.Journal of medicinal food,10(3), 416-422.
  14. [14] Ritchie, M. L., & Romanuk, T. N. (2012). A meta-analysis of probiotic efficacy for gastrointestinal diseases.PloS one,7(4), e34938.
  15. [15] Hoveyda, N., Heneghan, C., Mahtani, K. R., Perera, R., Roberts, N., & Glasziou, P. (2009). A systematic review and meta-analysis: probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.BMC gastroenterology,9(1), 16. Lee, M. Y., Ahn, K. S., Kwon, O. K., Kim, M. J., Kim, M. K., Lee, I. Y., ... & Lee, H. K. (2007). Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects of kefir in a mouse asthma model.Immunobiology,212(8), 647-654.
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