Kefir is a potent fermented drink that is produced by allowing healthy and beneficial bacteria to grow in certain foods like cow’s milk. Similar to Kombucha, kefir drinks are first started with kefir grains, which serve as the ‘mother’ to begin the fermentation process. Kefir grains are tiny gelatinous clumps of bacteria and yeast that look a bit like a small cauliflower. Kefir has been been shown to demonstrate several powerful health benefits, including being regarded as a more potent probiotic than even yogurt! Kefir is a living food, and would be highly less potent if pasteurized before consumption, since all the powerful bacteria would likely be killed off. This makes Kefir hard to find in stores, though kefir grains are readily available online should you want to make your own kefir.
What is Kefir
At it’s core, kefir is a combination of many different strains of bacteria and yeast that are regraded as being beneficial to human health. These many bacteria are known to help fight off disease and promote gut health. Kefir drinks can be made from many different mediums such as milk, water, soy, and even coconut water and fruit juice. However, all kefir drinks are products of a natural fermentation process in which these beneficial cultures of bacteria are produced from a starter culture, known as a kefir grain. Kefir is thought to have originated in Northern Europe, somewhere in the Caucus region, and has been used as a healing food for centuries. Traditional forms of kefir are allowed to ferment at room temperatures, and can become potent overnight. This quick fermentation period is regarded as one of the advantages kefir has over similar functional beverages such as kombucha or apple cider vinegar.
Kefir drinks can be made from many different mediums such as milk, water, soy, and even coconut water and fruit juice
Milk compounds are high in a compound called lactose, which is known to be responsible for many milk-related allergies and intolerances. During the fermentation process, kefir grains actually change the ratio of active compound found in milk, and transform a large portion of the lactose into lactic-acid. This conversion to lactic acid results in an acidification, which can help preserve the resulting kefir fermentation from dangerous bacteria. This basic principle is found in many fermentation process of different foods, including many fruits and vegetables. Kefir, also sometimes referred to as Bulgaros, is also very nutrient rich after it’s fermentation process is completed. Fermented Kefir products are rich in B vitamins, essential amio acids, and also many other nutrients such as magnesium and Vitamin D.
A kefir drink offers the powerful nutrient-dense benefits that many probiotics afford, but is able to be consumed much more like a food than a supplement. Kefir probiotics are comprised of many of the same types of beneficial bacteria known to help promote gut-health that are found in encapsulated probiotics, just in non-standardized amounts. Many of the beneficial probiotic strains found in kefir drinks are thought to be able to help fight off bacterial infections, such as H. Pylori, E. Coli, and even Staphylococcus infections 1. Many of the beneficial strains of bacterial found in kefir grains, such as L. kefiri have also been seen to be antibiotic resistant, which may offer a powerful counter-balance to the gut-flora destroying potential of many modern anti-biotics. To better understand the potential benefits of kefir, and better understand if kefir is good for you, you should further investigate the different types of bacteria found in kefir. The health benefits of kefir may very well be numerous, but it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently to different treatments, and you should discuss the potential kefir grains and kefir drinks have to impact your health with your doctor.
Probiotic Strains in Kefir
Many ‘home remedy’ type compounds such as kefir that have been used throughout the years a powerful means of fortifying health are often regraded with skepticism and mystique. Modern science is seldom offered financing for the study of the benefits of natural compounds on already healthy subjects, therefore much of what modern science knows about remedy-type concoctions is purely anecdotal. Kefir is one of the exceptions to this rule, and has been investigated quite thoroughly to help elucidate the potential means by which it offers benefit to our health. One study published in 2008 conducted a detailed analysis of the different types of probiotic compounds found in kefir, to narrow the scope for future investigations of kefir’s health benefits. They found a laundry list of potentially health-promoting bacteria and yeasts, which have helped to paint a clearer picture of how kefir grains function, as well as how kefir milk can help the human body thrive. Below is a list of some of the bacterial and yeast strains found to be present in kefir 2:
Lactobacillus brevis Lactobacillus plantarum Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. Lactobacillus acidophilus Lactobacillus helveticus Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris Lactococcus lactis
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp.
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp.
Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
Lactococcus lactis Lactobacillus casei Lactobacillus sake Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei Lactobacillus rhamnosus Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens Lactobacillus kefiri Streptococcus thermophilus
Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii
It should be noted that these are only a handful of the bacterial strains found in kefir, and only those identified in a single analysis. Different varieties of kefir could likely have different amounts, and likely even different types of bacterial and yeast strains present. Generally speaking however, there seems to be a large presence of the lactic-acid species present, which are well-known to offer a wide range of health benefits3.
Where to Buy Kefir
In the United States, the food products are regulated in many different ways, and the act of crossing State lines plays a large role. The sale and use of dairy products is regulated explicity within the Code of Federal Regulations, and per 21CFR1240.61 4:
No person shall cause to be delivered into interstate commerce or shall sell, otherwise distribute, or hold for sale or other distribution after shipment in interstate commerce any milk or milk product in final package form for direct human consumption unless the product has been pasteurized or is made from dairy ingredients (milk or milk products) that have all been pasteurized
What this means is that you won’t be likely to find any traditional kefir products for sale in stores, and will likely have to rely on making your own at home or buying from local producers. However, even this type of purchase of raw dairy products can be sticky, and is tightly regulated on a State-level. To better understand how your State regulates raw milk products, check out the great interactive State map from Farm to Consumer. Oddly enough, many States that don’t allow the sale of raw milk products to humans, do allow the sale of unpasteurized dairy products for animal use. This is a bit of a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ situation in which many local producers are able to still offer these products for purchase, just under the acknowledgement from consumers that they aren’t legal for human use.
There are some great websites to buy kefir grains from, both dairy and water varieties, though we would recommend Cultures for Health
There are many Water kefir products that you can purchase online, which are able to make kefir beverages from such liquids as fruit juices, coconut water, and even sugar water. These water kefir grains can be used over and over again to produce a continuous amount of water kefir, similar to how the same SCOBY can be used over and over again to make kombucha. Water kefir doesn’t have the same number of probiotic strains as milk kefir grains, but is preferable to many that are trying to avoid milk products.
There are some great websites to buy kefir grains from, both dairy and water varieties, though we would recommend Cultures for Health, which is also a great resource for learning all about the processes by which kefir is made, and how to make kefir at home. You can purchase kefir grains directly from their website, or also from their official Amazon storefront—which can be beneficial for saving on shipping. Cultures for Health offers a much better quality of product than you will find in grocery stores, and truly focus on offering consumers a probiotic-rich product, and not just a bottle with the latest ‘buzzword’ printed on the front.