What Is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented dairy drink/food that's similar to yogurt, except the mother culture is both beneficial bacteria and yeast. Yogurt is just beneficial bacteria but no yeast is present.
The end result is thinner than yogurt and even a bit effervescent or bubbly, due to the organisms producing more gas as they culture the milk.
You can make kefir with raw or pasteurized milk. It's easier than yogurt, really as the temperature can be lower and the temperature variations not that strict. Simply mix your culture (either grains or powder) with 1L of milk, cover your jar, and then incubate at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours (adjusting up or down depending on the season of the year, temperature of your house, etc.).
In case that you use yogurtmaker and freeze-dried kefir starter and whole milk the consistency might be more yogurt-like than liquid as it will be if you cultivate at room temperature.
What Are Kefir Grains?
The ‘’Kefir grains’’ are the mother culture for making kefir. They are soft and elastic and look like a cauliflower. You put them in milk and then pull them out, and can reuse them over and over again if you meet the conditions of course. They also grow (some do, some don't, it depends on the milk and conditions) … so you can share with friends or make more with your extra grains.
Kefir grains are a mixture of probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeasts in a base of fat, sugar and protein.
Contrary to their name, these "grains" do not contain cereal of any kind. However, they do generally contain dairy, specifically milk protein called casein. Some non-dairy alternatives to milk-based kefir grains are now available. These can be used to make water kefir and coconut kefir
Kefir grains are small irregular shaped clusters, which stick together, resembling cauliflower and they must also be refrigerated.
What's in the grains again? They are beneficial yeasts and bacteria! They live in that medium that is like elastic cauliflower. And when added to milk, they feed on the lactose in milk and in exchange create the thickened, curdled, sour, bubbly milk we call kefir! Kefir is full of probiotics and beneficial acids. It also has less lactose (milk sugar) than milk… the longer it ferments, the more lactose is consumed and this is valid for both types of kefir ‘’Grains’’ or ‘’freeze – dried’’ ones
These grains contain at least 30 (and frequently more) beneficial strains of bacteria and yeast, making them a true probiotic power house which again can deliver some side effects and should be avoided by the first timers, children, elderly or people with a weak immune system.
What Is Kefir Powder, Freeze-dried starter, direct set Kefir starter?
Kefir powder (Freeze-dried starter, direct set Kefir starter) is a freeze-dried culture of 7 to 12 kefir strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts in powder form. You mix it with your dairy milk, and it creates kefir.
The resulting kefir can be used to make new batches, but not indefinitely although if you handle with care longer than you might need.
Usually after a few batches, the culture will be weakened sufficiently that the kefir doesn't really turn out. Then new freeze-dried powder sachet needs to be mixed with milk, and you start all over again which can be beneficial if you wish to change the culture and pick a new one – Bifidus, Acidophilus, Bulgarian or another starter. Changing of the cultures regularly could enhance the immunity and enrich your body with good bacteria
Main differences between freeze-dried Kefir starter and ‘’Kefir grains’’
First, the Kefir grains contain many more strains of beneficial organisms and therefore, so does your kefir. It has more probiotic diversity! (This also means it may taste different, like be bubblier or sourer.)
This doesn't mean there aren't benefits of using freeze dried kefir starter. It can be more convenient. Just add the starter and mix with milk. No straining out of the grains when you're finished, and certainly no having to take care of the grains if you want to take a break from making kefir.
Then, if you're using grains, you remove them and put them a new batch of milk, and cover and refrigerate the finished kefir. Or if you're using freeze-dried kefir starter, you can take a few spoons and add to the milk for a new batch. You also might decide to make a new batch a bit later and keep a few spoons of kefir in the freezer for a new recultivations later.
Lastly it is important to say that the Kefir grains can be more suitable for Milk and grains suitable for Water(or Juice and also plant based milks as almond and coconut milk), so another two ‘’kefir grains ‘’products can be distinguished here:
1. Water Kefir Grains and 2. Milk Kefir Grains
On the other hand, Kefir Starter Culture is created in a laboratory and is a freeze-dried culture. It is meant to be used once, but with the proper care (boiling of the milk and pouring hot water over utensils and containers before use), can be re-cultured a few times to a few months before the culture weakens.
While there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both kefir grains and a freeze-dried kefir starter culture, which one you decide to use to make kefir ultimately depends on your individual preferences. You can learn about each below to decide which option is best for you.
Generally speaking, powdered kefir starter has 7 to 12 strains of bacteria and yeast depending on the particular brand of starter.
‘’Milk kefir grains’’ and ‘’water kefir grains’’ contain a frequently more than 30 bacteria and yeast strains and subspecies, making kefir grains the more probiotic-rich culture for making kefir.
Kefir grains are reusable, and with proper care can be used indefinitely. Simply place the grains in the appropriate milk, culture for 12-48 hours, then transfer the grains to new milk portion for the new batch. A little emphasis should be put on the word ‘’proper’’. The grains kefir should be made back to back or with a very short break between batches. It can be compared to pet at home which require food and care on a daily basis.
The freeze-dried kefir is more resistant until sealed in the sachets, can be transported and stored easily outside the fridge and can be started whenever you want. Once started, it can be re-cultured and can be kept activated (already made with starter and milk) in a freezer for the next batch for months and. The sealed sachet can survive about a year at room temperature, can be stored for years if unsealed in a fridge and a few decades if unsealed in the freezer with no supervision at all.
A small amount of the kefir made from freeze-dried kefir starter can be reserved and added to fresh dairy milk to make a new batch of kefir. Generally speaking, it can be re-cultured several times before the bacteria weakens.
How many times ? – this depends on the met conditions – it can be just 2 times but if you sanitize the containers and boil the milk the culture can be reused for more than 3 months.
Kefir ‘’grains’’ work best when cultured in back-to-back batches (and no long brake should be taken between), as both water and milk kefir ‘’grains’’ require a constant source of food. Once left with no food and they can die-regardless the temperature around. They require more maintenance than a freeze-dried kefir starter culture as basically can be used to produce kefir on a daily basis
Powdered kefir starter is well suited for individuals who do not wish to make kefir regularly (more than once per week or two weeks) However, as mentioned above, the freeze-dried kefir starter can often be used a few times before the bacteria weaken significantly. For best results, we recommend using or re-culturing the starter within 7 to 10 days of the previous batch and always boil the milk and pour hot water over the containers and utensils.
Freeze-dried Kefir starter Pros and Cons
Freeze-dried kefir starter is easy to use and is therefore ideal for first time users. It is prepared in a sterile environment and made in laboratory as every single strain is counted, so more balanced in order to avoid side effect of the kefir. The benefit is that the product ingredients include a comprehensive list of all the probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeasts contained in the product.
If you choose a powdered kefir starter therefore, you know exactly which beneficial organisms you are using and ultimately ingesting.
It can be cultured at room temperature – it delivers thin texture or if incubated by yogurtmaker delivers yogurt - like texture.
Side effects are not reported and can be consumed by spectre of people.
The downside of freeze-dried kefir starter is that you generally cannot use these cultures forever (again with proper care a few recultivations of a sachet for a few months are absolutely possible). At best and depending on the brand you buy, you may get minimum 6 batches of kefir out of your sachet of the freeze-dried starter culture. However, be aware that the number of recultures from your sachet may be considerably lower than six if you don’t boil the milk, if the milk contains preservatives or you don’t keep high level of hygiene.
Kefir grains - Pros and Cons
The key advantage to ‘’kefir grains’’ to these grains is that typically they contain a much larger and diverse range of probiotic bacteria and yeasts than does powdered kefir starter. The exact species and strains of bacteria contained in your grains will vary depending on your geographic location. Traditional kefir grains in Russia for example will contain a different mix of probiotic organisms to those in the USA.
Another advantage is that you can use them over and over again, provided of course that you store them correctly. If you do so, they will last forever. You simply make your initial batch of kefir and then retain the grains for your next batch and so on. Once you have purchased your grains therefore, you should never have to buy them again if you handle with care for back to back batches. In the long-term, this makes them extremely good value for money. Of course, if you go on holiday you need to take them with you and keep making kefir otherwise they will die due to the lack of food.
Finally, just like powdered kefir starter, traditional grains are really easy to use.
The main drawback to traditional ‘’kefir grains’’ is that their preparation for storage requires a little time. Once you have made your kefir, you need to retain your grains. To prepare them for storage you must then rinse them in cold water, place them in a container and cover with cold water. You must then place your kefir grain in a refrigerator.
The initial outlay may be another deterrent to kefir grains. If this is you, then perhaps the best way forward is to buy either a few sachets of freeze-dried kefir starter or alternatively to buy some ready-made kefir milk. Be aware though that homemade milk kefir tastes much better than bought kefir.
Finally, details regarding the exact species and strains of probiotic organisms contained in ‘’kefir grains’’ are not usually available. You therefore will not know exactly which probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeasts your homemade kefir contains and even if you know this on the beginning the following mutations in the grains Kefir will change the yeast and bacterial blend with the time.
Due to the number of probiotics some side effects can be encountered. The grains Kefir is not suitable for first timers, children and people with weak immune system.