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Kefir starter vs. Kefir grains - Pros and Cons

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Milk kefir is a fermented dairy drink made by the fermentation of dairy milk, which is triggered by lactic bacteria and yeast which, then, creates a similar texture to drinkable yoghurt.

Image: Kefir Grains made from a freeze-dried starter(second consequent batch)

The main difference between kefir and yoghurt is in their microbiological composition as the yoghurt contains lactic bacteria only as "Lactobacillus Bulgaricus" and "Streptococcus thermophilus" but it could have some Bifido or other species as many refer to this enhanced combination as a ‘’probiotic yoghurt’’.

The milk kefir is fermented frequently at room temperature and the results are, usually, slightly sour and sometimes carbonated due to the yeast that is present. During fermentation, changes in the composition of ingredients occur. Lactose, the sugar in the milk, is broken down mostly to lactic acid by the lactic bacteria, which results in the acidification of the product. Other substances that contribute to the flavour of kefir are diacetyl and acetoin (both of which contribute a "buttery" flavour,) citric acid, acetaldehyde, and amino acids resulting from protein breakdown. The slow-acting yeasts, late in the fermentation process, process the sugar (lactose) to ethanol and carbon dioxide with the kefir having a bubbly appearance and carbonated taste if bottled as well in some cases some very low ethanol concentration when fermented.

The actual milk fermentation can be initiated by two types of kefir:

1. Kefir starter—lyophilized (freeze-dried) substance, which is a mix of sugar, lactic bacteria, and yeast. It is a very pure and laboratory-made (and thus precisely composed) starter which contains predominantly lactic acid bacteria and yeast. Due to the fact that microbiological activity starts after being added to milk for the first time, and it has not interacted with any substances yet as well other environmental microorganisms, the resulting kefir is very much suitable for anyone as it does not deliver side effects. However, after a few re-cultivations, it will start producing small grains which will grow gradually to very small ‘’grains’’.

2. Kefir grains—a fully matured, recultured many times natural starter, made up from lactic acid bacteria and yeasts immobilized in a medium of proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides. The medium is formed by microbial activity that occurred in the previous fermentations and resembles small cauliflower-like grains, with colours ranging from white to creamy yellow.

Lastly, it is important to say that the ‘’kefir grains’’ can be separated into two groups:

- Kefir Grains for Milk Kefir—more suitable for use with dairy milk and

- Kefir Grains for Water Kefir, also called ‘’Tibicos’’. The water kefir is a traditional fermented drink made with water, juice or water-based drinks such as almond and coconut milk, which contain some sugar. It is sometimes consumed as an alternative to dairy milk-based probiotic drinks or tea-cultured products such as kombucha.

Freeze-dried Kefir starter Pros and Cons:


1. Freeze-dried kefir starter is easy to transport, store and use and is therefore ideal for first-time users.

2. It is prepared in a sterile environment and made in a laboratory as every single strain is counted, so it is more balanced in order to avoid the side effects of the kefir. 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.

3. It can be cultured at room temperature; it delivers a thin texture or, if incubated by a yoghurt maker, delivers a yoghurt-like texture.

4. Side effects are not reported and can be consumed by a spectrum of people.


1. The downside of freeze-dried kefir starters is that they require better sanitation of the milk and also, they are more vulnerable to environmental bacterial species which can be the reason for a few recultivations when not made right.

2. The first batch made with Kefir starter and milk at room temperature might take a long time. The second consequent batch will need significantly less time or between 3 and 10 hours.

3. They will not produce large ‘’grains’’ as some people expect. Very small ‘’grains’’ will be visible after a few recultivations.

4. There is no freeze-dried kefir starter for water kefir and although they can deliver good results with rich in protein and fat medium, the results with water-based drinks could be disappointing.

Kefir grains - Pros and Cons:


1. Contains a much larger and diverse range of probiotic bacteria and yeasts than the freeze-dried kefir starter. The exact species and strains of bacteria contained in your kefir grains will vary depending on your geographic location. Traditional kefir grains in Russia, for example, will contain a different mix of probiotic organisms than those in the USA.

2. You can use them over and over again, but only if you store them correctly between batches.


3. The main drawback to traditional ‘’kefir grains’’ is that their preparation for storage requires some effort as you need to retain your grains and store them correctly.

4. The details regarding the exact species and strains of probiotic organisms contained in ‘’kefir grains’’ are not usually available. You will not know exactly which probiotic bacteria and beneficial yeasts your homemade kefir contains and, even if you know this in the beginning, the following changes in the microbiological composition will change the yeast and bacterial blend with time.

5. Due to the number and variety of strains, some side effects can be encountered. The kefir grains are not recommended for first-timers, children, and people with weak immune systems.

Now as you know the basics, you can get the right starter for you and enjoy Kefir whenever you like.

For more info, visit our website, blog, forum, or download the Yogurt App.

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