Kefir Grains are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Think of these grains as a town filled with different kinds of proteins, lipids, polysaccharides, a big set of bacteria and yeasts all living together harmoniously. They feed on simple sugars and multiply in millions. The microbial activity gives rise to a matrix that looks like parts of a small cauliflower. Lactobacillus family of bacteria is predominantly present in these grains along with many other species that are also found in the human gut.
Kefir (commonly pronounced as kephir) is said to have originated in North Caucasian region. Researchers believe the milk variant of kefir grains originated near the Ural Mountains thousands of years ago. Another study puts Kefir as a product of Turkey and the name being derived from köpür (old Turkish for milk).
Movement of people between continents brought Kefir to almost every country in the world. Research on Kefir has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years.
Different types of Kefir
Originally, the word kefir used to refer to milk kefir. But now, we have another form of the grain which works on simple sugars. They call it Tibcos in the Americas. The local legend says the grains originated as a collection of bacteria and yeast that grew on prickly pear cactus, sucking the sugar from the plant. By accident, these grains fell into a sweetened water container and created a tasty carbonated beverage.
Water kefir is called Japanese water crystals, sugar kefir grains and Tibetan crystals and many other names. These can also be trained to ferment specific types of sugars like coconut water and fruit sugar. They are a result of a natural process that took centuries to happen.
So in general, we divide kefir grains into water kefir and milk kefir.
Are all Kefir grains the same?
Each strain of Kefir is unique. The bacteria and yeast combination will be different, even when most of them have similar qualities. Based on the bacteria and yeast combination, some kefir may be more sour than tangy or the other way around. This balance between yeast and bacteria is an ongoing dance. So it is normal for your Kefir to get too fizzy for a few days and then go back to normal. Depending on the ambient temperature, humidity, quality of milk, amount of grains and the time for fermentation, there will always be some variation in the quality of your fermented milk.
Do all grains look similar?
No. Just like how each strain has a unique combination of bacteria and yeast, the size of these grains also varies. Broadly speaking, we can classify kefir grains as flat-sheet and globular. The Turkish grains often belong to the former category while grains from many other regions, including German, have a globular structure.
The flat-sheet structures have a smooth surface on side and convoluted on the other. They are smaller and multiply to attain similar size. It is hard to see or touch the smaller ones, while bigger ones can be seen when filtering using a double mesh.
The globular one starts as a small ball-like structure and grows into fairly big grains. The smallest one could be the size of a peanut, while a bigger one could be the size of a strawberry, or even bigger. If grains remain undisturbed while filtering, they could get as long as 10 cm. These grains need a wide-holed mesh to filter fermented milk.
How to choose the best kefir grains?
Since the standard and stable characteristics of the grains are similar across the strains, most people go with the grains that are the most convenient. Having tried half a dozen types of grains, we have settled to use medium-big sized grains that came from Dom’s Kefir in Australia. You can see these grains, and because of their size, filtering them is easy as well. They also have the advantage of living in organic, hormone-free milk for decades. We use A2 milk to feed our grains and supply the fermented milk in Bangalore. So they are happy, healthy and ready to multiply.
Kefir grains or kefir drinks?
If you stay in Bangalore, you can enjoy our ready to drink kefir milk without the fuss of fermenting daily. We use A2 cow milk and ferment Kefir in the traditional manner while observing hygienic food manufacturing practices.
If you stay in other cities, we recommend you buy the grains and prepare Kefir daily. We have video and written guides to help you along the way. Plus, we are only a call away in case you have questions.
Should you drink Kefir all your life?
Even with all its amazing health benefits, Kefir is not addictive. You can stop drinking it whenever you feel like it. If you are drinking Kefir to find relief from a health issue like constipation, IBS, etc., continue to drink until your primary problem is resolved and after that, you can stop drinking it. I have been using Kefir for over seven years now, and I do not drink it every day. Whenever there is some excess, I gulp it down. Plus, as a fermenter, I have the advantage of having 3-7 different types of kefirs, so I take turns drinking them.
Side effects and negative reactions
One of the most common side effects of drinking kefir is diarrhoea. It could happen to people who drink a large quantity of Kefir on their first attempt. If your body is not used to that level of acidic drink filled with probiotics, it tends to protest by giving you cramp, uneasiness or loose motion.
If you stick to our kefir dosage guide, 9 out of 10 people can avoid most of these starting issues. There are also some situations where Kefir is not suggested. In the below segment, we will talk about people and situations where you should avoid drinking all kinds of kefirs.
People who should avoid Kefir
Since Kefir is food and is completely natural, many people believe that anyone can drink it. That is not true. Certain people should not drink Kefir. Here are some of the situations where people should avoid Kefir and other probiotics.
- People who recently underwent organ transplantation: Organ receivers are pumped with immunosuppressants to ensure the body does not reject the new organ. Such people should not drink Kefir because this probiotic has immune-activation properties, i.e. it activates immunity. So please don’t use it till you are on such medicines.
- People with substantial lactose intolerance should not consume milk kefir. Milk intolerance has varying degrees of intolerances. Some people cannot drink milk but can consume curd or buttermilk. Others have trouble drinking curd, but can consume buttermilk and so on. If you can consume curd, you can drink Kefir. If your body responds poorly to curd, skip milk kefir altogether and switch to water kefir or coconut water kefir.
- Diabetics should take extra care while consuming Kefir. If you are drinking water kefir, ensure it is double fermented and always stick to small doses. Alternately switch to milk kefir.
- People with Candida infection should avoid drinking Kefir initially. Kefir creates a lot of prebiotics which is used as food by bacteria and yeast. Since yeast is already in the overgrowth phase during infection, such people should bring their infection under control before consuming Kefir.
- Chronic alcoholics taking medication like Disulfiram should avoid Kefir. The probiotic has a small amount of alcohol (0.1-1% depending on the level of fermentation). So, if you are on this drug, do not take Kefir as it will give you a pounding headache because of drug interaction.
Do the grains live forever?
Kefir grains can live forever if you take care of them. They are not immortal, though. If they are not fed regularly, they will die. If you put anti-bacterial on them, they will die. When exposed to detergents, bleach, and other toxic chemicals, they will not survive.
But if you feed them daily, keep them in a hygienic environment, away from metals, they will live for a long time, multiply and thrive.
How is it different from curd/yoghurt?
This is the most common question we are asked. Curd or yoghurt are fermented by one strain of lactobacillus family. It could contain 1-3 varieties of this strain. In contrast, kefir fermentation involves close to 60 different types of bacteria and yeast. It has many essential strains like Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactococcus lactis, and dozens of other strains. Each of these strains plays a vital role in the digestive tract. For example, Bifidobacterium plays a crucial role in activating immunity and functions as a catalyst in the production of serotonin. This is the reason many people feel ‘good’ after drinking Kefir.
The best way to check if Kefir is right for you is to call us. We offer a free 15-minute consultation which can help you find out if Kefir can improve in your health.