You probably know that drinking kefir is a great way to increase your probiotic intake and support your digestive health. But did you know that drinking kefir is just one way to enjoy it? You can also make kefir yogurt. This tart, creamy snack is full of beneficial probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The probiotics in kefir are partially responsible for the many health benefits associated with it, including supporting the immune system and gastrointestinal tract, preventing cancer, reducing inflammation, and killing harmful microbes. However, there are some minor risks associated with kefir consumption. According to WebMD, you may experience side effects when you drink kefir, especially if you're doing so for the first time. These may include "bloating, nausea, intestinal cramping, and constipation" (1
). If you have an autoimmune disease such as Crohn's disease, Hashimoto's disease, or rheumatoid Arthritis, or if you have a weakened immune system, we recommend you consult your healthcare provider before trying kefir. Kefir boosts the immune system, so it could exacerbate autoimmune conditions (1
). Medications that suppress the immune system are contraindicated with kefir, so they should not be taken together (1
). Side effects and autoimmune conditions aside, kefir is a great way for many people to rebalance their gut microbiome with good bacteria. So let's take a look at what kefir is and how to make kefir yogurt.
What Is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented beverage that contains beneficial yeasts, proteins, and probiotic bacteria (2
). It tastes similar to yogurt — creamy and slightly sour. It also has a similar consistency to drinkable yogurt. Like yogurt, kefir is frequently a milk product, but it doesn't have to be. It all depends on how you make it. While kefir and yogurt have a lot of similarities, they are not the same. First, you make kefir and yogurt differently. While kefir ferments at room temperature, yogurt is cultured with an initial blast of heat (2
). Second, kefir is typically higher in fat and protein than yogurt is (2
). Third, kefir contains a wider variety of beneficial bacteria and yeasts than yogurt, making kefir better for digestive health (2
). You make kefir using a starter grain (2
). The starter grain doesn't actually contain any grains — it's just a clump of yeasts, proteins, and bacteria. It gets the name "grain" because of its clumpy appearance. It resembles tiny heads of cauliflower. The exact bacterial strains in each cluster of kefir grains differ grain by grain, but Lactobacillus seems to be present in all grains (3
). To make kefir, you add the grains to milk or to a non-dairy milk of your choice. The grains then ferment the milk. Afterwards, you can strain the milk kefir grains out of the milk and use them to create a new batch of kefir (4
). The time required to make kefir varies. It can take anywhere from 12-24 hours or longer if the room temperature is cool. Colder temperatures slow down the fermentation process (5
). You can also make kefir using a kefir starter culture. This is a powder that contains many different types of beneficial bacteria. You can use it to make multiple batches of kefir, but it has a finite lifespan of about 2-7 batches. This is unlike kefir grains, which can technically make kefir forever (5
). Powdered kefir starter also typically contains fewer strains of bacteria than starter grains do (5
). You can use the following kinds of milk to create kefir: cow's milk, goat's milk, sheep's milk, coconut milk, rice milk, soy milk, and almond milk. Are you looking for a low-fat option? You can even make water kefir from coconut water. When kefir is made from dairy milk with lactose, many people who are lactose-intolerant can still drink it. That's because the yeasts and bacteria in kefir create lactase, which actually "consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process" (4
). Those who are still concerned about drinking dairy products can choose to make a lactose-free version of kefir from non-dairy milk or coconut water instead.
What Are the Health Benefits of Kefir?
Several scientific studies support the wide-ranging health benefits of kefir. According to these studies, kefir has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic properties (3
). It also benefits the gastrointestinal tract and the immune system. Let's explore each benefit in more detail.
Antimicrobial Effect of Kefir
Kefir’s antimicrobial effect may be due to the formation of compounds such as organic acids, peptides, carbon dioxide, hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, and diacetyl (3
). According to two separate scientific studies, these compounds "reduce foodborne pathogens, deteriorate bacteria during beverage production and storage, and help prevent and treat gastroenteritis and vaginal infections" (3
Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Kefir
Several animal studies have examined the anti-inflammatory effects of kefir in mice. For example, when researchers treated mice with a kefir gel for one week, they showed evidence of healing and reduced inflammation (3
Anticarcinogenic Effect of Kefir
Kefir's anticarcinogenic effect comes from two separate actions: activating the immune system, and delaying the formation of carcinogens (3
). Both of these actions may prevent or delay cancer. According to researchers examining the therapeutic benefits of kefir, it can also impede tumor growth in mice (3
Kefir's Effect on the Gastrointestinal Tract and Immune System
Kefir can change the gut microbiome by introducing new beneficial bacteria to the digestive tract and helping the good bacteria that are already there to grow (6
). It's also thought to increase helpful bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and decrease bad bacteria like Clostridium perfringens (6
). Kefir is full of probiotics, and probiotics
are well-proven to benefit the digestive system (7
). They can help alleviate digestive problems like diarrhea and help treat irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, H. pylori, urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, and more (7
). To get the fullest digestive benefits, support probiotics by taking prebiotics
as well. Prebiotics help beneficial bacteria, including probiotics, survive and thrive. They serve as food for probiotics. With probiotics that influence the gut microbiome, kefir can also impact the immune system — both in the gut and in the body as a whole (6
). Kefir consumption may alleviate allergies and asthma, both of which are associated with the immune system (6
How to Make Kefir Yogurt
If you want to switch it up from the typical kefir drinks, try making kefir yogurt instead. We mentioned that kefir and yogurt are not the same. Yogurt is not kefir, but you can make yogurt from kefir. Confused? Don't be. Making kefir yogurt is easy. You simply use kefir as your yogurt starter. You can use any milk you would like, either dairy or a non-dairy alternative like almond, rice, or soy. For example, here's how to make kefir yogurt from coconuts.