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Milk Kefir vs Water Kefir – The two types of Kefir

The differences between the cultures and ferments of Milk Kefir and Water Kefir:

Milk Kefir GrainMilk Kefir

Milk kefir cultures (also known as grains) are white in colour and look like gelatinous cauliflower florets. Their size can range anywhere between that of a tiny grain of sand or a golf ball. They can curl up into a tight, roundish shape (usually in winter or colder temperatures) or stretch out more ribbon like and squishy during very warm temperatures or when they are not receiving ample nutrients from their food supply.

Milk kefir is made by inoculating milk with milk kefir cultures and leaving the cultures to ferment the milk at room temperature for around 24 to 36 hours (fermentation time will depend on the air temperature.)

The milk kefir cultures are a symbiotic community of yeast and bacteria (SCOBY) that consume the milk sugars and produce lactic acid, carbon dioxide and a very small amount of ethanol. Milk kefir has a wider variety of probiotics and nutrition in relation to other ferments and is regarded as a functional ferment. Read our guide on probiotics found in milk kefir and the benefits of milk kefir.

Milk kefir has a tangy, sour taste. It can be consumed plain or flavouring can be added in the form of fruit, vegetables and spices. Milk kefir can be added to smoothies.

Milk kefir is very versatile. It can be substituted in place of cultured or sour cream in most recipes. It can be used to make ice cream, cheese, salad dressings, whey, starter cultures for fermented vegetables and even sour dough starter.  You can soak grains, nuts and seeds in milk kefir overnight to reduce their phytic acid.

Water kefir grainWater Kefir

Water kefir cultures look like gelatinous glassy crystals. The cultures, also know as grains, can be as tiny as a grain of sand or they can grow up to 5cm long. Their colour and shape can vary too. Their colour will depend a lot on the type of sugar you use for their nutrition. White sugar will yield a glassy colour, whereas a darker, more raw sugar will give the grains a more golden brown colour. Water kefir can also be referred to as sugary kefir grains.

Water kefir is made by adding water kefir grains to a sugar water solution and leaving the cultures to ferment the sugar water at room temperature for around 24 to 36 hours (fermentation time will depend on the air temperature.)

The milk kefir cultures are a symbiotic community of yeast and bacteria (SCOBY) that consume the glucose in the sugar water and produce lactic acid, carbon dioxide and a very small amount of fructose and traces of ethanol. Learn more about the probiotics found in water kefir.

Water Kefir is sweet to taste and best to drink flavoured with fruit, roots or vegetables. You can also add to smoothies or make slushies and ice lollies.

Water kefir can be used to ferment non-dairy milk and will also work as a starter culture when making cultured veggies.

Milk Kefir or Water Kefir?

Milk kefir has superior nutrition and the most diverse strains of probiotics. It is also versatile and the cultures are easy to look after.

If you are vegan or are intolerant of dairy milk then water kefir would be a preferable choice.

If you or your children are unable to tolerate the sour taste of milk kefir then water kefir is a great way to introduce fermented food to your palates. Water kefir is a great option for those who wish to wean themselves off sugary sodas and fruit juices. Over time you may find that your taste buds may change, especially once you have removed food high in sugar from your kitchen and you will start to tolerate the taste of other fermented food and beverages. 

Experimenting with different flavours is also a great way to find the optimum taste for your palate. Have a browse through our recipes for ideas.

If you have the time, money and palate to enjoy both milk kefir and water kefir then have both and enjoy the probiotics and health benefits of both cultures.

Here is a guideline on how much fermented food to eat.