Mysterious, Mythical, and Marvelous Milk Kefir

Prized, protected, and probiotic-rich, this tasty turn on dairy will bring milk back to the table.

| Spring 2020

Getty Images/DejanKolar

Bubbly, slightly tangy, and milkshake-thick, milk kefir offers more than just a satisfying Epicurean delight. It’s also packed with a plethora of probiotic benefits, potentially more than any other dairy ferment. Kefir’s many benefits stem from its fermentation microbes — the kefir “grains.” These so-called grains are actually gelatinous, knobby, cauliflower-like clusters made up of a spectrum of bacteria and yeast housed in a matrix of their own making. This symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast — or SCOBY — is a self-replicating, fermentation-fueled milk miracle.

Marvelous Milk Kefir

Studies across the globe have determined that kefir grains contain an incredible variety of microbes. Compared with other dairy ferments, the biodiversity of these grains is truly unsurpassed, with some studies detecting more than 50 bacterial species and 14 fungal species housed within them. Each one of kefir’s microbes offers a separate health benefit, as well as a different flavor, texture, and aroma. Kefir grains provide what are known as “undefined cultures,” unlike the “defined,” or known, microbial cultures found in the powdered commercial versions.


Grains grow in different cluster sizes, from very little to quite large. When they replicate, a few will break off and grow to the same size as the cluster that produced them. The larger-sized grains must be handled with a bit more delicacy than the little ones if you want to maintain their impressive size. After the kefir grains break down the lactose sugars in the milk into glucose and galactose, these two simple sugars become available for the production of lactic acid. Meanwhile, grain microbes combine with glucose and galactose to form a gelatin-like polysaccharide matrix known as “kefiran.” In a few studies, kefiran has shown potential for anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and wound-healing benefits. So, don’t worry if you don’t strain all of the grains out of your glass of fresh kefir; just munch down any bits you missed!



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