The microbiome is the community of bacteria and other microbiota that live on you and in you and they contribute more to your health than most of us realize. Dr Robynne explains in this short talk why maintaining the health of your bacterial community is so vital, and ways that you can keep it flourishing.
What Is The Difference?
People often ask whether they should buy kefir products in Canada at the local grocery store. My answer is always, "It depends."
The best kefir is the one you have and drink. So the first criteria is often simply to know whether you will take the time to care for the kefir culture, or if ready-made is better. Don't get me wrong, it is not a lot of work to keep a milk kefir starter healthy, but it does require a daily milk change, and some stirring. Not much work, but still more than some people are willing to take on.
If you do have 5 minutes a day to care for a milk kefir culture, then milk kefir grains will be a very worthwhile investment for your health. You may have heard that home made kefir milk is better for you than store bought milk kefir. Or you might just assume it is better without knowing why.
Store bought milk kefir is factory made using a very few specific bacteria strains. In fact it is more similar to yogurt than it is to authentic kefir milk made from heirloom milk kefir grains. Foods sold in the store need to be standardized. It is important for manufacturers to produce a consistent product. They limit the numbers of bacteria, and inhibit their growth. They also completely leave out the beneficial yeasts that are in the products. All of this is to provide consistency, but also to prevent bacterial activity from causing enough gas that the container will explode.
When you start making your own kefir, you will appreciate what that means. As bacteria and yeast devour the milk sugars, they put out gases like CO2 that create an effervescent (fizzy) quality. I always make kefir with a loose fitting lid so the gases do not build up. Manufacturers, however, need to properly seal their product. That could be a recipe for disaster.
So here is the breakdown of bacteria and yeast found in traditional kefir milk made from authentic heirloom milk kefir grains like we sell to Canadians on this site.
Homemade Kefir Bacteria and Yeast Breakdown
Bacteria Isolated in Home Made Milk Kefir
Lactobacillus casei subsp. casei
Lactobacillus paracasei subsp.paracase the
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
kefiranofaciens Lactobacillus subsp.kefiranofaciens
Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens subsp. My kefirgran
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis,
Lactobacillus parakefir the
Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris,
Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis,
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp.cremoris,
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp.mesenteroides
Fungi Isolated in Home Made Milk Kefir
Dekkera anomala / Brettanomyces anomalus
Candida Friedrich the
Saccharomyces Exiguus Torulopsis Holm
Candida inconspicu A
Kluyveromyces marxianus / Candida kefir
Pichia fermentans / Candida firmetari Candida lamblia by
Issatchenki orientalis / Candida krusei
Debaromyces hansenii / Candida Famatina A
Kluyveromyces lactis has . lactis
to loddera Kluyveromyces
of Yarrowia lypolyti / lypoliti by Candida
Saccharomyces sp nov turicensis
Kefir-specific Yeast Isolated in Home Made Milk Kefir
in Yarrowia lypolyti
Bacteria, Fungi and Yeast Isolated In Store Bought Kefir
Kefir bars Type I (Licaucasicus and
WOW! That is quite a difference right? I don't know which brand was tested. The study I read was in Turkish so I assume it was a Turkish bought kefir product. In Canada, one of the most prominent brands (and my favorite store brand!) is Liberté brand. Their kefir is organic, and quite delicious. You can also choose between effervescent and non-effervescent types. On their site, they state, "Our flat Kefir contains 10 types of bacteria and provides one billion bacteria per serving." (Comparatively, 2 cups of home made kefir can contain as many as 5 TRILLION bacteria!!) source~ SCDiet.net
That's a great start. If you think you do not have time to care for milk kefir grains starter culture, then Liberté kefir may be for you.
So now, when someone asks you, "What is the difference between homemade milk kefir and store bought milk kefir, you can tell them, "The difference is microscopic!"
Food Poisoning, Cross Contamination and Kefir
When I first started looking in to kefir production at home, there were a few things that concerned me. Firstly, I will be getting my kefir grains from a stranger over the internet. I have no idea who this person is, what their cleanliness habits are, whether they sterilize their utensils, or if they have mold in their kitchen, or even if they wash their hands. How will I know that the kefir grains are safe to use and free of disease causing bacteria and fungii?
Well the truth is, you have no way of knowing unless you have a lab accessible to test the grains when they arrive. Thousands of people worldwide share kefir grains so there must be some way to determine the risk.
Let's hit the internet and see what we can find on the safety of kefir. Following are excerpts with links to full documents.
National Center for Home Food Preservation–
Kefir is generally considered to be safe due to the lack of evidence of food borne illness events related to it. Properly fermented kefir (pH less than 4.5) inhibits many pathogens
The article goes on to say that E Coli., Salmonella and Listeria are not suppressed by the kefir. However, researchers Garotte et al (published in The Journal of Dairy Research in year 2001) found that E Coli was inhibited for 25 hours when exposed to certain milk kefir grains.
Chemical and microbiological characterisation of kefir grains–
All grains produced acid products with pH between 3·5 and 4·0…. All fermented milks had inhibitory power towards Escherichia coli but AGK1 and AGK2 supernatants were able to halt the bacterial growth for at least 25 h.
Also in 2001, The Dairy Products Research Center (Ireland) studied a number of different fermented milk products including kefir and assorted cheeses, and found that kefir does inhibit listeria, E. Coli and other pathogens.
Assessment and Control of Food Borne Pathogens in Ireland–
A number of potential inhibitors to both Listeria and E. coli were identified (Fig. 5), in addition to Lactic Acid Bacteria capable of inhibiting B. cereus. The inhibition of Listeria by Kefir fermentates could be attributed to bacteriocin activity in a number of cases….
Russian researchers confirmed the ability of kefir to halt the life of listeria bacteria
The study revealed the intensive multiplication of Listeria cells in milk, also during storage in a household refrigerator. The presence of bifidobacteria mixed with kefir-producing culture in dairy products was shown to essentially inhibit the growth of Listeria cells which were not detected by bacteriological techniques on day 7.
The list goes on and on… kefir has been widely studied. To be fair, there was one study that I found that showed Listeria, Salmonella and E Coli did actually survive kefir fermentation.
I believe that all of the research points to kefir's ability to inhibit pathogens. Meaning that it is unlikely that you will get sick from food poisoning by consuming kefir. If you combine the research with the absolute lack of reported illness then the result speaks for itself. After all, fermentation was the only way to keep foods in storage before the advent of refrigeration.
Having said that, it is still important to follow some simple steps when evaluating the safety of your kefir.
- Wash– hands and utensils. Sterilize equipment with boiling water.
- Cover fermenting kefir to keep bacteria out.
- Follow the recipe!!!– For water kefir especially, the ratio of sugar to water, the addition of a citrus piece… these things maintain favorable conditions for inhibiting bad bacteria and fungus.
- Trust your nose– If it smells bad, it is bad.
- Trust your eyes– Discoloration, mold on top, or anything that looks unusual should not be trusted.
What Is The Difference Between Kefir Milk and Yogurt?
As my daughter would say… "The difference is microscopic!" ba-dump-baaa
The biggest difference between kefir and yogurt is what you can not see. The types of bacteria that culture the milk and the way in which the culture is produced.
Traditional greek yogurt, made using low heat incubation has bacterial strains Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus (often shortened to) L. Bulgaricus and S. Thermophilus. These two bacteria live together in harmony and work synergistically to ferment your milk into yogurt. Different styles of commercial yogurt will also have other lactobacilli and bifidobacteria added. Yogurt typically does not require yeasts as a part of the fermenting process.
Yogurt is typically made using some yogurt from a previously made batch. By saving a little yogurt from each batch, and using it to culture the next batch, in theory you will always have a healthy yogurt culture. This is often only true if you are using an heirloom culture.
Traditionally yogurt is thick enough to eat with a spoon.
Kefir, on the other hand, could have 50 or more different strains of bacteria AND yeast living together in the same culture. Kefir does not require heat (or incubation) to culture milk, and it is made using kefir "grains" which are firm jelly-like clumps of bacteria and yeast that feed on milk sugars and produce a fermented product.
Because yeast is part of the kefir fermentation process, the end product is often slightly carbonated, and is slightly alcoholic. (0.5% to 2% alcohol)
For home culture makers, kefir is by far the easiest to make. You just need to drop the grains in a jar of milk, and set it on the cupboard. 24 hours (or so) later you have a delicious probiotic drink. Yogurt, while still very easy, is a little fussier. You need to heat the milk, then cool it, add your culture, and then incubate (keep it warm) for 6-24 hours. Then it needs to be refrigerated before it will "set".
Both kefir and yogurt are easy, inexpensive and delicious super foods.