My recent article comparing the probiotic potency and overall health benefits of spawned a lot of emails to my inbox with questions about how water kefir fits into the mix.
After a bit of reflection on the subject, I came to the conclusion that the topic really deserved its own blog post, so here we go!
Which is really better, water kefir or milk kefir? Or, are the benefits between the two basically the same?
The truth is that water kefir is really not a good substitute for milk kefir even if you have a milk allergy.
Milk kefir, made with either dairy milk or coconut milk, far surpasses water kefir in probiotic potency. The benefits of milk based kefir exceed those of water kefir no matter if the water kefir is cultured with fruit juice, vegetable juice, coconut water, or filtered water and a whole sweetener.
Before you go throwing away your water kefir grains, however, let’s be clear on the benefits of water kefir which makes a fantastic base for homemade soda among other culinary uses.
Undeniable Benefits of Water Kefir
Water kefir, just like milk kefir, utilizes a beneficial culture of microbes that consume the simple sugars in the juice, coconut water or sugar water base to create a plethora of probiotics. The water kefir culture’s use of the sugar means that there isn’t much sugar left in the final product. This is good news for those with Metabolic Syndrome in that water kefir doesn’t add to problems with blood sugar fluctuations or feed those sugar cravings.
In addition, the fermentation process releases additional vitamins and minerals. Best of all, there aren’t any additives, chemicals or artificial anything in a kefir soda made with properly fermented water kefir. It even turns out a bit bubbly just like conventional sodas and can be bottled to add further effervescence. Water kefir can also be used as a base for dairy-free smoothies, popsicles, and homemade jello.
Water kefir can be added to non-dairy milks like almond milk too. Use 1/4 cup water kefir to 2-3 cups non-dairy milk, mix and serve. Extra water kefir grains may be used as starter culture for fermenting vegetables.
While the benefits of water kefir are clear and well established, this fermented beverage doesn’t hold a candle to milk kefir made with either dairy milk or coconut milk.
Critical Differences Between Milk Kefir and Water Kefir
According to Donna Schwenk, author of water kefir is her least favorite fermented drink. She says that she has never experienced the same health benefits from water kefir that she did from homemade milk kefir.
The most likely reason is that there are only 10-15 strains of good bacteria and good yeasts in water kefir made with live grains. This compares with the 30 to 50 in homemade milk kefir made with live grains. Click here for a video which shows the difference between live milk kefir grains and water kefir grains based on the live cultures that I use in my kitchen.
Milk kefir grains and water kefir grains are not interchangeable which is why I always recommend obtaining them from reputable sources such as . I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received over the years from folks trying to ferment milk into kefir with water kefir grains they got from a friend (or vice versa) only to find themselves frustrated with repeated failure or inconsistent results.
What about milk kefir made with a one time use powder? Be aware that, like water kefir, this is also not as beneficial as milk kefir made with live grains
There are only 10-15 beneficial microbial strains in milk kefir made with powder instead of live grains, not to mention it is more expensive too!
Here is the specific list of beneficial microbes in water kefir for your consideration.
- Lactobacillus brevis
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus hilgardii
- Lactobacillus hordei
- Lactobacillus nagelii
- Leuconostoc citreum
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides
- Acetobacter fabarum
- Acetobacter orientalis
- Streptococcus lactis
- Hanseniaospora valbyensis (yeast)
- Lachancea fermentati (yeast)
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast)
- Zygotorulaspora ﬂorentina (yeast)