Kefir is a fermented milk drink that looks and tastes like a thin yogurt but is different because the fermentation is done by a combination of bacteria and yeasts. Thus, kefir grains work on more than the lactose content and create both slight effervescence and a very small amount of alcohol, as well as the expected acidity. Goat's and sheep's milk can be as successfully used as cow’s milk.
As with all traditional products, claims of probiotic and other health benefits are very difficult to quantify but it is accepted that kefir is more likely to be tolerated by those with lactose malabsorption problems.
Find out more about the health benefits of kefir.
For those who like milk and who like yogurt, kefir adds refreshing variety of taste and texture as a drink or culinary ingredient.
Kefir made in controlled circumstances for a reliable but possibly less characterful product is increasingly available in supermarkets and specialty food shops. It is possible to buy kefir grains and thus to make your own drink.
Choose the best
As with any commercial product, check the label for unnecessary ingredients and artificial flavours.
Keep it chilled. The acidic and alcohol content give kefir greater potential life than fresh milk, but the more natural it is the more likely it is to continue fermenting and to become too acidic.
Buy kefir grains and you can make your own kefir drink, taking good note of advice about temperatures and the materials used. Domestic kefir is likely to change in flavour, to greater or lesser advantage, and so regularly starting again with new grains is an option. Other than as a drink, kefir is widely enjoyed in much the same way as milk or yogurt – that is, in or with porridges, or to soak oats for muesli and as the basis for dips and marinades, or for baking. Kefir’s acidity means it can be used as a substitute for buttermilk or yogurt to make soda breads.