Exploring Kefir – Vegan Alternatives to Fermented Dairy

kefir grainsKefir is, by definition, a fermented beverage made from milk. Similar in nature to yogurt, this decadent drink is packed with beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. Kefir usually has a creamy texture and a light foam with a little bit of natural carbonation. The lactobacillus bacteria ferments, creates lactic acid, and gives the kefir its trademark tang.

Why Choose Kefir?

Kefir has a number of health benefits. It differs from yogurt, which is also fermented dairy, because of the type of bacteria used. Both use forms of lactobacillus, but kefir usually contains anywhere from 7 to 10 different cultures, most of which are derived from “kefir grains”. While yogurt can vary in texture, kefir is always found in liquid form. Kefir is generally believed to be much higher in probiotic content than yogurt alone. You can still of course take probiotic supplements if you are using Kefir, it’s best if you look at this article titled How To Choose A Good Probiotic as well as the Probiotics101 website to get more details.

Some of the health benefits include:

  • The stimulation of digestion;
  • Cholesterol reduction;
  • Improvement of enzyme production in the stomach and pancreas;
  • Improvement of lactose digestion;
  • The promotion of weight loss (with 2-3 servings of dairy per day);
  • Increased immunity and adjustment to hormonal changes in pregnant women.

Believe it or not, kefir has also been used to make body cleansers, facial masks, hand creams, and even hair products. Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA), also found fruits, can be found in kefir as well. It exists in kefir as lactic acid and can help rid the body of dead skin cells.

Producing Your Own Vegan Alternative

While organizations like the National Kefir Association claim there is no non-dairy alternative to kefir, those who are on vegan or lactose-free diets are obviously going to seek to create alternatives so that they can benefit from the high levels of probiotic cultures. Despite the group’s officially stated viewpoint, there are several kefir recipes that focus on water, coconut water, and other base ingredients.

Variations on kefir can vary, depending on your favorite base ingredients. A lot of people make kefir with plain water while others like to use nut milks or even coconut water or milk. If you want to make a super-pure kefir, make your own nut milk (like almond milk) and then use that to make your kefir.

It is important to note that the kefir grains used in making milk keifer and water-based keifers are different because of the way the dairy interacts. You’ll want to make sure you are buying water keifer grains to use as your starter culture. You can convert milk kefir grains to water kefir. The process for making a simple water kefir is pretty easy:

  • Gather your ingredients. You’ll need about 1 cup of water and 1 TBSP of sugar per tablespoon of kefir grain you use. Make sure you use water that is as pure as possible. Water that is low in chlorine and high in minerals is best.
  • To flavor your kefir, you’ll want to choose a dried fruit. Look for fruits that are high in flavor and minerals, but without sulphur. You only need a handful. Try raisins, figs, peaches, pomegranate, cherries, candied ginger, and unsulphured apricots.
  • Rehydrate your grains if you purchased them dried. If you purchased them otherwise, rinse them off and get rid of any excess liquid. Some recipes say you can place the dried grains in your jar and use them that way. If you do so, your fermentation process will take longer.
  • Add your sugar and kefir grains to your jar (remember 1TBSP sugar to 1TBSP grain). The sugar will “feed” the grain, allowing it to grow and ferment. This is the point where you’d add your dried fruit as well.
  • Add your water to the jar, leaving some space at the top. The water should be cool or room temperature. Stir until the sugar you’ve chosen has dissolved.
  • Cover your jar with a breathable fiber, like a coffee filter or piece of cheesecloth. You want the air to be able to get in while keeping flies and bugs out. Place the jar in a place with a stable temperature for about 24-48 hours.
  • Your kefir, when tasted, should be slightly sweet and tangy. If it’s too sweet, it’s not done yet. If it’s sour, it’s overdone.
  • When the taste is right, strain the kefir into a bowl to get rid of the scum, floating grains, and fruit.

Place your finished kefir in a clean jar. You can drink it right away or put it in the fridge. If you store it, make sure you leave enough space at the top of the jar to account for carbonation buildup so your jar doesn’t explode. This is the point where you can really add some extra flavoring, if you choose.

Take the grains you strained and put them back into your original jar to start your recipe over again right away, if you choose.

Take note – it’s important to use glass jars when making and storing kefir. Kefir can be acidic and will cause plastic to leech. Non-reactive metal containers – like stainless steel – can sometimes be used, but it’s safer, in general to avoid metals and use glass.

Kefir is incredibly easy to make and the process is one you can repeat over and over again. Once you have the hang of it with water, you can try it with coconut milk, coconut water, almond milk, and other base liquids. The choice is up to you!


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