If you are even slightly into healthy eating you have probably heard of kombucha and water and milk kefir. If you haven’t, these are amazing probiotic beverages that are wonderful for supporting a healthy tummy! While I have known that they are good for you and what the differences in taste and preparation were I realized recently that I didn’t know the in’s and out’s on what makes them different, if one or the other is better or how they should be used personally for different individuals. Those questions made me put on my research cap and brought me to this kombucha versus kefir showdown. In this post I will share what each one is, what some of their actions in the body are and some of answers to commonly asked questions about these amazing drinks. Whether you are just learning about these or just trying to figure out which one to use, I hope this information will help get you started!
If you want a short introduction to this information you can visit this video post where I just give a quick introduction to each. However, if you are looking for a more in depth look, please read on!
What are kefir and kombucha?
- Kombucha is made using a brewed tea (typically black although I have used green tea as well), organic sugar and a SCOBY which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. We call it the pet jellyfish at our house because of how it looks in the jar. It isn’t pretty but it is good stuff! The tea is fermented for 7-10 days and can then be strained and fermented a second time with fruit or herbs to create fun flavors.
- Milk and water kefir are similarly made and also contain similar benefits. Water kefir is made with a sugar water base with kefir grains added to it. It is then fermented for 2-4 days depending on the environment temperature and then can be strained and double fermented with fruit just like the kombucha. Milk kefir is made the same way except that the grains are milk kefir grains and are added to milk rather than sugar water.
So what makes each one of these good for you and how do they each effect the body?
- Kombucha contains loads of beneficial bacteria and yeasts as well as acids and enzymes which aid the stomach in the breakdown and digestion of food. It can help clean and rejuvinate the entire digestive system as well as help remove harmful bacteria, yeast and parasites. It becomes alkaline once it is digested which allows it to aid the health of the intestine as well. Kombucha can also work to colonize the gut with friendly bacteria aiding in the support of a healthy microbiome. Additionally it can aid in the detoxification of the liver.
- Water Kefir is loaded with billions of healthy bacteria and yeast strains, valuable enzymes, beneficial acids, vitamins, minerals and easily digestible sugars. It can help promote healthy digestion and work to cleanse the entire digestive tract. Some studies show it to possibly have anti-mutigenic effects and it may even help manage free radicals in the body. It can also help to support a healthy immune system and possibly even help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. It also helps to colonize the gut with healthy bacteria. Milk kefir has pretty much the same benefits as water kefir with the addition of it being more nutrient dense then either kombucha or water kefir because of its high protein content. It also has the addition of tryptophan which is a natural soother to the nervous system.
So why do you even need a probiotic drink?
The GI tract is made up of over 500 diverse bacterial species that are necessary to the health of the digestive tract. If the digestive tract isn’t healthy it can have a negative effect on many areas of the body including nutrient absorption, elimination of toxins, health of the immune system, energy levels and even effect the mood and focus. There are multiple ailments that have been studied for their possible link to a depleted microbiome in the gut including eczema, allergies, chronic fatigue, inflammation and even depression and ADHD. Between what we eat, stress and the constant barrage of other unhealthy elements in our environment, our healthy bacteria tends to be depleted which can leave us lacking in lots of areas. So adding in a probiotic to support a healthy microbiome is pretty much always a good idea!
How do I choose which one to use?
It pretty much comes down to taste and desired strength. As far as action and strength it seems that while kefir is more of a general probiotic beverage, kombucha is more of a targeted digestive tonic. Kefir contins more yeast and bacteria strains than kombucha, but the enzymes and acids in the kefir don’t appear to have as strong of an effect as kombucha. Kefir also contains vitamins and minerals and in fact the B vitamins increase the longer you ferment it! So the end result is that kombucha seems to be more strongly targeted to the tummy while kefir is more of a gentle support. However they are all three beneficial in aiding the natural systems of the body so you can choose one or all three!
As far as flavor goes I personally think that kombucha has a stronger more vinegary flavor which of course increases the longer time you ferment it. While I like kombucha my kiddos aren’t as partial to it. We all enjoy milk kefir but my kiddos will only drink it when mixed with some fruit because it tastes kind of like a strong sour yogurt. Water kefir on the other hand tends to taste more like a sweet soda so everyone in my family loves it and it is definitely easier on picky palates! It does lose some of the sweetness the longer you ferment and can get rather strong as they all can, but you just have to figure out what fermentation time works best for you. The only other things to consider are that milk kefir contains milk of some kind so if you avoid that, than milk kefir may not be for you. Also kombucha typically contains a small amount of caffeine so that is important to consider if you avoid that.
So if I want to get started should I buy it or should I make my own?
If at all possible I recommend trying to make your own! It is simple and not terribly time consuming though I will admit I have left mine a little too long a few times, but they are very forgiving! The great thing too is that the SCOBY and kefir grains will multiply which usually can keep you stocked as well as giving you some to share! The ones that you buy at the store though can typically have added sugar and flavors so making it yourself ensures that you know what is going in it.
What do I need to get started?
It doesn’t take a lot of fancy supplies to get going! For kombucha you simply need a gallon glass jar, a SCOBY, some organic sugar and some black tea. You also want a plastic strainer as you never want the scoby to touch metal. For milk kefir you simply need some quart jars, milk and milk kefir grains as well as a plastic strainer. For the water kefir a few quart jars, purified water, organic brown sugar, baking soda and some water kefir grains are all you need. To get a SCOBY or grains you can always look to see if you have a friend that might have some to share. Otherwise you can order them online to get you started. I will be adding a post soon with how I make each of these and will add the link here as soon as it is up! In the meantime here are some suggestions for grains and a scoby. Cultures for Health is a well known brand so I have listed some of those below if you prefer a name brand. However I have had great results from the others listed below as well!
A couple questions and answers:
What about these drinks on a keto or low carb diet?
I realized recently that I wasn’t sure on the answer to this question so this was a fun one to research. The bacteria cultures actually eat the sugar and convert them to lactic acid, carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and more healthy bacteria so it ends up being fairly low in carbs. It is also lower in carbs the longer you let it ferment so you can decide how sour you like it and go from there!
Is there alcohol in kombucha and kefir?
Any time there is yeast and sugar fermenting together alcohol is a natural by-product of mix. However with kombucha and kefir the alcohol level is so low that it can hardly even be measured. The way this works is the yeast eats the sugar which produces ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (fizzy bubbles). The bacteria then eats the alcohol and produces organic acid. With beer and wine the self limitation device which would be the SCOBY or kefir grains in our drinks, is not there so that the bacteria is gone and the alcohol level can increase. We ferment kombucha and kefir with the bacteria in place which allows the alcohol to stay at this almost immeasurable level. You can then store in the refrigerator to keep it from fermenting further once you have strained your drink.
So the results are that these are all three great drinks to help support a healthy microbiome in the body. I hope this helped to give you a breakdown on kefir and kombucha and hopefully answer any questions you may have had concerning these amazing and yummy drinks! Stay tuned soon for a post on how I make our kefir and kombucha!