Going through history a bit, we find that the word kefir means "blessing" in Turkish. It would also derive from the word "kefy" or "kef" which means "pleasant taste". Originally, this drink, typical of the peoples of the Caucasus, was obtained by fermenting cow's milk with specific nodules.
Here the first question to clarify arises: milk kefir nodules are different from those of water kefir, which are actually called tibicos.
We will return to this topic later.
In different parts of the world (not so in Argentina), when you say kefir, it is understood that you are talking about milk kefir.
In our country, water kefir had so much expansion that the situation is reversed.
Milk kefir nodules are a polysaccharide structure where various microorganisms coexist in symbiosis, which take the form of a jelly-like, irregular mass, white or slightly yellowish, with an elastic consistency and an appearance similar to cauliflower flowers. Its size varies between a few millimeters and a few centimeters in diameter.
Bacteria (Lactobacillus brevis, Lactobacillus desidiosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus and lactic streptococci) and yeasts (Candida kephir, Sacharomyces delbruckii) responsible for generating double fermentation, lactic acid and alcoholic acid, are found in the kefir grains or nodules.
Traditionally, kefir nodules were generated as a result of curdling fresh milk in wooden jugs. By immersing them in freshly milked milk, the inhabitants of the Caucasus began to obtain "kefried milk", a drink with a pleasant taste, better preservation than fresh milk and with positive effects on health.
Kefified milk can be defined as acidic carbonated fermented milk, whose flavor is due to the presence of lactic acid.
Unlike yogurt, where only lactic fermentation occurs, in kefir, the nodules produce a double fermentation, one carried out by yeast and the other by bacteria. Thus, not only lactose is transformed, but also proteins.
In appearance, milk kefir is like liquid yogurt.
I think the biggest problem when making milk kefir (if it is to achieve its therapeutic effects) is the quality of the culture medium. In other words, the Caucasian peoples had no problems, since they started from pure, freshly milked milk, without chemicals, toxins, antibiotics, hormones, or industrial processes (homogenized, pasteurized, skimmed, etc.)
Today it is difficult to achieve that quality of milk. In the United States, a network of producers and consumers (Real milk) who want access to raw, organic and quality milk is being promoted. This network has grown in several countries of the world.
Unfortunately in Argentina the situation is still far from this, since even the organic milks that are marketed have been pasteurized.
The aspect that the two drinks share is that both have the virtue of reestablishing the normal intestinal flora (microbiota), so important for a good digestion and assimilation of the ingested nutrients.
When talking about water kefir, as mentioned above, the first thing to clarify is that the drink is fermented with tibicos.
Although the origin of the "tibicos" is not entirely known, several authors agree that the starting point is in Mexico. Under the name of Tibi, the original granules live in the nopaleras (Opuntia ssp) feeding on the sugary excretions of these cacti.
The structure and appearance of tibicos is different from that of milk kefir nodules. Rather than resembling cauliflower blossoms, they don't clump, are transparent or take on the color of the beverage in which they are fermented and are the size of a grain of rice or a small bean.
They can be grown in different media: seed milk, water, herbal teas, grape juice or other fruits with a high sugar content. If water is used, a drink similar to a carbonated lemonade is achieved. By using grape juice you get a drink very similar to champagne.
In the consumption of one or another drink, there is an important difference which is that milk kefir provides nutrients of milk (proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins). This means that if you are able to make a good quality kefir (with raw milk), you usually do not ingest more than one or two glasses per day. On the other hand, water kefir allows taking higher doses (1 or 2 liters per day).
There are many ways to make water kefir. In this video I show one that I find simple and taste great.
Two issues that I would like to clarify in relation to the production process and the gasification of the beverage.
On the one hand, the interference of metallic elements. In many texts you will find the recommendation not to use them to stir or strain the kefir, because supposedly they can spoil the drink or destroy the nodules. After more than 12 years of making water kefir, my experience shows that this does not apply. That is to say, I always prepare kefir in a glass jar (I do not leave the drink in contact with metal containers for 2 days), but stirring with steel spoons or straining the nodules in stainless steel strainers has not altered in the least nor the drink, no nodules. I have shared and read this information with "fermenters" in other countries, who report exactly the same.
And the other thing is the gasification of the drink. Water kefir, as I show it in the video, has very low gassing. If you want to increase this, either you can leave the kefir packed with a hermetic lid in the refrigerator and use it only after 15 or 20 days, or else, once the drink is strained and packaged, I suggest leaving it out for a day or two of the refrigerator, with its hermetic lid, so that it gasifies. Under these conditions, the gasification of the product is slightly increased without the risk of explosions.
Alex von Foerster