Fermented Beverage Smackdown: Kombucha vs. Kefir

Kombucha vs Kefir - How do you make them and which of these fermented beverages is best for you? | fermentation | DIY | probiotics | healthy drink | Mindful Momma

Kombucha vs. Kefir – Which one of these probiotic filled, fermented beverages is best for your health and how to make them at home.

Don’t ask me how it happened but our house has become a veritable laboratory of fermenting beverages. And I’m not talking beer, like most normal home brewers (been there, done that), but stinky, skanky drinks made from strange globs of yeast and bacteria that look more like boogers than something you should eat.

But here we are with our kitchen counter cluttered with glass jars in various states of initial fermentation. Bottles undergoing secondary fermentation, getting bubbly on the shelves. Finished product crowding up the fridge. We even had an explosion in the basement, but I don’t want to go into that right now.

Why do we do it? Mainly because we like the health benefits (and we’re a little nuts!)

The Basics

Both kombucha and kefir start with a base of sweetened liquid (tea for kombucha, sugar-water or milk for kefir). The cultures (a combo of bacteria and yeast) gobble up the sugars and cause the liquid to ferment. The resulting fermented drink is loaded with organic acids, enzymes, beneficial microflora and vitamins making it pretty darned good for you! A teeny, tiny bit of alcohol is also produced but not enough to be of concern – even kids can drink it safely.

Kombucha

The process: Start by making a batch of sugary, black tea. Then add a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). It’s a slimy, gross-looking blob but don’t be scared of it – it’s the mother culture that makes it all happen. Let them hang out together for one to three weeks while the magic fermentation process takes place. Taste-test once a week or so until it’s pretty sour but still tastes good to you. For more fizz, try a secondary fermentation in a bottle.

{Note: If you are interested in kombucha, please read this post about mistakes I’ve made brewing kombucha – so you can avoid making them too!}

The culture:

Kombucha SCOBY www.mindfulmomma.com

Health benefits:

  • Digestive aid
  • Helps detox the liver
  • Provides probiotic bacteria
  • High in B vitamins

Taste: Kombucha has a sour taste – similar to apple cider vinegar. For many it is an acquired taste. I hated it at first, but now I am addicted. Kombucha can be sweetened with fruit juice or flavored with ginger or dried fruits to make it more palatable.

Kefir

The process: Kefir is made using kefir grains – which are not grains at all but rather, squishy, clumps of bacteria and yeast. Dairy kefir is made with milk and the grains resemble cauliflower, believe it or not.  Water kefir is made with sweetened water (or coconut water) and the grains are typically more crystal shaped, translucent blobs of gel. Add some kefir grains to your liquid and let it sit and ferment on the counter for 24 to 48 hours (yes, even milk kefir is left unrefrigerated). To make kefir soda, you can do a secondary fermentation (done more often with water kefir than with dairy), where you add juice or other flavorings. (See resources at the end for links to more specific instructions.)

The culture:

kefir grains www.mindfulmomma.com

This is a milk kefir culture

Health Benefits:

  • Wide-spectrum probiotic (due to the many strains of active bacteria)
  • Digestive aid
  • Supports strong immune system

Taste: Water kefir is sweeter and cleaner tasting than kombucha although it has a certain fermented taste that is hard to describe. Milk kefir has a sour flavor, similar to buttermilk. A small amount of fruit or sweetener goes a long way to make it palatable.

Pros and Cons

Kombucha:

  • Longer fermentation process – from 7 to 21 days (good part is you can just let it sit unattended)
  • Sour taste – similar to apple cider vinegar
  • New SCOBY culture created with every batch (share one with a friend!)
  • Contains caffeine (from the black tea)
  • More of an all-around health drink

Kefir:

  • Takes only  24 to 48 hours to ferment
  • Contains more active bacteria than kombucha
  • Sweeter than kombucha
  • Easier to flavor
  • Cultures reproduce slowly
  • Caffeine-free
  • Known more as a probiotic drink

My Take

When it comes to water-based, fermented beverages, I’m more of a kombucha fan than a kefir fan. I’ve grown to love the sour flavor of kombucha but there’s something about the fermented flavor of water kefir that I just don’t love, even when it’s flavored. On the other hand, I’m nuts about dairy kefir. I put it in smoothies or pour it over granola almost every morning.

I’m not giving up on the water kefir just yet – we’ve been making ours with converted dairy kefir grains – which is supposed to be OK but I think that might be affecting the flavor. Next step is to get some “virgin” water kefir grains and compare. Kelly the Kitchen Kop swears that kefir soda is the only way to go and I’m dying to try Crunchy Betty’s dried apple soda.

Do you make kombucha and/or kefir at home? Which one do you prefer and why?

Resources:

Kombucha recipe from The Soft Landing

Water kefir recipe from Crunchy Betty

Dairy kefir instructions from my husband on this blog and another one over on Kitchen Stewardship.

For a super scientific explanation see this post from Common Sense Homesteading.

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About Micaela

Micaela Preston is a marketing and communications consultant specializing in natural, organic and eco-friendly products and the health and wellness space. Micaela is available as a social media manager, green lifestyle writer, public speaker, brand ambassador and marketing manager.

Comments

  1. I haven’t made either yet, but am really interested! I live with my parents right now, so I don’t think they would appreciate it, but when I get my own place it is on the top of the list to try!

    • Yeah – you probably don’t want to clutter up their kitchen with jars of strange-looking, fermenting beverages. 🙂

  2. I buy kombucha because, yes, I am afraid of that slimey thing. Didn’t realize it had caffeine, though. That would explain my late nights recently! I drink it about once a week. Great info!

    • I totally understand Lynn – the slimy glob of yeast and bacteria takes a little getting used to. As for the caffeine, I’ve heard that it is reduced somewhat during fermentation but I’m not really sure how much it has.

  3. Roberta Preston says:

    I heard on a radio program that a touch of caffeine might be helpful for hyperactive individuals. It might help them concentrate in the way that some prescription drugs help. I don’t think there were scientific studies to support that. It was anecdotal and perhaps just conjectural. So a little caffeine in the kombucha might be a good thing for some of us. What do you think?

  4. Hi Micaela ~ My husband just started making both Kombucha and Kefir water (my laundry room will never be the same!!). You must give the kefir another try. In our house the kefir is much preferred over the kombucha although we’re working to perfect our kombucha flavoring and fizz during the second fermentation. But the kefir (with the right flavoring and enough sugar during the second fermentation to get some good fizz) is SO yummy! We all feel like we’re drinking soda guilt free!! The kids think we’ve gone crazy letting them drink “soda” all of a sudden. And although I’m sold on the yumminess of it all I’m still trying to understand the health benefits vs. possible risks? Do you know of any down sides or concerns that we should be aware of? Like can we make a bad batch that will make us sick? Is there such a thing as too much probiotics? Also, sometimes we’ll make a batch (usually involving dried fruit) that makes us feel a little like we’re drinking an alcoholic beverage. Is that common? Is it possible to get some batches that have a higher alcohol content than others? Thanks so much for sharing!! ~Heather
    P.S. We use green tea in our Kombucha which I think has less caffeine than black. Do you know if it’s possible to use herbal tea?

    • Yes, I make my kombucha with yerba mate (the argentinean tea) It have much less cafeine and the kombucha is made really faster (2-3 days) . could you let me know how you do the second fermentation, please?

      • Hi Gus – for the secondary fermentation, I pour my kombucha into individual bottles. You can add fruit (pureed or dried), chunks of ginger or other flavorings at that point. Leave the bottles out at room temp for a couple of days and they will become more fizzy. Do not forget about them though – bottles with too much effervescence can explode!

  5. Hi I am a relatively new fermenter of both Kambucha and Kefir, I love both and have noticed health benefits already.

    I second ferment Kambucha in bottles to make a fizzy soda like drink by adding pureed berries at the bottling stage it gives it a lovely flavour.

    I have milk Kefir.

    I have a question, is it OK to take both at the same time? As a busy working mum I tend to have Kefir in the morning, I only produce enough to have a decent sized glass full before breakfast and I have what I saw recommended 4oz of Kambucha before each meal, followed by a big glass of water. This means in the morning I have my Kefir and Kambucha one after the other. I’ve not experienced any problems with this but wondered if anyone knows if one might damage the health benefits of the other if they’re both sloshing around in the stomach together.

    • Hi Michelle – I think it’s fine to drink both kombucha and kefir at the same time. I’ve certainly never heard of any problems with it! One thing I have read is that you shouldn’t ferment the two things in the same room – that somehow the fermentation process will be disturbed. Not sure how much truth there is to that – but I ferment my kombucha in the basement and my kefir in the kitchen!

      • I believe the reason for fermenting separately is so the yeast from one doesn’t affect the yeast of the other. I keep my Kefir in the kitchen and my Kombucha in the bedroom where there is less electronics and it’s much calmer atmosphere.

        • Yes, that’s what I’ve heard as well Lori – that the cultures could affect each other. Never heard about any interference with electronics though – that’s an interesting thought!

  6. If you don’t like the taste of water kefir, then you haven’t tried it with a bit of ginger root, lemon juice plus the lemon rind and a small muslin bag of about one or two teaspoons of currants. Beyond sensational.

  7. Hi, Micaela! Thanks for the post. I would really urge you to try water kefir with water kefir grains. I find the flavor to be quite mild–my finished product usually just tastes like whatever flavoring agent I used. and I LOVE it….

    In addition to the flavor, another reason I have been tending toward water kefir, rather than kombucha, lately is that I have heard here and there that kefir has more colonizing cultures than kombucha. That is to say, the cultures in kefir set up camp in your gut for the long haul (unless displaced down the road to antibiotics, terrible diet, etc.), whereas kombucha cultures tend to be more like that of yogurt in that they are transient. They are present while being actively consumed, but do not colonize into awesome protective yeasty bacterial gut armies… Do you have any information on this? Like I said, I have heard that this is true, but can’t find many reliable sources confirming or explaining this. I know for sure that kefir does colonize the gut, I’m just not sure that the kombucha, like I had heard, does not….

    Any knowledge or resources you care to share on the topic would be greatly appreciated! Thanks 🙂

    Riley

    • Fascinating! I’ve never heard that Riley but now I’m curious so I’ll probably look into it. I do want to try water kefir – it’s next on my fermentation list!

  8. I make water kefir with a simple, fast, jump start process. I make it in GALLON type transparent tall oval plastic tupperware looking containers with a blue type PRESS-ON and easy pour lid. YES I said press-on! holds tight enough for fermentation needs and is a non explosive quarantee!
    I started with seven little water grains I bought on line years ago, and now I have about a half a quart of grains that self maintains its mass during each GALLON culture! the transparency of the container allows you to watch the fermentation process! as it begins the co2 bubbles will attach themselves to the grains and cause them to slowly rise to the surface where they lose the bubble and fall back down again to repeat the process! a side show of sorts.
    jump start by useing WARM tapwater (approx 100 degrees F) should start to see bubbles in about an hour.
    Fill container almost full, add 3/4 to 1 cup raw organic cane sugar (walmart), about 12 dried prunes and/or whatever you like. I like the prunes because when they finally float you know the fermenting is THROUGH! a nice signal!!!! I then simply take ANOTHER same type container after removing the floated prunes and pour the WHOLE first container into the second while holding a stainless hand screen (common kitchen item) to collect the grains! I then wash the grains in the screen gently under cold tap and also the empty first container and refresh the first container with cleaned grains, sugar, prunes, warm tap water and its making a new batch immediately!!!!
    the second harvested container is ready for immediate consumption, ice in glass or refrigerate as you desire. the taste is slightly fizzy and like a lightly sweet DRY wine!
    a NO MESS -JUST ENJOY PROCESS!
    hope this info helps all those interested! thanks! Clarence.

    • Thanks so much for all the great info Clarence! Water kefir is something I have yet to try – it’s next on my list!

    • When I began fermenting milk kefir, I made a few mistakes, and you mentioned two that seem to be working quite well for you though.

      1) Never ferment in plastic tupperware, always glass. My milk kefir was noticeably more slimy and off-tasting.
      2) Never use stainless steel (i.e. mesh strainer). Using a stainless steel strainer actually killed off my grains.

      Both of these kefir fermenting sins are also well-documented. Your fermentation experiences may become even better by avoiding these two things!

      • Hi Jesse – thanks for the tips. I do not recommend fermenting in plastic either – I always use glass! As for the stainless strainer – I’m very curious about that. I’ve never had a problem with it killing off any of my grains. Do you use a plastic strainer or cheesecloth or something else?

        • phillip says:

          Also I have read from many sources about the importance of using non chlorinated water. As chlorine kills bacteria. I always ferment with filtered water, as to try and avoid any chlorine.

          • Jacques says:

            If your tap water is chlorinated, you can boil it in a kettle and let it cool down. It should remove most of the chlorine.

            I’ve never had any issues brewing with tap water in my area.

    • Andrea says:

      My friend started me on water kefir and I love it! Just be sure to use a non metal strainer for grains! And non metal spoon if needed. I used a plastic strainer now but a nylon paint strainer (ie cheaper milk bag) works well, too! My 5 year old daughter loves the “kefir soda” we make!! I especially love ginger kefir! Happy fermenting!

    • We have both chlorine and fluoride in our tap water…. it goes through a Berkey filter then a Brita before it touches my lips or any of my food! 🙂

  9. I make my first kombucha and I don’t have idea how to sterilize my bottles It’s supposed to be ready this Sathurday and I have the glass bottles already, can somebody give an advice , appreciate.:)

  10. Regading the kéfir grains’ photo : DON’T LET YOUR KEFIR GRAINS TOUCH METAL ,EVER!!!!!This is not beneficial at all;use plastic or wooden kitchen utensils.

  11. To what Riley said about kefir setting up camp & kombucha not, well I truly believe you are correct. Just by personal experience I’ve been drinking cultured beverages for years esp water kefir. I started with kombucha and still got the stomach bug a few years ago, which I’ve gotten every year since I can remember UNTIL I started drinking water and milk kefir – when I drink them in the regular mine and hubbies allergy symptoms almost vanish, we do not get sick at all ever, and if anything did seem to strike us it would maybe last a day and be gone – so if I were to choose kefir would win hands down 😄

  12. Great article! I now do water kefir grains instead of kombucha. I find it easier for me. Plus i love the second fermention with water kefir to make a bubbly soda-like beverage without all the bad stuff found in traditional soda. Thamks for sharing the differences. And yes our ciuntertops are lined with a variety of glass jars…LOL. Think i will try milk kefir grains next :))

  13. Linda Shoemaker says:

    I make kombucha from green tea, ferment for 7-8 days max, then flavor with strawberry-kiwi tea from Harney & Son for another 3 days of secondary ferment. Fabulous and not vinegary at all. Has been effective in reducing/eliminating a family member’s serious acid reflux when 4-6 oz consumed before meals. Milk kefir made with powdered starter also sweet and delicious with no bite. Just put my first batch of water kefir, flavored w/vanilla, aside for a secondary ferment so can’t yet say how delicious that will be. Also, I recommend Grolsch-type bottles for kombucha and water kefir for max fizz. Who needs soda? No one in this house! Yum.

  14. Quick question. I have been doing dairy kefir for about three weeks and I have just discovered the greatness of kombucha (I’m going to begin making it at home).

    My question is if the vinegar qualities of Kombucha will destroy the probiotic qualities of the Kefir. Thoughts?

    • Good question Dan! You mean if you drink both, right? Kombucha contains probiotics too so I highly doubt that they would interfere with each other. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has heard differently.

  15. Hello!
    It was funny to read your description of the taste of the kombucha, because that’s exactly how my water kefir tastes: very sour, reminding me of apple cider vinegar. I love the sour taste, just as I love sour beer. Have I been doing something wrong? With the kombucha I have tasted from local artesian breweries (I have never done it at home and have no idea where I could get a seed SCOBY to start with) there’s always a very slightly sweet taste, wich makes me think that there’s a bit of sugar left by the end of the fermentation process. Besides, there’s the caffeine, which I have gave up (with pain and sufering from abstinence) a long time ago.
    Cheers from Brazil!

    • I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong Leticia – kefir has a very distinctive taste! It’s not for everyone – but I’m glad to hear you like it!

Trackbacks

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