Water kefir vs milk kefir: what are the health benefits and differences?

February 25, 2020

Chock-full of probiotics, brimming with health benefits and incredibly delicious, kefir is finally getting the attention and popularity it deserves.

But there are so many options, from water kefir to milk kefir and even coconut milk kefir. How do you know which to choose (and which is better for you)?

In this blog, we’ll compare all the options, so you can make the right choice for you.

But before we jump in, let’s take a look at where kefir comes from and how it’s made. 

Kefir: a brief history

what is the difference between water kefir and milk kefir

Kefir has been around for hundreds of years. It originally came from the Caucasus mountains in that stretch of land between Europe and Asia. 

To keep themselves hydrated during their long days in the mountains, local shepherds would carry fresh milk with them in animal hide pouches. Sometimes, this milk would ferment, and turn slightly sour and fizzy.

Luckily for us, the shepherds didn’t mind this one bit (although it’s not like they had many options!) In fact, they discovered that this fermented beverage actually tasted pretty good and made them feel great, too.

Fun fact: that’s how kefir got its name. The word comes from the Turkish keyit, which means ‘feeling good’. 

The process for making kefir has had a bit of an update since those times – no more animal hides for a start! In fact, one of the biggest advances is finding ways to make kefir without milk. 

But even with these modern updates, the feel-good factor and health benefits remain.

How kefir is made these days

To make kefir today, you just need a starter culture of yeast, protein and good bacteria. 

This starter culture is usually called ‘grains’ or ‘crystals’, because it looks lumpy and grainy.

When you combine the kefir grains with liquid – usually milk or water – the good bacteria in the grains multiply and ferment the sugars. All you’re left with is yummy, probiotic-filled kefir with some great nutritional and health benefits.

Kefir health benefits: it’s (almost) all in the good bacteria

water kefir vs milk kefir probiotics

Our bodies are filled with bacteria – both good and bad. The good bacteria, also known as probiotics, help us to digest the food we eat and even help us create important vitamins.

The good news is that both water kefir and milk kefir are superabundant in probiotics. 

And because of these amazing probiotics, kefir has been linked to a bunch of health benefits including:


But although water kefir and milk kefir are both packed with probiotics and have fabulous health benefits, there ARE differences between them. Let’s take a look.

Water kefir

Water kefir is a light, bubbly drink with a yellowish colour and a slightly sweet-yet-tart flavour. It kind of tastes a bit like apple cider. 

Water kefir is traditionally made with: 

  • water
  • kefir starter culture (water kefir grains)
  • added sugars and flavours – for example, fig juice, lemons, fruit juice or molasses 

Our hungry probiotic friends consume most of the added sugars in water kefir during fermentation. That said, sometimes the final product can contain leftover sugar, so that’s something to watch out for! 

The best part about water kefir is that it’s completely dairy-free. That’s great if you’re vegan, or dairy- or lactose-intolerant, or you’re just looking to cut back on animal products. It also means that water kefir doesn’t spoil as quickly, so you don’t have to keep it in the fridge!

Milk kefirmilk kefir

Milk kefir is a white, creamy drink that’s a little bit fizzy. Its flavour is stronger than water kefir’s – more sweet-but-sour. Think of it as being like a drinkable yoghurt.

Milk kefir is traditionally made with:

  • cow’s milk
  • kefir starter culture (milk kefir grains)

Milk kefir doesn’t need added sugars, because the starter culture ferments the natural lactose sugars in the milk. 

The cow’s milk also gives milk kefir a bunch of vitamins and nutrients in much higher quantities than you’d find in water kefir, including:

  • protein
  • calcium
  • phosphorus
  • vitamin B12
  • riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • magnesium
  • vitamin D
  • fat

Coconut milk kefir vs cow’s milk kefir

coconut milk kefir vs milk kefir

But wait! Milk kefir isn’t just about milk from cows! You can also make it using a bunch of alternatives to cow’s milk – like milk from sheep, goats, buffalo or camels. Or, if you prefer keeping it plant-sourced, you can also use almond, soy, coconut milk or even coconut water.

The base you use will then determine the nutrients and vitamins you get from your kefir.

Coconut milk kefir is particularly popular because coconut milk has a good amount of nutrients and vitamins (although not as many as some milk alternatives). 

And research indicates that coconut milk may have its own health benefits, which include some antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Water kefir vs milk kefir probiotics

What about the levels of all those good bacteria we mentioned before? How do they compare between kefir types?

Well, we know that both water kefir and milk kefir are packed with beneficial probiotics and yeasts. And when it comes to looking at the sheer variety of those bacteria and yeasts, milk kefir comes out on top. Research has found that it can contain up to 56 different strains!

Meanwhile, other research shows that standard water kefir only contains up to 14 different strains of bacteria and yeasts.

But… those findings aren’t as clear cut as they seem. More strains don’t always equal better for you. Who knows what each of those strains might do, and whether they’ll actually make it to the site of the action (your gut) intact?!

Nexba is not just a normal water kefir

Yup, it’s true: normal water kefir doesn’t pack the same variety of probiotics or the same nutrients as milk kefir. But wait again! Hold that thought! 

Nexba Kefir ISN’T your normal water kefir.

That’s because Nexba Kefir contains 500 million of the live smart, robust probiotic bacteria, Bacillus coagulans. These little guys are encased in a hard, protein-like shell that helps them to survive the harsh conditions of your stomach. That means they’ll make it all the way to your gut intact, and deliver amazing health benefits that ARE backed by research, including:

  • improving your immune system function
  • balancing the bacteria in your gut
  • supporting your digestion

Sure, we COULD have made Nexba Kefir with milk. And believe us, we considered ALL the options.

But at the end of the day, we wanted to make tasty, health-giving drinks that everyone can enjoy. Using water makes Nexba Kefir dairy-free, lactose-free and completely vegan-friendly. Plus, you still get a big-time boost of minerals, nutrients and gut health. Happy days!

Ready to get the health benefits of water kefir into your life?

Nexba’s lightly sparkling strawberry-peach Kefir could give you that healthy boost you’re looking for. Check it out today



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