Water Kefir vs Milk Kefir: The Differences & Which is Best?

A jar of milk kefir with a wood spoon scooping out the kefir grains.

Milk kefir has been around for a very long time. But recently water kefir has been making waves (pun intended). So, which is better? In this article, I put these two head-to-head and answer the question; water kefir vs milk kefirwhich is the best?

Milk kefir has more nutritious properties and has a creamy yogurt-like taste. People who like soda will like water kefir due to the sparkling water fizziness. Water kefir also has nutritional properties like slow glucose release and is less fattening. 

This is just scratching the surface. There are a lot more differences between the two considering the taste, production, and nutritional properties. To know more about what exactly kefir is and an in-depth analysis of which one is better, keep on reading.

Related: Ever wonder what the difference is between rye bread and sourdough bread? Find out here!

What is Kefir?

Before we dive into the differences between water and milk kefir, it is worth exploring what kefir actually is. Basically, it is a fermented drink very similar to thin yogurt. Kefir is made from kefir grains and originated in the North Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and Russia.  

There are many health benefits to drinking kefir that I will talk about a bit later on in the article. There are two types of kefir as you probably have guessed – milk and water kefir. Both types of kefirs are made from kefir grains. However, they are not the same grains.

NOTE: Despite milk kefir being the more traditional type, water kefir is still very popular. In fact, you will find supermarkets or grocery stores that stock both water kefir and milk kefirs from different brands.

Water Kefir Vs. Milk Kefir

Although both are made from kefir grains, water and milk kefirs are not the same. They differ in taste, nutritional aspects, and also other characteristics. So, let’s take a deeper look into their differences.


Taste-wise, it will depend on everyone’s personal preference. Milk kefir tastes more like yogurt. It is sort of like a drinkable yogurt and is a dairy product.

NOTE: Even though milk kefir is technically considered a dairy product, lactose-intolerant people can still enjoy it. After the feeding process during fermentation, not much lactose is left over to cause problems for people who are lactose-intolerant. 

Water kefir on the other hand isn’t a dairy product. Water kefir’s taste is more akin to kombucha or other naturally fizzy drinks. This is great for people who don’t like dairy beverages. The process of making water kefir is also different from milk kefir because the grain is different.

Both water and milk kefirs can be made at home. 

A close up of milk kefir grains on a wooden spoon.
Milk kefir grains look very similar to cauliflower

Production Process 

Milk kefir grains feed on the lactose in the milk. This happens during its fermentation process. I like these milk kefir grains from Amazon.

Water kefir grains feed on sugar also during fermentation. The grains are different in appearance too. I like these water kefir grains from Amazon.

Milk kefir grains are sort of off-white or opaque. They look similar to cauliflower. Water kefir grains are a bit clearer and look like crushed ice.

The stark difference in appearance makes it quite easy to distinguish between them. So, if you are buying milk or water kefir grains, you can be sure you are picking the right one. 

Both are made in very similar ways. The difference here is how they are fermented.

How to Make Milk Kefir

  1. Take the grains and mix them with milk in a jar.
  2. Wait for at least 24 hours to ferment.
  3. In some cases, you might need to keep it longer to ferment. The usual range is 1 to 4 days.
  4. After that, drain out the grains and the drink is ready.
  5. If you want to be extra fancy, you can also add it to smoothies or incorporate it into other recipes too. 

How to Make Water Kefir

Water kefir is also made through fermentation but with sugar water.

  1. Mix sugar with water into a jar.
  2. Stir it until it completely dissolves.
  3. Add the water kefir grains into the solution.
  4. Let it ferment. 
A jar of fermenting water kefir and a drink of water kefir with a straw, surrounded by water kefir grains.
You can also make water kefir a bit fizzy by simply fermenting it for a second time with fruits.

TIP: For water kefir, it is best to let it ferment for 24 to 48 hours. Then it is business as usual. Drain the grains and you will have delicious water kefir ready to drink.

Nutritional Properties 

Both water kefir and milk kefir have comparable nutritional properties. However, milk kefir is a bit more nutritious compared to water kefir. 

One of the reasons kefirs are so popular is because they are a probiotic drink. They have more probiotic strains compared to regular yogurt. Most yogurt contains 2 probiotic strains, while kefirs have around five strains or more. 

Having said that, you cannot conclude that kefirs are more nutritious than yogurt. This is because CFU comes into play here. CFU stands for colony-forming units which is the measure of the number of microorganisms in probiotics. 

REMEMBER: Some yogurts may have more CFUs even if they have only 2 probiotic strains. Still, a serving of either yogurt or kefir is generally very good for health and gut health. 

Milk kefir is the more nutritious of the kefirs. This makes sense since it is fermented in milk and is very high in protein and potassium, which helps you to lower blood pressure in the body.

Potassium is also present in milk kefir which is good for muscle and nerve functions. Of course, you also get a healthy dose of calcium from the milk. 

If you are looking for a nutritious drink that is low in calories, water kefir will fit the bill perfectly. Water kefir is good for people who want to maintain a low-calorie diet. It has a low glycemic index or GI. 

This means the glucose is released slowly into your bloodstream which limits the feeling of hunger. Plus, since water kefir is made by fermenting kefir grains in sugar and water, it is also vegan-friendly.  

The Difference Between Milk Kefir & Water Kefir

This table should provide a more comprehensive comparison between milk and water kefir. 

Milk KefirWater Kefir
Fermented in milkFermented in water and sugar
Rich texture & tastes like yogurtCan be made fizzy like soda or kombucha
Grains look similar to cauliflower Grains look similar to crushed ice
More nutritiousBetter for people on a diet
Not veganVegan
Might take longer to fermentFerments within 2 days
2 glasses of milk kefir and some kefir grains to the side.
Both water and milk kefir have health benefits, drink which one is best for you!


At the end of the day, which one works for you really depends on what you prefer the most. Milk kefir is nutritious and offers a lot of health benefits, but it might take longer to ferment. It is also not a vegan-friendly option.

Water kefir is great for people who are on a diet and it is a vegan-friendly option. It might not have all the nutritious benefits of milk kefir but takes less time to ferment and is flexible too. 

Now you know everything there is about water kefir vs. milk kefir and can make an informed decision for yourself and pick the one that works best for you!

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