Kefir Starter Culture is made of freeze-dried bacteria, similar to our yogurt starter culture. It is a powdery substance that you activate when you use it, in order to make kefir.
Kefir grains are clumps of live kefir bacteria, colonies of yeast and bacteria, held together by kefirin, a polysaccharide substance. They are soft and rubbery milky nodules that you put in milk in order to make kefir.
Both starter and grains contain several different strains of bacteria, which working together turn milk into delicious kefir.
The main difference comes from the fact that the bacteria in the starter are freeze-dried, i.e. sleeping, and require no ‘maintenance’, while the bacteria in the grains are alive and you need to keep them alive for as long as you want to use the grains to make kefir.
That’s about it.
Many people will argue that you can use grains to make kefir indefinitely but you can only use starter to make kefir so many times. This is not true. Out kefir starter is heirloom so you can use your previous kefir to make a new batch for as long as you’d like.
So if you are not planning to continuously produce kefir for years ahead (and not planning to take vacations either), then consider using the starter since then there is not going to be grains that you will need to keep alive while you are not making kefir.
Here’s a quick list of pros and cons to consider.
- Cheap to buy and easy to store, definitely much cheaper than buying ready-made kefir
- Easy to maintain. If you do not to make kefir on a daily basis then it’s super convenient. You can make as little as you want, then come back to the starter whenever you want to make kefir again
- Milder sweater flavor. In general, starter makes a milder kefir than the kefir made with grains.
- Consistent reliable taste, it doesn’t vary from batch to batch
- Super simple to make. Just open a pack, add to room temperature milk and let set — see instructions here
- No need to strain after you make it — just drink.
- Need to keep in mind that you have to save some kefir for your next batch, which might be difficult because the kefir so tasty and you could easily finish it up before you realize what you’ve done 🙂
- You can make kefir indefinitely. Your grains will continue to produce kefir for as long as you feed them milk
- Stronger, sourer taste. If you like your kefir more sour, then choose grains
- The clumps multiply over time so you can share them with friends or feed your pets with them.
- They need to be regularly fed, meaning you have to keep the grains in milk. Often you’ll need to discard that milk if you don’t want to make kefir, so it’s a bit wasteful too
- Once you let the grains die, that’s it. You’ll need to find another set of grains in order to continue
- You need to strain your kefir before drinking it in order to separate the grains and keep them for next time. A step of extra manual work after every make
- Stronger flavor. This is a con for everyone who prefers milder kefir
- The taste is not consistent, may vary from one batch to the other and may change over time.
To wrap it up, you’ll be able to make great kefir with both starter and grains. I, however, would always personally prefer the more convenient method that always delivers and would go with using a starter.