I'm trying to find a reliable source of probiotic to experiment with. I would make my own sauerkraut but i don't want to wait 4-6 weeks. I want something now. Everything seems to be pasteurized and/or bottled and dead.
I agree traditional homemade kefir is so much better. But, compared to some other probiotic products like yogurt, store-bought kefir, like the one made by Lifeway, is great.
One of the big differences is the lack of beneficial yeasts in store-bought kefir (this is also true if you use it as a starter to make your own). Real kefir also has something like 5 trillion count probiotcs compared to the 14 billion in store-bought(these numbers obviously vary a lot). Another thing is how healthy the probiotic bacteria are. In home-made kefir the bacteria and really fresh and more able to colonize your digestive tract. The store-bought product has been refrigerated for weeks and the probiotics are going to be more sluggish and might not do as well in your system.
So my advice is enjoy drinking store-bought kefir until you decide to take the plunge and make your own. It is still good for your. In the least it will get you used to the taste. : )
If you are concerned about how alive the store-bought kefir is, have you thought about making your own? It takes 12-48 hours and tastes great. I found kefir grains at a local health food store and you can use cow or goat milk. I would opt for raw milk if it is available and prefer cow. (I can't stand anything goat!)
Here is a link that describes the process: http://www.pennilessparenting.com/2012/02/homemade-kefir-recipe-probiotic-yogurt.html
I've used the store bought plain kefir as a starter for home made. By itself, its not going to hurt you, but it's not going to have a large a culture because to get there you have to ferment longer.
Commercial producers want to ferment as little as possible since if it takes longer, it costs them more money, and also SAD consumers don't like it when kefir or yogurt is too sour.
So, it's better than nothing, but not as great as it could be if you made it yourself. It's very easy to make the stuff: heat the milk to ~90F (don't go above 94), mix in your starter culture (which can just be a quarter to a whole cup of unflavored commercial stuff), and keep above 75F for 24hrs.
Once it's ready, sanitize a small jar (especially the lid) and transfer about 1/4-1cup of your new batch to the small jar. Seal this tightly and put it in the back of your fridge to use as the next seed.
To make it easier to keep the temperature stable, I use a very large stock pot that I fill up with warm water, and then use a large a glass container (the kind that's meant to store spaghetti) to keep the milk/kefir mixture air tight inside it.
Something like this, but taller:
I then place a towel around the lid of the stock pot to keep the heat it, and every few hours, I check on it with an infrared thermometer (though you could use any thermometer). If the temperature is getting near 75F (I usually try to keep it around 80F), I turn on the stove for a couple of minutes until the water warms up to around 80F, then turn the heat off and put the lid back on and the towel.
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