Drinking kefir can help improve your digestion, immunity, reduce inflammation, increase mental clarity and improve your mood to name a few benefits. It is good for everyone, from babies to the elderly - especially for pregnant and breast feeding mothers! A healthy gut is the foundation for a healthy you.**
This brief overview tells you what you need, and what you need to know, to make kefir at home. These notes have been designed for my Kefir - The Probiotic Elixir class in Hong Kong, but can also be used as stand alone information for anyone interested in learning more about kefir.
There is also a slideshow at the bottom of this page with more kefir related photos.
What is kefir?
Kefir grains are a living combination of bacteria and yeast which live in a symbiotic relationship. The grains can be used in sugar water, coconut water, juice, nut milks or dairy milk to make a natural healthy probiotic drink. Kefir is alkalizing to your body. The grains are not actually a 'grain', and the drinks, although made with sugar are not sweet. The grains metabolize (eat) the sugar and produce beneficial probiotics, often along with some natural fizz! The end result is not sweet, but can have an alcohol content of up to 1%, but often only 0.5%.
Why drink kefir?
Please refer to:
How to make kefir?
Fermenting the kefir - this involves putting the grains in a 1-2 liter glass jar, feeding them with some sugar, and letting them sit for 8-24 hours.
Straining the kefir - to remove the grains and prepare the kefir for drinking.
At this point you can use the kefir, or decide to do a second ferment to give it some different flavors and some more fizz.
Second ferments involve letting the kefir soak with fruit, herbs or roots to flavor it naturally, for a very enjoyable probiotic drink.
1-2 liter glass jar with a wide mouth (good for air circulation and easy to clean)
1 plastic sieve (the grains don't like metal)
1 plastic funnel
1 liter glass jar with a stopper (see photo below right for two options)
coconut sugar or maple syrup or other high mineral sugar (not honey)
filtered, non chlorinated water
Note on Sugar
There are two great coconut sugars available in Hong Kong - Cocobono and Stephen James Organics. Cocobono also has a ginger coconut sugar! I use this organic grade B maple syrup from iHerb. Both coconut sugar and maple syrup have lots of minerals in them that the kefir grains love, and are good for you too!
Please remember, although we use sugar to make kefir, kefir is NOT sweet and does not have much sugar after - the kefir grains 'eat' the sugar and produce the probiotics. Kefir is perfectly fine for those on a sugar free diet!
If you use coconut water, nut milk, fruit juice or dairy milk, you do not need to add sugar. You only add sugar when you use plain water.
Making kefir takes 8-24 hours in HK, depending upon the weather. In summer it is often as fast as 8 hours, while winter can be 24 or more hours.
Kefir grains are living, they change, they have moods, they have different needs at different times - what follows is a basic recipe, but as you ferment more and more you will find you need to adjust the amounts of sugar and the time based on how your grains and drink are coming out. So this is more a 'starting guide' than an exact recipe that must be followed.
Part 1 - Starting the Kefir Ferment - this takes about 5 minutes
- Add 1-2 Tablespoons of kefir grains
- Add 2 Tablespoons of either coconut sugar or maple syrup
- Add 1 liter of filtered water
- Stir until the sugar is dissolved
- Add half a fresh lemon or some dried pineapple (optional, the grains like the acidity and it adds a nice taste)
- Cover with a cotton cloth secured on with a rubber band
- Place in a warm place - the top of your fridge for example
Kefir loves to be agitated - move it, shake it, stir it, bump it when you walk by. This is one reason the top of the fridge is a great spot as the fridge will move every time it is open and closed.
Taste after 8 hours, after 12 hours, after 18 hours, after 24 hours. When it stops tasting sweet, and tastes somewhere between 'like nothing' and 'a bit sour' it is done!
OPTIONS: Instead of using water and sugar, you can use coconut water, fruit juice or nut milk. When you use coconut water, fruit juice or nut milk do not add any sugar, also do not add the lemon. Please note that all of these will ferment much faster than water and sugar - so the times will be greatly reduced.
Part 2 - Straining the Kefir Grains this takes about 5 minutes
- Use your strainer, and place it over a 1 liter pitcher or jar - use the plastic funnel under the strainer if you need to
- Strain the kefir water into the bottle, the plastic strainer will catch the grains for you to use them again
- You can use the lemon in your smoothie or your second ferment - no need to throw it away!
- Start your next batch right away, or store the grains in a glass jar in the fridge.
You can opt to drink it now - it will have a very mild taste. It is great in your green smoothie or just straight up
Part 3 - Optional Second Ferment (Adding Flavors) - this takes about 5 minutes
- Choose a second ferment jar - it can be closed or open.
- If you choose a closed jar - be sure to 'burp' it to let the gas out and minimize potential explosions.
- In very hot weather, I prefer an open jar covered with a loose lid or cloth (keeps bugs out, and lets gas out, so no risk of explosions)
- Add your desired flavor to the jar, with the kefir water. There is NO need to add more sugar
- Let it sit on the counter for 12-24 hours, then taste it
- Put in the fridge and enjoy!
Second Ferment Flavors for Water and Coconut Water Kefir
- Ginger - hands down the favorite for my husband, he says it tastes like a really good 'ginger beer'
- Ginger - use Cocobono Ginger Coconut Sugar for the first ferment, and fresh ginger in the second
- Lemon - very refreshing
- Ginger and Lemon - one of my favorites
- Ginger, Lemon and Berries - another of my favorites
- Ginger and Turmeric Root - I keep this for when I am feeling run down and need a boost
- Raspberry and Chia Seeds - fun for the kids and adults
- Strawberry and Grated Ginger - one of my first students, Susan, made this and it was divine
- Cranberry and Raw Cacao Nibs - gentle taste
- Passion Fruit - when they are in season I love this
- Pomegranate - either the seeds or juiced
- Orange and Cinnamon - sliced orange and cinnamon sticks, serve with a cinnamon stick
- Mango - my son insists on this one, you can make it with fresh or dried mangoes
- Coconut Water Kefir and Lychees - like a probiotic lychee martini
- Coconut Water Kefir and Ginger - very refreshing
Caring for your Kefir Grains
- After you ferment a few times, you might find your kefir grains multiply - this is very common.
- To store your extra grains, keep them in a glass jar in the fridge.
- Rinse them with a bit of fresh water, then shake them dry in the plastic sieve. The rinsing is optional and not a full 'shower' just a quick rinse.
- You can also freeze grains for future use.
- The one time my grains went really really slimy and smelly, I gave then a baking soda cleanse. This should not really be necessary, it was an exceptional case.
- I keep my water, nut milk and dairy milk kefir grains separate - because I teach classes and share grains, I want to be clear which grains are 'vegan' and which are 'nut free'.
- If you start making dairy milk kefir, you will often find your grains 'disappear', don't worry! This is very normal, just save some of the 'curd' from your milk kefir as your starter for the next batch. If you want, you can add more water kefir grains to give it a boost too.
- Go home, feed your kefir grains, and feed your gut!
- Play with second ferment flavors.
- Make coconut water kefir.
- Make homemade almond milk kefir or hemp milk.
- Make frozen probiotic ice pops.
- Make coconut yogurt kefir.
- Start some dairy kefir with cows milk - strain it after to make a lovely dairy kefir cheese.
- Use your extra water kefir grains to make fermented nut cheese - super yummy.
- Buy Culture Your Life by Naturopath and Nutritionist Louise Kane Buckley who writes at Loulanatural. This book has many recipes with kefir for the kitchen, homemade shampoo and face wash, house cleaners and more!
Resources for further learning
Articles and Recipes
Kefir and Kombucha and Fermenting - Why Why Why
Coconut Water Kefir
Almond Milk Kefir
Kefir-Colada a Probiotic Mocktail
Probiotic Ice Pops
Kefir and Kombucha - The Importance of Burping (your bottles!)
Coconut Yogurt Kefir
How to Open a Coconut
Kefir Grains - Cleaning with Baking Soda
5 Ways to Heal your Digestive System
What is Dysbiosis?
**Live Science - 5 Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Your Health
**The Economist - Gut Instinct
NYT - Some of My Best Friends are Germs
HuffPost - What Your Gut Bacteria Says About You
Daily Mail - The Unlikely New Medicine... Pickled Cabbage
NPR - Gut Bacteria Cartoon
Culture Your Life
The Art of Fermentation