About Kefir – Answers to Your Questions

Below, you’ll find the information you need to create and enjoy Kefir.

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a health-promoting fermented dairy drink, similar to yoghurt but slightly tangier and much stronger. While yoghurt usually containers 2 or 3 strains of bacteria, kefir contains a much wider variety of friendly micro-organisms. This includes beneficial yeasts, some of which break down into lactose (milk sugar). Kefir is a probiotic beverage made with either real kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter culture. There are two types of grains – milk kefir and water kefir grains. Milk kefir culture may be used with cow, goat, or coconut milk, while water kefir grains may be used with sugar water, juice, or coconut water.

Kefir grains consist of bacteria and yeast, which exist in a symbiotic relationship. The term “grains” only describes the appearance of the culture. The culture does not contain actual grains, such as wheat, or rye.

What is “Real Kefir”?

Real kefir” refers to kefir prepared in the traditional fashion. Store-bought kefir, on the other hand, is produced by culturing pasteurised milk with a limited number and species of organisms. These are strategically selected to imitate the flavour and texture of the real kefir, but possess limited properties. In particular, commercial kefir cannot be used to make new kefir on an ongoing basis, because the culture inevitably loses viability. Kefir grains, however, may be used to produce fresh kefir on an indefinite basis. Distinctive, scientifically proven therapeutic properties that are inherent to actual kefir grains when ingested are not present via commercial kefir, or kefir prepared with commercial starter cultures.

What Are Kefir Grains?

Kefir grains are a biological mass created by colonies of micro-organisms living together to form a polysaccharide mass. This forms into lumps similar in appearance to cauliflower rosettes. Grain size varies from the size of wheat kernels to that of a golf ball or larger. Once placed in fresh milk, the grains (also referred to as a natural starter culture) transform the milk into kefir within approximately 24 hours. The same grains (or culture) are used for the next batch, continuing the process.

Where Did Kefir Grains Originate?

The grains originated in the northern Caucasus Mountain region, where local people have used the culture for centuries – perhaps for more than 2000 years. It is said that the people of this region were gifted kefir grains from Allah, or God. At the beginning of the 20th century, Russian Nobel Prize winner E. Mechnikov invested the grain’s health-promoting properties. This generated great interest in the product – initially from the people of the former USSR, followed by the rest of the world.

Why Should I Drink Kefir? Is it Healthy?

Kefir provides many health benefits. In short, these benefits may be divided into 2 groups:

  1. Kefir grains contain a large volume of micro-organisms from 4 genus groups, including lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. The distinctive microflora is compatible with the requirements of our body. Kefir micro-organisms are able to stabilise the gastro-intestinal tract while aiding digestion and warding off harmful bacteria, yeasts, and viruses – including those that cause stomach ulcers, diarrhoea, and yeast infections. The consumption of kefir has been proven to stimulate the immune system, assisting the body’s cells in the production of interferon (a virus-controlling agent) thanks to a unique lipid (sphingomyelin).
  2. Kefir may provide other benefits. The friendly micro-organisms break down substances such as lactose in milk. From this, favourable substances are synthesized, including lactic acid and “kefiran” – a health-promoting polysaccharide unique to kefir grains. Kefiran has been proven to reduce the size of certain cancers as well as possessing anti-inflammatory properties. Certain organisms of kefir produce lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose.

I Have Some Kefir Grains. How Do I Prepare Kefir?

Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of kefir grains to half a litre (1 pint) of fresh milk and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours. For greater or smaller quantities, vary the proportions accordingly. Unlike yoghurt, the milk does not need to be heated or kept warm during incubation, nor does it need to be boiled first. Brewing at a cooler temperature results in smoother kefir, at the expense of a taking a little longer to brew. Once the kefir is ready, strain it. Take the strained grains for use in the next batch. This process is simply repeated.

Should I Rinse the Grains with Water Between Each Milk Change?

This is not necessary. If you really want to, you can “fast” the grains by placing them in filtered water for 1 day (1 part kefir grains to 3 parts water, as a general rule). The grains are then strained and placed directly in fresh milk to prepare kefir as usual. This may be performed weekly, fortnightly, or monthly. The water strained from soaking the grains contains Kefiran, a unique healthy polysaccharide native to kefir grains.

I’ve Never Had Kefir Before. What Do I Need to Know Beforehand?

Certain individuals may have a reaction when first consuming kefir. This is similar to the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction, and may range from slight stomach cramps to diarrhoea, nausea, or vomiting. This can be attributed to changes in intestinal microflora due to the introduction of new micro-organisms and unique substances. In most cases, individuals find that symptoms clear up after a short period of time. Newcomers to kefir who experience such reactions should begin by taking smaller amounts of kefir. For example, take a couple of tablespoons of kefir daily, increasing the amount by 1-2 tablespoons every day until a single cup of kefir can be well tolerated. Once this amount is well tolerated, it is usually possible to tolerate 1-4 additional cups of kefir daily.

How Much Kefir Can I Drink?

As much as you feel comfortable drinking. Many individuals have a cup of kefir in the morning and one at night before bed. Some people enjoy a small glass of kefir before each meal. Do note that, like yoghurt, kefir contains lactic acid bacteria which can erode tooth enamel. Be sure to rinse your mouth with water after consuming kefir, or after consuming food that contains lactic or acetic acid.

Is it True That the Grain Grows?

Yes. Healthy kefir grains should grow in weight by 5-15% daily. This means generous people are able to share their extra grain with people who are interested in preparing the drink for themselves.

How Do I Handle the Grain?

Avoid exposing the grain to excessive temperatures, since some of the micro-organisms are quite sensitive to temperatures above body temperature. As a rule of thumb, milk that is too hot for you to put a finger in will surely kill your grains.

What Do I Do if the Grains Become Contaminated or Pink Spots Appear on the Surface of the Cultured Medium?

This may happen, especially if you covered the jar with a cloth that favours certain mould spores, or when weed micro-organisms fall into the kefir. Simply strain the grains and rinse them in filtered water. In plain water, “fast” them in a fridge for 24 hours. Then, rinse the grains with fresh water and place them in fresh milk. You may wish to discard the first batch of kefir, since it might still taste unusual. The second batch should be good enough to drink.

I Have Issues Drinking Milk. What Can I Do in Order to Have Kefir?

For Lactose Intolerance: Leave your kefir to ripen for an extra day before drinking it. This will give the kefir time to digest more of the lactose in the milk. It will also produce more lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose.

You Are Cautious About Casein (the Protein in Milk): You may wish to try different milks. The milk of goats and sheep have been shown to be gentler than that of cows. You may also avoid dairy entirely and opt for coconut water kefir.

What is Kefir d’Acqua?

Kefir d’Acqua is Italian for water kefir. In Italy, this form of kefir is more popular than milk kefir. It is thought that it originated through the adaptation of milk kefir grains into a new, water-based medium. Kefir d’Acqua can be made to be fizzy and mildly alcoholic.

How Do I Make Kefir d’Acqua?

Water kefir is made by adding sugar, lemon juice, and a dried fig, plum, date, or apricot to water. Then, special crystal-like water kefir grains are added. These are quite different from milk kefir grains.

Can I Make Water Kefir Using Ordinary Milk-Based Grains?

Water kefir may be prepared with milk kefir grains. First, rinse the grains with filtered, cold water and place them in a 5-to-10% sugar solution. Add some lemon slices and brew for 48 hours at room temperature. Initially, the grains will take up to 4 days to begin brewing the new form of kefir. This is normal, since they must get used to their new medium. Please note that once converted to water, milk grains will stop growing and will no longer be able to produce milk kefir. Make sure to only use surplus grains to make the water version, and always brew the 2 types separately from one another.