Natural Life Magazine

How to Make Your Own Healthy Probiotic Drink

By Terry Garcia-Haass

How to make kefir

Kefir is an extremely healthy probiotic food. Its origins lie with nomadic shepherds living on the slopes of Eurasia’s North Caucasus Mountains who needed a way to preserve milk without refrigeration. It is now part of the revival of interest in traditional foods.

There are two kinds of kefir: dairy kefir, which is cultured from cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk (and even pure coconut milk), and water kefir, which is fermented from sweetened water or juice. Water kefir contains sugar (to feed the bacteria) and can be somewhat effervescent and even can be a substitute for other carbonated drinks. The taste of milk kefir is tangy and a bit sour, like yogurt or buttermilk, but it’s more liquid than yogurt.


Kefir is a source of friendly micro-organisms that create ideal conditions in the digestive tract for the colonization of friendly bacteria. It provides great nourishment for pregnant and nursing women, and for those with compromised immunity. There is also evidence that probiotics can help protect against the negative effects of radiation, antibiotics, and toxic pollutants.

Kefir is a source of B-vitamins, such as biotin, niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and folic acid, as well as minerals, enzymes, and essential amino acids. The amino acid tryptophan is present in significant amounts, making it a great sleep enhancer. Its protein is partially digested during the fermentation process, making it easily utilized by the body. The presence of the enzyme lactase makes it great for those who cannot otherwise digest milk.

But most important are its probiotic properties. The array of friendly bacteria found in kefir can control the spread of undesirable micro-organisms such as harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They are a good defense against the Candida albicans yeast, now implicated in many health problems in people who are malnourished or whose immune systems are depleted. Food poisoning and many bowel and urinary tract infections can also be prevented and treated using high bacterial cultures.

Make It Yourself

Kefir is increasingly available for sale in supermarkets and other stores. However, it is simple and inexpensive to make at home, and that can ensure it’s not packaged in plastic or filled with excess sugar or colorings. It is made from gelatinous particles called “grains.” The milk kefir grains are sometimes called “Tibetan milk mushrooms” and water kefir grains are also known as “Japanese water crystals.” Milk grains are white and somewhat rubbery; they look like cottage cheese or cauliflower florets. Water grains are translucent white and somewhat fragile.

These grains contain the bacteria/yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk proteins) and complex sugars. Because the grains reproduce, you only need to buy them once and they will last for years. They are available in powdered form, but many people find them hard to reactivate, and they also tend to have a smaller number of probiotic strains, so I recommend fresh grains. Use the appropriate type of grain for the kind of kefir you are making because they work in different ways and aren’t interchangeable.

Aside from the grains, which can be purchased at some natural food stores and online, all you need to make your own kefir is a glass measuring cup, a mesh strainer (preferably nylon and not metal), a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, and some canning jars. Some people use plastic containers, but glass is better because it doesn’t react to the acidity of the fermenting kefir doesn’t harbor unwanted bacteria, and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals like BPA. Don’t use metal containers or utensils.

Milk Kefir

Put one to two tablespoons of kefir grains into a room temperature sterilized jar. (The more grains you use, the faster your kefir will culture.) Add two cups of fresh milk (preferably organic milk from grass-fed cows, and raw if you have access to it), leaving an inch or so of room at the top of the jar. Place a lid or covering on the jar and set it on the counter (out of direct sun) for between twelve and thirty-six hours, depending upon how warm your kitchen is and how tangy you like it.

When your kefir is ready, it will look thick and lumpy. Then, pour the kefir into a strainer set on top of a clean glass bowl or large jar. Gently stir the kefir until all the liquid has drained into the bowl and you are left with the grains in the strainer. Some people say to wash the grains with filtered, non-chlorinated and non- fluoridated water before re-use, while others don’t bother; you might want to do so occasionally. Put the strained grains into a sterilized jar, add more milk, and start your next batch of kefir.

The grains can also be rinsed, dried, and frozen if you aren’t yet ready to make another batch of kefir, or submerged in milk and kept in the refrigerator, which will halt fermentation. You should also store your finished kefir in the refrigerator.
You can use milk kefir grains to make coconut milk kefir. However, you should culture your grains in cow’s or goat’s milk for twenty-four hours once every few weeks to revitalize the grains.

Milk kefir can be used in a variety of ways. You can drink it plain or flavor it with fruit. It can be added to smoothies. It can also be drained with cheese cloth to make a soft kefir cheese that can be flavored with herbs and used as a cracker spread.

Water Kefir

Water kefir provides the benefits of milk kefir but without the use of dairy products. It can be a healthy substitute for sugary soda, and is a great introduction to home fermentation.

To make water kefir, dissolve a quarter cup of organic, raw sugar in a one quart glass jar of cool water (or use warm water but let it cool before adding the grains). Well water, spring water, or mineral water are best because they don’t contain chlorine; do not use filtered or distilled water. Add approximately two teaspoons of water kefir grains to your sugar-water solution. Some people like to add a quarter cup or so of apple juice, a slice of ginger or half a lemon at this point. Be sure you leave an inch or so in the top of the jar for expansion.

Place the lid very loosely on the jar so the build-up of carbonation doesn’t pop the lid (as an alternative, cheesecloth secured with an elastic band works well) and allow it to sit at room temperature for twenty-four to seventy-two hours, tasting it a few times to see when its taste and fizziness are to your liking. Strain off the water kefir grains and bottle the kefir, again leaving some empty space at the top. If you haven’t added fruit earlier, you can add any kind of bottled organic juice or frozen concentrate at this point for flavor.

Allowing the strained water kefir to sit at room temperature for another twenty-four to forty-eight hours will help develop its carbonation. Store the finished product in the refrigerator with a tight lid. (Sterilized beer bottles with clamping ceramic tops are ideal for the final bottling, but canning jars work too.) Begin the process again with the strained water kefir grains.

Using these basic instructions, feel free to experiment. (There are lots of videos and tutorials on the Internet if you’re nervous.) Just keep everything clean and don’t forget that you’ve got something brewing! You’ll end up with a healthy, yummy, natural food.

Learn More

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods by Wardeh Harmon (Alpha, 2012)

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz (Chelsea Green, 2003)

A Guide to Gut Health by Charles Remington in Natural Life Magazine, January/February 2007

Terry Garcia-Haass is mother to two little traditional eaters. She and her family live on Canada’s west coast where she loves to cook and write.


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