Probiotic Foods: Homemade Kefir


Kefir or Kephir originated in the north Caucasus Mountains and is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter). Kefir contains many dietary minerals, vitamins including heightened numbers of B vitamins including B12, essential amino acids, and conjugated linoleic acid. The variation and number of Probiotic bacteria and yeast found in kefir makes it superior to probiotic supplements and commercial probiotic yogurts. Kefir contains anywhere between 10 to 20 Lactobacilli strains as compared to yogurt that has up to 5. It’s estimated that a 0.5 cup (120ml) of kefir contains around 40 billion microorganisms, while yogurt only has around one billion.

The kefir grains that initiate the fermentation are a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars. This symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) look cauliflower-like with grains ranging in colour from white to yellow; and growing to the size of walnuts.

Fermentation of the milk sugar lactose yields a sour, carbonated, slightly alcoholic beverage (0.2–0.3%), with a consistency and taste similar to thin yogurt. It’s the slow-acting yeasts that break lactose down into ethanol and carbon dioxide, which results in very little lactose remaining. This allows people with lactose intolerance to tolerate kefir.

Main Benefits

  • Reseeds your digestive tract flora with probiotics that can help eliminate harmful bacteria, thereby resulting in a healthier digestive system. This may even help prevent diarrhoea and intestinal/systemic inflammation.
  • Lowered risk of stomach cancer potential induced apoptosis in gastric cancer cells.
  • Maintained blood sugar levels. The bacteria in kefir grains feed on sugar, which means that any acute excess sugar is removed before it enters your bloodstream and causes a spike in your sugar levels
  • The lactic acid produced by kefir is a powerful antimicrobial agent helping eliminate pathogenic bacterial and fungal strains.

Activating Kefir starters

Everyday tools for the job

  1. Kefir cultures come in packets from health food shops and are dehydrated/freeze-dried. They need rehydrating and maturing before being able to sustainably turn milk into kefir.
  2. Add 1-2tbsp kefir grains to 250 ml of pasteurised whole milk in a clean glass jar. Cover the jar with a breathable lid to keep insect out but allow your grains to breathe e.g. coffee filter or kitchen roll secured with a rubber band or the metal ring off canning jar etc.
  3. Leave the jar at room temperature (200C – 290C) and check jar every 8-24 hour for milk composition changes (thickening); shake to agitate grains as you do so.
  4. If no texture change has occurred, then strain out the kefir grains with a non-metallic strainer and place the grains into 250ml of new fresh pasteurised whole milk and again watch out for thickening over a 24 hour period. If the previous milk tastes and smells fine its can be used for other things.
  5. Once thickening is observe the milk kefir is now ready consumption and the grains are matured enough to supply you a regular supply of 250ml. If you want to create bigger batches increase the fresh milk supply by an extra 150ml every time time the thickeniung process has begun. This can repeated until your 2 tbsp of grains  cultures a 1 L batch.
  6. If the grains are not transferred to fresh milk after thickening is noticed then over-culturing can occur (the milk separates into curds and whey with a grainy texture). This kefir is still usable and your grains can still be separated and reused but it will taste quite sour.

How to make Homemade Kefir

Once kefir grains are activated ideally use raw unpasteurised/non-homogenised milk or at least organic pasteurised milk for a superior product.

1) Add grains to fresh milk using a ratio of 1tbsp grains for every 250ml of milk.

2) Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

3) Strain the ferment using a non-metallic strainer, work the kefir with a wooden spoon to speed up the filtration. Small kefir grains represent new colonise and are the most powerful, these should be retained for your new batch as well.

4) Move the filtered grains to a new clean glass jar and add a new desired amount of milk and repeat the process.

5) The filtrated kefir can be drunk immediately, stored in the refrigerator for later use (up to 1-2 weeks) or further matured in a 2nd fermentation.

2nd Fermentation

For the 2nd fermentation place the filtered kephir at room temperature for a further 24 hours before consumption/refrigeration, this will increase the nutritional value (B vitamins and probiotics) and further reduces lactose. Fresh fruit, citrus rind, herbs and spices can be added for infused flavour in the 2nd fermentation.

Further Kefir notes

If going on holiday place the fresh kefir mix in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process for 1 week. If going away for 2 weeks double the fresh milk quantity.

As your kefir grains grow in number you can either, eat them as probiotic foods by themselves, create new kefir batches or share them with friends and family.

A finished milk kefir can be stored as follows:

At room temperature (200C to 290C)

1 to 2 days

 Refrigerated (40C to 70C)

2 to 3 weeks

Frozen (-180C to -40C)

1 to 2 months or longer (like ice cream)

Freezing does not kill the beneficial probiotics in kefir; they simply go dormant until thawed and consumed.


Other kefir culinary uses:

  • Substituting yogurt or buttermilk with kefir in baked goods is a great way to add probiotics to your daily diet. Kefir can be used to make sourdough bread.
  • Smoothies can be made healthier by adding kefir. Check out my blog on green smoothies here:
  • Add a tangy flavour to your soups by using kefir instead of regular cream or broth.
  • Kefir can serve as a base for tangy-flavoured salad dressings.
  • The probiotics found in kefir may help improve your skin’s acid/alkaline balance, helping rejuvenate its appearance as a facial wash.
  • You can use kefir as the base for a creamy, probiotic-rich dip
  • Kefir can be added to homemade ice cream to make it healthier and less reliant on sugars and artificial sweeteners for flavour.

Kefir can also be made out of other non-dairy fluids with a sugar source for instance sugared water, fruit juice, coconut milk/water and nut milks. kefir grains may cease growing if the medium used does not contain all the growth factors required by the bacteria.

Water Kefir

Hope you found this useful, to learn more about probiotics read my blog