In the previous article I introduced you to kefir, a supremely healthy fermented beverage containing the most diverse range and highest quantity of probiotic microbes in a food item I’m aware of.
It has been regarded as a healing food for thousands of years, helping those with digestive issues from lactose intolerance to inflammatory bowel diseases. Not only does it contain microbes that help quell intestinal inflammation (1), and combat pathogens, but it is also highly nutritious, containing a complex array of enzymes, vitamins, and minerals. (2)
At the end of this article you will have the information necessary to begin making kefir in your own home. Soon you will be enjoying the most cost effective probiotic I know of. And maybe, just maybe if your results are like mine, you will have a new highly effective treatment tool for your IBD.
How to make kefir
- Milk – full fat, whole milk, preferably organic, from grass fed cows. Some swear by raw grass fed milk. Can be from cow, goat, or camel (yes people sell camel milk in the United States)
- Real live kefir granules
- Glass jar of any size
- Cheese cloth or other breathable cover for the jar to keep out bugs while allowing kefir gasses to escape
- Non-metal colander to filter granules from the finished kefir (I use silicon)
- Non-metal spoon to handle the kefir granules (I use wood)
- Non-metal measuring cup for milk (I use glass)
- Non-metal measuring spoon for kefir granules (I use plastic)
Compared to other fermented foods like yogurt, and sauerkraut, kefir is one of the easiest, lowest maintenance to make. I liken it to taking care of a plant. Give the kefir granules something to feed on, and it will take care of the rest by digesting the lactose, reproducing, creating enzymes, and vitamins.
There are plenty of videos and articles online about how to make it, but it requires mixing kefir granules in with milk, and to leave the mixture sitting out away from sunlight at room temperature (70 – 80F) for 24 to 48 hours, depending on your desired taste, and texture for the kefir.
Within the first 24 hours, as you periodically check on it every few hours, you will see the milk thicken, and water that is called whey will separate from the milk solids. When you see a mixture of whey, and thick milk solids, you now have kefir.
All variables including room temperature, kefir granule and milk temperature, quantity of kefir granules, and the alignment of the planets with the schedule of The Brady Bunch reruns on TV seem to determine just how quickly the milk is fermented into kefir.
Here are some telltale signs that indicate the kefir is done, and ready to be enjoyed
- Smell – It will smell slightly yeasty.
- Taste – It will taste yeasty, or tangy like yogurt.
- Carbonation – You might feel the same carbonated bite when drinking other carbonated drinks.
- Fizz – You should see fizz bubbles when it is stirred, similar to a carbonated drink.
- Gas – When you close the lid of your jar, give it a shake for no more than 2 seconds, and then open the lid. Gas will escape, called burping. Do this only after filtering out the kefir granules from the kefir milk.
You will likely get some of the above signs, but not all of them for each batch you make. Depending on all of the different variables that impact the fermentation process, the signs above will be more, or less noticeable.
Making kefir is half art, half science because it’s impossible to control all the variables to create consistent results. I have no solid rules on this, but you can experiment with the following
- Length of time fermenting: 24 – 48 hrs
- Amount of milk used: 16 – 64 oz
- Amount of kefir granules: 1 – 2 tsp
- Starting temperature of the mixture: 70 – 80F (longer you leave it out in room temp, it will change to match the room temperature, unless you use a heating source to change the temperature of your fermentation space)
- Temperature of fermentation space (dark cupboard) it is sitting in 70 – 80F
My current batches are about 33 hrs long, with 28oz of milk, using 1 tsp of kefir granules, at a room temperature of 70F. When the temperature drops in the coming winter months, I will need to let it ferment for longer, or artificially increase the temperature near the fermenting batch, such as with a heating pad.
You may want to keep a log in the beginning if you like experimenting. I kept a log to jot down how I was making the kefir, and the end results of each batch. You can view my log as an example here.
How much to drink
The more one drinks at first, the greater the risks of having IBD-like symptoms until a certain level of tolerance is developed. This is because of a phenomenon called die-off or Herxheimer reaction (3).
Kefir is extremely potent, and likely to kill a lot of unwanted bacteria, and yeast in your body. The remains of the microbial war will be purged from your body in the form of gas, and diarrhea, which are confusingly similar to your IBD symptoms. Isn’t that just fantastic!? It’s incredibly difficult to know if your IBD is flaring, or if it’s the kefir actually having a positive effect rebalancing the microbial communities in your GI tract.
The only way I can tell the difference, is that I don’t feel pain during die-offs. I don’t get cramping, but I do get loose stools, diarrhea, increased frequency, and urgency, but no pain at all. I may also feel a slight headache or light headed.
Your experience may be different from mine however, and I would like to know if you have a way of determining the difference between an IBD flare and a die-off reaction.
Because of the risk of die-off symptoms, it is safer to begin drinking kefir in very small quantities, slowly. I call it the “low, slow, and safe” way of drinking kefir (or taking any other probiotic).
This means start day 1 with ¼ tsp kefir. Do not drink any more until you feel comfortable that you know how your body reacted, either positively or negatively. For me, that’s within 8 hours. According to Wikipedia.org, it may be within 2 hours (3). Your time may vary.
If you have symptoms increase, then stop taking it until your symptoms stop, and your health returns to your previous state before you drank the kefir.
Then you can try again, but this time at a lower dose, usually half of what you had before, or the previous safe amount you tolerated. Remember to take notes in a health journal.
If you don’t have symptoms, continue with the same dose, once per day, for several days to see if a pattern of tolerance emerges.
If you are fine after establishing your body tolerates the kefir well, then increase your dose. Either by the amount you drink each time or the frequency you drink it in a day. Drink no more than double your previous amount either in amount or frequency.
If your symptoms increase, back down to the previous safe amount.
I am drinking it 2 to 3 times a day, about ½ cup to 1 cup each time. My goal is drink 1 cup 2 to 3 times daily without an increase in symptoms.
Where to get real, live kefir granules
- Ask your network of friends and family
- Maybe Craigslist.org
- Culture Exchange International Kefir Community
- Cultures for Health
- Lifetime kefir
- GEM Cultures
- Yemoos Nourishing Cultures
If you try kefir, please let me know your results.