I’ve been working on this post for ages and finally have it ready for you alhamdulillah! 🎉
I really wanted to have a place where all your questions about kefir are answered. So here’s everything you ever wanted to know (and maybe more!) about Kefir from A to Z.
Scroll down for a short video on how I make kefir.
My family started drinking kefir regularly about 3 years ago. At this time, my little guy was suffering from unremitting eczema and my big guy had a speech delay. My daughter was showing signs of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). To my amazement, within 3 months of starting to consume kefir, my older son’s speech was vastly improved, my younger son’s eczema was almost completely resolved, and my daughter’s behavior was much more calm and focused alhamdulillah.
Now to be fair, I also made other changes at the same time (such as decreasing sugar in our diets, cutting out refined foods, decreasing toxic exposures in our house, getting more sun exposure, improving sleep habits, and increasing our intake of veggies and healthy fats). But I’m convinced that the kefir played a crucial role in balancing our gut flora, healing our gut lining, and relieving these ailments alhamdulillah.
In our house, kefir has practically become another member of our family…my kids affectionately refer to kefir grains as our “kefir babies” which they help me to feed every day. If we don’t take good care of our “kefir babies”, they become temperamental (just like my kids do!) and we notice that the kefir tastes a bit off.
Don’t be scared away by the length of this post…I promise that kefir is really really easy to make and maintain once you get the hang of it! Kefir newbies often have loads of questions though, and I’ve tried to be very thorough and answer as many as possible in this post.
For problems with making kefir, see my Kefir Troubleshooting post.
These are the questions I cover in this post…
- What is kefir?
- What are kefir “grains”?
- What are the health benefits of kefir?
- Where can I obtain kefir grains?
- How is kefir made?
- What ratio of kefir grains to milk should I use?
- How do I know that my kefir is ready to be consumed?
- What kind of milk do I use to make kefir?
- What if I want to switch to a different type of milk? Or from pasteurized to raw milk?
- Can I make kefir with coconut milk?
- What kind of container should I use to make kefir?
- What do I do with extra kefir grains when they multiply?
- Can I give my baby/child kefir?
- How much kefir should I (or my kids) drink per day?
- I don’t want to strain my kefir every day. How do I maintain the grains?
- I’m traveling and want to take my grains with me, how can I do so?
- I’m traveling and want to leave my kefir at home, how can I do so?
- How do I reactivate frozen kefir grains?
- What’s the difference between kefir and yogurt?
- I’ve read that kefir contains a small amount of alcohol, is it halal for us to consume?
- Is kefir appropriate for diabetics?
- I have a milk allergy, can I consume kefir?
- What are “die-off symptoms”…sounds scary!
- How long do kefir grains last?
- What should my kefir taste like?
- How can I use my kefir, other than drinking it straight?
- What is water kefir?
1) What is kefir?
Milk kefir is a fermented dairy product, made from milk, which is similar to yogurt or laban. It’s much easier to make than yogurt however, as the process requires no heat and only the kefir culture (called kefir “grains”) and fresh milk. Kefir is packed with gut-friendly probiotics and offers many health benefits (see below).
2) What are “kefir grains”?
Kefir “grains” are not actually grains at all, but are the culture of beneficial bacteria and yeast which are added to fresh milk in order to make kefir.
You simply add your grains to fresh milk and allowed to sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours, in which time the milk transforms into kefir. You strain the kefir and add the grains to fresh milk, where the process repeats. That’s all it takes!
Kefir grains are small, cauliflower shaped granules of proteins, sugars, and fats that contain living colonies of various yeasts and bacteria. The same grains can be used over again and again to continue making fresh batches of kefir. In fact, the kefir grains I have now have been going strong for more than 3 years!
3) What are the health benefits of kefir?
This question needs an entire article to answer, as there are so many benefits to consuming probiotics!
Read more here about why probiotics and kefir are so vitally important to our health.
4) Where can I obtain kefir grains?
You can buy kefir grains online (amazon.com or culturesforhealth.com, for example). If you live in Riyadh, you can join our “I ❤ Kefir” WhatsApp group (women only) where we share extra grains and kefir tips (email me if interested at email@example.com).
5) How do I make kefir?
It is important to remember that you must keep your kefir grains immersed in milk at all times. Without milk, they will have no source of food and will eventually die.
The process is very simple:
- Put your kefir grains in a jar with fresh milk (cold milk is fine). Gently stir with a plastic or stainless steel spoon. Cover the jar with a breathable cloth and use a rubber band to hold the cloth in place. Do not screw the lid onto the jar, as the gas from the fermenting kefir causes pressure to build up in the jar.
- Leave the jar on your kitchen counter, at room temperature and away from direct sunlight, for 12-24 hours. Make sure the jar isn’t near any other fermenting foods. There is no need to stir the milk while fermenting.
- When the milk starts to become thicker, it’s time to strain your kefir. Use a plastic or stainless steel strainer and spoon to separate your kefir grains from your liquid kefir. (I like to strain the kefir directly into the blender and make a smoothie…less dishes to wash!)
- Consume the kefir right away, or store it in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Put the grains back into the jar, fill the jar with fresh milk, and gently stir. There is no need to rinse the grains. Cover the jar and repeat the process. That’s it!
6) What ratio of kefir grains to milk should I use?
This will depend on:
- how much kefir you want to make
- the temperature of your kitchen, and
- how quickly you’d like the milk to turn into kefir.
During the warm summer months, I use about ½ teaspoon of kefir grains in 3 cups of milk, and it takes about 18 hours for the kefir to form. During the cooler winter months, I’ll use 1-2 teaspoons of kefir grains and it will take about 24 hours.
You’ll need to experiment with how much kefir grains to use. If your kefir forms too quickly, use less grains (or more milk). If it’s taking too long for the kefir to form, use more grains (or less milk).
7) How do I know that my kefir is ready to be consumed?
Your milk will become thicker and you may notice small pockets of air forming at the bottom of the jar. The longer you ferment, the thicker and more sour the kefir will become, so you need to find the time which works best for your tastes. In the summer months, the kefir will ferment much quicker. I usually ferment my kefir for about 18 hours in the summer, and 24 hours in the winter.
8) What kind of milk do I use to make kefir?
You can make kefir from the whole-fat milk of most mammals, including cow, sheep, camel, and goat milk. You can also make kefir from coconut milk (see below). UHT (ultra-high temperature) milk should not be used to make kefir.
9) What if I want to switch to a different type of milk? Or from pasteurized to raw milk?
You can successfully switch your kefir grains to a different type of milk, but it’s best to do so gradually to give the grains time to adjust. So for example, if we want to switch from pasteurized to raw milk- on the first day use only 25% raw milk and the remaining pasteurized. On the second day use 50% of each milk, etc.
10) Can I make kefir with coconut milk?
Yes, you can make kefir using coconut milk. But beware that the kefir grains will not multiply while using coconut milk. And you will have to refresh the grains every few days in “regular” milk to keep them active.
11) What kind of container should I use to make kefir?
You can use any large glass jar to make your kefir. I like to use a 1-quart wide-mouthed mason jar.
12) What do I do with extra kefir grains when they multiply?
You will find, especially during the warm summer months, that kefir grains multiply very quickly and you will soon find yourself with more than you can handle. Suggestions for what to do with extra grains include:
- Consume them: add them to a smoothie for an extra probiotic blast
- Dehydrate and then freeze them (see below): just in case something happens in the future and you find yourself needing more grains.
- My favorite: share them! If you live in Riyadh you can join my “I ❤ Kefir” WhatsApp group (women only) where we share extra grains and kefir tips (if interested, email me with your mobile number at firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Feed them to your cat (seriously! Cats love them.) But start slowly so your cat can adjust to eating fermented foods.
- Throw them in your compost bin.
- As a last resort: throw them away.
13) Can I give my baby/child kefir?
In Russia, where kefir is a commonly consumed drink, parents give kefir (diluted with water) to babies as young as four months old.
Personally, I would feel comfortable giving my baby kefir when he or she reaches 9 months of age (about the same time I would introduce yogurt). I would, however, start very slowly with only a few drops of kefir diluted in water, and then gradually increase as baby tolerates.
14) How much kefir should I (or my kids) drink per day?
It is very important to introduce kefir to your diet slowly; especially if you aren’t used to fermented foods (see section below on “Die-off Reactions”). This goes for both adults and children. By slowly I mean just a spoonful a day and then gradually increase as tolerated. In our family, we usually consume about a cup of kefir every day or every other day.
15) I don’t want to strain my kefir every day. How do I maintain the grains?
OK so let’s say your fresh milk has thickened and become kefir, but you don’t want to strain the kefir right away. Maybe you’re too busy or just don’t feel like drinking kefir today.
So in this case you can simply put the jar of kefir (with the grains still inside and covered) in the fridge. The cold temperatures will drastically slow down the fermentation process. You can keep it in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Note, however, that when I’ve kept my kefir in the fridge for more than 4-5 days, it acquires a slightly “off” taste. After a few cycles of changing the milk, however, the kefir revives and returns to it’s normal taste.
Alternatively, you can put the grains in the fridge right after you have strained them and put them in fresh milk. But just be aware that you’ll have to bring the milk to room temperature and leave it out to ferment for 12-24 hours before it will be ready to drink.
16) I’m traveling and want to take my grains with me, how can I do so?
I have successfully traveled on an airplane with my kefir grains many times, using different techniques. I have put the grains in one of my kids’ sippy cups filled with milk and carried it onboard. But of course this only works if you’re traveling with small children.
I’ve also put the grains (without milk) in a small plastic bag and carried them onboard. They have survived, but just be careful to add them back to milk as soon as possible.
A third method is to put the grains in a tight-sealing jar with milk and carry it in your checked baggage. Make sure to put the jar in a plastic bag just in case of leaks.
It’s a good idea to dehydrate some extra grains to leave at home, just in case your kefir doesn’t make it back home!
17) I’m traveling and want to leave my kefir at home, how can I do so?
You can strain your kefir grains, put in fresh milk, and then store covered in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
For longer periods of time, you can either:
- Option 1: Wash the grains with filtered water, put in fresh milk, and then freeze in a plastic container or bag. Store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- Option 2: Wash the grains with filtered water and lay them on a piece of unbleached parchment paper. Dry at room temperature for 3-5 days (depending on humidity and room temperature). Or, use a dehydrator at less than 85 degrees F. Place the dried grains in an air-tight bag and add a small amount of powdered milk. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Be warned: drying kefir grains do not have a very pleasant odor!
- Note: if kefir grains are frozen for longer than 2 months, it may remove the yeast component found in healthy kefir grains.
18) How do I reactivate frozen kefir grains?
Thaw the grains by placing in a glass filled with cold filtered water for a few minutes. Place the grains into a strainer and wash off any powdered milk that’s still attached with filtered water.
Put the grains in fresh milk and ferment as usual. It may take a few days of straining for the grains to bounce back.
19) What’s the difference between kefir and yogurt?
Although both kefir and yogurt are probiotic foods, kefir offers some notable advantages over yogurt. The bacteria in milk kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract. This means that they don’t just pass through your digestive system, but instead they set up residence there and continue to help improve your gut health.
Kefir also contains a far greater variety of bacterial species, in addition to containing yeasts. Whereas kefir contains more than 30 different species of beneficial bacteria, yogurt contains only 2-7 different species.
20) I’ve read that kefir contains a small amount of alcohol, is it halal for us to consume?
As with all cultured and fermented foods, a small amount of naturally occurring alcohol is typically present in kefir. The amount will vary from batch to batch and depends on the length of time you ferment the kefir.
After extensive research and consultation with Islamic scholars, I have learned that when the concentration of alcohol in the drink is very small, so that it will not cause intoxication no matter how much a person drinks of it, it is halal.
The Prophet Mohammad (SAWS) used to drink a fermented beverage called Nabeeth, made from soaking dates or raisins in water for about 12 hours. This drink would have naturally contained a very small amount of alcohol as a result of the fermentation process.
It is interesting to note that all fruit and vegetables naturally contain ethyl alcohol. As they ripen, certain amounts of ethyl alcohol appear as by-products of fermentation.
In order to prevent the alcohol content from becoming too high, I never ferment my kefir for more than 24 hours. When I taste the kefir, if it tastes or smells too strong, I simply throw it away and start again with fresh milk.
21) Is kefir appropriate for diabetics?
Kefir has a slightly lower sugar content than milk, because the lactose has been converted into lactic acid. This study showed improved blood sugar control and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes who drank kefir daily, compared with diabetics who drank the same amount of normal milk. Diabetics can also benefit from the improved digestion and the antimicrobial and immune strengthening properties of kefir.
22) I have a milk allergy, can I consume kefir?
During the fermentation process, the beneficial bacteria in kefir break down lactose (the sugar present in milk) and as a result very little lactose remains in kefir. People with lactose intolerance are often able to tolerate kefir (this was the case with my son alhamdulillah). Fermented milk products also have a slower transit time than milk, which may further improve lactose digestion.
You can also consider trying water kefir instead of milk kefir.
23) What are “die-off symptoms”…sounds scary!
When you drink kefir for the first time, you are ingesting millions and millions of beneficial bacteria and yeast from over 30 different species! This can be a shock to your digestive tract, especially if it has become overrun by harmful bacteria. So basically you will have World War 3 taking place in your digestive tract for a little while! The beneficial bacteria will start killing off the harmful bacteria, and in the process toxins can be released into your bloodstream.
These toxics can cause a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog, flu-like symptoms, nausea, gas, diarrhea or constipation, headache, sore throat, rash, muscle and joint soreness or pain, or sweet cravings.
Although inconvenient, these symptoms are actually a good thing! They mean that the kefir is fighting off the bad bacteria which has overrun your digestive tract.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best to decrease the amount of kefir you are consuming each day. You can drink just a tiny spoonful per day, and then gradually increase as tolerated.
24) How long do kefir grains last?
If cared for properly, kefir grains have an unlimited lifespan! I’ve been using my grains continuously for the past 3 years alhamdulillah.
25) What should my kefir taste like?
Kefir has a slightly sour, tart, and delicious flavor. It should never taste or smell like something rotten or spoiled. As you gain experience with kefir, you’ll be able to recognize it’s normal flavor.
26) How can I use my kefir, other than drinking it straight?
Kefir can be made into smoothies, salad dressings, soups, and ice cream. It can also be substituted for yogurt or buttermilk in your favorite baked goods.
27) What is water kefir?
Water kefir is dairy-free and is made with sugar water, fruit juice, or coconut water. We also need a starter culture to make water kefir, but a different type of culture than what we use for milk kefir (we can’t use the two interchangeably).
Milk kefir is more beneficial in terms of probiotic potency. There are only 10-15 strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts in water kefir, while milk kefir contains more than 30.