With its rich taste and creamy texture, it’s no wonder kefir is finally making its presence more widely known in grocery stores across North America. If you’re already familiar with kefir, you know that it’s a highly nutritious and versatile ingredient on its own (or incorporated into recipes). What you might not realize is that kefir can be easily made at home using only a couple of basic ingredients and with very little special equipment.
Never heard of kefir? Learn all about its amazing nutritional profile and relation to other fermented foods before creating it yourself using our simple recipe.
What is kefir exactly?
Kefir is made from cultured, fermented whole milk (although non-dairy versions have begun popping up in specialty grocery stores), much like yogurt. Kefir differs from yogurt in that it has a thinner consistency, making it more of a fermented drink than something to be eaten with a spoon. Although both kefir and yogurt are excellent sources of gut-friendly probiotics, kefir contains up to three times the amount of probiotics as yogurt.
Because kefir is made with whole milk, it typically has a higher fat content than yogurt (excluding full-fat yogurts). Unlike kombucha, another popular fermented drink, kefir doesn’t contain caffeine because it isn’t made from tea (but it does have the added protein, calcium, and vitamin D associated with dairy products).
Whitney Wilson, author of the book From Kefir, With Love: An Irreverent Guide to Making Kefir and Healing Your Gut Naturally, loves kefir for its awesome probiotic power. She tells HealthyWay:
First, it has the highest number of natural probiotics than any naturally fermented food. Kefir contains 30 to 50 strains of bacteria, with a high concentration of these bacteria. Since a healthy gut thrives in a diversity of bacteria, introducing lots and lots of new bacteria is a good thing!
Second, kefir is one of the few probiotics that can actually repopulate the gut. Most probiotics are transient and will provide benefits as long as they are in your gut but will eventually pass through to the toilet like lots of other bacteria. They don’t stay and change the gut composition. Kefir, on the other hand, has the ability to introduce new bacteria to the gut microbiome and actually stay. The bacteria in kefir puts down roots, which leads to lasting change and the greatest healing in the gut.
Kefir clearly packs a probiotic punch, but is it safe for everyone to consume?
Kefir is safe to drink for many people, including those who suffer from lactose allergies and lactose intolerance. In fact, preliminary studies have actually shown that kefir could be used to improve lactose digestion in adults with lactose maldigestion. The American Pregnancy Association also recommends kefir as a safe and healthy source of probiotics for women who are pregnant.
How much kefir can I drink?
The answer to this question depends on how well your body tolerates the sudden influx of probiotics and dairy kefir contains, so it varies from person to person. For some people, kefir can cause bloating, gas, or constipation, so begin with a small cup of kefir daily to see how you react. Getting the green light from your gut? You can add more kefir into your daily or weekly diet based on your nutritional goals and taste.
Looking for more ways to incorporate kefir into your diet? Here’s how.
Kefir’s admittedly pronounced tangy flavor may be too intense for some tastes, but don’t despair, there are plenty of ways to incorporate kefir into your diet that don’t involve drinking a cup of it straight up! Wilson loves to add kefir to smoothies, especially her GO-TO Chocolate Kefir Protein Smoothie, which she likes to drink after a hard workout. She says, “My number one way to use kefir is post-workout! The proteins in kefir are partially digested during the fermentation process, which means it’s more readily absorbed, and you will get faster recovery! I mix it with my favorite protein and a banana/nut-butter/honey-combo, and I drink it after my workouts.”
In addition to smoothies, Wilson suggests you try pouring it over cereal. “I like to strain it a bit extra so it’s thick like a Greek yogurt; then you can make yogurt bowls, use it in recipes, or in place of sour cream.” Kefir can also be used in place of buttermilk or yogurt in salad dressing recipes, adding a super-healthy probiotic kick to green salads and beyond!
Making Milk Kefir at Home
Making homemade kefir is a surprisingly simple process that begins with whole milk and kefir grains. What’re kefir grains, you ask? Like SCOBY to kombucha, kefir grains are the “mother” culture that is the source of kefir’s fermentation and the formation of healthy probiotics in the beverage. You can get your hands on kefir grains in a couple of ways: If you have a friend who makes their own kefir, you can ask to use some of their kefir grains. Or, you can buy them at a health food store or order them online.
When ordering them online, make sure you’re ordering kefir grains from a reputable source that specializes in fermentation, such as Cultures for Health. It’s also important to avoid metallic equipment when making homemade milk kefir as it’s believed that the acidic kefir grains may react with metallic substances in a negative way. For this reason, it’s important that you opt to use equipment made of glass or plastic, not metal.
Yield: 4 cups of kefir
- 4 cups whole milk, organic if possible
- 4 Tbsp. kefir grain, rehydrated according to package directions if needed
- Two sterilized 1-quart mason jars with plastic lids (see this Goodtoknow article for sterilization methods)
- Plastic measuring spoons
- Glass or plastic mixing bowl
- Cheesecloth or coffee filter
- Plastic fine-sieve strainer or colander
- Silicone, plastic, or wooden long-handled spoon
- Using the plastic measuring spoon, add 4 Tbsp. of rehydrated kefir grains to one of the sterilized jars.
- Add the whole milk to the jar, covering the kefir grains.
- Using the plastic ring that’s part of the jar lid (or an elastic band), attach the cheesecloth or coffee filter to the top of the jar to cover its contents.
- Place the jar on your counter or in a dark cupboard, keeping the jar out of direct sunlight.
- Let sit for 24 hours, occasionally giving the jar and its contents a gentle shake.
- After 24 hours, carefully pour the kefir through the fine-sieve strainer or colander into the mixing bowl, then pour the kefir into the second sterilized jar.
- Test the taste and texture of the kefir. It should have a creamy yet fizzy consistency and a pleasantly tangy flavor. If your kefir smells or tastes “off” or gamey, throw it out and begin again.
- If the kefir is to your liking, top the mason jar with the plastic lid and refrigerate for two to three weeks or freeze for one to two months.
The leftover kefir grains can be reused over and over again with fresh whole milk each time. Simply transfer to a sterilized jar and repeat the steps as listed.
If creating your own homemade kefir isn’t for you, these are some of our favorite kefir brands available for purchase.
Note that when buying store-bought kefir, it’s important to read nutritional labels as some brands are high in sugar and preservatives.
Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Kefir: TJ’s has done it again with their line of whole milk kefirs! Drink this kefir in moderation as it’s fairly high in sugar.
Lifeway Kefir: From frozen kefir to kefir granola cups, Lifeway’s kefir products are widely available and here to satisfy all your kefir-loving needs!
Green Valley Organics Kefir: Love the idea of kefir but not convinced your gut can tolerate it? Green Valley Organics makes the best low-fat lactose-free kefir around!
Liberté Kefir: For Canadian kefir fans only, Liberté’s famous Quebecois brand now includes the richest kefir north of the border.