So what is kefir and why is it increasing in popularity throughout the world, especially among people who are become more health conscious? Have you heard of what probiotics can do for your health? If you have digestion issues, acne or skin problems, issues with absorption of nutritients, or would like to overall boost your health and wellness then this should be an article right up your ally. Below you’ll find my personal experience along with a 12 step guide I put together that teaches you how to make this healthy probiotic drink yourself. Learning what is kefir, it’s benefits, where it comes from (which is still a mystery today) and more has been a brand new learning experience for me and very fascinating for a number of reason that you’ll learn about. The quick links below will help you easily access the areas throughout this article.
- What is kefir
- My personal experience discovering water kefir
- Health benefits of water kefir
- History of Kefir Grains
- What to know and prepare before making your own kefir
- The beneficial bacterial and yeast strains found in water kefir
- Trent’s 12 step guide on how to make water kefir from home
- Scientific References and Links
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Kefir is a probiotic product that companies or you can make on your own by letting the kefir grains (more to come on this later) digest the sugars and other ingredients in the base product such as milk (raw is best) or sugar in mineral water which results in a fermented, effervescent drink that is super healthy for you! Kefir is a probiotic which means [Pro= for, Biotic= life] = life promoting. Probiotics helps restore healthy intestinal flora especially after taking anti-biotics which means [Anti= against, Biotic= life]= Against-life.
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A few months ago one of my friends and health mentors mentioned learning more about fermented products and shared with me some of the health benefits of kefir upon the digestive system and the influence they have upon the good intestinal flora in our bodies. It wasn’t until last month, May 2012, that I started learning about the health benefits of Kefir. I didn’t realized then that there were two different major types of kefir grains; water kefir grains and milk kefir grains. Anyway, based upon our research you can’t “manufacture or create” your own kefir grains; instead you have to obtain your own kefir grains from someone who got their’s passed on to them and so on. I found this to be quite intriguing. If you were to go to the local health foods store like Good Earth, Real Foods Market or even Walmart all carry kefir powder that you can add to your base product, but doing so does not generate or create sustainable “living” kefir grains that grow and can be used over and over again if cared for. If you’re wondering where to buy kefir grains I have some left here.
So last month I came across an add in ksl.com from a nice lady in Provo Utah who had some extra kefir grains thinking there was only one type of kefir grains but I found out she was selling water kefir grains so I gave it a try. I had a great talk with the lady about how she cured herself from osteoporosis, how her family drinks kefir water every day and loves it and bunch of other stellar health topics. After our conversation I took off with my set of instructions in hand, my covered mason jar which contained the live water kefir grains within it’s already prepared batch of sugar/mineral water which the lady made for me ahead of time and I was set to get started.
Since then I’ve gone through 4 full cycles of making my own kefir water probiotic drinks that the whole family looks forward to drinking, well except Marcie…haaa She drinks it but doesn’t love it like me and the kids do :-) The kids call it “fizzy drink”.
There’s alot of water kefir recipes and milk – raw milk kefir recipes out on the web, but the water kefir recipe I use is below along with the images to guide you through on how to you can make this healthy drink yourself from the comfort of your own home. Overall it’s not too time consuming at all so I definitely recommend giving it a try and then leaving your comments below about your journey and experience along with the kefir creations you make. I’ve seen people add lemons, limes, berries, mango, etc…to their kefir water grains to add flavor bit more nutrition and variety to their kefir drink all of which produce a tasty and health probiotic drink that immensely improves your intestinal flora, your body’s ability to digest foods and a whole host of other health benefits. As you’ll see below, I simply add our favorite juice to the kefir water after is has gone through a 12 to 24 hr fermenting cycle.
There are alot of health benefits of water kefir but the primary benefits include:
- increased ability to digest foods better
- improved intestinal flora in the gut
- enhances your immune system
- the good bacteria strains and good yeast strains help the body remove toxins from the body including destructive bacterias and yeasts.
- helps control facial acne in teens
- higher levels of naturally occurring b-vitamins in the final fermented kefir water such as biotin, niacin(B3),pyridoxine(B6) and folic acid by providing the enzyme lactase that is enhances the digestion of milk based foods which is a good sign for people who cannot otherwise digest milk.
- your skin’s overall appearance improves
- assists with predigesting the protein thereby enhancing protein digestion and absorption
- helps reduce the affects of acute – infectious diarrhea which is a major world health problem, responsible for several million deaths each year. While the majority of deaths occur amongst children in developing countries, it is estimated that up to 30% of the population even in developed countries are affected by food-borne diarrhea each year. Probiotics can potentially provide an important means to reduce these problems. Source
As I researched the health benefits of water and milk kefir products my wife and I continually came across references of getting your own kefir grains but article after article never spilled the beans about how to create your own kefir grains. Well, as I searched some more we discovered that the origin of kefir grains is still a mystery today and no one knows where the origin of kefir grains started. There’s some speculation about kefir grains being “manna” from heaven back in Moses’s day or that an angel gave them to Mohommed the prophet, but who knows….quite fascinating though! If you come across any more news about this I’m eager to know. Just share a comment below. Here’s some history I found:
“Kefir is one of the oldest cultured milk products in existence. It’s quite popular in Russia and the Caucasus. The history and going legends of kefir end up going back to the people of the northern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains. Apparently there is a legend that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. The ‘Grains of the Prophet’ were guarded jealously since it was believed that they would lose their strength if the grains were given away and the secret of how to use them became common knowledge. Kefir grains were regarded as part of the family’s and tribe’s wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. So, for centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone else they came into contact with.
Other people occasionally heard strange tales of this unusual beverage which was said to have ‘magical’ properties. Marco Polo mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East. However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis in sanatoria and for intestinal and stomach diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century. However, kefir was extremely difficult to obtain and commercial production was not possible without first obtaining a source of grains.
The members of the All Russian Physician’s Society were determined to obtain kefir grains in order to make kefir readily available to their patients. Early this century a representative of the society approached two brothers called Blandov and asked them to procure some kefir grains. The Blandov’s owned and ran the Moscow Dairy, but they also had holdings in the Caucasus Mountain area, including cheese manufacturing factories in the town of Kislovodsk. The plan was to obtain a source of kefir grains and then produce kefir on an industrial scale in Moscow.
The Blandov’s were excited since they knew that they would be the only commercial producers of this much sought after product. The true story of the Blandov’s quest for the elusive kefir grains is below.
Nikolai Blandov sent a beautiful young employee, Irina Sakharova, to the court of a local prince, Bek-Mirza Barchorov. She was instructed to charm the prince and persuade him to give her some kefir grains. Unfortunately, everything did not go according to plan. The prince, fearing retribution for violating a religious law, had no intention of giving away any ‘Grains of the Prophet’. However, he was very taken with the young Irina and didn’t want to lose her either. Realising that they were not going to complete their mission, Irina and her party departed for Kislovodsk. However, they were stopped on the way home by mountain tribesmen who kidnapped Irina and took her back to the prince. Since it was a local custom to steal a bride, Irina was told that she was to marry Bek-Mirza Barchorov. Only a daring rescue mission mounted by agents of her employers saved Irina from the forced marriage.
The unlucky prince was catted before the Tsar who ruled that the prince was to give Irina ten pounds of kefir grains, to recompense her for the insults she had endured.
The kefir grains were taken to the Moscow Dairy and in September, 1908, the first bottles of kefir drink were offered for sale in Moscow. Small quantities of kefir were produced in several small towns in the area where there was a ready market for it, people mostly consume it for its alleged medicinal value. Commercial manufacture of kefir on a large scale began in Russia, in the 1930s. However, it is difficult to produce kefir by conventional methods on a commercial scale. Traditionally, kefir was made in cows or goats milk in sacks made from the hides of animals. Occasionally it was also made in clay pots or wooden buckets or oak vats and in some areas sheeps milk was also used. Usually the kefir sacks were hung in the sun during the day and brought back into the house at night, when they were hung near the door. Everyone who entered or left the house was expected to prod the sack with their foot to mix the contents. As kefir was removed more fresh milk was added, making the fermentation process continuous.
By the 1930’s kefir was being made as a set-type product which entailed growing a quantity of grains milk and then straining out the grains and adding the cultured milk to a larger batch of fresh milk. The mixture was incubated and, when set, allowed to cool. Unfortunately, this type of product was not as good as the one produced using the tradition home-style method. During the 1950’s workers at the All-Union Dairy Research Institute (VNIMI) developed a new method for commercial kefir production which gave a drink similar to that produced in the home by traditional methods. The kefir was produced by the stirred method. Fermentation, coagulation, agitation, ripening and cooling, were carried out in a large vessel, and then the kefir was bottled.
In 1973 the Minister of the Food Industry of the Soviet Union sent a letter to Irina Sakharova thanking her for bringing kefir to the Russian people. Presently, kefir is the most popular fermented milk in Russia. Various reports have stated that it accounts for between 65% and 80% of total fermented milk sales in Russia with production of over 1.2 million tons per year in 1988. The average yearly consumption of kefir in the Soviet Union was estimated at approximately 4.5 kilograms per person per year in the early 1980s. Currently kefir is being manufactured on a commercial scale in Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and various of the former soviet union states, Denmark, the United States, France, West Germany, Canada and parts of southeast Asia. In addition to plain kefir, many flavoured varieties are available, being especially popular in the United States.
Lactobacilli Strains in Water Kefir
- Lactobacillus galactose
- Lb. brevis
- Lb. casei subsp. casei
- Lb. paracasei subsp. paracasei
- Lb. casei subsp. Ramos
- Lb. casei subsp. tolerant
- Lb. coraciiform subsp. torquens
- Lb. fructose
- Lb. hilarities
- Lb. homophobia
- Lb. plantarum
- Lb. pseudo plantarum
- Lb. admonishes
Streptococci/lactococci Strains in Water Kefir
- Streptococcus cremeris
- Str. faecalis
- Str. lactis
- Leuconostoc mesenteroides
- Pediococcus damnosus
Yeast Strains in Water Kefir
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Sacc. florentinus
- Sacc. pretoriensis
- Candida valida
- C. lambica
- Kloeckera apiculata
- Hansenula yalbensis
The very first step is to make sure you have your own water kefir grains along with all the ingredients and supplies necessary. If you’re wondering where to buy kefir grains I periodically have them for sale, so click here to check the availability and let me know. You can purchase them through the site, create an exchange with me, or if you’re a close friend I’ll just give them to you :-) If you’re local you can pick them up. If you live outside of Provo, Utah then I’ll ship them to you priority mail in proper packaging so when you get the kefir grains you’re ready to go! All of my kefir grains have been well taken care of, they are healthy and ready to be used to make your own probiotic water kefir drinks.
- Always use clean utensils such as woods, plastics and glass are the best to use.
- Use a nylon or silicone strainer as metals are harmful to the grains.
- Use spring water for best results to produce the healthiest grains. Chlorine can be evaporated out of plain tap water if left to sit overnight but this is not recommended since most city water sources contain fluoride which is harmful to the grains.
- As a general rule of thumb use ONE Tablespoon sugar per ONE Tablespoon grains and ONE cup water.
- Once water/sugar mixture is ready, place the grains inside and cover with a cloth or papter towel to keep dusts and bugs out. Keep at room temperature for 18 to 48 hrs depending on temperature and taste buds. In the colder months it will take closer to 48 hrs. Avoid fermenting any longer than 48 hrs or you run the risk of starving the grains.
- Any sugar can be used as food for the grains as long as it is actually SUGAR and not a sugar replacement. Do not use honey. White, brown, sucanat, rapadura and cocnut sugar are all acceptable. I find it best to use a mixture of 1/2 sucanat and 1/2 white sugar and then every 3rd batch I use all sucanat which is easy for the water kefir grains to digest. I also use ONE teaspoon unsulphured molasses for flavor and minerals.
- To keep grains healthy they need to have minerals. This is why using spring water is so good for them. If you are using filtered water please add a pinch of baking soda of 1/4 piece of boiled egg shell or a pinch of sea salt to your solution.
- Once strained you may add juice or whatever flavorings you’d like and either refrigerate or leave out for an additional day to increase the fizzy “soda” effect. I bottle ours and let it sit a day after adding a 1/2 cup cranberry juice concentrate that we premix before and add it to ONE quart fermented kefir water.
- water or milk kefir grains
- clean glass jars, mason jars work good
- baking powder (if you’re using filtered water instead of spring water)
- unsulphured molasses (optional)
- sugar (sucanat is best – found at Good Earth or other health food stores) brown and while sugar will do as well
- A 1/4 cup measuring cup or one Tablespoon to measure with
- cloth or plastic coverings for the jars and a rubber band or lid to cover the kefir to keep out unwanted material
As long as you follow the guidelines above there’s really no “wrong way” to make your kefir. What I do it use quart size mason jars, fill them up with spring water and then ad just a pinch of baking soda since the kefir grains like it and they grow better. So first gather all your supplies listed above and determine how many bottles of kefir you want to create. Fill up each bottle with spring water so there’s 2 inches left at the top of the bottle, add your pinch of baking soda and you’re set to go on to the next step!
Go grab your kefir grains from the fridge if you’ve been storing them or if you just receive them for the first time I recommend rinsing them first in spring water NOT tap water.
Now you’re ready to add 1/4 cup or roughly 4 tablespoons of kefir grains to your spring water.
Once you’ve added your kefir grains to your water mixture it should look something like this picture below. Some people at this point add berries, limes, lemons, egg shells to their mix to increase the mineral content but it’s not necessary.
Now go ahead and add 1/4 cup sugar or 4 tablespoons of sugar to your kefir water. I use sucanat purchased from Good Earth because it’s a more natural unrefined sugar. I place 3 tablespoons sucanat and 1 tablespoon white sugar.
Since kefir grains thrive off of a mineral rich environment its good to add a teaspoon of unsulphured molasses to the kefir water. You don’t have to do this though if you don’t like the taste of molasses or if you are using unchlorinated spring water.
Once you’ve added the unsulphured molasses to the kefir water your jar should look something like this:
Now you’re ready to simply add your covering to the top of your glass jar. I use a plastic sandwich bag. Make sure to NOT screw the lid on too tight so the kefir water grains can breathe. Some people use a napkin or cloth and a rubber band for their covering and that’s fine too!
Once you’ve covered your kefir water jars you’re read to set them either in a cupboard out of the light, or on your counter so they can begin the fermentation process for 12 to 24 hours. It’s important to put them in a place that has a temperature of around 72 to 80 degrees. If it’s cooler than that it takes longer to ferment…and if it’s too cold it just won’t ferment at all! If the temperature is warmer than 80 degrees or there about the fermentation process occurs faster I have found which is why a 12 hour fermentation time period would be okay. Usually though if the environment is around 72 degrees I always ferment my water kefir for 48 hours.
Once you’ve made it this far you’ll notice that the mason jar on the right is done fermenting for about 18 hours and the bottle on the left is just getting started. Once your water kefir has sat between 12 to 24 hrs your bottle of kefir should look something like the one to the right if you’ve following my recipe exactly, if not yours will obviously look different. Feel free to be creative with your water kefir creations though. People have come up all types of water kefir creations out there so get creative, test things out to your liking and have fun!
Now you’re ready to pour the kefir grains through a strainer as shown below and place the strained fermented water kefir into a new water kefir bottle for the last phase before drinking it. You could drink the water kefir at this point if you like it without much fizz but I personally, along with my wife and kids like it fizzy. So once I strain the grains I let the fermented water kefir sit for another 24 hours in a 72 degree environment (in our cupboard) and then the water kefir is fizzy!
Once you strain the kefir grains you’ll notice that the grains have double in quantity and have multiplied quite a bit within the last 24 hrs or less! You’re welcome to use the extra kefir grains to make more kefir, use them in smoothies or give them away or sell them. And yes you can eat them as well. I’ve never eaten them myself but I hear you can so for the really adventures type go ahead and post a comment below if you did and what your experience was!
Now, this step is optional but if you’d like go ahead and pour the juice of your choice into your fermented water kefir. I found that my family enjoys the taste of cranberry juice mixed in the water kefir. You can use whatever you’d like to use though. We first fill up the kefir bottle full of kefir so there’s about 4 inches left at the top of the bottle and then fill the rest up with the cranberry juice! After the bottles are filled up with the fermented water kefir plus the juice we let it site for one more day to create extra “fizzyness” or carbonation so it’s not as flat. This is not necessary to do so it just depends on your preference.
Here’s the final product folks :-) I had my lovely wife Marcie go to Ikea and pick up some bottles so we could use them to easily keep our water kefir in. These kefir bottles work wonderfully! After we let the final water kefir sit for a day we place these bottles inside the fridge and drink them whenever we want.
- http://www.mesanders.com/probio_report.pdf (Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food Including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, October 2001)
- http://www.torontoadvisors.com/ (this site has a list of people from locations all throughout the world willing to give you kefir grains)