Kefir FAQ

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from the Greg's Grains group in Yahoo! Groups.
  1. General
    1. What is kefir?
    2. What are the health benefits of kefir?
    3. How is real kefir different from the store-bought variety?
    4. Where can I learn more about kefir?
  2. Kefir grains
    1. Where can I get kefir grains?
    2. Can I use kefir starter powder instead?
    3. What do kefir grains look like?
    4. Is it OK if my kefir grains are slimy?
    5. My kefir grains are too big! Can I cut them in two?
    6. Should I rinse my kefir grains?
    7. How can I get my kefir grains to grow faster?
    8. What should I do with my excess kefir grains?
    9. Help! I think I killed my kefir grains!
  3. Culturing techniques
    1. I received kefir grains in the mail. Now what?
    2. What container should I use?
    3. How can I tell when my kefir is done?
    4. How do I make my kefir thicker?
    5. Can I stop making kefir for awhile?
  4. Milk
    1. What kind of milk should I use?
    2. What about commercial pasteurized milk?
    3. Where can I get raw goat milk?
    4. What does goat milk taste like?
    5. What other milks can be used to make kefir?
  5. Other questions
    1. Can I cook with kefir?
    2. I am lactose intolerant. Can I drink kefir?

General questions about kefir

What is kefir? Kefir is an old and venerable cultured milk drink with legendary health-giving properties. It is similar to yogurt, although not as thick. For a longer answer, see the article "What is kefir?" on the PageWise website, or the article "Kefir culture" on the Wilderness Family Naturals website.

What are the health benefits of kefir? Kefir's health-giving properties are due to its probiotic bacteria and yeast. These single-celled organisms populate your intestinal system, and help to digest your food. However, the standard American diet leads to an imbalance in your intestinal flora. Unhealthy varieties of bacteria and yeast, like candida albicans, take over and crowd out the good 'bugs'. Your food no longer digests properly, and all kinds of health problems ensue.

When you were born, your intestines were sterile -- they contained no bacteria or yeast of any kind. Then you were inoculated with colostrum from mother's milk, which gave you your first dose of probiotics. Drinking kefir is like getting re-inoculated with al the probiotics your system needs to digest food properly.

Several members of the Greg's Grains group are using kefir to treat a variety of illnesses. They report improvement in, or complete relief from:

Some references on this subject include the article "What is kefir?" on the PageWise website.

How is real kefir different from the store-bought variety? Very. The commercial brands, such as Helios or Lifeway, are made with a starter powder rather than real kefir grains. If you have been drinking one of these, you may expect that real kefir will have a similar effect on you. However, real kefir is much more potent than the commercial variety. You may wish to start slow at first. If you are used to drinking a cup of commercial kefir, start with one half cup of real kefir.

Where can I learn more about kefir? For more information about real kefir, visit Dom's Kefir In-Site, or join his Kefir_making group. Also see the FAQ on the Lifeway Foods website.


Kefir grains

Where can I get kefir grains? The kefir community is very generous, and most will be happy to give you some kefir grains. The quickest way is to ask someone who makes kefir locally. You can also get free kefir grains from several sources who will mail them to you on request. The Live Kefir Grains database maintains a list of these sources. When making your request, please be sure to include your full name and mailing address.

You can also purchase kefir grains. Wyndham Soapworks in Plant City, Florida sells a kefir starter kit for $5.00. G.E.M. Cultures in Fort Bragg, CA offers "fresh kefir curds" (kefir grains) for $20.00.

Dom's kefir in-site has a section called "Where to obtain real kefir grains". Dominic will even send you kefir grains himself; just send him an email message.

Can I use kefir starter powder instead? Yes. However, it is only viable for a few generations; then you have to buy more powder. Real kefir grains, on the other hand, will last forever if cared for properly. Dominic tells how real kefir grains are superior to powdered starter in the section "For newcomers to kefir" on Dom's kefir in-site. Also, kefir from powder is not as nutritious or healthful as that made from real kefir grains, since it does not have the full complement of probiotic bacteria and yeast.

What do kefir grains look like? A kefir grain resembles a piece of cauliflower, except that it has a rubbery texture; see the picture on Dom's kefir in-site. This outer membrane is a soluble polysaccharide complex called kefiran. The probiotic bacteria and yeast synthesize this substance, and are enclosed within it.

What amazes me is how a colony of supposedly unintelligent single-celled organisms knows enough to act in their mutual self-interest and make a "cell wall" around the entire colony. Not only that, the wall adapts by growing with the colony, as in this picture on Dom's kefir in-site. It even heals itself when breached, such as when a "mother" grain is pulled apart into two "baby" grains, as in this animation.

Is it OK if my kefir grains are slimy? Don't worry if your kefir grains are slimy. That is natural. The sliminess is called kefiran. Please see question 20, "Why is my kefir slimy?" on the FAQ page of Dom's kefir in-site.

My kefir grains are too big! Can I cut them in two? Do not cut your kefir grains; that would injure their protective sheath. If you wish to separate a large grain into smaller ones, the best way to do that is to gently pull it apart. That way, you do not disturb the growth pattern of the kefiran. This procedure is described in the section "The microflora and growth-cycle of kefir grains" of Dom's kefir in-site. There is even an animation of the procedure.

Should I rinse my kefir grains? It is not really necessary to rinse kefir grains. See the section "Washing Kefir Grains" on the kefir-making page of Dom's kefir in-site. If you do rinse them, do not use with chlorinated water. Chlorine is an antibiotic, and it will kill the bacteria in the grains. There is no need to rinse them anyway. If for some reason you wish to do so, distilled water is best. You may also use water from a filter that removes chlorine, or bottled water labeled as chlorine free.

How can I get my kefir grains to grow faster? There are ways to increase your kefir grain growth rate. For information on how to do this, see the question "What about the growth-rate of kefir grains?" on the FAQ page of Dom's kefir in-site. However, my experience seems to directly contravene Dom's research. For me, three things encourage rapid kefir grain growth. These are long culturing periods (over 24 hours), a high grains/milk ratio, and warmth (but not so hot as to kill the grains). Now that I understand this better, I don't have such frenetic growth, and I don't have to send out grains so often.

What should I do with my excess kefir grains? Eat them. Send them to people who have none.

Over time, your kefir grains will grow. When you have more than an inch or so of kefir grains in the bottom of the jar, scoop some out and pull off a piece. Save this piece in a small jar that you keep in your your "requests" jar, which you keep your excess kefir grains in a jar in the refrigerator. When it gets full, I bag up the grains and send them out to all of you happy kefirers! :)

Help! I think I killed my kefir grains!  Maybe not. Kefir grains are quite resilient, and will live through almost anything. I have seen some "hopeless" cases recover and thrive as if nothing had happened.


Culturing techniques

I received kefir grains in the mail. Now what? It may take some time for your kefir grains to recover from their trip. You will know they are healthy again because they will happily make kefir for you. Until then, use only enough milk to cover them, and change the milk daily. When the milk begins to thicken, you may increase the amount of milk. After a few days you should be getting a cup or more of kefir each day.

When reconstituting kefir grains, the first few batches may have an off taste. This is not dangerous; just unappetizing. Depending on how much the kefir grains suffered in transit, it may take up to a week to reconstitute them fully. They will have recovered when the kefir begins to separate into curds and whey.

What container should I use? Glass is best; plastic or stainless steel jars can also be used. Recycled Maxwell House coffee jars work well. You can put a rubber band around it to serve as a fill level indicator. It is helpful to record the date and time that you start each bach. Write this information on a piece of paper, and slip it under the rubber band. If you have more than one jar, it wil be easier to remember when to change them.

How can I tell when my kefir is done? Your kefir is done when you can stand a toothpick up in it. This usually takes about 24 hours at room temperature.

How do I make my kefir thicker? To make your kefir thicker, put the finished kefir in the refrigerator for several hours. That will give it the consistency of commercial kefir, such as Helios or Lifeway.

Can I stop making kefir for awhile? Yes.


Milk

What kind of milk should I use? The best kind of milk to use is organic raw goat milk. Goat milk is more easily digested than cow milk, causes less problems with allergies, and is naturally homogenized. This is described in more detail in the article "Comparing Milk: Human, Cow, Goat & Commercial Infant Formula" on the Saanendoah dairy goat farm website.



What about commercial pasteurized milk? Don't use it. Commercial milk has many problems. For, the animals are fed in feedlots instead of pastures. The advantage of pasture-fed animals is described in the article "Super Healthy Milk", by Jo Robinson. This article can be found on the Eat Wild website. The benefits of raw goat milk are identified in the article "Info on raw milk & pasteurization" on the Fias Co Farm website.

Where can I get raw goat milk? Several goat milk dairies will send you frozen goat milk. One of these is Split Creek Farm, in Anderson, SC. They charge $11 per gallon, including UPS shipping. The milk is shipped frozen, with lots of insulation and a bottle of ice to keep it that way. They ship only early in the week, so that the milk does not sit at UPS over the weekend.

Split Creek Farm is a small family owned dairy. They have about 350 goats. They are not certified organic, since the price of organic feed is prohibitive. However, they do use all natural feed. They also have a store that sells cheese, fudge, soap, and other products.

I have been ordering from Split Creek Farm for over a year, and I have been very happy with the quality of their milk. I use it to make kefir for both myself and my father. Each of us drinks about 1 cup every day.

What does goat milk taste like? Goat milk tastes very similar to cow milk. For more on this subject, see the section "Milk Taste" on the Milking page of the Fias Co Farm website.

What other milks can be used to make kefir? All kinds of milk can be kefired. This includes milk from any animal (goat, cow, sheep, et cetera), bean (soy, pinto kidney, garbanzo, ...), grain (rice, barley, ...), nut (almond, brazil, coconut, ...), or seed (flax, pumpkin, sesame, ...). The most popular are milk from cow, goat, and soy -- the only ones I have made. See Dom's non-dairy milk in-site for more information.

Even coconut milk can be used. Dominic tells how in his answer to the question "What types of fruit juice can or can't I use when making non-dairy milk kefir or Kefir d' acqua?", which you can find on the FAQ page of Dom's kefir in-site. Another article on this subject is "Super Foods: Coconut Water Kefir" on the Body Ecology Diet website. Lastly, the article "Kefir culture" on the Wilderness Family Naturals website includes a discussion of coconut kefir.


Other questions

Can I cook with kefir? Yes, you can cook with kefir. Just substitute it for an equivalent amount of milk or yogurt. However, the probiotic bacteria and yeast in kefir are extremely sensitive to heat. They are immediately destroyed by temperatures over 110 degrees. If you wish to get the full benefit of kefir, I recommend not using it in cooked food.

I am lactose intolerant. Can I drink kefir? Kefir is ideal for people who like dairy products but are lactose intolerant. Commercial dairy products cause problems for people who are lactose intolerant. However, the probiotic bacteria in kefir grains metabolize the lactose during the culturing process, making the resulting kefir easier to digest. Kefir grains contain 18 species of Lactobacilli, as well as many other probiotics. These are described in the section "The Microflora And Growth-Cycle Of Kefir Grains" on Dom's kefir in-site. All together, there are over 40 species of probiotics and yeast. Hence kefir grains are much more efficient than yogurt culture, which contains only two probiotics (L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus).

If you are extremely sensitive to lactose or are diabetic, there are ways to make kefir that minimize the lactose content. This is discussed on Dom's kefir-making in-site in the section "Storing kefir and reducing lactose".


Last updated: May 26, 2003