The Complexities of Kefir

Nov 18, 20220 comments

You may be wondering: what is kefir? Kefir may be one of the less well-known fermented dairy products; however, its health-promoting benefits are undeniable. Originating from the Caucasian Mountains, kefir has been made by local communities there for hundreds to thousands of years. It is generally made with cow’s milk, but other kinds of milk such as goat, sheep, or even soy can be used (see note below). Kefir grains are most often used to produce kefir. The grains are proteins and polysaccharides encasing bacteria and fungi which make the kefir fermentation process possible. These grains have an almost cauliflower-like look to them. Kefir is comparable to drinkable yogurt, and it generally tastes tart and acidic. It can contain low levels of alcohol from the fermentation process which can cause a mild carbonation effect.

Generally, it contains lactobacillus species bacteria though kefir has a diverse microbe population depending on where you get it from. If it’s been an active culture for some time, it may have evolved to pick up other bacteria to add to its culture. Notably, kefir has a wide variety of health benefits. The most prominent benefit is supporting the human gut microbiome. Fermented foods in general help support a healthy gut flora, and kefir, due to having many different microbial stains, can be very supportive. Kefir may help lower cholesterol, help modulate the immune system in the gut, and have anti-allergenic effects. One study even suggested kefir consumed twice daily may help improve the oral microbiome as well.

Kefir can easily be made at home from kefir grains or a starter. If you have more of a do-it-yourself attitude, the grains are relatively easy to care for. If you are busy and on the go constantly, then kefir starter for small batches might work better for you. If you are using the grains, rinse them in clean water, place them in a glass mason jar, then pour milk over the top. Next place a lid on the jar, and let the microbes do their work. Set the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight. If you’d like the kefir to take longer, you can store it in the fridge for 2-3 days as the lower temperature slows down the production of the kefir grains.

Typically, in 12-24 hours (or longer depending on the ambient temperature of the grains), your kefir is ready to be strained. To do so pour the entire jar through a non-metal colander, separating the grains from the liquid. Collect the liquid in another bowl under the colander to drink later. Then add the strained kefir grains to a clean jar, and pour more milk in to make another batch. Drink the original liquid as is or add mashed fruit or berries for flavoring. Kefir can also be added to smoothies instead of used as a stand-alone drink.

Note: Soy milk can be used though it is recommended to add some animal milk to your kefir grains at least once a week for optimal health of your kefir’s microbiome.

Bourrie, Benjamin C T et al. 2016. “The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir.” Frontiers in Microbiology; 7: 647. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.00647

de Oliveira Leite, Analy Machado et al. 2013. “Microbiological, Technological and Therapeutic Properties of Kefir: A Natural Probiotic Beverage.” Brazilian Journal of Microbiology: [Publication of the Brazilian Society for Microbiology]; 44(2): 341-9. doi:10.1590/S1517-83822013000200001

Dilsah Cogulu, et al. 2010. “Potential Effects of a Multistrain Probiotic-kefir on Salivary Streptococcus Mutans and Lactobacillus Spp.” Journal of Dental Sciences; 5(3): 144-149.

Miyuki. N.D. “How to Make Soy Kefir.” Dreamy Cup. Revised June 15, 2021.

Image attribution: topntp26/



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