Milk Kefir & Water Kefir Grains

I don’t clearly remember when I first heard the word “kefir”.  I’ve been around health food nuts (that’s how I once thought of them ~ as nuts) since I was a teenager, introduced by my mother around the age of 12.  When I finally decided to seek out raw milk, a few years ago, I was hearing about this drink from the lady who ran the co-op.  I thought it sounded like some strange hippie drink.  This was way before I embraced my hippieness, I was in denial thinking I needed to fit in and be like everyone else.  SIGH ~ I’m so glad I’m “me” now.  “Stay way!”  “Fear new things!”  Those were pretty close to my thoughts.  Well, recently as I’ve been looking into more traditional ways of cooking, this kefir word came back up.  This time, I decided not to be afraid and actually look into it.  It couldn’t hurt to just read about it, right?  What I found out blew my mind a little!  This strange stuff is a probiotic?  It actually heals the gut microbes?  I realized I had to try it now.  So….

We received a joyful little package in the mail last week.  Both milk kefir and water kefir grains.  Our new pets!  Open-mouthed smile  What?  They are alive after-all.

above: milk kefir grains.  below: water kefir grains.

The instructions said to put each in a quart jar then add 2 cups of milk to the milk kefir and 1 cup of water & 1 Tbs. unrefined sugar (such as sucanat or turbinado) to the water kefir, set the jars on the counter and wait 24 hours.

>patiently humms Jeopordy song<

In the meantime, let’s learn a little about these new pets of mine…


Kefir is pronounced keh f é-er [as in keh in kettle, and fear].  Alternative spellings and names are: kephir, kefyr, kewra, talai, mudu kekiya.  Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains that is thought to have originated with shepherds of the North Caucasus region of Russia.  They discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occassionally ferment into a carbonated beverage.  It can be made using cow, sheep or goat’s milk.

Kefir grains are not actually grains.  As Crunchy Betty put it in her post about them: “they’re just called that to confuse you.”  They are not in any way related to what we call “cereal grains” such as wheat, barley or anything of that sort.  It’s more of a symbiotic life form made of of lactic acid bacteria (LAB), vinegar-producing bacteria and yeast strains.  And we’re talking about the good kind of bacteria and yeast.  The kinds that contribute to the healthy gut flora that we all need for proper digestion and assimilation of nutrients from the foods we eat.

Milk Kefir is a little like yogurt ~ but only very slightly so.  They’re the same in that they are both a cultured milk product and they both contain probiotics.  But kefir and yogurt contain different types of beneficial bacteria and Kefir also contains beneficial yeast.  Yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that help to keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that actually reside in your guts.  Kefir actually takes up residence and adds to the healthy flora in addition to helping to clean things up.  In a small bowl (approx 500 ml) of homemade 24-hour fermented yogurt you would get approximately 1.5 trillion beneficial bacteria.  But homemade kefir will give you 5x that amount.

In addition to the beneficial bacteria and yeast, milk kefir also contains phosphorus, vitamin K, biotin and folic acid. Nutrients that are essential to health and well-being. The longer you brew it the more folic acid it develops, although you can damage the precious kefir grains if you allow it to brew for longer than 48 hours.


Water kefir grains are also known as Tibicos, tibi, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals or California Bees.

Water kefir contains different strains of beneficial bacteria than is found in milk kefir.  It’s also a bit more versatile in that you can add lemon or other types of fruit to the process.  It makes a nutritious, probiotic-filled, fizzy drink alternative to soda.  The beneficial organisms break down the sugar in the process, so you don’t have to worry about consuming too much sugar.


The milk kefir did just what it should have done.  It thickened nicely, somewhere between a milk and yogurt consistency, and it’s pleasantly tart and refreshing.  And the kefir grains look great!  I don’t know what happens if the first batch doesn’t do well, but these did beautifully, in my uneducated about kefir opinion.

I drank a whole mug (a little over 1 cup) after straining it off.  I feel like I tolerated that amount pretty well, so I’ll continue to drink about a cup a day for a while to see how things go.

Here’s the lovely grains just after straining.  This mesh sieve is stainless steel, so as I’ve read on Dom’s website (he’s apparently a kefir guru) it should be fine to use.  If you don’t have stainless steel then you need to use plastic or some other natural material sieve.  No other metal is safe to come in contact with the precious kefir grains.


We’re still working with the water kefir to get it just right.  I think with our next batch we will add in some minerals (molasses and 1/2 an egg shell) to see if that strengthens them up a bit.  It still turns out a little on the sweet and flat side.  I’ll keep you updated on that.


Kefir.  It’s not just a weird Hippie drink after all!


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10 responses to “Milk Kefir & Water Kefir Grains

  1. I make both regularly and find that different family members tolerate them differently. Personally I love the water kefir but my DH and two of my kids love the milk kefir.

    • So far I’m the only one drinking the milk kefir…one of our daughters likes it, but only in small amounts. DH doesn’t drink it much because he doesn’t like “gloppy” things. LOL! He’s patiently waiting for our water kefir to strengthen up and make a good batch. But the more I drink the milk kefir the more I like it.

  2. I really kick my water kefir experiments into high gear in the spring and summer. It is so much fun to play with. You can ferment just about any liquid with those little buggers, and they grow and grow and grow, so you’ll have lots of babies to experiment with. I love kefir lemonade, and kefir cherry “soda”. Milk kefir is really excellent in smoothies too…Now I’m getting thirsty!

  3. Have you finally concurred the water kefir? I love the carbonation that it gets after you have strained the kefir out after 24 hrs and then bottling it into airtight bottles for another 24 hrs. I’ve found that mine worked fine after I first got them and grew larger over the first few weeks, as well as growing new little grains. 🙂

    • I love it! So far my favorite thing to do with it is make “ginger ale”. Lemonaide is really good too. I haven’t secured any airtight bottles yet, but I’m saving up for some grolsch style bottles now. I have an old 1/2 gallon milk jug that I’ve been using for the 2nd ferment and have just had to cover the top with plastic wrap (I know, I hate plastic) and a rubber band. But it’s working ok. I get some nice bubbly action going on. It’s so fun to watch the little grains grow knowing that means I’m treating them just right. 😉

      • Right on. I bought some of the ez cap bottles at the local wine and beer supply store. Only cost me $33 for a dozen bottles. Great investment! Any chance you will share your recipes for the “ginger ale” and lemonaide? I’ve mixed mine with various juices during the second ferment, which have worked out great, but when I tried adding sage or ginger the results were not as I’d hoped.

        • Absolutely! I’m working on a new batch now and will post the how-to and pics. I’ll check around to see where our local wine and beer shop is ~ thanks for the tip!

  4. a friend gave me about 2 TBsp water Kefir grains and I put them in a litre of sugar water with a teaspoon of palm sugar. The number of grains multiplied rapidly, but the resulting kefir is thick and syrupy. Is that normal? What am I doing wrong here?

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