Strange Wonderful World of Kefir

**Welcome to the strange, wonderful world of kefir

This WIP is meant to be included as a chapter in a book on cultures. It has also been sent to the Herbal Remedies group after promising an article for sometime to Byron Shillington at moc.spuorgoohay|seidemerlabreh#moc.spuorgoohay|seidemerlabreh. This has a few pictures of my "GIANT" kefir grain, about 8" across! Basic recipes and how-tos are included as well as WHY kefir is so good for you.**

+Welcome to the strange, wonderful world of kefir
February 12, 2011 (Updated 4/27/2011)
Author: Joyce M. Simmerman, J.D., (Emeritus Attorney)
(a.k.a. Li’l Ol’ RedHen or NativeLegal Eagle)
(also a.k.a., My children have variously called me: “Power-mad Dictator”, and “Old Swamp Witch” to name but 2)
(Thanks to the mentoring of “Marilyn”, “DOM”, and others whose help and advice while I learned is ‎incorporated herein. They are sharing type people who gave knowledge to me freely, and I give it forward ‎with the hope that we can ultimately have a “healthier” world! I believe REALLY HEALTHY precludes violent ‎tendencies, depression, extreme chronic fatigue, neglect of self and others, etc. and may thus also be ‎called “healthy and happy”. ‎c. )


In case you’re totally new to kefir and the culturing of it, you might wonder about what it is. What is kefir ‎and the “kefir grain”1‎ ‎? The “kefir milk” is milk which has been cultured with the “kefir grains”. (See the ‎recipe below.) ‎

The simplist explanation for what the “kefir grain” is, is that it is what is called a “polysaccharide”, (i.e., ‎multisided sugars), matrix or mother-mix, a structured mix of approximately 56 different identified ‎yeasts and bacteria which form a semi-translucent, squeezable, jelly-like, cauliflower looking lump. ‎

The “matrix”, or central scaffolding or structure, is more dense and central to the nodules, or bumps which ‎grow primarily on the outside of it. Calling them a “grain” is really a misnomer. Other cultures have called ‎them other things but that seems to have been the most common name given to them. ‎

Look at the picture of my GIANT kefir grain colony below and try to picture each of the lumps you see ‎as new “grains” forming. These usually break off from the main colony way before it gets to that size. ‎Most kefirite people have grains ranging from probably thumbnail size to walnut size before they break ‎off a new “baby grain”. The “babies” often have threads of “Kefiran” holding them to the main colony ‎for awhile before it organizes with either the new baby or back with the colony. It may almost be likened ‎to a placental cord. ‎

I envision the matrix as tiny, curvy, ladders proceeding in all directions, giving a net for the yeasts and ‎bacteria to form on and among. Tiny threads or slimys of “kefiran” are part of it. I believe one could ‎describe them accurately as the newly energized, living growing part of the joining of the yeasts and ‎bacterias between the scaffolding of the “grain”. Sometimes when you lift up a grain you will see some of ‎these tiny threads of wet, slimy, kefiran spinning down. When placed in water it spreads out. It is ‎dissolvable in water. That is the kefiran which is thought to be a main part of enabling kefir grain ‎propagation. The DOM advises not washing the grains during milk changes unless really necessary so that ‎kefiran can keep them growing healthily in balance. ‎


This ‘giant kefir grain” was taken out of its milk culture at about its largest size in March of ’09, having ‎grown for several months. Its first picture is that following further along, which was taken in January ‎when they were already bigger than average. ‎

This is not a pile of cottage cheese, although that is somewhat what this “colony”of “grains” looks like ‎in the picture. Actually, “in person” it resembles clumps or florets of translucent cauliflower all joined ‎together as in a cauliflower head, and with a somewhat slimy feeling milky surface to it all. If pinched, ‎they are somewhat rubbery or gummy-candy feeling. “They” and “it” are a growing, living, breathing ‎organism by which one can “culture and ferment” milk and other products.‎

This one is unusually huge as they generally will break up, usually in about small walnut sized pieces, irregularly shaped about an inch to inch and half across. They will grow in all types of shapes, expanding out from tiny nodules or groupings. Some are said to be oval and flat or elongated. Mine have all grown primarily in a round sort of shape, but this one defied all expectations for size and shape.

This picture was taken on Jan. 22nd, ‘09 of two unusually large grains which had developed for me at that ‎time. Notice the differences in the way they “grow”. I became interested to see how big they would ‎become if I were gentle with them to prevent them breaking off before their time, so to speak. I believe ‎the one on the left was the one which ultimately developed to the largest one pictured above. It is again ‎pictured at a later stage, being measured, see below. I remember the other one of them “divided” so I ‎took it out of the “experiment” to see how big the undivided one could grow! (When they are getting ‎bigger it takes more milk to keep them “fed”.  ‎

Shortly after the March (big grain) picture , above, was taken, I had foot and ankle reconstructive surgery so I had to break it up, send portions to others, and freeze portions as I was unable to be on my feet at all for approximately 3 months. See the picture of the big kefir grain with the measuring stick alongside at about the end of it’s time. It is hard to have an exact “linear” measurement as it was rounded upwards in the middle sections, and the ruler would not bend! I believe if it had been flat it would have measured at least 8” across.


The ripened kefir has bacteriocins in it. Bacteriocins are antiobiotics which act against a similar class of harmful, (pathogenic) bacteria. states that, “Bacteriocins are of interest in medicine because they are made by non-pathogenic bacteria that normally colonize the human body. Loss of these harmless bacteria following antibiotic use may allow pathogenic bacteria to invade the human body.” In other words, (my explanation), is that the natural friendly bacteria which could resist or crowd out or kill the harmful ones are killed by the antibiotic drug. Our digestive system then needs to be repopulated with the natural ones.

What it is can perhaps also be explained as to what it’s chief “product” is and tastes like. The kefir grain is put into fresh milk, ideally every day at about the same time in a normal temperature kitchen. If one does that, after the 24 hours one has a thick gelatinous, slightly sour tasting “kefir milk” which tastes, at that point, somewhat like a plain, unsweetened, ala natural yogurt. The “kefir grain” is removed from that kefir milk.

That 24 hour kefir milk is then usually fermented or “ripened” for another 24 hours without the grains ‎in it to make another stage of the kefir milk. It will easily separate slightly, (or quite a bit), into curds and ‎whey by that time. The reason this sounds somewhat vague as to timing at which things happen is ‎because it is. It is temperature and milk type and quality dependent. If it is warmer than usual the ‎culturing/fermenting will happen sooner .. so the curds and whey separation will happen sooner.‎

One can drink the first 24 hour milk (or at any stage up to then and beyond), but as it continues to ‎culture it “ripens” and “predigests” more and more of the milk sugars, (lactose), gluten, starch, ‎carbohydrates, etc. AND develops other vitamins and probiotic enzymes as it progresses in time. This is ‎what makes it sooooooo beneficial! Since the milk sugars are converted it takes less sweet than the ‎starter milk and becomes more acidy or sour-tasting. It can be quite milk, like yogurt, or sharp after ‎extended time, like sharp cheese.‎

It will end up with a much larger quantity of pre and probiotics than, for instance, live yogurt. It WILL “predigest” foods and liquids for you, especially in that 2nd stage. There are many wonderful foods and drinks one can make with it, or with just the curds, or with just the whey, or with just the kefiran or kefiride. Those latter two will not be covered here in any detail as they are primarily for those who have become at least semi-experts!

I will give some very valuable links at the end2 for anyone wanting to explore anything I mention here in **greater detail from “the experts” themselves, or from the forums where there is a mix of experts and newbies. The newbies may be asking the same questions you may have.

+++Following is the basic recipe for the 1st culture:

About ¼ c. wet, live, traditional kefir grains should be placed in 1 ¼ c. milk , (whole and raw preferably cow, goat or other animal source; pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized is acceptable). The milk can range in temperature from fresh, warm to cold, refrigerated. It is preferable to use a glass container, (e.g., canning jar), as plastic can leach toxins or taste into the culture, and some ceramics may have lead in the glazing, crystal glass may also have lead in case you had any thoughts of a fancy appearing culture!! Cover the jar or bowl with a breathable filter, (such as a coffee filter rubber-banded down over top, or a clean cotton cloth over the top. Place the jar out of the way for 24 hours at room temperature.

Room temperature culturing is important to keep the grains or colony “balanced”! Every so often you ‎will hear advice that people ferment theirs in the refrigerator claiming success at that. I’ve done it on ‎occasion only as it does slow down the fermenting to a more acidy-taste stage. But, I’ve had it explained ‎that the reason it slows down is because of the way that the various temperatures it’s fermented at can ‎affect whether the yeasts or the bacterias predominate in the developing product. Some very learned ‎kefirites have claimed they’ve killed the “balance” so thoroughly that they could not again propagate ‎successfully with it. ‎

My experience one time was that it DID take a long time for it to recuperate and make good kefir milk ‎again. So, most of us will use the refrigeration for a more extended stay without attention, such as if ‎going away on vacation. Even that is controversial, as some say leave it in an extra amount of milk for the ‎week or two at room temperature. Either way, it is going to either semi-starve it or chill it “out of ‎balance”. ‎

The grains are “hearty” little critters or they would never have survived through the centuries prior to ‎refrigeration and sometimes out on the cold trail, and in somewhat less than model hygienic conditions the ‎way we’ve been trained to think of them. ‎

After 24 hours, either strain out the kefir milk, or if the grains are large enough, just spoon them out into a new glass jar ready for the next new culture. One just fills that jar with fresh milk on top of the grains. I have been using the latter method since my ‎grains are usually big enough to easily detect them floating near the top with the now-thickened kefirized ‎milk below. I don’t bother taking off any extra kefir milk clinging to the grains ..I just put them in the new ‎jar to do this procedure, thus starting a new batch.‎

2nd Ferment: Now, the thickened kefir milk from which you have removed the kefir grains is ready for your next decision-making as to what to do with it. The simplest thing you can do, (if you decide you like the pure taste of 48 hour fermented kefir milk), is to ‎just loosely seal the jar in which it still resides at the 24 hour stage, with a canning jar lid and set aside for ‎its 2nd 24 hours. IF, instead of plucking the grains out, you “strained” the kefir milk through a plastic ‎strainer, just place the kefir milk back into a jar to ferment, loosely seal it and set it aside for another 24 ‎hours. Either way works, plucking them out, or straining them out and then setting them for their 2nd 24 ‎hour ferment.‎

IF you decide you want to experiment with taste, (after the first 24 hours), just try it again later at 36 ‎hours, and/or, then later at 48 hours. Feel free to experiment to find your preferred taste. Be aware that ‎the 24 hour brew will not have as many beneficial nutrients, or be as predigested (ripened),as it would ‎be if you allow a full 48 hours, but that is certainly a matter of preference and trade-off. ‎

At any stage, some of the easiest ways to drink or eat it is this, (from simplest to slightly more complex ‎basic ways to enjoy kefir milk:‎

1) Place an amount of kefir milk in a glass container, (say, for instance ½ c.), sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and stevia or sugar, brown sugar or honey or maple syrup, etc. drizzled over it. If you don’t need the sweet taste, skip it.

2) Plan an amount of kefir milk in a glass container, (e.g., ½ c. ), add fresh or frozen strawberries, or other fruit preference or fruit glaze over the top … or even spoon a good jelly or jam over the top.

3) Place ½ c. kefir milk in a glass, add ½ c. V8 mixed veggie juice, stir, add spices if preferred and enjoy.

4) Put the ingredients of #3 in the blender, add a ½ stalk or 1 stalk of celery, and/or small carrot, possibly throw in a piece of pepper, some fresh basil leaf is delicious, … blend and enjoy
5) Next we can use separated kefir milk from the whey: If the kefir milk has separated into “curds” and “whey” in the second 48 hour ferment, you can strain it through a cotton cloth, ( which is approximately the type as a hanky might be), for easy straining .. place a funnel with the cloth inserted into the funnel, pour the jar into it and let it drip through, leaving a clear “kefir whey” at the bottom and retaining the curds in the cloth. The soft curds are what some people call “leban” or soft kefir cheese.
a. It may be used as you would cottage cheese, or yogurt, (using any of the ways from #1-4 above).
b. Mix it with your own variation of a spinach dip from dried spinach, onion and garlic or other spice powders (Dash, Season-all, etc.) for dips or spreads for sandwiches, or the packaged dry dip mixes or packaged salad dressing mixes if you do not yet trust your use of spices.
c. It can also be used as a dessert base with fruits and/or jellos. Let your imagination run wild.

** Dr. Oz had a recipe with Greek yogurt which we can handily substitute:**

½ c. kefir curd
1 banana
½ c. strawberries
Unsweetened coconut to taste desired
Ground flaxseed, to desired consistency (see my breakfast kefir also)
Matcha green tea powder, to taste (available health food stores)

Directions … arrange prettily in a dish blending the green tea & flaxseed first.
I would suggest here that you use the kefir and ground flaxseed this way: Take the thickened kefir curd as soon as it separates from the whey, place the ground flaxseed in it to ferment overnight together. This will serve to predigest the flaxseed and extract ALL its beneficial nutrients. Maca powder could be substituted here too, to add to energy and stamina properties.

d. Fermented breakfast: Pour 1 c. old-fashioned oatmeal in a large bowl. Now add ¼ C. to ½ c. of other grains, such as ground flaxseed, quinoia, ground wheat berries. You may add some chopped nuts. They will soften overnight so this is not much of a problem if you have dentures! Add dried fruit to your liking, such as raisins, cranberry, dried cherry, apricot, whatevers!! Now pour enough kefir milk over and through it so it is quite liquidy, probably at least ½” of milk standing on top to culture overnight or longer. You may add some cinnamon or pumpkin spice mix over the top. Cover with breathable cloth or coffee filter rubber-banded in place. In the morning remove amount you would like, add your preferred sweetening and enjoy. You may fix up an adequate amount to last a week or more, but I would keep the remaining in the refrigerator. It makes a very nutritious breakfast for a family on the go. Obviously you would adjust the volume!!

e. Uses for whey: The whey is very useful also in smoothies, in baked goods, as a skin conditioner or for pets or animals feed. It is an excellent protein drink and is milder tasting liquid than the ripened kefir. It will keep indefinitely on the kitchen cupboard. Or add some essential oil, (e.g. lavender) and use as a skin wash/conditioner for ph conditioning your skin. See also my link below.


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