The following 101, on propagating kefir grains and making both milk kefir and water kefir, comes from the good minds of several HOMEGROWN members and was compiled here with their permission. Much of the intro comes from, with notes from Rachel and Deb. And the water-kefir intel comes from Cynthia S., who shared her know-how specifically for this 101. Many, many thanks to you all for sharing the kefir love—and please keep the good ideas bubbling, along with those grains.
WHAT IS KEFIR AND WHY WOULD I TRY IT?
“Fermented foods were once a common and integral part of most cultures’ culinary history, ” Rachel writes. “From kimchi and miso to sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and yogurt, the cultivation of friendly bacteria long has kept large populations thriving. If you are like me and consider high-quality, traditional foods the best form of health insurance, think of fermented foods as keystone players in this science-based philosophy. Their balancing ability may be unseen by the naked eye, but like so many other friendly microscopic organisms, they keep our world breaking down, rebuilding, and harmonious.
“One of these magic little colonies of micro-organisms is called kefir grains. There are a few very exciting things about kefir. One: It contains a highly impressive list of microflora, essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the digestive tract. Two: The beverage has lineage leading back to the early shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains. Traditionally, milk containing kefir grains was placed in a skin bag and hung in a doorway to be knocked by through traffic, keeping the grains properly mixed. Lastly, the grains do all the work. It's easy. I have always enjoyed the tart quality of kefir but only until recently did I consider making it in-house.
“In passing, I learned that my friend Paul was quietly becoming a master of kefir making. He graciously offered to show me how it's done and to send me home with some of his grains. I was amazed by how easy the process is. After our short lesson and sampling a few different batches, I went away with a little bag filled with about two tablespoons of grains. The grains are actually a combination of bacteria and yeast suspended in lipids, proteins, and sugars. They look like fresh cheese curds and pack a serious punch when given food.”
Ready to try feeding your own kefir grains? Read on! We’ll address milk kefir first, followed by water kefir.
HOW TO MAKE WATER KEFIR
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
» Water kefir grains
» Unchlorinated water (not distilled)
» Brown or raw sugar
» Mason jars with lids and rings or swing-top bottles
» Plastic mesh strainer
» Plastic funnel
» Eggshells, cleaned
» Dried fruit, fresh fruit, extracts, fruit juices, or concentrates (optional)
WHAT TO DO
You can get kefir grains one of two ways. If you know folks who ferment their own water kefir, ask nicely if they'll share some when they have extra. Because kefir is a living thing, it reproduces, which means there will be extra to give away, to use in starting a second batch, or to dehydrate for the future. (I haven't tried this yet, but I plan on it.) If you are the first of your family and friends to ferment with water kefir, you'll need to buy some. Check Craigslist if you live in a larger city. I bought mine on Amazon. It cost $6.50, including shipping, which is not much at all, considering it can be used forever, barring any unforeseen catastrophes. Search for "water kefir grains" on Amazon or Craigslist; the only trick is to specify “water kefir” if you want to make water kefir. Just plain “kefir” could mean either milk kefir grains or water kefir grains. Milk and water kefir are different strains and will not thrive in each other’s environment. Cultures for Health is a great source with good reviews.