Friday, 24 July 2015

Water and milk kefir and how to make it

making water kefir

Water kefir
Fermentation is big nowadays. I've been banging on about it for at least five years, in particular the work of Sandor Ellix Katz also known as @sandorkraut from whose book 'Wild Fermentation' I learnt to make sauerkraut, my own vinegar and other fermented foods.

Fermentation is good for you. 

Bread made with a sourdough mother is easier on the digestion than one made with industrial yeast, possessing the added bonus of tasting delicious. Wine made naturally with a fermentation method, championed by Natural wine expert Isabelle Legeron has less sulphites, meaning you won't get a hangover. Sauerkraut, raw sauerkraut, chopped, punched down and naturally fermented is a health aid as made by Cultured Probiotics. Kimchi is another fermented product, beloved of Koreans. Here is a recipe for Kimchi. 
In the past fermentation was a way of preserving fresh foods to last through the the winter: pickles, cheese, coffee, chocolate, tea, tomato paste, are all fermented foods. They are fermented using a process called lactic acid, a culture that slows down rotting, transforming sugars into an easily digestible sour. I like sour foods: think of the sourness of yoghurt, some fruits, of alcohol, bread and pickles. Sour is an adult flavour but kids also like sour, see the trend for sour sweets.
Turkey, Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, Russia, Iran all use sour flavours and pickles in their cuisines. Kefir is also international: think of the differing cuisines that use yoghurt dips, soups and drinks.

There are different types of kefir: water kefir and milk kefir.  The grains look a bit like white cauliflower: after buying (or getting some grains from a friend) a starter pack you can grow your own, they proliferate by themselves. Water kefir lives on sugar and minerals.

Things that kefir is good for:

  • Candida and Thrush
  • Restoring gut bacteria after taking antibiotics
  • Inflammation (most disease has its origin in inflammation)
  • Cancer (my dad has recently suffered bladder cancer & a vegan diet plus kefir means he has been given the all clear)
  • Autism (there is evidence that autism stems from gut bacteria. I attended a talk in which the woman from Cultured Probiotics, who has two autistic children, enabled them to achieve high functioning because of daily doses of kraut water/sauerkraut)
  • Vegans/vegetarians: kefir contains B vitamins
  • It is also refreshing and delicious.

Citrus water kefir recipe

Makes 1 litre


2 x 1 litre clean Mason or Ball jars with a loose fitting lid, coffee filter paper or cheesecloth over the top, secured with an elastic band

A nylon strainer (not metal)

Use organic sugar for this, white sugar gives a sweeter kefir which is less bubbly. Do not use honey, it contains anti-bacterials. Use chlorine free water (filtered or mineral).

3 tbsps of sugar

250ml hot water
Half/quarter of a lemon/grapefruit/orange/lime

In a Mason or Ball jar put the sugar and 250ml of hot water. Allow the sugar to melt. Then add:

750ml of filtered water.

Make sure the water is now cool or at the most luke warm (hot water kills yeast cultures) and add:

3 tbsps of water kefir grains also available here.

Cover the jar to prevent insects getting in.

Allow to ferment at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours. The hotter the room temperature, the quicker it will ferment. Stop the fermentation when it tastes good to you. If starting off, it may take a couple of batches for the kefir to fully activate.
Then, using the nylon strainer, strain out the kefir grains and throw away the citrus. Place the kefir grains into the other litre Mason or Ball jar and start again. This way you have a continual supply of water kefir. You can use this recipe to make coconut water kefir but replacing the water with coconut water and not using the citrus.

The second fermentation

To make a really fizzy drink you need to do a second fermentation. At this point you can add other ingredients, including alcohol. You can use other fruit, green tea, dates, juniper, ginger, vanilla or lemon (which is lovely with gin, giving a gin and tonic flavour). The secondary fermentation  is a great summer replacement for sugary fizzy drinks/sodas.
Use fliptop bottles and keep in the fridge to slow down fermentation.

Per 75cl bottle:

Add 1 tbsp of sugar and fill the bottle, leaving a 1.5 inch (3-5 cm gap) at the top, with the strained water kefir.

Seal and keep in the fridge. After a couple of days it will be fizzy pop!

What to do with the strained water kefir grains:

  • Start a new batch of kefir straight away or
  • Keep them in sugar water where they will multiply: 50g sugar to 1 litre of water
  • Then keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Change the sugar water before using them again.
  • To keep them for longer periods, rinse them then lay the grains out to dry on paper and dehydrate them in a dehydrator or in the sun. 
  • You can freeze the grains
  • Eat them in a smoothie
  • If you only want to make kefir occasionally then use kefir powder.
  • If kefir grains are well kept, they will last indefinitely.
water kefir grains

Milk kefir recipe

This time we are using milk kefir grains. Recently I've been ordering a weekly bottle of kefir from Riverford Organics which comes in my vegetable box. Once I've drunk the kefir, I top the bottle up with milk, leave it for a few hours at room temperature and I have a second batch! However this is a recipe on how to make your own dairy kefir from scratch. It's even easier than the water kefir.

Makes up to a litre but I'm assuming you want to start with smaller quantities like 250ml


2 x clean 250ml to a litre Mason or Ball jars

1 nylon strainer
A wooden/rubber/plastic spoon or spatula
Coffee filter/tightly woven cheesecloth/loose fitting lid
Rubber band

2 tsps of milk kefir grains 

250ml to 1 litre of whole organic cow or goat milk.

1) Place the kefir grains into the clean litre jar. Fill up the jar with the milk. Cover the jar with the coffee filter/cheesecloth/loose fitting and put the rubber band on, if appropriate, to retain the cover. Leave for 24-48 hours at room temperature at which point the milk will have thickened into a buttermilk or drinking yoghurt texture. This can be used over cereal or porridge, on its own, in baking. Do not heat milk kefir. If you let the kefir ferment for longer it will separate into curds and whey. You can use the curds as kefir cheese or stir it back together again. The longer it is fermented the stronger the taste.

2) Strain out the milk kefir grains using the sieve into another clean jar and start the process again.

3) You can push the kefir liquid through the strainer by using a non metal spoon or spatula.

These dairy kefir grains can be used to make soy/almond/nut milk kefir but without the milk proteins, the dairy kefir 'grains' soon die if not returned regularly to milk to be fed and to grow.


  1. Please do not perpetuate the myth that diet cures cancer,if it did there would have been a cure long ago. I am of course pleased that your Dad is in remission but I bet he had other treatment rather than just eating vegan and fermented food. Ditto, autism. Read Ben Goldacre on Bad Science and Cancer research Obviously eating a healthy diet is important but this pseudo scientific hippy nonsense is exactly that.

  2. Hi Jo,
    Thanks for your comment. I never said that diet cures cancer, but certainly it helps. Same with autism. I think the gut and it's microbes are not yet fully understood scientifically but work is being done on that. There was a recent article in the independent that says a study is looking at how obese people have different gut bacteria to slim people. I personally think Ben Goldacre, who I have met and talked to, is appallingly biased and narrow minded about science. I find the skeptic crowd, Goldacre, Simon Singh et al, backed by The Guardian, extremely dangerous. They don't know everything. Science doesn't know everything. But a truly creative scientist is open minded. I've had rows with Simon Singh regarding homeopathy and alternative treatment. Homeopathy works, particularly on children and animals and in the future there will be science that shows why. Quantum physics will show the way no doubt. This hostile attitude by skeptics towards religion and anything that cannot be seen is unhelpful (I'm not religious but I feel that atheism has become almost a religion in itself).
    Anyway there is more about diet and nutrition to be discovered and developing healthy gut bacteria is definitely the way forward.


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