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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 Rachel; you can find her original post on kefir here. The bulk of the section on milk kefir comes from this post, by Cynthia R., 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.




“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.




» 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)



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.


When your water kefir arrives, you'll need to take care of it immediately. If it is dry, follow these steps to rehydrate it: Add your dehydrated water kefir grains to a sugar-water mixture of 4 to 5 tablespoons sugar dissolved in a quart of water. Allow the grains to rehydrate in the mixture for two days then drain and repeat. Do this again for a total of three changes over six days. At this point, the grains should be plump and smell like fermentation. Do not drink the water used for rehydrating the grains, as it is high in sugar, low in probiotics, and won’t taste great. If your kefir doesn’t need rehydrating, you can simply start fermenting. Your first few batches will be weaker, with less fizz, and may take a little longer to ferment, but they're still good to drink.


First, a note on the water. Don't use distilled water, as it lacks the nutrients water kefir needs to thrive. Spring water is fine to use. Chlorine will kill your grains, so don't use water straight from the tap. If you're using tap water, boil it uncovered for a few minutes, allowing the chlorine to evaporate. Turn off the burner and allow the water to cool completely. Water that's too hot will also kill your grains.


When it comes to sweeteners, you must use sugar. Water kefir grains feed on sugar, so nonsugar sweeteners will starve them. Many online sources say that honey will also hurt your kefir. The best kind of sugar to use is raw or brown. These sugars contain trace minerals that help keep your cultures healthy and strong. In a pinch, you can add white sugar for a batch or two, but it will make weaker kefir.


Place a tablespoon of sugar in the bottom of a mason jar. Add water to fill the jar about three-quarters full. Swish it around until the sugar dissolves. Add your kefir grains gently: about 3 tablespoons kefir grains per quart of water when fermenting for two days. Add a few pieces of clean eggshells. This will supply more minerals for your kefir. You don't have to add more eggshells with every batch—only occasionally, for a boost. Just leave the eggshells in the jar until they dissolve then add more.

Put the lid and ring on the jar but don't tighten it completely. You want it to be able to off-gas a bit so it doesn't explode. If the jar is air-tight, open and close the lid a couple times a day to burp it. Allow it to sit on the counter for two to three days. Sometimes you will see the kefir grains floating around. This is normal. You may also see bubbles if you move the jar.

After a couple of days, remove the lid and smell your kefir. It will smell slightly fermented but not boozy.


Prepare your water per the instructions above. When it has cooled, use your plastic strainer (metal can hurt the kefir, although some people use it without problems) to strain the fermented water into a clean mason jar or a swing-top bottle. Be careful not to drop the grains in, as they're nearly impossible to fish out without smashing. Keep the eggshell with the grains. Prepare the first jar with water and sugar as you did the first time then dump the grains back into the jar and ferment again.


If you'd like, you can drink this first batch of strained, fermented water. It will be flat and unflavored, not sweet, but not bad. If you'd like to make a soda alternative or simply want to jazz things up a bit, wait and drink the second batch of fermented water.


If you'd like a sweeter or fizzier drink, add between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of brown sugar per quart. If you want sweet kefir, taste it after a day. If you want it fizzy, allow it to sit for two days, burping air-tight containers twice a day. The bacteria will continue to feed on the sugar and produce carbon dioxide bubbles. The longer it ferments, the fizzier and less sweet it will get, so taste often in order to catch it at the perfect stage for you.


Once your kefir is as fizzy and as sweet as you want it, pop it in the refrigerator for a few hours to a day. It is extremely refreshing straight from the fridge on a sweltering day!


Now for the fun part. Without added flavoring, water kefir is simply fermented water. But add some flavoring, let it ferment a little while, and you have a drink that's similar to soda—natural, not-sickly-sweet soda that actually makes you healthier for drinking it. There are a lot of different ways to flavor your kefir, including some that are very quick and easy. If your first few batches aren't perfect, don't worry about it. It takes a few batches to figure out exactly how you like your kefir.


Extracts are the easiest imaginable way to flavor your kefir. Any type of flavor extract will work: vanilla, almond, root beer, orange, lemon. (You can make your own extracts using this 101.) Simply add the extract 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you reach your desired strength. If you want a soda-like beverage, add 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of sugar. I especially love cream soda; for each quart of water kefir, add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and ferment two days to let it get very fizzy.


Fruit juice concentrates aren't homemade, but they are a very easy way to experiment with flavored kefir. Just dilute the concentrate with kefir instead of water. As your concoction ferments, it will feed off the sugar in the concentrate. It won't be as sweet as regular juice but it will taste fantastic. My favorite flavors include apple, cherry, orange, and pineapple-orange. You can also use pure fruit juice to make a vitamin water type of beverage.


In the months when the garden isn't producing, you can use dehydrated fruit to flavor your kefir. (Learn how to dehydrate with this 101.) One important note: Don't use store-bought dehydrated fruit containing sulfites, as these can kill the kefir. I like to make a tart kefir by dropping in a small handful of dehydrated cranberries.

Dehydrated pineapple, mango, or kiwi are also great, and I've had good luck using dehydrated orange peels to make an orange soda. You'll need to add a fair amount of sweetening to counteract the bitterness of the peel; I use homemade orange syrup or brown sugar. (Make your own simple and flavored syrups with this 101.)


For an even better kefir supplement, try adding fruit at the peak of freshness. Just mash it up a bit and allow the kefir to ferment. I like strawberries, black raspberries, mulberries, peaches, and other soft fruits.


There you have it! Now you can make your own fizzy drinks for pennies while giving your digestive system a probiotic boost!


“Kefir grains are interesting in that they cannot be made in a lab as a culture,” Cynthia writes. “The only way to get more kefir grains is to keep some happy until they propagate. My grains came from Theresa, who got them from a friend, who got them from a friend in Missouri, and at some point those came from New York, and that’s as far back as I know. There’s something very cool having a culture with a lineage.” Now, how HOMEGROWN is that, that Rachel and Cynthia used the same language of linage? Pretty cool, eh?


“Why do I bother making it?” Cynthia asks. “To summarize, I drink it because it's like yogurt but tastier, it's fizzy, and it's really cool how these little cauliflower-like grains turn milk into something different.”



» 1 quart canning jar with ring and lid (washed in hot, soapy water; rinsed well; and air dried)

» about 2 Tbsp active milk kefir grains*

» 3 cups organic milk (raw cow or goat, or store-bought whole or low-fat homogenized but NOT ultrapasteurized; canned coconut milk without added sugar or preservatives is also OK)

» 1 small strainer that fits in the opening of your quart jar (some people avoid metal, but I’ve never had a problem with my strainer)

» 1 small bowl

» 1 long-handled spoon

* If you’ve never made kefir before and have just gotten your grains, you should soak soak them in cool, filtered, and very importantly unchlorinated water (chlorine kills things; you don’t want to kill your grains).


First of all, observe these new grains that you found on the Internet or were given by a friend. Take a whiff. It’s normal for them to smell slightly yeasty or kind of sour, like a good yogurt. (The longer the grains are cultured, the tangier they smell.) They shouldn’t smell bad, like rotten milk or, heaven forbid, rotten eggs. If you smell that, it means some bad bacteria got into the culture and contaminated the liquid the grains are in. Do not drink the liquid, but do not throw away the kefir grains. They can be rinsed and reused; more on that later. The more you get used to making kefir, the more you get a sense (and a smell) of what’s normal and what’s bad.

Got the smell? Good. Now clean a strainer, a bowl, and a quart jar. THOROUGHLY. Repeat. Next, place the strainer over the bowl and pour in the kefir grains and the liquid they’ve been stored in, nudging the grains with a spoon to get excess liquid out. Discard the liquid. Voila: Ready-to-use kefir grains. I know it’s tempting to touch them. They have a firm, rubbery, and slimy feel to them, but try to do this only once in a great while with very, very, VERY clean hands so you don't get germs on your grains. (They’re also very slippery and easy to drop down the kitchen sink; don't ask how I know this.)


Transfer the clean grains to your quart jar and add the fresh milk. The usual ratio of kefir grains to milk is anywhere from 1 to 3 tablespoons of grains to 1 quart of milk. More grains will culture the milk faster and thicker. I like that. Let the jar ferment on your kitchen counter for 12 to 48 hours. The length of time you leave it fermenting will determine its taste and consistency. At 12 hours, you’ll have a thinner, sweeter kefir; at 48, it will be thicker and sourer. A warmer room will speed up fermentation.


While the kefir is fermenting, the grains may float to the top. To keep things mixed up, you can gently swish the mixture in the jar a few times throughout the brewing process, maybe twice a day. No need to open the jar and stir.

When you’re ready to strain your kefir, place the strainer over a clean quart jar and slowly pour in the cultured kefir. It’s thick, so it’s easy to get a little backed up. Give it a few seconds to strain through. If needed, nudge the kefir in the strainer with a clean spoon, gently breaking up any large lumps. I find that gently tapping the strainer on top of the jar shakes the kefir through faster and knocks a good amount of the very probiotic curds through the strainer and into the kefir below.


As the strainer fills with grains, tip them into a clean bowl and voila: You have a jar full of freshly strained, ready-to-drink kefir, as well as a bowl of ready-to-reuse kefir grains for your next batch and one dirty jar that was the culture jar. We’ll come back to those latter two shortly. In the meantime, take that ready-to-drink kefir and either:


A)    drink it up or

B)    store it in the fridge with a clean lid. If you want it flat, leave the lid a bit loose. If you want fizzy, bubbly kefir, fill the jar three-quarters full and tighten the lid. That way, the CO2 gets trapped in the liquid, like soda. It’s really good! 


Your first batch of kefir will taste kind of like yogurt, with a slightly yeasty, tart tang. The long it cultures and the amount of grains in the milk will effect how strong or sour the kefir is. Don’t stress if your second batch doesn’t taste the same. Give it a bit of time. The grains might be adjusting to a new routing, a new kind of milk, switching from cow to goat milk, temperature fluctuations in your kitchen, etc.


So, back to that point where you have the jar full of freshly strained, ready-to-drink kefir, the bowl of kefir grains ready to use for your next batch, and the dirty jar that was the culture jar.


Don't wash that jar.

No, I'm not kidding. We're taking advantage of a little thing called continuous fermentation. That is, when mixed with the kefir grains and fresh milk, the kefir clinging to the sides of the jar will help jumpstart your next batch.


Before you dump in the grains and a fresh round of milk, wipe the inside jar rim and the thread of the outside rim with a paper towel moistened with hot water. If any icky bugs created by exposure to air are lurking, that’s where they’ll be. Put the lid on but don’t tighten it completely. (This is why I like to use two-piece lids and rings. I can leave the lid just a bit loose so that you don’t get too much pressure built up as the kefir cultures make CO2 and you don’t end up with an exploding jar.)


If the idea of reusing your culture jar freaks you out, go ahead and wash it out with hot, soapy water (paying special attention to the rim and thread); triple-rinse it; and make sure the jar is cool before dumping your kefir grains into it. Adding a spoonful of the just-strained kefir to your fresh milk will accomplish the same thing as leaving any kefir clinging to the jar. Both methods help the “new” culture thrive and lower the pH quickly, which lessens the chance of bad bacteria interfering. I usually only add kefir to fresh milk when the grains have been resting in the cold fridge for more than two weeks or I have a new batch of grains that may not be up to full power after the stress of shipping.


Now you’re back to where you started with batch number 1. Take the culturing jar of grains and milk and set them in a dark, warm place. (Remember, the warmer it is, the faster your kefir will culture.) The next morning I burp the jar by unscrewing the lid all the way to let out any trapped gas, tighten well, shake it gently, and loosen the lid again. Then I put my cultured kefir in the fridge for another day or two to let it slowly culture at a cooler temp for thicker, less sour kefir.

I've noticed there’s a slight color change to the milk as it cultures. In this photo from left to right: kefir grains with just-added milk, eight hours of culture time, and 12 hours of culture time.


If I just left the jars of culturing kefir or the strained kefir out at room temp alone undisturbed for 24 hours ( or less if its warm or theres alot of grains for the volume of milk) I get this:


The kefir basically cultured quickly, lowering the pH so the kefir literally seperated into curds and whey, like in cheesemaking. The whey can be clear, whitish or even slightly tinted yellow. Its still perfectly drinkable, just stir it with a spoon and it easily breaks up into a thick creamy consistency, but very tart. If you leave strained kefir out at room temp to this stage you can carefully pour out the whey and straining the solid curds in cheesecloth or butter muslin to make a soft kefir cheese! Just like making yogurt cheese, its very tasty with herbs on toast or crackers and keeps in the fridge for up to 2 weeks tightly covered.

Every couple of weeks, my kefir grains double in volume as they continue to grow. This is when I split my kefir grains into two batches of about 2 tablespoons each. I keep my extra grains in a jar of milk, resting in the fridge, while I culture the other half or give them away. I keep changing the milk every two weeks if I'm not using the kefir up. I just pour off what I want to drink then top off the jar with fresh milk. I haven't been drinking kefir as much as I used to but I like using it as a substitute for buttermilk when making pancakes or scones. (HOMEGROWN note: Listen to Cynthia’s advice! She has kept the same batch of grains alive for five years!)


If you hate the tartness of kefir, you can culture it entirely in the fridge. It will take anywhere from four to seven days at that temperature, but it seems to favor certain strains of yeast and bacteria that doesn't leave the kefir as strong and tart. After straining, you can mix the kefir in a glass with honey or another fruit syrup or in a smoothie for a very healthy pro-biotic drink.

I've only had one batch in the fridge go bad. That one had been resting for three weeks before I checked it and it smelled terrible, like sour milk, with a slightly green tinge to it. I had been on vacation and had forgotten to change the milk when I returned, so either the kefir got too acidic or a tiny bit of unwanted bacteria got a foothold and had enough time to develop.


I strained the kefir as usual, threw out the undrinkable liquid, and, using very clean hands in a bowl of cool, filtered, and unchlorinated water, gently washed and rubbed the grains to get all of the milk off of them. They were still slippery to the touch, which was a good sign. I changed the water about five times until it rinsed clear and I couldn’t rub any more milk or curds off, leaving the light yellow kefir grains totally clean looking.

Then I let the kefir grains sit in a jar of room-temp, filtered, unchlorinated water overnight. This is called purging or fasting the kefir grains. Try not to do this unless you have to, as it can damage the balance of organisms, and it will take the grains some time to recover to full strength. The next morning I strained off the water and placed the grains in a clean jar with about 2 tablespoons of fresh yogurt with active cultures and 1 tablespoon of fresh milk. The cultures in the yogurt will help reinoculate the kefir grains and kill off any unwanted bacteria. If you have multiple jars of kefir in your home, you can also soak your wounded grains in 1/4 cup of freshly strained active kefir. Let this mixture sit in the fridge for a day or so then strain the grains as usual and add fresh milk.


• Recommended reading prior to kefir making: The Kefir Lady

• And more good reading from Tammy's Recipes

• The Prairie Mom offers free grains; you pay shipping

• Passionate Homemaking has an instructional video on making coconut milk kefir

• Per Cynthia's and Deb's suggestion: Cultures for Health


Got a question about kefir or your own tip to add? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also be interested in 101s on kombucha, dehydrating, simple syrup and flavored syrups, homemade extracts, cultured butter, sauerkraut, sourdough starting, kimchi, fermented chili paste, and homemade Greek-style yogurt. You can always find more things to cook, preserve, make, craft, plant, grow, and ferment in the HOMEGROWN 101 Library.


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I'm going to open comments on the 101 so that y'all can add links that you recommend. I'll then integrate your feedback into the articles. Thank you for your participation!

Hi Cynthia, I've been making Kefir milk for only about two months now and enjoy drinking it plain. Thank you, some of your tips are most helpful. The lovely lady I got my grains from told me to use a coffee filter over the lid, held down with an elastic band while the Kefir was being made and that method has worked well for me also. When the Kefir was ready, I didn't have any lids for the screw caps so I used plastic wrap folded over a few times and that seems to work just fine. I am now taking a break from Kefir milk for the summer and my grains are drying as we speak. I was not able to find unbleached paper towel or parchment paper but did find paper towel that was chlorine free. I hope my grains will end up being okay. I also notice that when I reduced the amount of milk for the last three batches, some of the grains ended up somewhat flattened and pie-shaped. I hope they will be alright. Thank you Cynthia R. for your positive input regarding Kefir milk. I would like to also thank the other ladies and their contributions regarding this very special culture.

Barbara: What a kind comment! I know Cynthia R. has let her grains hang out in the fridge, so maybe she'll have some tips on letting them rest over the summer. Best of luck and keep us posted.

Hi Jennifer, I'm feeling anxious about the few grains left that haven't completely dried. The day after I had wrapped them in paper towel, I checked to see how they were doing. To my horror, a fruit fly took off when I opened up the paper towel. I immediately rinsed the grains in filtered water and after gently patting the excess water off, wrapped them again but this time I used several pieces of paper towel so that no fly could get in. This is the forth day and the flies have been kept at bay but a couple of grains have not completely dried and there is a distinct odor coming from them. Is this normal or is it because I have so many pieces of paper towel wrapped around them? I don't have many and I hope I can save what I have. 

I don't have any experience in drying grains with paper towels, I've only used my Excalibur dehydrator set to very low to dry the grains, which I then store in a jar of dry milk powder in the freezer.   I find it easier to just store the grains in a jar of milk towards the back of the fridge and change the milk once a month or so as it cultures very slowly in the cold.  I've kept grains on "pause" this way for months.  

I haven't tried dehydating my grains yet and I use water kefir grains, but here are my thoughts.

Where are you drying the grains? Are they in stagnant area, or does it get a bit of a breeze? I expect that any kind of breeze, from an open window or a fain, would help to dry them faster and prevent any mold from forming. Might also make the flies want to go away.

How strong is the smell? Is it really strong or faint? I'd be more alarmed at a strong putrid smell than at a faint fermented smell. Now that the weather is hot, my active grains have a stronger fermented smell. 

Do you have access to a dehydrator? If you don't have one, maybe try asking friends or calling any urban farm stores nearby (this is a long shot, but my local urban farm shop let's you rent them for something like $10 a weekend). From what I've researched online, most people use a dehydrator on the lowest possible setting. It might help wrap it up.

I'd say try changing out the paper towels more often and setting up a fan on low to try to speed things along. It also may be worthwhile to reactivate them and let them recover for a batch or two before trying again. If you have a large quantity of grains, maybe reactivate half and continue trying to get the other half dry. That way if they don't dry correctly, maybe you will still have the second batch viable.

Barbara Todd said:

Hi Jennifer, I'm feeling anxious about the few grains left that haven't completely dried. The day after I had wrapped them in paper towel, I checked to see how they were doing. To my horror, a fruit fly took off when I opened up the paper towel. I immediately rinsed the grains in filtered water and after gently patting the excess water off, wrapped them again but this time I used several pieces of paper towel so that no fly could get in. This is the forth day and the flies have been kept at bay but a couple of grains have not completely dried and there is a distinct odor coming from them. Is this normal or is it because I have so many pieces of paper towel wrapped around them? I don't have many and I hope I can save what I have. 

Hi Cynthia S. and Cynthia R.,
Thank you both for your input regarding my Kefir grains.
For the first day, until I saw the fruit fly, I had them in a small storage space adjacent to the kitchen. After that, I moved them (wrapped in lots of paper towel so no more fruit flies!) to an area near a ceiling fan. Since the smell seemed tolerable I let them completely dry, which took about five days and I did change the paper towel during that time. After that, I placed them in an envelope with dried milk powder, then put the envelope in a plastic bag and then popped them in the freezer. I plan to take them out around October when the weather will be cool and I hope they will reawaken for me. Other web sites I read before HOMEGROWN said not to leave the grains longer than two or three weeks in the fridge and to change the milk once a week. I have a very small amount and if they don't wake up, I hope the kind lady I got them from in the first place will not mind giving me more.

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