Centuries old cultured milk beverage from Russia

Kefir Kefir, traditionally pronounced ke-feer’, but spoken as kee’-fer in the West, is a many-centuries-old cultured milk beverage from Northern Russia. Kefir is a fermented milk drink prepared with kefir grains (see the spoon in the picture).

Flavored kefir drinks, mostly, have found their way to market in the USA because North American consumers have not scored unflavored kefir high in sensory evaluations — it has a tart, somewhat "yeasty" taste with a mouthfeel described as "prickly" or "sparkling" due to the liberation of the carbon dioxide gas (CO2) as the culturing progresses. The addition of fruit or other sources of sugars, however, may cause unwanted fermentation by yeasts used in commercial packaging for shelf-life — but adding taste enhancers to your own home-brew makes for delicious and nutritious smoothies, snacks, and desserts that scientific research is confirming are supremely health-giving.

An assortment of some 40 compounds contribute to the unique tang and slight effervescence of this simple-to-make beverage: a fermentation process old as time itself denatures the milk protein, resulting in smaller protein pieces that are more susceptible to break-down by the stomach’s gastric juices. In simple terms — it’s so easy to digest that even those with milk allergies often find they can take advantage of all kefir has to offer.

The list of serious conditions that recent research has indicated can be helped by drinking kefir is impressive. The Canadian publication The Handbook of Fermented Foods edited by Edward A. Farnsworth provides a comprehensive digest, meticulously footnoted, on the effect fermented foods have on human health — the latest facts from Japanese and European scientific in vivo (in human bodies) studies over the last decade.

  • Provides digestibility of milk-based products
  • Produces it own antibiotics, eliminates unfriendly bacteria
  • Rebalances the intestinal flora and stomach acid to heal ulcers
  • Regulates metabolism through improved digestion to benefit the colon.
  • Leads to good heart action, blood circulation and blood pressure.
  • Reduces serum cholesterol levels only IF they are too high for safety.
  • Regulates bile and improves the liver/gall bladder to help fight hepatitis
  • Acts on the immune system and so improves resistance to disease
  • Produces anti-cancer compounds and prevents metastasis (spread)
  • Allows eczema, acne and skin disorders to fade away
  • Reduces anxiety and depression; increases energy and joy in living.
  • Produces every vitamin and bacteria needed for healthy daily living.

Authentic Kefir

Authentic kefir can only be prepared by the culturing with kefir "grains" of fresh milk from any of several species of ruminant mammals (cows, goats, sheep, horses, and water buffalo being the most commonly used). The healthy bio-matrix (or, active molecules) in kefir is created through the symbiotic relationship between a complex mixture of specific lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) and beneficial yeasts as they literally eat the lactose sugars in milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It is said that kefir has been such a well-kept secret for centuries because, according to legend, Mohammad, whose gift it was, strictly forbade the secret of kefir preparation to be given outside the faith. In the beginning, it was made in skin bags hanging near the door. Milk was poured in periodically, and everyone gave the bag a swing for good fortune as they entered; this ensured thorough mixing. Kumys, kefir made from mares’ milk, was consumed as food and as an alcoholic drink (2-3%) some 25 centuries ago and was mentioned by Marco Polo in Asia as being a pleasant milk drink.

How to make kefir

Because it cultures (ferments) at warm room temperature — unlike yogurt — traditional kefir is one of the easiest of cultured milk products to make at home IF you can find some of the soft, white gelatinous "grains" to begin. Folks like to share them; it’s easy because they GROW when they are happy. A supply of fresh, preferably unprocessed, milk keeps kefir grains fruitful and multiplying, and it is good to remove some from the batch periodically to maintain a constant culture-to-medium (grains-to-milk) ratio. About 1 teaspoon (9 grams) is all you need to make a quart (1 liter) of this drink. It tastes like buttermilk but has been made way more nutritious by protein hydrolysis (culturing).

Through the magic action of the lactobacillus making it ever more tasty, kefir keeps without refrigeration and is a premium road food and beverage all in one package. I like it with a generous sprinkle of Himalayan Pink Crystal salt and a drop of Black Pepper Oil.

Lynn’s Kefir Method

One quart is enough for two adults every day. It will take about a day and a half to make each batch. I stagger two batches going at once; it takes very little time or expertise.

Lynn’s Kefir Recipe

Tools you’ll need
  • 3 wide-mouth quart jars with lids
  • wooden slotted spoon or fork
  • wire whisk to fit inside jar
  • plastic strainer
  Whole, organic, farm-fresh milk
1 tsp per quart kefir grains
  1. Place the kefir grains in bottom of very clean jar and fill to shoulders with milk. Screw on lid and place in a paper bag in a very warm, cozy place (as close to 70°F as possible) in your kitchen. If you will have two quarts going, label the paper bag for 24 hours hence.
  2. After 24 hours at as close to 70°F as possible, it should be a soft, delicate solid with liquid separated slightly when the jar is tipped.
  3. Place jar and bag in a cool, dark place to "cure" for 8-10 hours around 50*F. This stops the yeasts’ action and accentuates the LAB activity lending a smooth, tart flavor with maximum nutritional value. If desired, start another quart of grains in milk and label for 24 hours hence.
  4. Gently shake the first jar — some of the cream may have risen to the top. Remove lid and twirl whisk between palms in the kefir to make very smooth. Use wood utensil to scoop out kefir grains; this is easier as they grow bigger.
  5. Place grains in clean jar, cover and set aside. Use strainer over the remaining clean jar and pour kefir through, screw lid on tightly and refrigerate or drink.
  6. Turn whatever tiny kefir grains that remain in strainer into the jar with the kefir grains, fill with milk and repeat the process.

To learn more about kefir, see this Australian website. One of my own kefir strains comes to me from down under. http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage

Contributing Author Lynn Cameron owns the AromaVital.com website and has conducted her own research into the complementary health field since the early seventies.

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30 Comments for "Kefir — history, information and a kefir recipe"

  1. Bryan - oz4caster

    I drink kefir every day. I prefer to let is separate for a more tart flavor. I like it plain, with nothing else added, although I usually run it gently in the blender for a nice smooth texture. I have found that when on rare occasions I get indigestion, drinking a little bit of kefir immediately sooths my stomach and stops the indigestion.

  2. elwi

    I drink kefir daily every morning for few months now. First I tried to make it from milk powder and it tasted so awful, then I used pasteurizes fresh milk, and it taste fine. I had some acne on my face before, I dunno if this is because of kefir, they just cleared up, leaving my skin smooth and soft.

  3. Diane Vigil

    Bryan, sorry I missed your comment. I’d never thought of blending it — what a great idea!

    Elwi, glad the kefir seems to have helped.

  4. Anita

    Don’t blend your kefir. You lose some nutrients by this processing. Plus, it’s not necessary; it tastes smooth & thick just as it is.

  5. Lynn Cameron

    I’ve been feeding to my family for 3 years kefir made from farm-fresh milk cultured with kefir grains I have from Australia. The little beasties must be ecstatically happy because they have proliferated very well! I don’t have any idea how old their parent stock is, but have heard that true kefir culture has never been able to be processed/powdered to full potency for mass production. I make a quart of it every other day for 2 of us.

    After about a day and a night of culturing in a wide-mouth glass qt. jar placed in a dark, warm place, the liquid is just starting to become softly solid. It is mild flavored and very creamy at this point. If I leave it another 12 hrs. or so, it separates into curds and whey and becomes more tart and, ironically, less creamy. If I leave it for another 12 hrs. (all times are approximate and depend on several factors of temperature and milk quality) I get true curds and can place the jar contents in cheesecloth to make kefir cheese. I save the whey for culturing all kinds of things and for adding to my pets’ food; the kefir cheese can be used as store-bought cream cheese would be used to much greater health advantage. It keeps for a long time in the fridge.

    My uses revolve mainly around morning smoothies mixed half and half with raw milk, a glass of it for afternoon snack and sometimes a wine-glass of it with supper.

    While it is true that whirring in a blender incorporates air and light that would somewhat diminish the food value, it seems a small price to pay for utilizing it for sustenance in a fortified morning beverage/meal. More importantly, before separating the grains from the beverage, is to place the jar into the fridge directly from the culturing cupboard for a cool-down period of a few hours; this allows the yeast cultures which make kefir distinctly different from yogurt to be neutralized. You may notice it will taste less yeasty and smoother. Then I whisk it right in the jar (the grains love this) and strain it into another one for storage. The grains go into a clean jar with milk and back into the culturing cupboard.

    I know this may sound complicated and time-consuming, but once the daily routine is established, it becomes simple and takes just a few moments of time for enormous health returns.

    Keep on kefiring,

  6. Dy


    What a wonderful resource you’ve put together, here. Thank you, for taking the time to share your knowledge.

    We’ve just begun our kefir adventure. The children love the water kefir, so that’s been a good experience. Now, I am turning to the milk cultures, and that’s proving a bit more involved. (Why does the learning curve seem to much steeper, the older I get?) ;-) The information you’ve provided, here, helped tremendously.

    There are seven of us, and I’m not clear on just how much kefir I should be aiming for – not just for production, but overall daily incorporation into our diet. If you have any thoughts to share on that topic, they’d be much appreciated by this member of the Peanut Gallery.

    OK, I’m off to peruse the rest of your site for information! Thanks, again, so much.

  7. Diane Vigil

    Glad you found Lynn’s Kefir recipe helpful, Dy. I seem to recall Lynn mentioning drinking it a few times a day, but perhaps she can weigh in here.

  8. Lynn Cameron

    Dy and Diane,

    Sorry to be so tardy in replying but I’ve been out of the US of A into the countryside of the REAL kefir drinkers. Yes, Greek yogurt, the real homemade stuff, is better and more satisfying than ice cream, creme fraiche, sour cream and whipped cream all rolled into one. It keeps amazingly well with very minimum refrigeration, too.

    I’ve just made my first batch of kefir since getting home a day ago. I made it from kefir grains I’d kept in fresh milk in the fridge and summer milk I had put by in the freezer and labeled “milk for kefir” because I’d skimmed off the top milk before freezing. It’s perfectly passable & I’m thrilled to have it, but I’m looking forward to my next fresh milk club delivery Dec. 3rd so I can make both yogurt and kefir from whole milk again.

    For 3 adults, I place 2 wide-mouth qt. jars filled with milk to shoulders and grains into a cooler in a warm place for 24-36 hrs. Every time I decant them, I replace them with fresh milk. This keeps us in all the kefir we wish to drink – a couple times daily. Often we’ll have a wine glass of it with our evening meal sprinkled with a little pink salt. Some like it first thing in the morning; some just before bed (probiotic beasties do their best work during the night); some when just in hot from the field when salt is particularly tasty.

    Kefir is the easiest to make. When you branch out into yogurt, it can be a little trickier. I recommend finding a yogurt maker and buying some powdered culture to start. The longer you keep your yogurt milk at scald temp, the more firm will be your finished yogurt.

    Good luck, Dy – and remember that over-kefired kefir that has defined kurds makes the most delicious cream cheese ever with the whey left over to culture veggies and make sourdough breads.
    Discard nothing of this white gold – if humans choose not to consume it, feed it to your animals or put into the garden compost.


  9. Ashley

    I was first introduced to kefir by my aunt, Lynn Cameron, and over the past year I have come to love it. In addition to the many health benefits I find myself craving it at certain times through out the day. I have recently been hired as a crew member on a very large private yacht and really miss having my raw milk kefir. I can\’t help but think of the potential to turn the custom kitchen on this boat into a culture friendly yacht galley. How easy it would be for a like minded owner to create a temperature regulated \"incubator\" for kefir and other cultured products. It could be built right into the galley like the expresso machine and probably be just as easy. I hope someday people will be educated enough about the benefits of cultured food that it will be as common place as your morning cup of coffee.

  10. Diane Vigil

    Ah, the famous niece! Welcome to We Want Organic Food.

    Thanks for giving your input regarding kefir. I find myself craving certain things (raw milk, for instance) and can understand how kefir might be one of those things.

    Good luck on your stint on the yacht. That sounds heavenly … and I hope you’re able to set up the kitchen as you wish.

  11. nick

    I have keifer stored in a mason jar in refrigerator for about 6 months have not have separated grains is it still good to use HELP

  12. Diane Vigil

    Hi, Nick. You didn’t mention whether you’d looked at it. Does it still look okay?

  13. Lynn Cameron

    Hi Nick,

    Whether your kefir is still good depends upon a couple factors.
    1. The quality of the milk it has been stored in. Clean, organic milk (http://wewantorganicfood.com/2008/01/26/key-to-safe-raw-milk-from-cows/) from grass-fed cows that has not been pasteurized (http://wewantorganicfood.com/2008/01/26/pasteurizing-milk-destroys-essential-nutrients/ ) would have given the culture its best chance.
    2. The grains, after half a year, may have run out of food – lactose (milk sugar).
    3. Its color should be completely white with no other odor but the clean, tart aroma of buttermilk or yogurt. There may be a faint yeast bread smell but the long refrigeration should have deactivated the yeast. Pink or green is NOT good and happens with truly spoiled dairy that has been heated to high temperatures.
    4. Because it has cultured so long, the taste will probably be extremely tart; good for cooking or pet supplement. Lately, I’ve been making kefir cream cheese by letting it culture a long time to get the curds really separate from the liquid whey before dripping it through cheesecloth. If I do not want to drink the kefir or make cheese, I find other ways to use it. As a last resort, the compost pile. Never waste it down the drain unless it was a pasteurized dairy product – in my opinion already spoiled by processing.

    Try to make more; remove or strain the kefir grains from the B-vitamin rich whey liquid and place them in a glass container with sweet farm-fresh milk – about 2 Tbls. per qt. Give them 2-4 days in a dark, cozy place and transfer to the refrigerator for a day or overnight as soon as you have tipped the jar and seen a soft jello-like consistency. If no soft curds form, the wee beasties have expired, and you’ll need to obtain fresh kefir grains with vitality.

    Good luck! I hope this helps.

  14. Ed Kreisel

    I was recently introduced to Kefir through my son who got it from a homopathic Dr. I don’t know where she got it from but I do appreciate it. I am 88 yrs old and grew up on a farm in Md. I’m not sure how it came to be in our family but we knew it as buttermilk and smearcase or maybe clabber. As a kid we ate it regularly since we had several cows and lots of milk, fresh as well as sour. I have always liked the taste and texture of buttermilk although store bought stuff doesn’t really do it for me. I recently started making kefir and it is delicious. Today I am going out to try to find some wide mouthed quart jars, maybe 3 or 4 so I’ll always have supply on hand.
    Enough for now
    Thanks for everything

  15. Lynn Cameron

    Hello Ed,

    You’ll never be sorry to have rediscovered cultured milk products and this almost magical beverage, kefir. It’s actually beyond buttermilk not only in the hugely increased amount of active LAB cultures but also because of what happens upon ‘ripening’ . The end of the room temp. culturing process is a period when the lactobacillus (LAB) has consumed all its food (milk sugar-lactose) and the yeastie beasties spring into action making lots of B Vitamins before they, too, expire.

    This is accomplished by cooling down the curds right from the culturing station with the kefir grains still within the jar. Anywhere from a few hours to 24 later, one can then whisk the soft white curd thoroughly, strain it and then make more kefir with the grains & milk in another wide-mouth jar. I even use the same jar w/o washing – it doesn’t seem to affect the taste at all. Making a new batch is a breeze.

    While watching The Story of the Weeping Camel documentary awhile ago, I noticed them passing around a cup dipped from a communal container. The tribesfolk did this often and certainly whenever anyone arrived into their yurt(tent). I’m fairly certain that this drink was kefir made from camel’s milk. All ages consumed it with gusto but only one swig each at a time. It certainly seemed to be the ‘guest cup’.

    I was inspired to pour my own—what I thought was finished Kefir—into a ceramic pitcher to be left on my counter for my own ‘swigs’ throughout the day. What I discovered is almost a completely different beverage!

    It becomes effervescent just as I’d heard it described on Dom’s Australian Kefir site (http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html) and thinner more like true buttermilk than thick storebought. I think that I may have been consuming ‘green’ kefir these past few years, and it has given slight tummy upsets on occasions. So, I’ve started ‘ripening’ my brew for a further day on my counter at room temperature.

    Try a wineglass full with a meal sometime – it may enhance the flavor of each item of your meal as it does mine.

  16. Faseeh

    Kefir, Russian milk based drink , i am looking for this product to buy

  17. Brian & Kim

    I will ask this question just to be sure: unpastureised milk is the best future to make quality kefir with? I have made yogurt and used pasteurized store bought milk and, it turned our wonderfully. I now want to make high quality kefir but just need to work out my process questions.
    Has anyone run into problems utilizing unpastureised milk as a result of “bad” bugs within?

  18. Diane Vigil

    This may sound a little odd, as I’ve been such a proponent of raw milk (unpasteurized milk) in the past … however, I’d say that it’s important to ensure that any raw milk you obtain has been dealt with in a clean manner. That is, it’s not just a matter of getting raw milk, or assuming that all unpasteurized milk is the same.

    I was chatting with a rancher friend one day who commented, “I would never buy raw milk.” My response was that that was a convenient statement to make (or something like that) since she already had a dairy cow! Her point, I learned then, was that that was precisely why she could utilize the milk from the cow — because she knew exactly how it was dealt with!

    You might find Organic Pastures’ FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) illuminating:

  19. Lynn Cameron

    Hi Brian and Kim,

    Yogurt is made from one or several strains of lactobacilli alone. Variations in taste occur due to the ‘strain’ of bacteria used in the culture. To preserve the purity of the particular strain and the taste preferred, the milk is heated to deactivate the natural lactobacilli in the milk as it comes from the cow so they won’t compete with the particular culture being used. It is then cultured at a very warm temperature as is achieved nicely with various yogurt makers available.

    Kefir, on the other hand, is a more complex process that starts with lactobacillus and progresses through and beyond with a yeast fermentation in it’s ‘ripening’ phase in the ‘fridge. Kefir, apparently unaffected by competing strains, cultures at room temperature, and so is uniquely suited to the use of unpasteurized dairy which retains many, many attributes of uncooked, non-processed food. Lactobacillus is very heat sensitive and is in ALL foods from healthy soil. For this reason, you get all the nutrition in a ‘raw’ food as well as the beneficial action of the kefir culture along.

    Kefir will culture in cooked milk (pasteurized)just as a body can ‘live’ on processed foods — for awhile. Eventually, it will die, though, because its health suffers because just the milk sugar(lactose) is not enough for it to thrive over time.

    Diane is right about knowing your farmer and the condition of his cows. I mention also, that raw milk is unhomogenized — a very important health feature because homogenized milk has very tiny fat molecules that have been brutally fractured and, therefore, not recognized by the body as a fat. This presents problems for the body to know what to do with it and an extra load on the liver.

    FYI: Homogenization of milk preceded pasteurization and came about in early 1900’s as farmers attempted to mask the taste of the ‘pasture’ in summer milk. Originally called “aerated milk”, it was homogenizing that necessitated pasteurization. Freshness became a problem due to the introduction of oxygen as fresh milk was blown through fine mesh screens and thus hastening the ‘souring’ process.

  20. Ginger

    My Dr, just told me to drink Russian Kefir- I had never heard of it. I went to the health store I can’t even find Russian kefir regular Kefir yes, what is the difference? What are russian grains- where do I get them/ maybe I have them? How much do I need a day?

  21. Diane Vigil

    I would guess that, if your doctor advised you to drink Russian kefir, you might want to ask him how much you need, etc. (I wouldn’t want to counter his/her advice.)

    Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article about Kefir, which also discusses Russian kefir: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kefir

    As to where to get it, I’d suggest reading the article, and the using Google or another search engine to find it, or the ingredients, in your area (or a website where you might be able to buy them).

    If that doesn’t work … ask your doctor?

  22. Lynn Cameron

    Hi Ginger,

    Kefir comes from Asia. You are fortunate to have such an aware doctor; perhaps he/she was being specific to further define the beverage for you. Regular kefir is the same as Russian kefir, as far as I know.

    The definitive authority, globally, for all things kefir is Dom in Australia:

    For an organization in your area that may be able to help you acquire some kefir grains, see:

    Good luck, and keep wwof informed here how you make out.

  23. Christi

    I have made Russian kefir and it is grainless kefir. You use a portion of the produced thick milk to make your next batch. It thickens in a jar overnight on the counter just like grain kefir but without the straining. Someone sells it on ebay as Russian kefir. I am told it is NOT yogurt.

  24. Lynn Cameron


    Thank you very much for this clarification. I am heartened by the continuance of this thread on WWOF after so many years. I’m going to research Russian Kefir.

    I DO know that my own kefir made from grains will jump start the culturing process I like to use 12 hrs. prior to cooking grains – neutralizes the phytic acid that so many folks have bad reactions to. So there’s something definitely in the strained liquid that still has oomph toward a culturing process of their own. I must admit that I have never tried to culture a new kefir batch from some of the previous one; I just followed what I learned about using the ‘grains’.


  25. Sarah Jane


    Was just wondering what folks thought of water Kefir. Are there still good benefits? I am unable to consume dairy.

    Thank you.

    Sarah Jane

  26. Lynn Cameron

    Hi Sarah Jane,

    I have never made water kefir, but gratefully consume the delicious grape beverage made by my fellow Weston Price chapter leader at our monthly meetings here in the mountains.

    In his book, Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz explains that virtually any fruit or vegetable juice, including nut milks, can be fermented with kefir grains although the grains won’t reproduce as rapidly as they do in milk. Be prepared for the kefir grains to take on the color of intensely hued juices like grape!

    http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/bodacious-beverages/pdf is a treasure trove of info and tells how to make water kefir plus a whole lot else on this topic of lacto-fermented beverages – many of them are non-dairy.

    While carbonated sodas are exceedingly easy to make, they require water kefir grains (also called sugar kefir grains), which are gelatinous communities of yeast and bacteria. Dairy kefir grains can be converted into water kefir grains, but check with your local WAPF chapter(http://www.westonaprice.org/local-chapters/find-local-chapter) to see whether anyone has water kefir grains to spare; they self-replicate rapidly.

    Happy culturing,

  27. Sarah Jane

    Hello Lynn,

    Wow! Thank you so much for the information! This is all new to me & very exciting. I hope this thread lives on…

    Again, thank you!

    Sarah Jane

  28. Lynn Cameron

    Sarah Jane,

    I am so pleased to have been of help. Please keep us informed here of your progress with culturing.

    It’s a very ancient process, and we’re in good company.

  29. H. A. D.

    You mentioned that only one of your strains comes from Dom and Sandra. Is there difference with other strains?

    Do you have any tips on getting raw milk in Canada?



  30. Christi

    I wanted to add about the grainless Russian kefir that while I have heard of making more kefir (the grain stuff) from store bought, supposedly it will only work a few times before you must purchase another…unless maybe it wasn’t strained well and there are tiny grains in there that get big enough to keep going. I have had my grainless Russian kefir going for 7 years with numerous batches being made from it and shared with many friends who also have had it reproducing for years. It separates like the grained kefir and gets extremely thick. I make cream cheese. Honestly, I don’t know anything about clabbered milk and sometimes wonder if this isn’t simply that. I enjoy the taste and it makes really tasty ranch dressing. I wondered at responding to older threads but I had come searching years after the initial thread and thought others would too.

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