What Is Kefir? (and How to Make It at Home)


Jill Chen/Stocksy

Kefir: It looks like milk but tastes like yogurt. So what is it? If you’re already familiar with kombucha tea, you can think of kefir as being kombucha’s farm-raised cousin. Just as kombucha is made by fermenting tea with yeast and bacteria, kefir is made by fermenting milk in roughly the same way. In other words, it’s like yogurt that you can drink from a bottle or glass.

Kefir has become extremely popular among health enthusiasts, largely because of its probiotic benefits. Granted, it’s a bit of an acquired taste for some. Its creamy texture and slight sourness can be overwhelming to the uninitiated, but once you get past the unfamiliar flavor and texture, it can become quite addictive. You can purchase ready-made kefir or you brew up your own batches at home. Read on to see how it’s made, along with a closer look at its health benefits.

How Is Kefir Made?

Kefir is commonly made with traditional dairy milk, but it can also be made with rice milk, soy milk, or coconut milk. The milk is cultured and fermented using starter grains that consist of bacteria, milk, proteins, and yeast. These kefir grains resemble white clumps of cauliflower and can be purchased in health food stores and online.

To make kefir at home:

Add one teaspoon of active kefir grains to a cup of milk (dairy or otherwise) in a jar.

Cover the jar and seal it with a rubber band.

Store the jar at room temperature (away from direct sunlight) for at least 12 hours—preferably 24 to 48 hours.

Use a small strainer to remove the grains from the jar, and then transfer them to your next batch. Your kefir is ready to drink.

Is Kefir Healthy?

One of the cool things about kefir is that it’s usually suited for people who are lactose intolerant. Although it’s commonly made with dairy milk, it’s less likely to interfere with the digestion of lactose-intolerant individuals because the milk is fermented. The yeast and bacteria produce an enzyme known as lactase, which consumes most of the lactose in the milk.

The main benefit of kefir is its ability to aid digestion, thanks to its many probiotics. When consumed regularly, kefir may treat or prevent irritable bowel syndrome while also fighting against UTIs. In addition, some research indicates that kefir may help to lower cholesterol. Acid reflux and depression are additional conditions kefir may be able to assist with.

Of course, it’s also important to consider how kefir is made. Kefir that’s made with whole milk may contain up to five grams of saturated fat per serving, which is 25 to 50% of the American Heart Association’s daily recommended intake for an average person (depending on caloric needs). Also, flavored kefir may be high in sugar, so always double-check the nutrition label.

Whether you’re looking to improve your digestion or just sample a new health drink, give kefir a try and discover why so many are singing its praises.