The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Trying out kefir


Several years ago, Mark came down with Lyme disease.  Local doctors didn't believe he had it since the disease wasn't supposed to have hit our area yet, but my sister had recently finished med school and her mind was wide open to possibilities.  She felt Mark's swollen knee and told him he had one of two things --- Lyme disease or gout.  It wasn't gout.

Months of hard-core antibiotics later, Mark was healed, and he still says my sister saved his life.  Unfortunately, the antibiotics came with a price.  Mark's stomach was already less durable than mine, presumably because he wasn't breastfed* and ate less dirt as a kid, but post-Lyme-disease, his intestinal flora was even easier to wipe out.

Rinsing kefir

Mark has suffered through two tooth problems since then, each of which was treated with mandatory rounds of antibiotics, and after each, his digestion dipped back down into sub-par territory.  I dosed him with yogurt, which didn't seem to help, and with Accu Flora Pro-Biotic Acidophilus, which was handy but not the long-term silver bullet.

Fermenting kefirWhen we saw my doctor sister at Thanksgiving, she took one look at Mark and knew he needed some intestinal support.  So she prescribed kefir, which she drinks daily and swears by.  Another friend kindly sent me a starter culture, which I rinsed and started brewing last night on top of the fridge.

Mark and I are both borderline lactose-intolerant, so I'm not 100% certain kefir will be the ticket.  I'm also a little concerned it might not brew well in our cool house, and my Puritan tendencies make me a little leery of the alcohol content (up to 2%).  Mark's more concerned that he won't like the taste since he's not a fan of yogurt, but I suspect I can doctor the kefir so that it's Mark friendly.

Despite our hesitations, we're both excited about the possibility of a natural solution to Mark's poor digestion.  Maybe kefir as an adult is nearly as good as being breastfed as an infant?

* Mark's mom was relatively young when she had Mark, and she bowed to authority.  At the time, doctors were telling mothers that their breast milk wasn't as nutritious as formula, and my mother-in-law wanted the best for her baby!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I too have stomach issues and kefir has changed my life. I drink a small glass every night. I am forced to buy it at the store for now but I am sure that when I can make it from raw milk it will be even better. The kefir I get from the store is fruit flavored and tastes good. I'm sure that you can make it enjoyable for Mark.
Comment by Ned Wed Jan 15 09:48:37 2014

In place of milk kefir try flavored kefir waters. The taste combinations are almost endless, no concerns re lactose and full of beneficial probiotics. See for example:

Comment by David Forward Wed Jan 15 09:56:42 2014
I'm completely lactose intolerant, and I also have the sort of relationship with my digestive tract that most stand-up comedians seem to have with their wives: I know I did something wrong, but I don't know what and it keeps yelling at me. And I WAS breastfed. Having known fairly sick kids who were breastfed and healthy, brilliant kids who weren't, I'm not too sure that breastfeeding is as vital as that.
Comment by Emily from Bristol Wed Jan 15 10:00:11 2014
If you don't like the dairy route, you could try lacto-fermented veggies, kombucha, or something similar. There are plenty of options for getting probiotics since fermentation is one of the oldest methods of preservation. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is a good recipe book for fermented foods and sauces.
Comment by Sara Wed Jan 15 10:04:51 2014

Kefir is quite common here in Hungary; you can buy several brands in the store.

We've been making our own for years. In season we use our own goat milk (and next year we hope to have milk from our own cow too).

We generally let it ferment for 24 hours at about 22°C. Any longer, or too hot, and it'll start to get too yeasty for my taste. As long as you don't let it ferment too long, I wouldn't worry about the alcohol. I'm not much of a drinker myself, and can definitely notice the alcohol from one glass of beer or wine. But I never feel any effect from the kefir. And I eat about half a liter daily, so I'd definitely know. It's great with muesli and a spoonful of honey btw.

I can't say anything from my own experience about lactose intolerance, or health benefits. I just really like it :)

Comment by Rhesa Rozendaal Wed Jan 15 10:17:18 2014
Sauerkraut works well for me. A doctor once told me to eat something fermented every day. Not sure about beer.
Comment by Errol Wed Jan 15 10:47:46 2014
I wish you the best of luck with your kefiring. I do, personally, consider it a close second to breast milk. My children love smoothies with it, but they also get milk with a "special" additive from time to time. ;-)
Comment by Brandy Wed Jan 15 11:14:08 2014
Kefir grows when it's cold that's one of the great things about it. It just takes a longer time. Treat it like yogurt, add fruit and spices. You can kefirize cream and put it on pie and berries. If it's too sour sweeten it with your favorite sweetener. I use it in most recipes substituting for milk or buttermilk. Leave the lid on loosely and it won't get fizzy. I have never had anyone notice any alcohol taste or other effect.Dogs love kefir, Cats, one in three like it.
Comment by Daisy Wed Jan 15 12:24:19 2014
I have made kefir for several years. To drink, I blend about 1 cup with ice cubes, unsweetened cocoa, stevia, sometimes coconut oil and maybe a little homemade vanilla. I love it but my husband isn't crazy about the sour taste. But making a sweetened smoothie with it helps. Also if you have fruit, that can be used in the smoothie instead of cocoa.
Comment by Anonymous Wed Jan 15 14:40:40 2014

My son is allergic to milk, likely the lactos since he is good with fermented milk products (meaning yogurt, cheese, etc) he also has a number of food allergies and often gets rashes due to them. As long as he gets some Keifer every day the rashes stay away, even when he eats foods that he is allergic to.

So if you are good with yogurt etc Keifer should be fine for you. If you are worried about the lactose let it sit a bit longer When the milk is (near) the consistency of store bought yogurt it is done. This can be 8 house if warm and lots of starter or 1 week if in the fridge.

Hope this helps


Comment by BW Wed Jan 15 21:15:58 2014

My husband has a small amount of difficulty with dairy, but doesn't appear to be full-on lactose intolerant. Mostly he's on about a dozen medications for three serious diseases, and their actions and interactions mess up his digestive system something fierce. We discovered that drinking a cup or two of kefir everyday makes a huge difference for him. It didn't cure all his digestive woes, but for him, it was a do-able little bit of effort that made a worthwhile chunk of change. I started a kefir culture about four months ago. It seemed to be doing well, just chugging along, until about a month ago, when it started getting seriously sour (beyond the mostly-pleasant sour like yogurt gets), and we couldn't figure out how to save it. So for now we're back to store-bought. When the weather in our area warms up a little bit more, I'll start another culture. We're having issues with our sourdough starter too, and we're thinking it's the temperature-plus-humidity levels in our kitchen changing season to season.

Oh, and my favorite way to drink milk kefir is to stir about a quarter cup of thick kefir with about 3/4 cup of milk and a teaspoon or so of homemade almond-flavored vodka (just chopped toasted almonds sitting in a jar of vodka for a month or two, then strained off). We also made a ton of fruit smoothies with the kefir.

Comment by WendP Thu Jan 16 21:18:33 2014
Kefir actually has less lactose because the bacteria feeds on it (lactose is a kind of sugar) and converts it to other stuff. But if it is a problem then there are many other types of fermented foods. I have found sauerkraut very easy to make. I hope to try making some other things as well. I recommend checking out the facebook group called Wild Fermentation as there are very many knowledgeable and helpful people there about all sorts of fermented foods.
Comment by Sharon Fri Jan 17 04:14:23 2014

Maybe you should look into fecal microbiota transplantation?

That procedure is used to to completely restore the colonic flora.

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Jan 17 05:01:31 2014
We love kefir. Started out buying the store bought stuff, but quickly learned that it's not true kefir. After a friend gave us some of her grains we were off. We drink milk kefir mostly as smoothies (kefir and frozen fruit, sometimes adding a little flax oil), drinking it plain is a little too tart for our enjoyment. I have noticed that the kefir grains go nuts with raw milk and multiply quickly, but they don't seem to grow very fast with pasturized milk. Once we mastered milk kefir, I discovered water kefir, and I'm addicted - endless flavor possibilities of low sugar soda! Perhaps it is just coincodence, but we have four young kids and haven't even had a runny nose since we started drinking home-made kefirs. That's enough reason for me to keep making it.
Comment by Daniel Fri Jan 17 12:31:27 2014
I also make kefir and believe it has played a great part in taking care of my Crohn's for the last several years, and asthma too, since both are connected. I was doing a raw milk share (can't buy it here in Canada due to narrow-minded government rules) and it was awesome with that. Now, I can't get the raw milk (which also was amazing for my Crohn's) but it will still turn pasteurized milk into something good. I drink it straight up in a shot glass as the lady who I got the grains from (she was from a place in Europe, I believe, and it was part of her heritage) told me that it loses some of its effectiveness in a smoothie. I don't find it too nasty. I do find that the grains can get rather strong (yeasty and cheesy smelling) and when they get like this I just rinse them with filtered water in a strainer and then they are fine. I've heard the goodness is killed off if cooked in any way. This does make sense but I don't know if it is true. I also give it to my dog, who loves it.
Comment by Heather Tue Apr 1 13:19:56 2014

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