If you missed part 1 of this series, see this article for an overview of 4 good alternatives to the pricey probiotics you see in your local health food stores: DIY Probiotics – 4 Cheap and Easy Alternatives. As you’ll see, there’s no need to break the bank for expensive capsules and tablets when you can indulge in your own DIY recipes that are easy to make at home. And, they’re cheap too!
#5 – Milk (Dairy) Kefir
Even though there’s plenty of confusion around the different names used for ferments, this one is fairly straight forward. In this case, we’re talking about the traditional process of incorporating cow, goat, or sheep milk with kefir grains. Kefir grains are really strands of Streptococci bacteria (e.g. Streptoccocus thermophilus), Lactobacilli bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. paracasei, and L. brevis) and various kinds of yeasts. They are often referred to as yeast or bacterial starters. The bacteria use the lactose sugar in the milk to survive and thrive.
It’s especially easy to make your own. You can purchase a package of powdered starter for cheap from the supermarket or health food store and make quick on fermenting your own. You can also buy kefir grains online (they have different strains of bacteria than the ones sold in powdered form) or even get some starter from someone you know. It only takes 24 hours to culture. Once you have your first batch of kefir done, you can then use that as a starter, and continually have a fresh supply of kefir on hand. You can expect to be drinking between 30-50 healthy probiotics – no excuses as to why we shouldn’t all be drinking probiotic-rich kefir every day!
Basic Milk Kefir Recipe
• 4 cups organic milk, whole, part or skimmed
• 1 package milk kefir starter
Instructions: Place milk starter in a clean 1-quart mason jar. Gently warm the milk in a ceramic, glass, or stainless steel pot on the stove until finger hot. Pour the milk into the jar. Stir to dissolve the powder with the handle of a clean, wooden spoon. Cover with a dish cloth or paper towel, secure with an elastic band, and let sit in a warm area of your kitchen (70-75°F) for 24 hours. Colder temperatures will mean it will take longer for your milk to culture while warmer temperatures mean it will take less time. After 24 hours, the kefir will have the consistency of buttermilk, or a thin, runny yogurt. It’s ready to drink! Add kefir to smoothies or use to make creamy salad dressings like ranch and dill.
Notes: 1) If you are making kefir with kefir grains (not the powdered starter), you’ll have to strain out the grains using a plastic (not metal) fine mesh sieve before consuming the liquid. 2) To make a fresh batch of kefir, place 1 cup of kefir in a 1 quart mason jar to use as your starter. Gently warm 3 cups milk and pour over the starter. Stir to combine with the handle of a wooden spoon. Place a dish cloth or paper towel, secure with elastic band, and let sit in a warm place in your kitchen. Done in 24 hours!
#6 – Non-Dairy Kefir
Oh no, not again! But this time without the milk?! Are there even kefir grains used?! Yes, the word kefir has now been stretched to reflect the trend of fermenting nut, seed, grain and coconut milks with kefir grains. And yes, because there is no lactose sugar in these types of milks, the bacterial strains used to ferment them may be somewhat different than the ones used for dairy kefirs. For example, some use the same transparent grains to ferment water kefir (see below) while others use specific strains of probiotics like Body Ecology’s Kefir Starter. Bacterial strains that you’ll find in this type of ferment can include Lactobacillus casei, L. plantarum, L. cremoris along with the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii. Note that sometimes inulin (a prebiotic) can be added to kefir grains to help feed the bacterial strains, that is, the probiotics.
While you can purchase the kefir grains online (some health food stores may carry them, look for the word “vegan” on the packaging), it’s best to make your own non-dairy milk rather than buying the ones from stores which contain carrageenan, guar gum, and other unsavory ingredients. Note that in comparison to dairy kefir, non-dairy kefir is quite watery – all the better to add to smoothies, dilute juices, make cold soups like gazpacho, or drink as is!
Basic Non-Dairy Kefir Recipe
• 1 liter non-dairy milk (sunflower, hemp, walnut, almond, sesame, coconut, etc.)*
• 6 Tbsp kefir grains
• 1 tsp date paste (optional)**
Instructions: As with dairy kefir, place grains in a mason jar. Warm the non-dairy milk until finger hot (when you stick your clean finger in, there is no difference in temperature). Pour the non-dairy milk into the jar and stir with a non-metallic object. Place on the lid and screw cap loosely and leave to ferment in a warm area of your kitchen for 24-48 hours. As with other ferments, humidity and heat will affect the ferment time. Pour non-dairy milk through a non-metallic sieve, or use a nut milk bag. You can reuse the kefir grains to make up to 5-6 more batches of kefir.
Variation: The following technique may be helpful to extend the shelf life of your kefir grains’ potency indefinitely: after straining out the kefir grains, place the grains in 1-liter finger hot dairy milk + 1 tsp date paste. Let sit 24 hours, then strain out the kefir grains (if someone is OK with dairy kefir, give them this liquid to drink!). Now use the grains to make your non-dairy kefir as in the recipe above. Do this process of letting the grains sit in dairy milk (in other words, making a dairy kefir) once a week. If you are very sensitive to dairy, do not use this technique.
*Basic Non-Dairy Milk Recipe
• 1 cup seed or nuts
• 2 cups spring water
Instructions: If you wish, you may soak your seeds/nuts for 4-8 hours, then strain and use. Place nuts/seeds in a high speed blender with the water and puree. Strain the liquid out using a nut milk bag. Drink or use in recipes.
Variation: For a thicker milk, use 1 cup water and for a thinner milk use 3 cups water. I’d recommend using 1-2 cups water when using to make kefir.
**Basic Date Paste Recipe
• Organic dates (Medjool, honey, etc)
• Water to cover
Instructions: Place dates in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak 4-8 hours until soft. Place dates (remove any pits first) in a food processor and add in enough of the soak water to make a thick paste. Use in recipes where you want a sweet taste. Store in a mason jar in the fridge.
#7 – Water Kefir
Seriously? I bet there are no milk or kefir grains used, are there?! Well, yes and no. There are two methods to make water kefir, you see. In the first, water is used as the liquid, and the “kefir grains” are really sugar and fresh and/or dried fruits that are allowed to ferment in the water. I should mention that this is also sometimes called Kvass (see below). In the second method, water is used as the liquid, and sugar is paired with the same kefir grains used to make non-dairy kefir above. After this first ferment, the strained liquid is then made to ferment again with dried fruits, fresh fruits, fruit juices, and herbs and spices. Bacteria and yeasts are present, and might include Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. brevis and L. bulgaricus, as well as the yeasts Saccharomyces boulardii and S. cerevisiae.
You have to admit that even if you’re using zero kefir grains to make a beneficial brew of bacteria, the principle of what a kefir is still holds true: it is a liquid in which a symbiotic relationship of various beneficial bacteria and yeast consume sugar and produce ethanol, carbon dioxide and lactic acid. And in case you were wondering, dairy kefir grains create a complex matrix of soluble polysaccharides/complex sugars (another way of saying that is mucous) while non-dairy/water kefir grains are a matrix of insoluble complex sugars (which is why this kefir is much more watery than the dairy one).
There are many sites online where you can buy water kefir grains, and there are just as many recipes around. If you’re looking to add flavor to water kefir, the general rules are:
• Fruit Juice: Add 1/2 cup fruit juice for every 4 cups water kefir – use right away or refrigerate.
• Fresh Fruit: Add 1-2 chopped fresh fruits to every 4 cups water kefir and let sit 1-2 days, then strain.
• Dried Fruit: Add a handful of dried fruits to every 4 cups water kefir and let sit 3-7 days, then strain.
If you’d like to add fizz to your ferment, then instead of using a mason jar, use a tightly capped bottle that doesn’t allow oxygen in. Just be sure you “burp” (open) the bottle once a day to prevent gas buildup from bursting your bottle and be careful when opening the bottle – contents are under pressure! Dare I mention that these fizzy water kefir drinks are sometimes referred to as fizzy sodas? Right, so here’s that basic recipe:
Basic Water Kefir Recipe
• 1 pkg or 3 Tbsp water kefir grains
• 1/4 cup organic sugar
• 4 cups spring water
• 1/4 tsp ConcenTrace minerals or unsulphured blackstrap molasses* (recommended, but optional)
Instructions: Place sugar in a mason jar. Warm the water gently in a glass, ceramic or stainless steel pot. Add to mason jar and stir to dissolve with a non-metallic object. Add in the kefir grains. Cover with a dish cloth or paper towel and secure with an elastic band. Let sit for 24-48 hours in a warm spot in your kitchen. Strain out the kefir grains using a non-metallic sieve. You can now reuse your kefir grains and your kefir is now ready to be consumed, refrigerated or fermented a second time with fruits to add flavor.
* Water kefir tends to ferment better when minerals are present. Blackstrap molasses yields a particularly strong taste that some don’t mind while others do.
Variation: Easily flavor this basic recipe by adding in 1/2 cup of your favorite juice. Keep remainders refrigerated.
Here’s an interesting wild recipe that you can try on for size:
Stinging Nettle Vitamin C Enhancer
• 4 cups stinging nettle infusion or 4 cups water + 1/4 tsp ConcenTrace minerals
• 3 Tbsp water kefir grains
• 1/4 cup sucanat or organic sugar
• 1 Tbsp each dried rosehip, elderberry, and goji berry
• Peel from 1 orange and 1 lemon
• (optional but oh-so yummy) 1 Tbsp each orange and lemon juice
Instructions: Make your water kefir first: warm nettle infusion (or water + minerals) in a glass, ceramic or stainless steel pot. Place sugar in a mason jar and pour in warm tea/water. Stir with the handle of a wooden spoon or other non-metallic object to dissolve. Add in kefir grains. Place a paper towel or dish cloth on top, secure with an elastic band, and let sit 24-48 hours. Strain out kefir grains using a plastic sieve (you can now use the grains to make another batch of kefir).
Pour the kefir into a mason jar or bottle with the dried fruits, peels and juices, if using. Let sit 3-7 days. Taste test on day 3 and then on each day until it is to your liking. You can always add in more orange and/or lemon juice, if desired. Be sure to burp bottles each day to help with gas buildup.
#8 and #9 – Kvass and Kombucha
Hold on a minute there, sister. So, one of the methods to make water kefir is also called kvass? Yes, although I think kvass is a better classification name to use where fruits or veggies, perhaps sugar or honey, plus water are fermented and no kefir grains are used. Perhaps we could call it fermented fruit or fermented tea? Perhaps not. Let me muddy the waters further by pointing out that you can find different traditional ways to make kvass: the first is to ferment grains or bread (usually rye) with fruits, perhaps with a sweetener and a pinch of spice. The second way is to use beets, and the method to make it is similar to the beet rejuvelac or beet kefir covered in Part 1: DIY Probiotics. Now don’t roll your eyes, let’s put all the name calling aside!
While kvass may be much less popularly known than kombucha (see below), it’s a breeze to make. Some people don’t use sugar at all, some use honey instead, some are keen on using fresh fruits and some enjoy using edible flowers and herbs. Children seem to really enjoy the sweet version of using fresh fruits, perhaps with a touch of honey.
Here’s the basic version of making beet kvass using salt, followed by a wild fermented fruity “tea” kvass:
Basic Beet Kvass Recipe
• 2 beets
• 1-2 tsp sea salt
• 4 cups spring water
Instructions: Trim beet ends. No need to peel, simply wash and then dice beet. Place beet, salt and water in a clean mason jar. Put on lid and screw cap and place on a plate. Let ferment for 3-7 days. Taste test on day 3 and each day thereafter to see if it’s to your liking. Scoop off any mold that forms. Strain out beets using a non-metallic sieve. You can drink the liquid (kvass) right away or refrigerate first and consume after a few days (some say the taste mellows out) . Drink 3-4 ounces per day.
Note: Do open the jar every day to prevent gas buildup, which can warp the lid.
Variation: Use 3 3/4 cups water + 1/4 cup cabbage or other veggie rejuvelac (see Part 1: DIY Probiotics) as your starter. Alternatively, you can use 1/4 cup of any ‘kraut brine recipe. Use 1 tsp salt. Let ferment 2-3 days, then strain out liquid. Drink and refrigerate leftovers.
Apple and Rose Petal Kvass Recipe
• 1-2 small apples, cored and diced
• 1 handful dried rose petals
• 2 cups spring water
• 1-2 Tbsp honey (optional)
Instructions: Place all ingredients in a 2 cup mason jar. Place on lid and screw cap. Shake a few times a day. Done in 2-3 days, when apples look “cooked” or there are bubbles on the top. Strain out the liquid and compost the fruit and petals. Keep refrigerated afterwards. Drink 3-4 ounces per day.
Variation: Replace apples with a handful of fresh cranberries, raspberries or blueberries. Dried fruit works fine too. Replace rose petals with dried chrysanthemum flowers.
Notes: 1) Push down on lid to test for amount of carbon dioxide buildup. If it doesn’t pop up or push down, open lid to release gas, then screw lid back on. Do this 1-2 times each day. 2) Some people find that the honey makes for a better ferment, while others find it too sweet and prefer it without – almost like a fermented tea.
Speaking of fermented teas, in kombucha, black or green tea is first fermented with a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast called a SCOBY, also called mother, baby, or mushroom (it’s not a mushroom). Once this initial ferment has been done, various fruits and herbs can be added and the liquid can be allowed to further ferment, offering up a host of tasty flavorings. It’s a fizzy drink and the alcohol content can vary. Usually, the first ferment will yield a brew of about 0.5%. Second ferments, where the naturally occurring sugars in fruit will react with the yeasts, can bump the alcohol content up, so you might be interested in purchasing a hydrometer from your local brewery supply store.
Making your own kombucha is quite cheap, once you have procured your SCOBY. If you know someone who brews kombucha, you can ask them if they might share a baby from their mother SCOBY. Otherwise you can purchase one online for $15-$35, and you might find one cheaper on Craigslist or Kijiji. Another option is this: since all bottles of kombucha contain SCOBY, you can begin your journey into kombucha-making by buying 1 bottle from the health food store and growing your own SCOBY:
DIY SCOBY Recipe
• 1 bottle unflavored, raw, unpasteurized, organic kombucha
• 1 cup black or green tea, with 1 Tbsp organic sugar dissolved
Instructions: Place kombucha and sweetened tea in a mason jar. Cover with a dish cloth or paper towel secured with an elastic band. Let the SCOBY grow for several weeks (will depend on heat and humidity, estimate 2-4 weeks). At first, the bacteria will ferment to look like a thin film floating on the top of the surface. It will then grow and be ready to use when it is 1/4-1/3 inch thick.
Now that you have your mother, or SCOBY, there are plenty of recipes online that you can find and experiment with. Make sure to share the love with friends and family!
There are many fermented foods out there that you can buy or make (many recipes online), such as:
• dairy or non-dairy cheeses and yogurts
• the fermented soys of tempeh (tofu fermented with the fungus Rhizopus oligosporus or R. oryzae), miso (soy beans fermented with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae), and natto (soybeans fermented with Baccillus subtilis var. natto)
• pickled goodies like umeboshi plum, ginger, beets, pickles and kimchi
• apple cider vinegar with “mother”
• raw milk, to which nothing need be added!
The takeaway of this fermented story? In theory, almost any food can be fermented – yes, there are even recipes for making fermented fish! I’ll leave you with this one last easy-peasy recipe that you can make at night and eat in the morning:
Kefir-Inspired Cinnamon Raisin Oats
• 1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free if need be)
• 1/2 cup dairy or non-dairy milk + 1/2 cup dairy, non-dairy or water kefir
• A handful of raisins or 2-3 chopped and pitted Medjool dates
• 1 Tbsp ground chia seeds or 1 1/2 Tbsp whole chia seeds
• 1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon
• (optional) 1-2 Tbsp shredded coconut
• Stevia, to sweeten
Instructions: Add all to a mason jar, except stevia. Shake jar well, then refrigerate overnight. In the morning, shake jar again. Pour into a bowl and sweeten with stevia, if desired.
Variation: Use 1 cup dairy, non-dairy or water kefir. You can also use 1 cup dairy or non-dairy milk.
Variation: For a chocolatey taste, dissolve 1 Tbsp cacao powder with a bit of hot water. Add to the mason jar with the rest of the ingredients. In the morning, top your oatmeal with 1-2 Tbsp carob chips, dark chocolate chips or cacao nibs, if desired.
This article is part 1 of a 2 part series called “DIY Probiotics” about cheap and easy alternatives to the expensive packaged probiotics available in health food stores. You can read the rest of the series here: