Kefir is a fermented beverage (usually made with milk) that is slightly tangy and offers millions more gut-friendly probiotics than yogurt. Probiotics help to recolonize your intestines with good bacteria, and they keep the bad bacteria that may cause yeast infections or sugar cravings in check. If you drink it several times a day, it can heal digestive woes, cut down on sugar cravings, reduce gas/bloating, curb appetite, and cleanse the body and digestive tract.
Most of the kefir you’ll see in stores is made by adding kefir culture (often called kefir grains or kefir starter) to slightly heated milk and letting it ferment at room temp for about 24-36 hours. Fermented beverages are easier to digest, and people who are sensitive to dairy may be able to tolerate them. But if you have a dairy allergy, you should avoid dairy kefir. It’s a shame, really, because kefir is teeming with those beneficial probiotics and is a better choice than yogurt for this reason, and it has less added sugar in most cases.
Recently I’ve seen coconut milk kefir cropping up in the stores. I tried it, and it’s good enough, but still has added sugar to it. Not much, but some, and some other junk like carageenan too. So, I decided to make my own using coconut water.
Coconut water comes from young green coconuts (not the brown and hairy ones) and is an excellent beverage. It is high in essential minerals and has the same Ph balance as your blood, so it is alkalinizing and has a lot of potassium and magnesium, excellent after exercise or to prevent dehydration. It offers the highest source of electrolytes you can get. Coconut water is your elixir if you’re hung over, providing you with vital nutrients and minerals to rejuvenate you after a night of drinking, or even a couple of drinks, which is enough to really disrupt your body chemistry.
ANYWAY. I decided to take matters in my own hands and produce my own kefir using coconut water instead of coconut milk, because of coconut water’s excellent nutritional profile. I read up on the process: purchase kefir grains or kefir starter, crack open 4-5 young coconuts and extract juice, heat to 95 degrees, pour in kefir, let ferment at 75 degrees for about 48 hours. Easy enough.
A couple things here. I am not particularly up for taking a machete to 5 young coconuts, so I bought the boxed coconut water, which is contraindicated because it doesn’t ferment as well. The fresh young coconut water is pretty sweet, so the sugars feed the culture for it to ferment, and during this process, the beneficial probiotics are born. I read that you can add a little table sugar to the boxed coconut water to make up for that, which I did. I then heated it to about 95 degrees (which, when applied to the inside of your wrist, feels like body temp) and poured in the grains, poured it all into a big glass jar (about a liter’s worth of liquid), covered it with cloth and waited.
I was expecting an effervescent, sour beverage, kind of like kombucha. After about 36 hours, it smelled yeasty, like bread, an indication that it was doing what it’s supposed to do, but it was still sweet. Properly fermented, it should be a bit sour. I waited longer. And longer. Bear in mind that kefir is finicky: if you overheat it, you can kill the kefir starter and nothing will happen. If the room isn’t 75 degrees, it won’t be happy and won’t ferment properly. Both of these could have been the case in my experiment. After about 60 hours, I sampled again and it tasted….. like nothing, really. Not sweet, not sour, but kind of like fermented water. Not unpleasant, but I’m not exactly sure if it really turned out. Plus, it should be clear and mine has a lot of milky residue in it, like kombucha.
Here is what I learned: it pays to get a good kefir starter. Get one from a friend, or buy the expensive one. I saw a Body Ecology starter for $25 but bought the boxed kefir grains for my first attempt. May go back and buy expensive on. Make sure you don’t heat over 95 or 100 degrees. Make sure it sits in 75 degree room, next to window, on top of fridge, whatever.
You can make kefir from almost anything: water, milk, juice, coconut milk, coconut water. But it is picky. I’ll try again and report back. I’d love to hear from any kefir experts out there if you have any tips! It’s great to be able to make your own so you can control what’s in it!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. In addition to her coaching practice, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and kick nagging digestive issues for good. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.