How to make a very easy, simple and powerful probiotic at home to help balance your gut flora, improve your nutrient absorption and improve the strength of the immune system. To buy probiotic capsules from the shop is very expensive while making kefir at home costs pennies and is more powerful. Store-bought yoghurt, contrary to popular opinion, is not a very efficient probiotic at all, due mainly to the fact that it has been pasteurized (unless you buy raw yoghurt).
Kefir is a fizzy, bubbly, tasty probiotic drink you can make at home very cheaply. It is sometimes called the 'raw food champagne' or 'natural soda'. The health benefits of drinking kefir are vast.
It is simple and easy to make: you just purchase either water kefir or milk kefir grains from a reliable source online. (They tend to be very cheap.) Kefir grain is a living culture, which has beneficial yeasts and bacteria in it (as opposed to harmful yeasts like candida). The beneficial bacteria will help to keep the bad bacteria in your gut in check; and healthy bacteria balance is absolutely crucial for digestion, the ability to utilise nutrients from food, immune system function and energy.
For example, if you have a iron or B-12 deficiency, it would be a good idea to look into probiotics to help your body to digest effectively because quite often, despite eating food rich in these nutrients, your body may not be able to effectively make use of them.
You will need to know how to take care of the kefir grains - they will need feeding and caring for. This is all pretty straight-forward, however.
Personally, I have only tried water kefir, and not the other variety, with different grains: milk kefir. Since I don't drink milk, this article will just focus on the water kefir probiotic crystals. These are also sometimes known as: Japanese water crystals, tibicos (tibi), sugar kefir grains, California bees, ginger beer plant, etc.
Kefir probiotic drink comes out naturally bubbly and slightly tart-tasting, similar to other fermented drinks, and it is a refreshing and satisfying beverage. You can control the sugar content, from zero to very sweet. Some raw foodists even feed the grains only fruit, instead of sugar.
It is easy to kill the grains, however, so be sure to follow the instructions below.
The links at the end of this article provide further resources for the research-hungry. These discuss fermenting on a larger scale: fermenting vegetables, making your own beer and wine, sauerkraut, kimchi, other probiotic drinks such as rejuvelac and kombucha, etc. You can also make probiotic vegan nut cheeses by using fermentation and beneficial bacteria starter cultures!
Instructions on how to make kefir probiotic are provided further down on this page. But first I want to discuss the benefits of drinking this powerful and extremely cheap probiotic.
Kefir is a very potent probiotic and more powerful than many capsules you can buy at the health food store. Typically, probiotic capsules are very expensive, whereas making kefir at home costs almost nothing. The only costs come from:
"Our digestive system is lined by very specialized cells, which are called enterocytes. These little cells only live for [two or three days]. Then… they die, get shed off, and get replaced by new, healthy enterocytes. The cell regeneration process in your gut lining is a very active process.
"… We have a real chance to heal and seal our damaged gut lining thanks to this wonderful process of cell regeneration. But here's the catch: in order for your body to give birth to healthy functioning baby enterocytes, it needs two factors. It needs building blocks for them, because they're made out of certain nutrients (proteins, certain fats, vitamins, enzymes, and other active molecules)… Second, it needs the whole process to be orchestrated by the beneficial microbes in your digestive system; by the beneficial healthy gut flora."
- Dr. McBride, in an interview with Dr. Mercola, link below
The beneficial microbes and healthy gut flora are, in other words, the good bacteria and yeasts in your system. Taking probiotics or drinking kefir puts more of these good bacteria into your gut. Needless to say, much of our processed junk foods constantly harm the gut lining, making the regular eating of probiotics an important component of a contemporary health regimen.
This is what Dr. Mercola has to say on the topic:
"The importance of your gut flora, and its influence on your health cannot be overstated. It's truly profound.
"Your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin — known to have a beneficial influence on your mood—than your brain does.
"Your gut is also home to countless bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to one, and maintaining the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good health — physical, mental and emotional.
"The challenge is to identify strategies to optimize that bacterial population, so that you can live in a beneficial, symbiotic relationship where they nourish you, help you fight disease, and optimize your health."
Dr. Mercola in "Why this Single Organ Powerfully Dictates Whether You're Healthy or Sick"
Dr. Mercola highlights that gut health is especially important for people who suffer from the following ailments:
Surprisingly, gut health can have a great influence on our mental health - thus Dr. Philpott in the book Brain Allergies emphasizes the huge role food and chemical sensitivities play in serious mental illnesses. Food intolerances can seriously compromise your pancreas functioning and gut health, where sometimes the symptoms are so delayed that the person does not know he/she is suffering from it. This is where kefir probiotic drink can come to rescue!
Also, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride explains:
"Any dysfunction of the brain is usually connected to what's going on in the digestive system. In Gut and Psychology Syndrome, we're talking about the functioning of the rest of the body. Hippocrates… made a statement that all diseases begin in the gut. The more we learn now with all our modern scientific tools, the more we realize just how correct he was.
"Once you heal and seal your gut lining, and once you make your digestive system healthy and working properly again, you'll be surprised how many various symptoms in your body originated from your digestive system. Most [symptoms] start disappearing, because the health and the disease are usually born inside your digestive system."
- Dr. McBride, as quoted in Mercola's article, above.
In the section called 'Cultured Drinks', starting from page 52 of "Ani's Raw Food Essentials", Ani Phyo describes:
"These drinks are a refreshing and delicious way to obtain more good-for-us probiotics, the beneficial bacteria we need to build a healthy inner-body environment.
"The friendly bacteria in cultured drinks create a healthy digestive system and colon, to help us break down and digest our food and absorb more nutrients. They also help remove toxins from our body, detoxing us from the inside out.
"Kefir, my favourite and the simplest to make, and kombucha, are made with the help of a living culture that ferments and 'brews' the drink. Rejuvelac is another popular drink made by fermenting grains in water alone without the help of a living culture."
- Ani Phyo
And more specifically, here are her musings on the kefir probiotic:
"Kefir is a probiotic drink with healing properties that slow down our aging process. [...] These [water kefir] grains are not actually a cereal but are a mother culture that digests sugar in a fermentation process, resulting in a frizzy, carbonated beverage similar to champagne. [...]
"Unlike dairy yogurt, kefir contains about thirty strains of bacteria and yeast. The culture comes in small translucent balls called 'grains', which are made up of a polysaccharide called kefiran, organic acids, yeasts, and bacteria.
"Kefiran has antitumor properties, is an anti-inflammatory, and boosts the immune system. Kefir is known to lower cholesterol levels; helps with heart and artery disease; regulates blood pressure; aids in digestion; and heals the liver, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, gall bladder and stomach ulcers.
"Water kefir is brewed using 'water kefir grains', as opposed to 'dairy kefir grains' used in dairy milk. The grain allow us to create a new recipe of water kefir every 24 to 48 hours. It's a great, healthy, soda replacement that's delicious."
- Ani Phyo, p. 52, Ani's Raw Food Essentials
Note that if the kefir tastes very vinegary, you have fermented it for too long.
This is a perplexing topic, since white sugar is often highlighted as one of the worst possible things to one's health. This is what Ani Phyo has to say:
"As with Kombucha brewing, some people are concerned about the sugar used to feed the culture's fermentation process. I've done extensive research and have found that though the water may still taste sweet at 48 hours of brewing, the sugar content is very low. Allowing for a secondary fermentation, by placing the water kefir, after the grains have been removed, in a glass jar at room temperature for another day or two, will decrease the sugar content even more, while substantially increasing B-group vitamins."
Personally, I choose to use molasses sugar instead of white sugar, as it is much less processed and includes more minerals in it. However, some have reported that kefir itself prefers white sugar, and that fermentation is more successful with that.
Apparently it is also possible to just use sugary fruits to feed the kefir probiotic, but I suspect you have to use quite a lot.
Ani Phyo recommends using 1/3 cup of organic sucanat, turbinado sugar, or agave syrup to 2 cups of filtered water. Sucanat and turbinado sugar are vegan choices.
Other probiotic drinks you may wish to try to make are 'kombucha' and 'rejuvelac', both of which, however, can be a little more vinegary tasting.
You can also create raw vegan probiotic nut cheeses by fermenting your vegan nut cheese with various different probiotics, for example with the contents of a probiotic capsule. For raw probiotic cheese recipes (dairy free) check the book linked to at the bottom of this article or search on the internet for recipes.
Probiotics usually come in capsules, which are designed to survice the stomach acid and release their probiotic contents only once they get to the intestine. The criticism such capsules face is that they may not efficiently 'populate' the gut (contested topic), i.e. stay and reproduce more good bacteria there (even though they do fight bad bacteria). Water kefir, on the other hand, has been shown to colonize the gut, which makes it a much more powerful probiotic.
But does water kefir survive stomach acid (whose one function is to kill bacteria trying to enter the body through the mouth)?
It appears that IF water kefir is drunken on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning, the bacteria have the best chance of making it to the intestines unharmed, as more stomach acid gets triggered by food, not water. Milk kefir, on the other hand, may not be as effective.
Some of the most powerful probiotics sold by BioCare (Replete Intensive, 130 Billion viable organisms) - a reputable supplement company - surprisingly come in sachets, not in capsules. The instruction is to drink the sachet contents with water first thing in the morning, before eating. Therefore, this instruction also seems to imply that probiotics in water survive the stomach acid.
"Here is the tricky part of the probiotic puzzle. Stomach acid is very, very strong. It does and will kill the majority of bacteria that get into the stomach each day. So, how do you protect the probiotic bacteria you take from this “bacteria execution chamber” which everyone has inside them? Here are some things you can do. First, take the probiotic on an empty stomach. When the stomach is empty, it is not making much acid. You can open a capsule and mix it with a small amount of water. The stomach will empty out liquid in 15-20 minutes, but will keep food in it for 60-90 minutes. During this time it grinds the food up and mixes it with acid and harsh enzymes which are designed to get the food ready for absorption in the small intestine. Another trick you can do is to mix the probiotic with some bicarbonate of soda, a strong alkaline powder. This will neutralize the stomach acid temporarily until the probiotic can get through the stomach."
- Prebiotin.com: "Probiotics and Stomach Acid"
Therefore, it is recommended to drink the water kefir probiotic first thing in the morning, at least half an hour before eating any food, for best health benefits.
"Kefir: A Beginners Guide: 12 Fast And Easy Kefir Diet Recipes For Weight Loss, Avoid Mistakes & Feel Amazing (Kefir recipes, Probiotics drinks, Digestive health, Weight loss)", by Reagan Fleck, Kindle Edition:
"Fermenting vol. 3: Milk Kefir", by Rashelle Johnson:
"True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Mead, Kefir, and Kombucha at Home", by Emma Christensen:
"The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring, and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea", by Hannah Crum, Alex LaGory and Sandor Ellix Katz:
"Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes", by Christopher & Kirsten K Shockey:
Donna Gates and Linda Schatz: "The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity: Changing the Way the World Eats with Probiotic Nutrition".
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of the Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz
Provides many cultured food recipes from sprouted sourdough bread and pancakes, raw pickles, kefir, wine and beer to various pickled salads, dairy ferments, including cheese and yoghurt, bean ferments, vinegars, krauts, kimchis, meads, miso, tempeh, etc. Mostly a recipe book but general writing on the idea of fermenting with wild organisms, naturally occurring in the air, is included. Note: This book does NOT talk about fermenting with probiotics, which is the more usual way to do it.
Easy Probiotic Recipes 3-Pack - Refreshing, Probiotic Additions (Kefir, Kombucha, Buttermilk) (Kindle book):
The Best Homemade Vegan Cheese and Ice Cream Recipes by Marie Laforet:
This book includes probiotic (fermented) nut cheese recipes.
Teruo Higa: "An Earth Saving Revolution: a Means to Resolve Our World's Problems Through Effective Micro-organisms (EM)". Prof. Teruo Higa also sells probiotic porcelain jewellery (!) and has been credited for discovering bacteria that is capable of eating radioactive waste and rendering it harmless. His research on probiotics is pretty cutting-edge.
Hiromi Sninya: "The Microbe Factor: Your Innate Immunity and the Coming Health Revolution"
This webpage has a good simple explanation of what it takes to grow kefir probiotic and make a nice drink out of it:
"How to Make Water Kefir" by Gnowfglins.com
You can also check out Sandor Katz's website: www.wild-fermentation.com, although it may be a little overwhelming when you are just starting.
A better website for beginners, with kefir probiotic and kombucha recipes - is: www.culturesforhealth.com. They also sell starter kits, starter cultures, soy cultures, fermentation crocks, sprouting seeds, etc.
Also useful may be the FAQ section of Kefirshop.co.uk. They answer questions on water kefir, milk kefir, kombucha and yoghurt. If you are based in the UK you can also order grains/ starter cultures from there, including ginger beer starter culture.
Ken Rohla has an excellent talk on the topic of probiotics but you need to be quite open-minded to believe what he says... Yet I personally find it very interesting. This 2hr 13min -long talk is available on his site in downloadable mp3 -format: Beyondrawfood.com: "How to Make Your Own Nutrient-Dense High ORMUS Probiotic Antioxidant Superfoods".
Ulla is the Editor of Cheap Health Revolution, covering natural remedies and health solutions.