Home-made milk kefir vs store-bought milk kefir

There are a few key differences between store-bought milk kefir and homemade milk kefir from fresh grains (never dried – read why here). We do not recommend that you use store-bought milk kefir but make your own at home.

We know. It’s boring and annoying and confusing. It takes time and effort. Just do it! Making your own milk kefir at home is really straightforward, and you’ll be fine once you start.

How to use milk kefir

Get your one tablespoon of fresh milk kefir grains in the mail from eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, Gumtree, or your local fermentation fans (look up social media for groups).

Put one tablespoon of fresh milk kefir grains in a jar. Fill it with one cup of milk – typically, cow’s milk is the easiest to come by, but try to avoid ultra-pasteurised where possible. All mammal milk is high in lactose, including breast milk, so any milk is fine.

Avoid only using non-mammal milk vaginally, but to eat, you can use soy, coconut or other milk, doing a ‘refresher’ in cow’s milk every so often to rejuvenate your grains.

Put the jar on the bench overnight, or if you are in a cold climate, in a hot water cupboard. The next day, you have thick, sour milk kefir. Strain off the grains. Put them back in the jar, fill it with milk, and repeat, using the yoghurty milk kefir vaginally and/or orally.

Why we like home-made milk kefir better:

In store-bought kefir, additions have usually been made, modifications to the fermentation process to make it less sour, more drinkable, easier to package up, and with longer storage times. This reduces the bacterial count, the ‘aliveness’, and therefore the benefits.

The stuff you make at home is clearly fermenting, and you know exactly what’s in it. This means the results you get can’t be later blamed on store-bought kefir, which may or may not have even had any live bacteria in it.

‘Good’ milk kefir means it is thick, sour and does not contain added ingredients at all, and nor does it need to be ‘low fat’ (usually means high sugar).

Milk kefir, in its natural state, is not designed to be a sweet and delicious drink: it is tangy, sour and thickened, more like yoghurt than milk. It should not be pasteurised or adulterated in any way by heat, light or freezing. This isn’t clear on the label, so you may not know if it’s even alive.

Your milk kefir should not contain any preservatives, additives, colours or flavours. If someone is selling you milk kefir as a drink, you’d want to know exactly how they made it because people will sell you anything – diluted, dead, full of additives – if they think you will buy it because it’s ‘good for you’. We are suckers! People want to make money off ‘health foods’. Be discerning.

Flavoured options should never, ever be used, as they are full of all sorts of ingredients like colours, flavours, and, worst, sugar. Milk is naturally high in lactose – milk sugar – but that is what the probiotics feed on while being cultured.

If you really need to use store-bought milk kefir, perhaps opt for probiotics instead. At least you know what you are getting.

You want your milk kefir to be:

  • Sour
  • Thick
  • Tangy
  • 100% natural
  • Freshly fermented
  • Live bacteria and lots of it
  • Many varieties of bacteria

Cooling kefir slows the growth and activity of the bacteria it contains, so there is a chance it may not be as active if you take it straight from the fridge.

In this case, only use kefir at room temperature for vaginal treatments, so perhaps leave it in a warm spot (not hot) overnight so the bacteria can really become active before you use it vaginally or orally. You want active bacteria, not hibernating bacteria.

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)