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How to make your own probiotics: Nondairy or dairy versions

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The reason people use probiotics is to potentially help common gut and digestion problems such as leaky gut or H. pylori bacteria issues. This year, researchers are testing the effects of probiotics (bacteria cultures) to see whether they can help alleviate the symptoms of various autistic-like behaviors on the spectrum. Probiotics and prebiotics have been researched for their health benefits from foods cultured with specific strains of bacteria.

Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that support overall health by promoting the activity of probiotic bacteria in the large intestine. They're also called oligosaccharides. Probiotics are a preparation (as a dietary supplement) containing live bacteria (as lactobacilli) that when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.

A recent study from the NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the NIH/National Cancer Institute published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation on the health benefits of probiotics shows that these cultures may help people not only with various nasty bacteria and/or virus infections or inflammations, but that probiotics and prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal immunity in animals who are HIV-infected.

In the January 16, 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, you can read how researchers led by Jason Brenchley at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, demonstrated that probiotic supplementation improved gut immune function in SIV-infected macaques. Check out the original article "Probiotic/prebiotic supplementation of antiretrovirals improves gastrointestinal immunity in SIV-infected macaques."

Prebiotics or probiotics?

If the probiotics helped the monkeys, the question is whether the probiotics and prebiotics also will improve the gut immune function in humans infected with various viruses such as HIV. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are the first line therapy for patients with HIV. However, ARV-treated, HIV-infected individuals still have a higher mortality rate than uninfected individuals.

During the course of infection, HIV patients develop inflammation that damages the walls of the intestines, known as the gut mucosa, allowing intestinal microbes to escape and enter the blood stream to cause a life-threatening systemic infection. The health of the gut mucosa is significantly influenced by the complement of bacteria in the gut and there is mounting evidence that probiotic supplements benefit patients intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, C. difficile infection, and inflammatory bowel disease.

In this issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers led by Jason Brenchley at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, demonstrated that probiotic supplementation may also be beneficial for ARV-treated HIV patients. Brenchley and colleagues treated SIV-infected macaques (a model of human HIV-infection) with either ARV alone or ARV in combination with a mixture of probiotics.

Macaques treated with probiotics had enhanced gastrointestinal immune function and decreased inflammation compared to macaques treated with ARV alone. In a companion article, Judith Aberg and colleagues at New York University School of Medicine discuss how these findings could benefit HIV patients, according to the January 16, 2013 news release, "Could probiotics help HIV patients?"

Health benefits of fermented (cultured) milks and nondairy cultured beverages and puddings have long been studied locally in the Sacramento/Davis area, for example, at the University of California, Davis, according to research noted in the article, Nutritional approaches to shrinking colon polyps. To add more nutrition to cultured nondairy milks you add live probiotic foods to almond or coconut milk.

The probiotics can be purchased at local health food stores. To make your own almond milk use one part almonds to three parts water in a blender to liquefy and strain the almond milk. The temperature of the non-dairy almond or other milk needs to be body temperature when making kefir or yogurt from almond milk and probiotics. You can use kefir starter bought in a health food store or probiotic caps.

Kefir: Nondairy or dairy variaties and how to make your own

You also can make kefir or yogurt from rice, hemp, hazelnut, oat, or soy nondairy milks. Seeds and nuts can be combined and cultured with probiotic caps. Those who drink fermented kefir for holistic health benefits may want to know how to make a non-dairy version of kefir without using cow's or goat's milk. Kefir can be made from coconut milk or almond milk.

For almond milk kefir recipes, check out the sites, How to Make Almond Milk Kefir and Almond Milk Kefir - Raw Food Recipes. Besides kefir, you can use probiotics that you buy in health food stores, such as Elliott's Natural Foods in Sacramento, to make almond milk yogurt, which is more like a thicker version of kefir. To see a video on how to make almond milk yogurt, check out, How to Make Almond Milk Yogurt #542 - YouTube.

To make almond milk kefir start with the following ingredients

  • 1 cup raw almonds soaked for 8 hrs or more
  • 2 liters water
  • 4 caps probiotics
  • stevia to taste
  • lemon juice to taste

You simply add 4 caps of probiotics into your almond milk and stir gently with a clean spoon. Cover your glass bowl with a paper towel or clean dish towel and let sit on the counter at room temperature over night or for 12 hrs+ to let the probiotics ferment the culture.

If you check out the recipe at the site, How to Make Almond Milk Kefir, you'll see photos and can read what each step of the recipe requires. Kefir grains can be used to culture nut or see milk and fresh juices. This non-dairy-milk is good blended with fresh fruits or served with home-made granola bars.

How to Make Coconut Kefir

It's best to watch videos on making kefir rather than reading instructions in text, but there's an excellent recipe at the U.K. Seeds of Health website, "How to Make Kefir." According to that website, here's part of the recipe.

See the website "How to Make Kefir" for the entire recipe with all the details in depth. And don't begin until you've watched at least two videos on how to make kefir. That way you have a choice of using coconut milk, soy milk, dairy, or any other milk substitute with the kefir fermentation process. You don't want any explosions of glass bottles or sharp glass to go flying. So be careful and watch the videos on how to make coconut kefir.

You're warned: Kefir easily can explode. The glass jar explodes and the glass shatters and gets in your eyes, taking out your sight. It's a scary warning, but you are forewarned. One way to cope with this possibility is to always use a jar with a rubber seal that will allow excess pressure to escape, otherwise you run the risk of explosions, according to the variety of how-to instructions found online for making coconut milk kefir and kefir from any type of milk, including dairy.

The same warning goes for kids or pets standing near a glass jar of kefir with a lid. The danger of explosion is there. So make kefir at your own risk.

Now, let's get started with safety goggles, a hard hat, and gloves making coconut milk kefir. Basically, you put the culture in the coconut milk and let it ferment. That's how it was made for hundreds of years. You let the milk with the kefir culture in it stand at room temperature for about 12 to 24 hours depending on whether you want thick or thin culture. If you let it stand for 48 hours, it will make a thicker, sourer kefir. If you let it stand for just 12 hours, you'll taste a thinner, sweeter kefir. The temperature will effect how quickly the culture works. During the summer kefir will ferment faster.

When it's the thickness and sourness you want to taste, then strain the kefir into a clean jar. While it's fermenting the kefir grains will float to the top of the milk along with any cream. It's a good idea to stir it gently with a wooden spoon to mix up the solids and liquids to make it easier to strain. Use wooden not metal spoons.

Scoop out the culture from the kefir. It will be thick. Separate the kefir from the liquid. The kefir culture produces a jelly like polysaccharide substance that develops around the grains as they lengthen. It has unique properties and it's own name 'kefiran'. Grains may be coated with a gel. This is the kefiran. Stir the kefir to distribute the kefiran in the kefir. This helps to thicken the finished kefir. You'll get a wide variety of kefir thickness. Some will be thin and other kefir types will be thicker.

After straining, the grains are placed straight back into a clean jar without washing them first. Fresh milk is added to the grains to make the next batch.

Keep the bacteria from your hands out of the kefir culture

Bacteria from your hands, hair, and the air will get into the kefir. Use a clean wooden spoon and a clean kefir-making jar. It's a living culture, a complex system of bacteria and yeasts. Don't contaminate it. Use freshly cleaned hands, clean jars and clean non metallic implements.

Refrigerator Kefir
A cooler temperature slows the fermentation down and makes a thicker kefir too. Some people like to ferment their kefir in the fridge, leaving it for 5 days or more to compensate for the much slower fermentation process.

Double Fermentation
Maybe you'd like to try the double fermentation technique that you can read in depth at the Seeds of Health site. First ferment by adding the culture to the milk and leaving for 12-24 hours. Then strain out the culture and leave the kefir out to ferment more slowly for another 12-24 hours before putting it in the fridge.

Continuous Fermentation
Then there's the traditional 'continuous fermentation' approach. You store your kefir in a large jar but don't put it in the fridge. As each new batch is ready it's added to the existing kefir in the main storage jar and then the lid goes on. See this method also at the Seeds of Health site.

You could ferment for five days in the refrigerator rather than for up to 24 hours in a warm place full of all types of bacteria that could contaminate your kefir. It's your choice. If you're working with raw animal milk, advice from scientists is to heat the milk and simmer it. For more information on making kefir from raw animal milk, see the video, "Dr. Marshall Talks About Kefir." The biochemist and nutrition radio talk show personality making kefir from raw milk in this video explains all the steps.

Kefir continues to ferment as it is a live food. When it's outside your refrigerator fermenting, it will become very sour and begin to fizz. Again, this warning is repeated: always use a jar with a rubber seal that will allow excess pressure to escape, otherwise you run the risk of explosions.

Storing the Culture

Real kefir from live culture is an endlessly self propagating process, according to the article and recipe, "How to Make Kefir." After each batch you'll have a few more grains as the culture grows. Eventually you'll have a large batch of grains and they'll speed up your fermentation time. Spare culture can be stored for a time in a jar in the fridge with some milk.

The fermentation will slow right down and you can store spare culture for a few weeks this way. Rotate your spare culture with the grains you're using for your regular kefir-making time so that the grains get a chance to warm up and restore vitality to their microflora. Don't make too much spare culture, though. Just make what you need for a specific time.

Storing the Kefir

Store the kefir in a glass jar in the fridge. The kefir will keep a long time in the fridge. Add new batches of kefir to the storage jar as they are made and give it a shake to mix them.

You can store it on the kitchen counter instead of the fridge but be aware that it will continue to ferment, although not as fast as it would with the kefir grains in it. If you want to do that you should, for the third time, be reminded here to always use jars with a rubber seal that will allow excess pressure to escape and prevent possible explosions. It can be a very vigorous culture and has caused jars to explode when stored out of a fridge over a period of time. A kilner jar is good.

The beneficial bacteria and yeasts help to prevent the kefir from spoiling but it gets very sour and fizzy. In the United States, a jar sealed with a metal hinge leveraging down a glass lid and rubber seal is said to be using a "bail closure." A Kilner jar is a rubber-sealed, screw-topped jar used for the storage of food, which was invented by the Kilner family and produced by John Kilner & Co, Yorkshire, England, according to the Wikipedia site.

Classically, it was a glass plug with a rubber seal attached to it in the top, with the whole being secured with a metal screw-top lid. Contemporary "Kilner-style" jars usually have a lid made entirely of metal. Kilner jars are used for storing and preserving home-made jams, marmalades and other relishes.They are also used for pickling food such as eggs, onions and garlic.

It's spring, and eggless vegan coconut kefir is popular as the weather warms. You can make coconut milk with lime juice or culture the coconut milk and add vanilla, rum flavoring or almond flavoring and a pinch of stevia or a tablespoon of your favorite sweetener, such as pureed raisins with cinnamon and cloves, or two tablespoons of pineapple juice concentrate to a quart of coconut kefir.

You can buy the flavoring, a pinch of stevia, pureed, spiced raisins, or fruit concentrate at any supermarket. The trick is to make your own coconut kefir from scratch and then add any sweetener such as pureed raisins spiced with cinnamon and cloves to the basic coconut kefir. To start, here's how to make (or buy) the coconut kefir.

In Sacramento, you can buy coconut milk kefir at the Sacramento Natural Foods Coop in midtown at 1900 Alhambra Blvd. Also the Whole Foods Market at 4315 Arden Way carries kefir in different varieties. Besides cow's milk kefir, either non-fat or whole milk, there's also soy milk kefir and goat milk kefir. You can buy kefir flavored with berries or the unsweetened types. To make coconut milk kefir, the recipe is at the site, How to Make Coconut Milk Kefir | Passionate Homemaking.

See the uTube video on how to make kefir from coconut milk, "How to Make Coconut Kefir." If you price coconut milk kefir in most markets, you'll find prices close to $5 for a quart. So it's more cost effective to make your own coconut milk kefir. You can make it using a can of coconut milk. See, 7 Companies You Can Trust to Use BPA-Free Cans: TreeHugger and BPA-free Canned Food Options | The Soft Landing Blog. For example, the brand: Native Forest/Native Factor, all canned foods, including the company's canned coconut milk uses a BPA-free can.

Coconut milk is naturally rich in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Two of the primary MCFAs found in coconut milk, lauric and capric acid, are known for supporting the body’s immune system, according to the article, How to Make Coconut Milk Kefir | Passionate Homemaking. Coconut products contains monolaurin, a fatty acid found in human mother’s milk, which has proven antiviral, antibacterial, and fungal properties that support natural immunity.

It has a creamy taste and texture that’s similar to cream (with half the fat and calories) or milk (when diluted). It tastes on the flavor of what you mix it with, making it ideal for both sweet and savory recipes. It is completely free from any dairy, gluten, and soy. View the Healthy Cooking Coaches recipes for Strawberry & Vanilla ice cream using coconut kefir.

Since kefir can be found in most supermarkets in Sacramento, you might try making your own kefir. Sometimes a bottle of coconut milk kefir can cost up to $5. The fat in milk makes the kefir thicker.

That way you choose what kind of milk or nondairy product to use. Here's how to get started. It's all about finding a liquid that has its own natural lactose sugar and using the kefir cultures to convert the lactose sugar in the milk, be it cow's, goat's or coconut milk or soy milk, into glucose and galactose. That's why kefir usually can be consumed by some who can't tolerate plain cow's milk.

You can make kefir from coconut milk, soy milk, cow's milk, goat's milk or even raw milk. Kefir converts the sugar, lactose into glucose and galactose. This helps many lactose-intolerant people enjoy kefir. To make kefir using raw milk, view the video, "Dr. Marshall Talks About Kefir."

The three items you need are a special type of glass jar like a kilner jar with a rubber seal that allows pressure to escape, a tablespoon of kefir culture, for example, from a container of kefir you buy in the store or freeze-dried kefir culture, and fresh milk. You can use whole milk, nonfat milk, coconut milk, soy milk, or any other milk substitute that will ferment with a kefir culture.

Can probiotics help those with autism?

In a new study, published December 5, 2013 in the journal Cell, researchers at the California Institute of Technology found that probiotic therapy alleviates autism-like behaviors in mice. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed when individuals exhibit characteristic behaviors that include repetitive actions, decreased social interactions, and impaired communication. Curiously, many individuals with ASD also suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as abdominal cramps and constipation.

Now the big research question remains, will probiotics work in similar ways with humans? The key point is that gut physiology appears to have effects on what are currently presumed to be brain functions.

Using the co-occurrence of brain and gut problems in ASD as their guide, researchers at the California Institute Technology (Caltech) are investigating a potentially transformative new therapy for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed when individuals exhibit characteristic behaviors, decreased social interactions, and impaired communication.

Curiously, many with ASD also suffer from gastrointestinal issues, like abdominal cramps and constipation. Guided by this co-occurrence of brain and gut problems, researchers at the California Institute Technology are investigating a bacterium that alleviates GI and behavioral symptoms in autistic-like mice, introducing a potentially transformative probiotic therapy for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Gut bacteria can influence social and emotional behavior

The gut microbiota—the community of bacteria that populate the human GI tract—previously has been shown to influence social and emotional behavior, but the Caltech research, published online in the December 5, 2013 issue of the journal Cell, is the first to demonstrate that changes in these gut bacteria can influence autism-like behaviors in a mouse model. You can check out the abstract of the study, "Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders."

"Traditional research has studied autism as a genetic disorder and a disorder of the brain, but our work shows that gut bacteria may contribute to ASD-like symptoms in ways that were previously unappreciated," says Professor of Biology Sarkis K. Mazmanian, according to the December 5, 2013 news release, Probiotic therapy alleviates autism-like behaviors in mice. "Gut physiology appears to have effects on what are currently presumed to be brain functions."

To study this gut–microbiota–brain interaction, the researchers used a mouse model of autism previously developed at Caltech in the laboratory of Paul H. Patterson, the Anne P. and Benjamin F. Biaggini Professor of Biological Sciences. In humans, having a severe viral infection raises the risk that a pregnant woman will give birth to a child with autism. Patterson and his lab reproduced the effect in mice using a viral mimic that triggers an infection-like immune response in the mother and produces the core behavioral symptoms associated with autism in the offspring.

Is the problem leaky gut?

In the new Cell study, Mazmanian, Patterson, and their colleagues found that the "autistic" offspring of immune-activated pregnant mice also exhibited GI abnormalities. In particular, the GI tracts of autistic-like mice were "leaky," which means that they allow material to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. This characteristic, known as intestinal permeability, has been reported in some autistic individuals.

"To our knowledge, this is the first report of an animal model for autism with comorbid GI dysfunction," says Elaine Hsiao, according to the news release. Hsiao is a senior research fellow at Caltech and the first author on the study. To see whether these GI symptoms actually influenced the autism-like behaviors, the researchers treated the mice with Bacteroides fragilis, a bacterium that has been used as an experimental probiotic therapy in animal models of GI disorders.

The result? The leaky gut was corrected.

In addition, observations of the treated mice showed that their behavior had changed. In particular, they were more likely to communicate with other mice, had reduced anxiety, and were less likely to engage in a repetitive digging behavior.

"The B. fragilis treatment alleviates GI problems in the mouse model and also improves some of the main behavioral symptoms," Hsiao says in the news release, Probiotic therapy alleviates autism-like behaviors in mice. "This suggests that GI problems could contribute to particular symptoms in neurodevelopmental disorders."

With the help of clinical collaborators, the researchers are now planning a trial to test the probiotic treatment on the behavioral symptoms of human autism

The trial should begin within the next year or two, says Patterson, according to the news release. "This probiotic treatment is postnatal, which means that the mother has already experienced the immune challenge, and, as a result, the growing fetuses have already started down a different developmental path," Patterson explains in the news release. "In this study, we can provide a treatment after the offspring have been born that can help improve certain behaviors. I think that's a powerful part of the story."

The researchers stress that much work is still needed to develop an effective and reliable probiotic therapy for human autism—in part because there are both genetic and environmental contributions to the disorder, and because the immune-challenged mother in the mouse model reproduces only the environmental component.

"Autism is such a heterogeneous disorder that the ratio between genetic and environmental contributions could be different in each individual," Mazmanian says in the news release. "Even if B. fragilis ameliorates some of the symptoms associated with autism, I would be surprised if it's a universal therapy—it probably won't work for every single case."

The Caltech team proposes that particular beneficial bugs are intimately involved in regulating the release of metabolic products (or metabolites) from the gut into the bloodstream. Indeed, the researchers found that in the leaky intestinal wall of the autistic-like mice, certain metabolites that were modulated by microbes could both easily enter the circulation and affect particular behaviors. "I think our results may someday transform the way people view possible causes and potential treatments for autism," Mazmanian says in the news release.

Along with Patterson, Hsiao, and Mazmanian, additional Caltech coauthors on the paper, "Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders," are Sara McBride, Sophia Hsien, Gil Sharon, Julian A. Codelli, Janet Chow, and Sarah E. Reisman.

The work was supported by a Caltech Innovation Initiative grant, an Autism Speaks Weatherstone Fellowship, a National Institutes of Health/National Research Service Award Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Fellowship, a Human Frontiers Science Program Fellowship, a Department Of Defense Graduate Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, an Autism Speaks Trailblazer Award, a Caltech Grubstake award, a Congressionally Directed Medical Research Award, a Weston Havens Foundation Award, several Callie McGrath Charitable Foundation awards, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

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