The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, “no”. Kefir grains are propagated from existing kefir grains, and nobody knows exactly where the first grains came from or how they formed. Kefir has been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years, and scientists haven’t yet worked out how to make kefir grains from scratch.
This means that it’s only possible to produce kefir grains if you have some to begin with. The good news is, it’s cheap and easy to buy kefir grains, and you can sometimes find someone willing to give you some for free.
It’s also possible to make a kind of milk kefir without using grains if you instead use a proprietary blend of bacteria that mimics the blend of bacteria found in kefir grains. Purists will say this isn’t real kefir, but it will have a lot of the same health benefits.
What are kefir grains?
Kefir grains are small, grain-like blobs made from polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates formed of monosaccharides (simple carbohydrates such as glucose and fructose). The main polysaccharide found in kefir grains is kefiran, which is made up of glucose, rhamnose, galactose and arabinose (source).
Kefir grains are called ‘grains’ because of their appearance—they aren’t actually a grain like wheat etc. As well as looking like grains, lots of people also liken the appearance of kefir grains to cauliflower.
Where do kefir grains come from?
Kefir is thought to have originated in the Caucasus mountains, but nobody knows for sure how the first kefir grains formed. One theory is that kefir grains originated by combining milk with bacteria from the intestines of a sheep—pretty gross! Another theory is that they were a gift from the gods, though there’s not much evidence to back up that claim!
The fact that nobody knows exactly where kefir comes from and nobody can produce kefir grains from scratch definitely help add to kefir’s mystique.