Kefir Kombucha Hybrid




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Kefir is a thick cheesy dairy beverage similar to buttermilk or yogurt, like kombucha made with milk.
This is the easiest way I know to preserve milk without refrigeration.

Mongolian "airag" may be the same thing.
I learned about kefir from Russians. They say "kee-fear", rolling the 'r' just a bit. Both syllables last a bit longer than you'd like and are accented equally.

Kefir will not "breed true" without a "mother". Also called "kefir grains".
That's a distinct colony which looks (and feels) like a little brain floating in the yogurty stuff.
You save and transfer it from batch to batch, like Kombucha.
The mother grows slowly from batch to batch. Kefir with no mother will not generate one.

The mother contains a diverse population of microbes that get along well. They can out-compete the wild organisms and don't need the milk scalded first.
Whereas yogurt needs to be held at certain heat to yogurtize properly, kefir can be brewed at room temperature or even saddlebag temperature.
One of the nice features of Kefir is that if it separates and settles, leaving clear whey, you can stir it up and it won't separate again. Yogurt by contrast will settle again.

My dad got a mother from Russian friends at his Orthodox church.
He's given me mothers a couple of times. Other Russian friends have given me mothers also.
I can't seem to keep them alive.

So there I was stranded with no starter. So I bought some commercial kefir, innoculated a kombucha mother with it, and have been using that to make "kefir" for a year and a half now.
It's a little bit different from purebred kefir, but the mother is much more durable.

If you have a real Kefir mother and want to know how to "operate" it, skip ahead to step 3.
If you only have dried mother grains, find the activation info elsewhere.

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Step 1: Get a Chunk of Kombucha Mother

Anyone who brews kombucha will be happy to provide a chunk of "mother".
If you can't find such a person, buy a bottle of commercial kombucha.
Pour it into an open jar and tie a cloth over the top.
If it's still alive you'll see a skin forming on top in a few days.
After a month or two you'll have a nice thick layer of mother in there.

Kombucha gets more and more sour with time. The more sour it gets the better the mother grows.
Here's a nice big chunk from a kit I gave a grad student friend. After graduation the offices were demolished and I found the jar among the rubble with a thriving mother inside.
The other layers in this jar are thinner. Each represents a few weeks' growth.
When I decant and brew again the mother doesn't always float at the surface and a new layer forms atop that.

Step 2: Innoculate Your Mother

Put your mother in a jar and pour in some commercial kefir.
Swirl it around. Leave it for a couple of days.

You now have a hybrid kefir/kombucha mother.

Add milk and follow the next steps to make batches of kefir.
I continued to drench the mother with commercial kefir prior to adding milk until the bottle ran out.

Step 3: Meet the Cast

On the left we have a tub of kefir ready to eat.
There's a cloth over the top instead of a lid.
That's very important for two reasons.
1: Let in air. We don't want anaerobic fermentation.
2: Prevent condensation. Anything looking like a lid will get condensation, even if it's loose. Then there will be white mold. Then your mother will die and fall apart.

On the right we have an empty tub. Offstage we have a lid that fits it.

In the background is a jug of cheap factory famed milk.
Sometimes I buy organic milk right from the farmer's bulk tank right after milking.
That's so much better I want to run around singing and hugging people.

Today I'm far from the farmers I know so I'm hoping kefir critters eat hormones.

Step 4: The Curtain Rises

Reach into the kefir and pull the mother out.

If it were a real kefir mother and you weren't going to make more right now you might put it in a jar of water in the refrigerator to rest.

Step 5: Transfer and Pour

Transfer the mother to the new container and pour milk on it for the new batch.
If this were a real kefir mother you would wash the curds out from between the brain's little lobes.
You might take it out and do the same with water before replacing it in the milk.
Retained curds from the last batch can result in kefir that cracks and settles prematurely.
Also it can retard your mother's growth.

With this massive hybrid mother though, I don't worry about any of that.

Step 6: Exit Stage Left and Right

Cap the old batch and put it in the fridge.
You could leave it out but it would continue to get sour.
Rubberband the cloth cover on the new batch and put it on your "living foods" shelf.
Wash the cloth every few batches or it will get moldy and transfer mold to the tub.

Kefir is best on the second or third day of brewing, just as soon as it sets up.
It's okay to agitate the vessel, especially if any separation occurs.

Real kefir that I've made from brain-shaped mothers has a very buttery taste on the second or third day of brewing, and often has a carbonated sparkly taste.

This kefir never really goes through those phases, or goes through them fast because this mother is so large. A sharp lactic acid sour dominates the flavor, which is what I'm after at the moment for making "Budwig Formula".

This kefir won't really spoil, it will just get more and more sour.

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36 Discussions


9 years ago on Introduction

Okay. Two questions for whoever can answer them. First: How do you pronounce Kombucha? And Second: Where do you find commercial Kombucha & Kefir?

3 replies

Reply 1 year ago

Home made kefirs and kombuchas are the best, no comparison. Find someone to send them to you, many people will do it for free, you'll only have to pay the shipping fee. Google to find kombucha & kefir sharing groups or forums.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Natural Foods store will carry a variety of Kombucha and Kefir. Check Whole Foods since they have both. Some Trader Joe's stock their own brand of Kefir only. Some big supermarkets will stock the Lifeway brand of Kefir. Just look for them next to the Yogurt Section.
I called it "Gum-Boo-Cha."


Reply 1 year ago

If you have 0 knowledge in fermented foods or drinks, it does.


Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

oh it definitely is gross... when you think about it. I've never had kombucha AND kefir but i have had both separate and let me tell you, kombucha is the bomb. It tastes a bit like beer and as long as you dont let the slight vinegar-y smell put you off its delicious and better for energy than a double shot!


Reply 1 year ago

Not gross, delicious. First taste, then vote. That's true that it's not beautiful to see.


9 years ago on Introduction

Could I have some troubleshooting help?

I put a piece of kombucha into a sterilized clean jar, poured commercial plain kefir over it, covered it with a clean cloth, and enjoyed that kefir as the flavor and odor changed over the next 3 days.

Then I removed the kombucha and 'rested' it in a tub for a day until I got some plain milk.

I put 1/2 gallon of organic milk over the kombucha (was this too much?) and covered it and have left it now for 3 days at room temperature. It has a faint sour odor, but has not clotted as in the pictures, and is not like kefir OR 'sparkly' like kombucha. I'm not sure it has worked at all. How many days should I wait before I decide this is a complete failure and/or unsafe to consume?

5 replies

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Try mixing it around a bit. That's what asian nomads do with their milk cultures. Try tasting it and see if it seems like something good and something bad. Was it covered with a cloth (good) or something that sealed it (bad)?
How big was your chunk of kombucha mother? The bigger it is the better it is.
Pull it out and look at it. Probably there's some kefir-yogurty stuff gelling up on it.
It takes some time and experimentation to get this stuff the way you want it.


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I stirred it this morning at your suggestion. There was a layer of yogurt-consistency stuff clinging to the underside of the 'mother' (which is about 5" across and 1/2" thick), which I scraped off and mixed in with the rest as a sort of 'seed'. The milk now tastes faintly sour, like yogurt when you've only been incubating it for about 4 hours. It doesn't seem to smell like it's going bad, even to my kid with the sharp sense of smell.  There does not appear to be anything nasty growing on the surface.

And to answer the last question, yes, I did cover it in cloth, not with a metal lid. I followed the instructions as closely as possible, though I cannot control everything (like, the quality of the kombucha, which was given me by a woman at a health food store from her own private culture).

How many days does it usually take to make this stuff? Does that depend on the quanitity?



Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

The first generation, beginning with 1/2 gallon of milk, took 6 days to become sour enough to separate. I left part of the curds in with the Kombucha mother when I poured the new Kefirbucha off, operating on the theory that this would 'seed' the new batch more rapidly.

The 2nd generation began with 1 quart of milk. It became more sour in 3 days than the other was in 6 days. It also is more "sparkly".

I do not notice any change to the Kombucha mother. Shouldn't it be growing a new layer?


Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Sounds like it's working well. sparkly is good. It's okay to mix your kefirbucha up. It won't settle out like yogurt will after mixing. My mother never grew at all in milk, but I can't keep a kefir mother alive at all. My dad gets good growth with raw organic milk.


Reply 3 years ago

Hi Tim,

what do you mean with "I can't keep a kefir mother alive at all"?? do you mean after use it to make some batch of kefirbucha, the scoby mother will die? could I just rinse it and bring it back to the scoby hotel (a jar full of scoby with some kombucha water in it)?


5 years ago on Introduction

i have a jun scoby which is similar to a kombucha , if a jun/kombucha scoby cross contaminate with milk kefir , what should i look for ? changes in taste , appearances , brew differences ect? i would like to know since im not sure , my jun came in contact with a strainer that was used for kefir ect ? i would not want that and wanna keep those seperated , what to look for ? any infos would be appreciated.


11 years ago on Introduction

Hey Tim! I just started my first batch of "hybrid". I'm wondering... what variations have you tried so far? I couldn't tell if you were using sweetened or unsweetened kefir. It would seem to me that the kombucha mother would enjoy added sugar, so I dumped in a load as if i was making kombucha. I'm also concerned with leaving fatty milk out on the counter, so I chose non-fat milk. I noticed you didn't add any kombucha drink into the mix -- any reason why? (I love the taste of both mixed together.) I'm definitely looking forward to experimenting with this whole concoction! (I wonder what other little animals I can stick in there... )

2 replies

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Please beware of ordering kefir from this link. He is VERY unreliable. He took me to the bank for more than $100. Other people in the Yahoo Kefir groups have also publicly complained. You have been warned. Nonetheless, his website is very helpful, with good information.


8 years ago on Introduction

I own three, kombucha, kefir and water kefir milk. I'm no good if no one died, no one is oral because I have to take me wrong though now I am overwhelmed mother of kombucha.
In my glass jar for water kefir (fruit juice, sugar water or other) I equivalent of a mother who grew kombucha. White skin, flaccid, soft, smooth kombucka a mother but in kefir grains of water.
I did not throw, she's alive but I do not know what to do and what to think?

Je possède les trois, kombucha, kéfir d'eau et kéfir de lait. Je ne suis pas doué, si aucun ne meurent, aucun n'est buvable car je dois mal m'y prendre même si maintenant je suis envahie de mère de kombucha.
Dans mon pot en verre pour le kéfir d'eau (jus de fruit, eau sucré ou autre) j'ai l'équivalent d'une mère kombucha qui s'est développée. La peau blanche, flasque, douce, lisse d'une mère kombucka mais dans des grains de kéfir d'eau.
Je ne l'ai pas jeté, elle est vivante mais je ne sais quoi en faire et quoi en penser ?