What is Kefir
Kefir is a cultured milk beverage that originated in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia and is touted for its probiotic benefits. Kefir can be easily made at home. It is made by fermenting milk (cow, goat, or sheep milk) using fresh “kefir grains,” the name for the small gelatinous, cauliflower-looking clumps comprised of yeast and bacteria mixed with proteins, sugars, and fats. Kefir grains can be used for a lifetime if maintained properly, allowing for a new batch of kefir to be prepared each day, requiring minimal time and effort.
How to Make Kefir — Getting Started
Half-gallon wide mouth glass jar
Plastic lid, clean cloth, or coffee filter
Filtered, non-chlorinated water
Fresh organic milk (we use whole milk)
1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh kefir grains
Preparation and Supplies
Sanitize jars, lids, strainer, and any utensils you’ll be using. If you use a dishwasher with a heat cycle, your equipment is sanitized. If you’re washing by hand, clean and rinse your equipment and leave in the sink. Bring a kettle of water to the boil, then pour the boiling water over the items in the sink. Invert utensils on a clean cloth until ready to use.
First Kefir Batches During Recovery Period
If you’ve purchased kefir grains by mail, the kefir grains need to recover and adapt to their new environment. Kefir grains are living organisms and are affected by changes in milk and culturing temperature. However, they will adapt quickly, and with care, will last a lifetime.
Place all of the kefir grains to a clean and sanitized glass jar. Add 4 cups milk, cover with clean cloth or loose fitting lid, and allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours at room temperature. With a plastic spoon, gently stir. Strain and reserve the grains. (Discard liquid.)
Gently scoop the strained grains into a clean and sanitized jar. Add 5 cups milk, cover with clean cloth or loose fitting lid, and allow to sit undisturbed for 24 hours at room temperature. With a plastic spoon, gently stir. Strain and reserve the grains. (Discard liquid.)
Scoop kefir grains in a clean and sanitized jar. Add enough milk to fill the jar about 7/8 with milk, cover with clean cloth or loose fitting lid, and allow to sit undisturbed for 24 – 48 hours at room temperature. If it’s very warm, the fermentation time is shorter. If it’s very cool, it will take longer.
With a plastic spoon, gently stir. Strain and reserve the grains. The exact ratio of milk to kefir grains is not crucial, but as a general rule of thumb, use about 20 parts milk to 1 part grains by volume. Fresh milk provides food for the yeast and bacteria and will keep your kefir grains healthy and active.
This video will show you how easy it is to make kefir every day!
At this point, you should be culturing about two quarts of milk every 24-48 hours, depending on season and temperature. If you want to culture more kefir, continue increasing milk by the cup and tasting until your grains have multiplied enough to manage the amount of milk you want to culture daily. If you find that your kefir is becoming overly sour, too thick, and separating into curds and whey, remove some of the grains or add more milk to the next batch. Your kefir should have the consistency of buttermilk.
Ongoing Kefir Production
Once you have your kefir production up to the amount you wish to consume daily, keep your grains and milk ratio in balance. Kefir grains grow quickly and need to be fed more milk as they grow. If your kefir is becoming too sour, or separating into curds and whey, remove some grains. You’ll discover with a little practice what the “magic formula” is for your grains.
What Kind of Milk Can I Use to Make Kefir?
Milk kefir can be made from any type of milk (whole, low- fat, non-fat, organic, raw, dried, UHT). For highest nutritive value and flavor, try to use milk from pasture-raised, grass fed animals, including cows, goats and sheep.
Kefir dairy grains are not intended for fermenting soy, nut, or rice “milk.” You can culture these non-dairy “milks” but the kefir grains will not multiply and will eventually die.
The one non-dairy milk exception is fresh coconut milk — dairy kefir grains do grow a little in this medium.
Managing Your Kefir Grains
Once you purchase kefir grains, you need to take care of them properly to keep them alive. The best way to do this is to keep them in a jar at room temperature, adding fresh milk to the jar each day.
If you need to take a break from kefir making, kefir grains can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Place grains in jar with fresh milk. This will slow the microorganisms’ growth, and fresh milk only needs to be added once a week. However, leaving them in the refrigerator longer than two weeks damages the grains and they may or may viable in the future. Slowly “wake” them utilizing the initial small “recovery” batches.
Store finished kefir in a bottle or jar with tight fitting lid, leaving about an inch at the top, and place in refrigerator. If not drinking the kefir in a day or two, be sure to “burp” the bottle, since a nice fizzy surprise awaits! Give it a vigorous shake, and enjoy.
How to Use Kefir
Kefir can replace buttermilk in most recipes, such as pancakes, biscuits or scones. We use kefir in our fruit smoothies since the fermented flavor is a bit sour for our personal taste by itself.
- If kefir develops a yeasty flavor, place grains in a strainer and rinse gently with non-chlorinated filtered water. Cover with fresh milk.
- Culturing kefir is based on temperature, culturing time, and milk-to-kefir grains ratio. Kefir grains will culture at any temperature between 40° and 85°.
- It is fine to use cold milk directly from the refrigerator.
- Avoid using metal utensils when handling the kefir grains, as this can adversely affect the microorganisms’ health. Use only plastic utensils.
- If using low-fat or non-fat milk regularly, revitalize your kefir grains by using fresh, whole milk for a few days.
RECIPES: Kefir “Orange Julius” Smoothie, Rich Chocolate Kefir Ice Cream, Lemon Kefir Ice Cream, Rosemary, Garlic, Walnut Kefir Cheese, Creamy Ginger Kefir Dressing, Beet and Fennel Soup with Kefir, Creamy Cilantro Lime Kefir Dressing, Avocado Kefir “Ranch” Dressing, How to Make Kefir Cream Cheese, Chilled Cucumber and Kefir Soup, Beet Kvass, Celeriac Apple Salad