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Milk kefir (pronounced keh-FEER, or KEE-fur, I’ve even heard it as KEFF-eer) is made with the help of a colony of bacteria and yeasts (aka a SCOBY) which is organized in clumps or “grains” that resemble cauliflower florets. These helpful microorganisms work fast, consuming the sugars in milk and creating lactic acid, digestive enzymes and of course, lending themselves to create probiotics.
Any type of animal milk lends itself well to making kefir. Try to use whole milk (it makes for a better finished product and keeps the grains fat & happy).
As far as how processed the milk is, less is better! Raw whole milk is fine to use if you have ready access to it, but it is expensive, and the kefir will have to out-compete the good bacteria that are already present in the milk. I opt for gently (not UHT or ultra-high-temperature) pasteurized, unhomogenized (also called “cream top” because the cream rises to the top) whole grass-fed organic cow milk.
Avoid UHT or ultra-high temperature pasteurized dairy of any kind. Some of the protein and fat molecules are destroyed during this super-heated process, and the bacteria and yeasts do not do well with UHT milk.
Kefir grains also work well in higher fat milks (i.e. half-and-half or heavy cream) and make delicious sour cream.
- 2 quarts/liters whole non-ultra-pasteurized ("UHT") milk (cow, sheep, goat, etc.); can be raw or gently pasteurized; preferably non-homogenized ("cream top")
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) dairy kefir grains
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) finished kefir
- Two or three clean glass jars
- Small wire mesh strainer (or clean silicone sink strainer)
- Reserve ½ cup (250ml) fresh milk in a pint or quart sized jar and store in refrigerator (will be used later).
- Add remaining fresh milk to a clean glass container(s) (one half-gallon jar or two quart-sized jars).
- Add kefir grains and 1 ounce of finished kefir to jar(s). Divide evenly if using more than one container.
- Stir or shake contents.
- Cover containers with lid(s) but do not tighten (so gas can escape).
- Leave containers at room temperature undisturbed for 24 hours.
- After 24 hours, taste. Milk should have thickened up and may even have broken into solid curds and liquid whey. If it is sour enough for you, then it is ready to strain. If not, replace lid(s) and check kefir again in a few hours.
- Once it tastes to your liking, secure the lid tightly and shake or stir the kefir until it is smooth and evenly textured.
- Using a wire mesh strainer or a silicone sink strainer, strain the kefir into another clean glass container for storage. You may need to manually push the cream through the strainer. The grains are rubbery and yellowish and translucent and won't go through the strainer.
- Scoop out the grains and add them to the fresh milk you reserved earlier to keep them happy and healthy.
- Store finished kefir and grains in refrigerator.
How to Enjoy Kefir
Drink it straight (it is slightly thicker than milk) or use it to make smoothies. I like to make a morning parfait using some fresh fruit and some nuts or seeds.
How else can you enjoy it? The possibilities are endless! Use it as a substitute for un-cultured milk in almost any recipe, as a starter for homemade granola; as a base for cultured ice cream, or even in eggnog!
Leave us a comment and let us know how YOU like your kefir!
Kefir & Water Kefir
Kefir and water kefir are not the same culture. Water kefir (aka tibicos) got its name because of the SCOBY’s resemblance to kefir. The cultures are different and are not readily interchangeable. You won’t have much luck using water kefir grains in milk, nor vice versa.