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.

The thick texture of kefir is due to the formation of kefiran, a polysaccharide that is created by some of the lactic acid bacteria during fermentation. Kefiran also comprises the “grains” on which the bacteria and yeasts live.

Any type of animal milk (cow, goat, camel, sheep, horse!) lends itself well to making kefir. Try to use whole milk (it makes for a better finished product and keeps the grains happy).

As far as how processed the milk is, less is better! Raw, whole grass-fed milk is great 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 pasteurized, unhomogenized whole grass-fed milk (also called “cream top” because the cream rises to the top) whole grass-fed organic cow milk.

Avoid using ultra-high temperature pasteurized dairy of any kind (it may also be labeled as “ultra-pasteurized” or “UHT”). Some of the protein and fat molecules are destroyed during this super-heated process, and the kefir bacteria and yeasts do not do as well with UHT milk. Unfortunately, most of the national organic (even grass-fed) milk brands ultra-pasteurize their dairy products. Opt for a local or regional dairy brand. On the west coast of the united States, Strauss Family Creamery and Clover Sonoma are two brands that make high quality milk products.

Kefir grains also work well in higher fat milk products like half-and-half or heavy cream) and make delicious sour cream. Just be sure to store them back in whole milk once in a while (they like lactose, a sugar which is less abundant in higher milkfat products).

Similar to kombucha, kefir fermentation works best in wide containers. Kefir grains tend to float to the top of the container, so having a wide surface area is ideal for optimal fermentation. You can also gently stir the milk a few times throughout the process in order to ensure even fermentation.

Kefir can be fermented in either open or closed-lid containers. Each method will produce slightly different flavors and textures. (I am still experimenting with this to understand it better!)

Looking for high quality Milk Kefir Grains? We like these from Kombucha Kamp. (* we are an affiliate of Kombucha Kamp and earn a small commission when you order using our links.)

Prep time
Fermentation time
Yield: 2 liters/quarts
  • 2 liters/quarts whole milk
  • 60 grams/ml (4 tablespoons) dairy kefir grains (3% w/w)
  • Two or three clean wide glass jars
  • Small wire mesh strainer (or clean silicone sink strainer)
  • Funnel
  1. Reserve 1 cup (250ml) fresh milk in a pint or quart sized jar and store in refrigerator (will be used later).
  2. Add remaining fresh milk to a clean glass container(s) (one half-gallon jar or two quart-sized jars).
  3. Add kefir grains and 1 ounce of finished kefir to jar(s). Divide evenly if using more than one container.
  4. Stir or shake contents.
  5. Cover containers with lid(s) but do not tighten (so gas can escape).
  6. Leave containers in a cool spot for 24 hours. Stir gently once or twice if you think of it.
  7. 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.
Strain and Store Kefir
  1. Once the kefir tastes to your liking and has thickened, secure the lid tightly and shake or stir the kefir until it is smooth and evenly textured.
  2. Using a wire mesh strainer or a silicone sink strainer, strain the kefir into another clean glass container for storage. The grains are rubbery, yellowish and translucent and won't go through the strainer. If you used unhomogenized milk, you may need to manually remove the clots of cream from the strainer (be sure to add those back to the kefir!)
  3. Transfer the strained grains to the fresh milk you reserved earlier to keep them happy and healthy.
  4. Store finished kefir and the grains jar in the refrigerator. Consume kefir within 1-2 weeks.


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.

6 thoughts on “Kefir

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