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How to Make Delicious Milk Kefir

How to Make Milk Kefir

Last week my six-year-old was writing to his Grandpa and gave him the latest updates from our homestead. He liked sleeping in the new cabin… his baby sister might start crawling soon… and Mama’s fermenting something.

All of that is true, and that last update is a daily occurrence around here these days.

Every day I take one or two quarts of goat milk fetched from down the dirt road by my boys, and make milk kefir in about four minutes. Yes, it’s that simple. I’ve already basically written a love letter to milk kefir for its wonderful health benefits, its ease of preparation, and its sustainable addition to my kitchen; so I’ll spare you the gushing.

What I do want to share with you is how to make this lovely cultured dairy product, and how just one simple change to the way I made it had me willingly eating it every day after years of resisting my poorly-made kefir.

how make milk kefir

These are milk kefir grains. They have a similar texture to gummy bears and are a cream colored blob.

They are not grains and do not contain any grains, they are simply referred to as grains. They look more like cauliflower than grains to me.

You will need milk kefir grains to make milk kefir.

(Where to buy milk kefir grains.)

how make milk kefir

I take the above-mentioned grains and plop them into a quart of raw goat milk every night. Raw cow’s milk works as well. I then cover them with a breathable material, in this case a coffee filter, and secure a canning ring to the jar.

Milk kefir needs oxygen to culture as it contains both beneficial bacteria and beneficial yeasts.

This is where the trick comes in:

Always keep a ratio of 1-2 teaspoons of grains per 1 quart of milk.

Your milk kefir grains may multiply or enlarge. As they do this, either share some grains with a friend, toss them to the compost or chickens, or start making more milk kefir.

The flavor of the kefir is more mild (less yeasty, in my opinion) when the grains are getting enough milk to feed on.

You may also want to re-evaulate your grains to milk ratio in cases of higher temperatures. Higher temperatures equal a faster culturing time which can lead to strongly flavored (or downright unpleasant) ferments. For that reason I tend to use about 1 teaspoon per quart of milk during the heat of summer.

how make milk kefir

This is how my kefir looks after about 24 hours. It is just starting to separate, but hasn’t gone too far yet. After about 12 hours it is more milk-like, whereas a 24 hour fermentation produces something like a drinkable yogurt, once the mixture is strained and chilled.

We prefer a 24 hour culturing period for the most part because it is a fuller fermentation and therefore more of the milk sugars have been converted into all of the beneficial microorganisms that we’re after.

how make milk kefir

I then pour my kefir through a plastic strainer.

Generally speaking, you do not want to allow mother cultures like kefir grains, kombucha SCOBYS and yogurt starters to spend a lot of time in contact with reactive materials like metals, though I really don’t think it’s a huge deal if it’s quick and it’s stainless steel. I am also not a huge fan of plastics, so I do a quick strain and then store and culture in glass jars.

how make milk kefir

Once you have strained out the kefir grains – either by stirring the kefir poured into the strainer or tapping the strainer on the food funnel pictured above – you should be left with creamy dreamy milk kefir in the jar and the reusable grains in the strainer.

Then you start over. And your grains should continue to make kefir for you until you either botch it and forget to feed them for too long… or you die.

But cultures are surprisingly resilient, so if you’ve forgotten the little buggers and your kefir or grains don’t appear to be rotten in anyway, go ahead and try to revive them.

How to Make Flavored Kefir

How to Make Milk KefirMaking milk kefir tasty isn’t that difficult, once you are making it correctly. Here are a few ideas:

  • Blend it up with fresh fruit,as pictured in the top photo. Two cups of kefir blended with 1/2 cup of raspberries is my favorite. Add vanilla extract and sweetener as desired.
  • Kefir Nog. Raw homegrown egg yolks + kefir + nutmeg + vanilla + sweetener = awesome.
  • Cinnamon Kefir. My boys love a light sprinkling of cinnamon in their kefir. They don’t even ask for a sweetener!

And, of course, there are hundreds of ways to use the stuff besides a sweet drink – salad dressing, dip, spread, soaked muesli, you name it.

Where to Buy Milk Kefir Grains

Because kefir is the gift that keeps on giving, you can often get kefir grains from a friend or family member who lives near you.

But if you are a lone renegade and don’t have a local source of milk kefir grains, I recommend buying them online from a reputable supplier.

(Click here to buy milk kefir grains.)

Have you tried milk kefir?

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Shannon lives on a two acre off-grid homestead in Central Texas with her husband and four small children. Their family is attempting to create a simple, sustainable way of life from scratch. They like to call it agrarianism. Chickens, gardens, managing life in a small home, lots of food fermentation, homeschooling, and writing about it all make up the full and wonderful days of this life that she writes about at Nourishing Days.

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42 Responses to How to Make Delicious Milk Kefir
  1. Jennifer
    July 21, 2014 | 11:35 pm

    This makes me want to try again. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm. I tried three times using our raw (from excellent pastured cows) milk and my grains never grew. Not only that, but every time the cream would rise to the top and start molding. Even the good folks at Cultures for health were unable to figure that one out. Can you stir things up every 6-8 hours to help keep the cream from staying at the top? Do I have to figure out how to get things going in “creamless” milk? I really want this to work, but I’ve failed so much at it, I feel like a fermenting jinx!

    • Kara
      July 22, 2014 | 9:29 am

      I find it actually works a lot better if I stir them while it’s culturing. Sometimes I check it, stir it, and only an hour later it’s done! To get all the milk in contact with the grains. I have found with raw milk or even just non-homo pasteurized milk that the cream turns a bit curdy and gives it a texture I don’t love unless I blend it up….

      • Shannon Stonger
        July 22, 2014 | 1:27 pm

        Kara – You hit the nail on the head when you said “to get all the milk in contact with the grains”.

        Often the grains can get stuck either in the cream or in the bottom corners of your jar.

        Stirring them insures contact with any milk that hasn’t been easily exposed to the culture.

    • Ro
      July 22, 2014 | 9:45 am

      I have the same problem without the mold. I cannot strain out the kefir without straining out the cream – sometimes I can’t even tell them apart. I gave up and only make yogurt. Any help would be appreciated.

      • Shannon Stonger
        July 22, 2014 | 1:28 pm

        Ro – When you say you “cannot strain out the kefir without straining out the cream” do you mean that you cannot separate the kefir grains from the cream/milk easily?

        • Ro
          July 22, 2014 | 2:45 pm

          yes. I have a very difficult time because the cream is so thick. Thanks for responding.

    • Sandra
      July 22, 2014 | 11:28 am

      I always let my milk chill so that the cream settles to the top and then I skim off the cream…save it and use it in my ice cream mixture (if you are not going to use it right away, it freezes well until you need it)

      Raw milk makes the most wonderful kefir!

    • Shannon Stonger
      July 22, 2014 | 1:23 pm

      Jennifer –

      Yes, you absolutely can (and maybe should) stir or swirl your kefir during the culturing process.

      I usually do this 2-3 times in 12-24 hours.

      When I used to make kefir from raw cow’s milk, I had a similar struggle with the cream.

      I often found that the grains would lodge themselves in the cream, so stirring is a great idea – just make sure it’s a clean, non-reactive utensil.

  2. Nancy
    July 22, 2014 | 9:49 am

    This is just a suggestion. I had watery kefir until I started using a Fido (clamp lid) jar for an anaerobic ferment. It is so mild and almost as thick as yogurt now and I have never had any problem with cream on raw milk. With the clamp, you can gently shake the jar if you want, and no leaks. Since kefir is naturally able to even kill ecoli (google it), keeping it sealed prevents any stray organisms from hopping in.

    • Shannon Stonger
      July 22, 2014 | 1:30 pm

      Nancy – I wonder if the thickness is related to the higher bacteria : yeast count you achieve with an anaerobic fermentation.

      How long have you been using kefir grains this way?

  3. Sandra
    July 22, 2014 | 11:25 am

    First of all…you are sooo very right about limiting the amount of grains in the milk you are making into kefir! It makes all the difference in your end product!

  4. Sandra
    July 22, 2014 | 11:25 am

    I make the most wonderful “cream cheese” or dip (with Ranch seasoning) but filtering my kefir through a coffee filter overnight. The whey (byproduct) is healthy for you too! I read online that 1 quart of organic whey costs $40.

    • Shannon
      July 22, 2014 | 1:31 pm

      Sandra – Wow! I’ve been using our whey to make cultured sodas lately. It’s water kefir without having to keep up another culture!

      • Rebecca
        July 22, 2014 | 5:36 pm

        It is not water kefir… Separating the whey from milk kefir does not make it water kefir. It is still a dairy byproduct, and water kefir is not a dairy byproduct.

        I will stick with what Cultures for Health says, as they are the experts and it has never ever failed me:

        1 TABLESPOON of kefir grains PER CUP of milk.

        That would be 4 TABLESPOONS per quart.

        Not just a couple teaspoons. I think this just doesn’t seem right to me.

        If you want thinner kefir, then you let it culture for less time, or at a cooler temperature.

        The things that affect the taste are the temperature, and the time.

        • Shannon Stonger
          July 22, 2014 | 6:06 pm

          Hi Rebecca,

          You are correct in that water kefir and milk kefir are not the same thing at all. They are separate cultures and milk kefir whey will contain trace amounts of dairy so should be avoided for those with sensitivities. When I mentioned it being water kefir above I should have said *like* water kefir and since our family is not dairy-free I like to use it to make sodas when I do not have the water kefir culture on hand.

          I actually work for Cultures for Health as a writer and blog editor and I agree that they have an awesome team of CSRs who are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable.

          I have worked closely with the head Customer Support Rep, Bonni, in writing content for the blog and the CFH site that represents the advice they give to customers.

          This is the information she gives to customers, passed on to me in an email from last year when we were working together on a Milk Kefir Series for the CFH blog:

          “…There are 3 main factors involved in making great kefir, Time, Temperature and Ratio of grains to milk. If you want to stay on a 24 hour schedule and your temperature is fairly consistent, you simply adjust the ratio of grains to milk to stay on schedule. More milk takes longer to culture. If your kefir over-cultures within 24 hours, you’ll know that you need to increase the amount of milk with the next batch.”…

          “Keep in mind you only need about 1 tsp. of grains to culture up to 4 cups of milk. Some people have even reported being able to culture a quart (4 cups) of milk with as little as 1/2 teaspoon of grains. Extra grains can be used to culture another jar of kefir, shared with friends, eaten, blended into smoothies, or dried and stored in some powdered milk in a sealed container in the fridge as backup.”

          I hope that helps!
          Shannon

  5. Nanette Marie Glass via Facebook
    July 22, 2014 | 12:26 pm

    I’ve tried kefir, but idk about it being delicious lol. Maybe I’ll have to try again

    • Shannon
      July 22, 2014 | 1:32 pm

      Nanette – I would agree that it can be an acquired taste, especially if you’re accustomed to store-bought yogurts that aren’t all that tangy in comparison.

    • Amy
      July 26, 2014 | 10:07 am

      Nanette,

      While kefir may be an acquired taste, try it again, but with a good drizzle of real Maple syrup, then sip through a straw so you get a mix of each flavor—amazing! I haven’t made my own kefir, though I’m tempted to now because of everyone’s comments, so I use the Redwood Hill Farm Goat Kefir with Grade B Maple syrup from Trader Joe’s. It’s such a treat!

      Anyone know where to get raw goat milk in MD?

  6. Danielle Mein via Facebook
    July 22, 2014 | 12:35 pm

    Bethany Dixson Pautrat

  7. Olinda Paul
    July 22, 2014 | 1:18 pm

    Can this be made with alternative milks like coconut?

  8. Shannon
    July 22, 2014 | 1:35 pm

    Olinda – Yes, coconut milk seems to work. The only caveat is that the grains don’t necessarily multiply and may need refreshing in dairy milk to stay vibrant.

    Here is a link: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/coconut-milk-kefir-recipe

  9. Cheryl O'day via Facebook
    July 22, 2014 | 2:03 pm

    What exactly is Kefir pls ?

  10. Food Renegade via Facebook
    July 22, 2014 | 4:16 pm

    Cheryl O’day — It’s a fermented dairy product, like yogurt but drinkable.

  11. Laura Jones via Facebook
    July 23, 2014 | 9:38 am

    Nanette Marie Glass – the first several batches I made of milk kefir, were pretty yucky. It can take a little while for the grains to adjust to new surroundings and it takes them a bit to work their funk out.

    • Shannon Stonger
      July 23, 2014 | 10:01 am

      Good points, Laura. I recently started with new grains and it took me about 1-2 weeks to begin making my “ideal” kefir. We were eating the kefir up until that point, but I think it does take a bit of time for them to acclimate to your milk and environment.

  12. Mindy
    July 23, 2014 | 10:21 am

    I use a small, plastic serving spoon to get the grains out of the kefir. I save dishes by leaving the kefir in the jar it cultured in and not dirtying a strainer. I also think that you need to be flexible with kefir grains. Don’t get hung up on a formula of 1TBS of grains per quart. If it’s to strong or fermenting too fast use less grains. I really believe my current grains work more quickly so I use less than I ever have.

  13. Nikki
    July 23, 2014 | 2:14 pm

    I have been trying to make keifer for the past 2-3 weeks. I can’t tell if it is working well or not. We live in Alaska & temps can be cooler. I’ve allowed it to sit longer & tried to find less drafty areas to keep it, however it seems to get overly sour. Not sure if I should keep it in for less time or even if it is fermented at that point?

  14. Lisa
    July 23, 2014 | 5:39 pm

    Dude! You totally rock!
    I can now enjoy my kefir again without forcing myself to drink it.
    Thank you, thank you :))

  15. Allison
    July 24, 2014 | 1:33 pm

    Can i use pasteurized homogenized non-raw milk?

    • Marci
      July 28, 2014 | 8:56 pm

      Yes. It is what I have to use and my kefir is wonderful.

  16. Bob Snitchler
    July 24, 2014 | 8:40 pm

    I live in Virginia and it is illegal here for a producer to sell raw milk. (Oddly enough, though, they can sell cheese made from raw mile and I occasionally pick up some of that at my farmer’s market.) How do I do this if I cannot obtain raw milk?

    • Beth @ Hooked on Health
      July 25, 2014 | 6:39 am

      Perhaps a local farmer. We have a dairy in Yellow Springs that sells raw milk, it just is labeled, “not for human consumption.” All raw milk fans just ignore the warning. It is sooo amazing.

    • Rachael R.
      July 25, 2014 | 11:20 pm

      In Virginia you need to belong to a cow share program to get raw milk. The following link should point you in the right direction. http://www.realmilk.com/real-milk-finder/virginia/#va

    • Bob Snitchler
      July 28, 2014 | 12:08 pm

      Beth and Rachel, thank you for the information. Rachel, the website you linked identifies half a dozen places within a 30 minute drive of my place outside Front Royal. I will be contacting them.

  17. Joni
    July 24, 2014 | 10:30 pm

    This is such good advice! In my experience with ruining my kefir…lol….I have always found recovery in taking away the fat slimy grains and keeping only and few well-washed tiny, tight grains. My temp was affected by setting the jar on the counter above the dishwasher and by the toaster oven and in the window. Sheesh, it was so difficult to find a counter top with consistent temperature. But, I’m grateful for the ratio advice.

  18. GinnyV
    July 24, 2014 | 11:13 pm

    This post is perfect timing for me. I just got some kefir grains and have tried two times to make kefir, but both times it was so sour! I have about 2 tbsp in a quart or so of milk. It’s also been around 80+ degrees in my kitchen, sometimes hotter. It sounds like I will need to decrease the amount of grains that I’m using. I used to make it a long time ago, without any problems and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong this time. Thank you!

  19. Mary
    July 25, 2014 | 6:25 am

    Just wondering if water kefir is as healthy as milk kefir? Have not read much about using water kefir grains.

  20. Beth @ Hooked on Health
    July 25, 2014 | 6:41 am

    I have learned so much from you in the few short weeks that I have been following you. I wanted to do, with my kids, what you are doing. At 57, I am just now getting into all of this like crazy. Thank you for your info, effort and knowledge. I know how much work goes into research, writing and rearing. :)

    • Bob Snitchler
      July 28, 2014 | 12:15 pm

      Beth, I am 64 and began this transition 6 months ago. I have 3 kids and my 16 year old twins are still at home with me (I have been Mr. Mom for 14 years now). They are coming along with me, sometimes reluctantly, on this journey toward health.

  21. Philene Alvarado
    July 31, 2014 | 1:20 pm

    Love love your site! I am grateful for
    the olive oil information and resources.

    I have been using organic grass fed milk
    and dairy products for years. But I stumbled up info about radiation fallout
    showing up in milk samples around U.S.
    Since “hot-spots” of it come down in the
    rain, stemming from ongoing Fukushima accident, it contaminates pasture grasses.
    So I just wanted to inform you about this
    news, which isn’t told to us on any news.
    Warm regards
    Philene

  22. Brittany
    July 31, 2014 | 2:07 pm

    I’m sad to say that this did not work for me at all. :( I’ve heard in the past of using a 1 tsp to 1 qt. ratio to get a better tasting kefir, but this inspired me to try. It was definitely a flop. There was no change in consistency for the first 24 hours, and the milk smelled slightly sour (not kefir sour, like milk that’s been left out too long). I let it go another 12 hours, and it turned nasty. Stinky, cottage-cheese chunky and the whey separated out completely. Previously I was making kefir using more of a 1 T. to 1 cup of milk ratio, and it made a nice, slightly tangy kefir. I’m not using raw milk (low temp pasteurized, non-homogenized), so I don’t know if that made a difference.

  23. Cheryl B
    August 8, 2014 | 10:22 am

    About two weeks ago I received a wonderful gift of a teaspoon full of milk kefir grains. I placed them into a quart mason jar and covered them with store bought skim milk. I had the same issues…too thick, hard (almost chewy) stuff, almost clear liquid at the bottom. I couldn’t find my grains. UGH. I really wanted to just give up. However, remembering how my awesome Facebook friend Donna (a lady that I have never met in person and who lives states away from me) lovingly took the time to mail ($11.90) to me a tiny glass jar wrapped in paper towels and safely tucked in a plastic zip-lock baggie a teaspoon of milk kefir grains… I kept going and then I watched a couple You Tube videos to actually watch how others were making this delicious kefir, I conquered my fears, the challenges, etc. Now, every morning I take my large glass bowl, my plastic strainer and strain the kefir. Gently stirring the batch to separate the beautiful grains and place them back into the mason jar and cover again with my (not-so-cheap) store bought skim milk. Tomorrow morning I will do the same again. It’s just the right consistency for me at 24 hours on the kitchen counter. One thing will soon be changing though. My grains have already doubled in size and number and I will be able to make two batches at a time and get going on other recipes. Until then, I will just use my kefir milk with my morning Pure Trim Shake and say ahhhh.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.