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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
Making 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! (where to buy authentic, fresh, out-of-this world cinnamon)
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.
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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.
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!
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 says
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.
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 says
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?
yes. I have a very difficult time because the cream is so thick. Thanks for responding.
I know this is a bit old. But I found if I put a solid lid on the culturing container and shake it very vigorously….it smooths it out and makes it easy to pour and strain out the grains.
Hi, I live in South Africa. I started off with a table spoon of Milk Kefir grains and now have 3 cups full. When I strain the milk I rinse the grains with cold boiled water or milk and that seperates them and they are good to go. I also stir the Kefir Milk grains so as to break down the build up of the cream so as to leave them for 2 to 3 days and get a creamier and slightly thicker milk. I peal bananas and pineapple and freeze them. When making a smoothy I just cuts up the frozen fruit, pop it into my food processor until it is puree then add my Keifr Milk that has been chilling in the fridge. Also I poured all my Oats into the food processor and pulsed it till it is like powder. I now just add a few teaspoons to my Kefir Milk in a blender and there is my breakfast. Just loving it!
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!
Sandra, I so agree. When I first got my grains. I was using low temp pasteurized milk and my grains did not multiply after having them for 2 1/2 months. Once I found a source for raw milk the multiplied so fast and the kefir tasted so much better. I love my raw milk and I wish I had discovered it and kefir years ago, then maybe my osteoporosis would not be so advanced..
Shannon Stonger says
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.
Use raw goat milk as it is naturally homogenized.
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 says
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?
Do you find that using a fido jar makes your kefir more fizzy? I like mine smooth and creamy not fizzy. That’s why I brew it with a breathable cover. If it doesn’t make it any fizzier in a fido it would make brewing it a tiny bit easier.
Christin, I use a ball jar with a BPA-free plastic lid to ferment then put the stained kefir in a Fido jar and refrigerate after 1-2 hours. My kefir is very thick and creamy with no fizz. Hope that helps.
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!
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.
Sandra – Wow! I’ve been using our whey to make cultured sodas lately. It’s water kefir without having to keep up another culture!
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 says
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!
Nanette Marie Glass via Facebook says
I’ve tried kefir, but idk about it being delicious lol. Maybe I’ll have to try again
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.
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?
Danielle Mein via Facebook says
Bethany Dixson Pautrat
Olinda Paul says
Can this be made with alternative milks like coconut?
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
Cheryl O'day via Facebook says
What exactly is Kefir pls ?
Food Renegade via Facebook says
Cheryl O’day — It’s a fermented dairy product, like yogurt but drinkable.
Laura Jones via Facebook says
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 says
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.
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.
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?
Dude! You totally rock!
I can now enjoy my kefir again without forcing myself to drink it.
Thank you, thank you :))
Can i use pasteurized homogenized non-raw milk?
Yes. It is what I have to use and my kefir is wonderful.
Bob Snitchler says
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 says
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. says
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 says
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.
There’s a great little farm market called The Family Cow in Chambersburg PA (where its legal to sell raw milk). Its right off of I81. I’m guessing just over an hour from Front Royal.
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.
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!
Just wondering if water kefir is as healthy as milk kefir? Have not read much about using water kefir grains.
No, Water kefir is not as healthy as milk kefir. you can find tons of more information joining yahoo group Good_Kefir_Grains
Beth @ Hooked on Health says
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 says
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.
Philene Alvarado says
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.
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.
Cheryl B says
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.
We prefer Waterkefir. Generally speaking waterkefir is slightly less concentrated than milkkefir and therefore some individuals find they consume more waterkefir than they would milkkefir.
Irma Morris says
I want to make kefir. I have powdered milk and need to know if I can use the powdered milk instead of regular milk and make kefir with it.
I read somewhere that powdered milk should and could not be used to make Kefir Milk. In South Africa we have boxed milk that does not need to be refrigerated unless opened. I pour the room temperature milk on my grains which have now increased from a tablespoon to 3 cups full. I am pouring upto 1 1/2 literes of milk on them and stir the up regularly with a wooden spoon and only drain the milk off every 2 to 3 days. Delicious!
Can milk kefir be fed to infants? Or same rule applies, milk after one year of age? Thanks!
Nicole Banker-Neenan via Facebook says
Emily Carter Erickson via Facebook says
Can I make it with almond milk?
Ewa Radke via Facebook says
Bethany Lovegrove via Facebook says
Lauren Goudeseune I know you’re already a pro but I thought this was a good article. 🙂
Kathy Ortiz via Facebook says
Mykael – I have never heard of the ratio she recommends here. I remember you told me a while back that your kefir was too strong. When I get more grains, I’ll use less and see how it turns out. If it’s milder, I’ll mail you my extra grains for another go at it! 🙂
Mykael Richards via Facebook says
Amber Caudell via Facebook says
I’ve been buying it. I need to get some kefir grains
HermanCand PaulaLyn Rider via Facebook says
We also like to 2nd ferment our Kefir, esp good when done using fresh lemon peel. (organic of course)
Jess A Wilcox via Facebook says
What do you do for a secondary ferment? We’ve been making milk kefir for years and I’ve never done it, though we’ve been doing it with our water kefir from the beginning.
Sheena McNeely Madore via Facebook says
My grains come this week
Theresa Resek via Facebook says
I use my kefir in any recipe that calls for milk, cream, or buttermilk (oh how fab pancakes are this way). One of my smoothies is with kefir, a big dollop of canned organic pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and honey. Sooo many uses.
That smoothie sounds really yummy!
Laura Jones via Facebook says
We love milk kefir smoothies and popsicles. I also use the storage milk in biscuits, waffles, etc.
If you are looking for kefir grains, check Craigslist or some of the kefir/fermentation pages on FB.
Laura Jones via Facebook says
Emily Carter Erickson: lThe organisms in milk kefir feed on lactose. You can make kefir with almond milk, but you will need to give the grains mammal milk every 2-3 ferments or they will die. (I don’t have personal experience with that, but have read it so often that I believe it.)
If you need/want to be diary-free, you can use water kefir grains in almond milk. WKG feed on sugars. They don’t have as diverse of a probiotic profile as MKG, but something is better than nothing. Water kefir is fun with water, too.
Jillian Ochoa via Facebook says
Lovely and clear description of the process. I love milk kefir, and though I haven’t written it a love letter, my kids say all I every talk about is Kefir, and I love it more than my kids (well, it’s because it’s so good for us all that I love it, but it’s true that Kefir always gets the milk first. Guilty on that.)
I’ve created a website spread awareness and share my surplus grains : tinyurl.com/ProbioticsPakistan .
Anyone who needs them, drop me a line!
Very grateful. Brain fog, aches and pains, chronic fatigue all gone, alhamdulillah (thanks to The Lord)
I can relate to your love for Kefir Milk and I am so in tune with my grains that I have a problem to eat them as they are my “babies.”
Very grateful for this article, I got kefir grains but the flavor seemed too strong. I tried reducing the amount I was using to culture a quart drastically as I was using a heaping tablespoon per cup. I am now using 2 tsp like you recommend and am getting a much more mild and sweet kefir that seems to be thickening better. It tastes more like plain yogurt and I don’t even have to sweeten it to drink it anymore. Thank you! 🙂
Beverly Jackson says
Great information for me as a beginner. Thank you
Carol Mathews says
Thanks for great tips re: milk kefir.
One question …. my friend has just given me a share of her kefir grains that she has used with water for many years. can I use these with milk?
Thanks and best wishes from a home educating mum in UK!
Learning about milk keifer. I can flavor after 24 hours, without a second fermentation?
Bobbi Naill says
What do you do with the milk that is left over after you strain out the curds?
Can use consume Kefir that has started to separate, due to warm room temperature? Should you try to blend the curds and the liquidy parts, or just consume the liquid.
Sandra Hanna says
I have been making kefir for over 5 years and we drink it everyday. A couple weeks ago we purchased milk that was about to sour (we didn’t realize it). When I tried to make kefir, it separated within the day and ended up with firm curds and tons of whey. I tried it again and the same thing happened. That’s when I realized that the milk was soured.
So I waited until I got some fresh milk and started a new batch of kefir (using the same grains)…and low and behold, that batch did the same thing! 🙁
Do you have any idea what is going on? Did I mess up my grains? Do I need to start over with new grains? I stored those grains in my jar of extra grains…do you think I messed up all my grains?
I also make Kefir (w/raw cows milk) for 24 hours but mine seems to always separate and not get creamy as you noted; can you give me advise on what I am doing wrong?
Hello! I have been searching for a while how to make my own milk kefir, closest to the nancys kefir, seems your way is the best & easiest. One question, after the fermentation & blending it with the fruit & some sweetener, can I keep that blended up in the fridge or does it need to be drank immediately?
Georgia Ronningen says
Marissa, I keep my plain kefir a lg glass container in the refrigerator and pour out what I am going to drink and flavor it at that time. I am going to try the 2nd fermentation with orange slices or lemon slices and leave out for 6-8 hrs and see how that tastes
This looks great! I’ve only ever bought kefir from the store but you make it look so much easier than I expected to make at home. I think i’ll save a ton of money if I just bite the bullet and go for it. Thank you for sharing! It really does look delicious.