How to make kefir at home

Posted on 23 January 2012

When we were doing our cheese making course back in 2010, Elisabeth Fekonia gave us some kefir grains to take home.  So we’ve been using these friendly microorganisms and yeasts to help balance our inner ecosystem and supply complete protein, essential minerals and vitamins B12, B1 and C. It is also an excellent source of biotin, which helps the assimilation and absorption of other B vitamins from the body.

Kefir has all the great health benefits of yoghurt and more, because whilst yoghurt works through a bacterial conversion of the milk sugars, kefir uses both bacterial and yeast actions! Kefir is full of probiotics while the calcium, magnesium and phosphorous from the milk is maintained for proper growth of cells and for maintenance of the body and abundant energy. As mentioned above, it is easy to digest because the yeast in the grains feed on the lactose in the milk! This incredible combination of microorganisms has a wonderful effect on our intestinal flora which enhances our immune system and cleans our intestines.

Jean loves it but I can find the sour, effervescent, zesty taste quite strong soprefer to use it for smoothies! Jean’s mum, who we are staying with at the moment also loves it! She was telling us it is the first thing she buys when she travels to Eastern Europe where it is still a part of their cuisine. Indigenous people living in the Caucasus and Middle East regions consumed Kefir for many centuries in the past and scientists have been continuously confirming the health properties of kefir and its benefits in a healthy lifestyle. The origins of kefir were noted many centuries ago with mountain shepherds of the North Caucasus region, who discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent beverage. I read that in the countries of the former Soviet Union, kefir constitutes 70% of the total fermented milk consumed, and is used in hospitals for various reasons, such as for treating metabolic disorders, for atherosclerosis, for allergic diseases etc. It even used to treat tuberculosis, abnormal growth of cells, high cholesterol levels, the gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases, hypertension and ischemic heart disease and allergy.

To make our kefir, we simply add our kefir grains to some fresh milk in a clean glass jar (I’ve read in one place that for approximately every tablespoon of grains, add 1 cup of milk and in another place that one teaspoon of grains will be enough to make 1L of kefir milk but we just add however much we want to make and observe it). You then leave it at room temperature with the lid on loosely, for 12 to 36 hours (depends on the temperature of the air).  We then just strain the kefir grain and drink it… or add fruit to make a smoothie… or we put a few tablespoons of it into fresh cream to ferment it in to sour cream or to make butter. We then put our kefir grains in a fresh batch of milk and wait another 12 to 36 hours. The kefir gets more tangy the longer it cultures. The resulting kefir is basically fermented milk and the texture reminds me of a lassi or yoghurt drink. Here is a photo of our strained kefir grains…

 

As you can see they are curious looking little organisms – a little bit like tiny white gelatine-looking cauliflower. Whilst they are called ‘grains’ they aren’t really – they are a combination of yeasts (7 types actually!) and bacteria (13 Lactobacilli, Streptococci/lactococci), along with some lipids, sugars and proteins and they are cultured, so under the right conditions they multiply. Every time we make kefir we are feeding these little guys and so they keep reproducing and growing.

When we go travelling for a while or we are sick of drinking kefir we just put them in some fresh milk in the fridge to put them to sleep. Ideally, we give them a fresh batch of milk when we can to feed them but normally after a few months of neglect we come back and culture and re-culture them for a few batches to make the kefir grain healthy again. They really thank us by reproducing!

Here are some other tips for making kefir:

  • A slightly warmer temperature will speed up the fermentation process, but don’t let them go over 30°C.
  • The more kefir grains, the faster the fermentation.
  • Refrigerate the kefir milk after removing the grains as it will turn too sour.
  • Keep the fermentation out of direct sunlight – UV kills yeast.
  • Don’t rinse the grains between batches as this removes the active bacteria on the surface.
  • The better the quality of milk, the better your kefir. You can use ultra heated milk, full cream or half cream milk, pasteurised or homogenised. We’d rather give our kefir grains (and us!) the full range of nutrients so we feed them the freshest milk (at the moment we are using milk from local farms where we are staying in France) and preferably raw, but if not at least only pasteurised. Lastly, don’t go giving them any of that silly lactose-free milk… the kefir grains won’t have any lactose to consume!
  • Apparently over-ripened kefir (which increases the sour taste) significantly increases the folic acid content (actually you get different health properties at different stages of the fermentation but you’ll have to research it to understand the others).
  • This page has some useful information about whether your kefir grains are healthy or contaminated.
  • This page, from the same site as the above point, is a great FAQ page on kefir.

If you are interested in making kefir, you will have to obtain some kefir grains.So, here are some things to be aware of…

  • The easiest way to obtain some kefir culture is to get some from a friend who is making kefir but you can also look online to purchase some.
  • Make sure you get kefir grains and not just a starter. We saw some starter in a cooperative recently and it is just the flora from the kefir grains which means it can only be used a few times whereas the grains can be used forever.
  • Our grains have tripled in size during the past few weeks so we are always happy to share them with others.
  • We are using milk kefir grains but there are also water based kefir grains. We are hoping to get our hands on some of these soon to try out this ginger beer recipe!

Let us know if you try making kefir and how it turns out!


16 responses to How to make kefir at home

  • sharon says:

    Hi Carley,

    Such coincidence! I have been researching kefir for a while now and just last night found a source to purchase from …. very elusive in this part of the world.

    Can’t wait to pick it up and get started!

    Thanks for the info.

    Love and hugs to you both
    x
    Sharon

    [Reply]

    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    I’m so excited for you as it really feels great to nurture these grains and then consume all this goodness! It’s a shame we didn’t talk earlier… I wonder if they would have allowed it through the post? :) If you have any questions feel free to contact us! Lots of hugs to you both too xxx

    [Reply]

  • Wynette says:

    I have been making kefir from a starter I bought at Whole foods. It has gotten really thick. I have been having some stomach problems and am wondering if the kefir is any good. I am holding off on using it right now just in case it is the kefir that is making me sick. It still tastes good.
    Any ideas?
    Thanks,
    Wynette

    [Reply]

    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Hi Wynette… sorry for the late reply… we’ve been travelling a lot lately! It’s always best to start off consuming kefir in small amounts and gradually increasing it. This way your gut can get used to all those probiotics slowly. Just monitor your body’s reaction as you increase the amount.

    [Reply]

  • Richard W. Wheeler says:

    I just started my first batch of kefir from a package of starter from a health food store. Then I read about kefir grains. Grains sound better but I will not throw out what I have now. Please cure some points of confusion. 1. Maximum temperature while heating the milk. Mine went to 188 degrees. 2. Whole milk vs 2 per cent milk. 3. If I use it in bread recipes, will heat (205 degrees internal ) kill the probiotic bacteria?

    [Reply]

  • Marcia says:

    Lactose free milk is fine, mine are thriving!

    [Reply]

    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Interesting… I guess they are consuming the other sugars in the milk and you might not be getting their full benefits… This is also what happens when milk kefir grains are used for coconut milk – they still work, but apparently there are reduced benefits.

    [Reply]

  • MJB says:

    I have not yet tried to make kefir, but I see you don’t mention heating the milk first. I had wondered why people were heating pasturized milk to make kefir, as the heating sounded like a home method for pasteurization.

    [Reply]

    Coconut Lover Reply:

    There is no need to heat the milk before making kefir. Straight out of the refrigerator works great.

    [Reply]

  • [...] So people are all into kefir for its pro-biotic power. It’s a natural powerhouse for building up your daily dose. For a long time I thought it was made similarly to yogurt, but in fact it is quiet different, although it tastes almost the same. If you are interested in the process here is a good post on it from the Making Sense of Things Blog. [...]

  • Carmen says:

    Will you be willing to share your mild Kefir with me? I have never done Kefir nor bought it before. I just recently gained knowledge of it and the miraculous effect it has on our health.
    Please contact me at my personal email address if you still have some to share. I am not sure where you live, I live in the U.S.
    Thank you and be blessed.

    [Reply]

    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    Hi Carmen, I’m so sorry but we are currently in Bolivia and it’s not possible, but I know there are some great forums on facebook where they share milk kefir grains much closer to you… check out:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/fermenterskitchen/

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/WlidFermentation/

    [Reply]

  • Carmen says:

    sorry milk Kefir. LOL

    [Reply]

  • This is the right site for everyone who wants to understand this topic.
    You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa).

    You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject that’s been
    written about for many years. Excellent stuff, just great!

    [Reply]

  • Kathleen says:

    Hello,
    Thank you so much for this information on Kefir. I recently received some grains from a friend of mine and have been making kefir ever since. I was wondering about the calorie intake, as we are trying to watch everything we put in our mouths. Also, would it be okay if I used 2% or fat-free milk instead of whole milk?
    Thank you again for your help.
    Kathleen

    [Reply]

    Making Sense of Things Reply:

    hmmm… I’d rather use whole milk to ensure the kefir grains have lots of different sugars and nutrients to feed off… I honestly don’t know about the resulting calorie intake but I love the idea that we should count good bacteria rather than calories :)

    [Reply]

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