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How to Make Kefir

Considered by many to be the most healthful of fermented foods, effervescent kefir tastes tangy and fresh. How lovely that you’ll make your own as commercially available kefir only approximates the real thing (see my Kefir Article for details).

As you work with kefir, you quickly develop a feel for the process and of how it varies according to the room temperature and the type of milk you use. Also, you can increase its thickness by using more grains; and you can increase its tartness by increasing the fermenting time.

As you continue to re-use these grains, they will multiply and you can share grain starters with friends. If you’ve a supply of milk “straight from the animal”, allow it to age in the refrigerator for a day or two prior to making kefir.

1 tablespoon kefir grains
1 scant quart milk (goat, cow, pasteurized, raw, reconstituted, skim or full fat)

Place kefir grains and milk in a quart glass jar. Tightly cover and set out at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours (in hot weather, it ferments faster) but not in direct sun light. Shake the bottle a couple times during fermentation.* After shaking, release any CO2 gas buildup by opening the lid, then tighten the lid once again. (A tight lid produces a lightly effervescent beverage. To eliminate effervescence, just rest the lid on the jar rather than tightly closing the lid.)

The kefir is ready when the grains coagulate at the top of the jar. To separate the newly made kefir and to retrieve the kefir grains, pour through a strainer or colander (stirring as necessary to prevent the grains from clogging the strainer).

You may drink the kefir as is, or you may refrigerate it for up to three weeks. Or, as per below, you may further ripen the kefir. But, and this is important, don’t discard the grains.

To make a new batch of kefir, add these retrieved grains to fresh milk and repeat the process. Or, to refrigerate the grains until next use, place grains with kefir to cover in a tightly closed jar. They’ll hold for several weeks. To hold longer, place grains in quart of fresh milk, refrigerate for up to a month (shake the container several times a week).

Ripened Kefir (optional)

Once you’ve strained out the kefir grains, I recommend ripening kefir for a day or two prior to consuming it. Fully ripened (48 hour) kefir eliminates some lactose from the beverage and increases some of the B group vitamins. Folic acid, for example, increases by at least 116 % in comparison to fresh milk or freshly strained kefir.

As the kefir ripens at room temperature, the thick creamy kefir floats above the watery whey. Shake or stir to blend the ingredients. Or, separate and use the thickened kefir as sour cream and the whey in baking, for drinking or in other fermented foods.

*Shaking the fermenting kefir prevents the formation of yeasts and acetobacter colonies from forming on the surface. If colonies form they will appear as a light-brown wavy film. Skim this off, discard the film and use the kefir. Should you ever loose a batch of kefir (or your grains) to rampant overgrowth, your nose and taste buds will unerringly inform you to toss it.

 

May you be well nourished,

Rebecca Wood

61 comments to How to Make Kefir

  • […] 2. Kefir – Homemade kefir is like a different food than the stuff you buy in stores. There are so many more probiotics in the homemade version, and homemade kefir is so much more nutritious,  and the taste is tangier. You will need someone to share kefir grains with you or purchase some online. There is a bit of a learning curve, but the payoff is worth it. […]

  • I was given water kefir grains and milk kefir grains and I am cultivating both.

    Is it ok to drink both – ie water kefir one day and milk kefir the next day?

    Thank you

    Colleen

  • […] experimenting. Fermenting foods is easier than it seems. Sometimes all it takes is kefir grains, milk and a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Or cabbage and salt for homemade sauerkraut. We love making milk kefir, […]

  • ads

    Hi I have been gradually building up to home made kefir, starting initially with store bought kefir, which I had no difficulties with. I recently started making kefir at home, which thickens nicely and tastes great, but causes my stomach to react, my stomach reacted and resulted in difficulty falling asleep,neither of which happened with the strioe bought variety. I am wondering whether this Is because I am new to home grown variety? as I heard you have to start low and build up gradually

  • gila

    Hi, I understand that when switching milks kefir grains can go through a transition and produce a few strange and yeasty batches. Is this true when switching from 2% milk to whole milk? Or just between dairy and non-dairy milks?

    Thanks!

    • I’ve not had this experience with my kefir, but then I’ve not tried kefiring 2%. When I use kefir grains for non-dairy milk, the grains loose their oomph with time but initially are “normal.”

    • Whenever you switch their milk source they can go through a transition period. This includes changing the brand of milk, the fat content of milk and the type of milk (cow’s, to goat’s to non mammal milks, etc)

      The transition period generally only lasts a few days, up to a week, if your grains were healthy at the time of transition. You can also make the transition easier by slowly introducing the new milk. For example, 3/4 full fat to 1/4 2% and continue slowly increasing the 2% until that is all you are using.

      While your grains are transitioning you can still use the resulting kefir in smoothies or in recipes to replace yogurt/buttermilk, no need to toss it.

  • debbie

    what is the difference if any between using milk kefir grains and grains sold as water kefir grains thanks

  • Leisel

    Hi, I really appreciate your detailed instructions. I just received some kefir grains and have made one batch, it seemed to be quite tart, and almost have a yeasty/alcohol odor. I think maybe this is due to only one fermentation, and perhaps fermenting too long. We’ll see how the next batch goes. One source said to ferment for 18 hrs, then the 2nd ferment for 6 hrs, so I’m going to try this and see what happens. I still drank it, blended with some frozen strawberries, stevia and chia seeds and it was delicious. Do you think I need to ferment less time or just get used to the taste?

  • Brenda

    After making a milk kefir batch, do you rinse with water the grains to make a batch of water kefir?
    Thank you!

  • Marilyn

    Thank you so much for this information.

    I’ve been making kefir with raw goat’s milk for a couple of months now. This week was my first sketchy batch. I left a gallon of milk and kefir grains in my oven with the light on for 48 hours – longer than normal. When I took it out, it had light brown something at the top, and it smelled a bit different, but not terrible. I skimmed of the top and strained it in the fridge. I was worried that I had left it too long to strain it on the counter. I just ate some a day later and it tasted tart – my kefir has never tasted tart so far. Now I’m worried that I might get sick. Does this all sound normal to you? I just cover the jar with a cloth because I don’t want fizzy kefir. I also normally try to shake the jar but this time I did not, so maybe that’s why it formed the brown substance on top?

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

    Marilyn

    • It sounds like you’ve diagnosed the tartness accurately that it fermented more than your usual batches. As long as it’s pleasurable to drink, it’s fine.

  • Margaret

    What are you meaning by (ripening kefir for a day or two) do you leave the gains in to do this?

  • Greg Tippitt

    What is “freshly stained kefir” mentioned above not as good as “ripened”?

    • While it’s great just “freshly strained” just wait until you taste the ripened. It’s flavor is far superior. Furthermore, as the article states:
      I recommend ripening kefir for a day or two prior to consuming it. Fully ripened (48 hour) kefir eliminates lactose from the beverage and increases some of the B group vitamins. Folic acid, for example, increases by at least 116 % in comparison to fresh milk or freshly stained kefir.

  • becky

    can I make more Kefir milk using raw milk & kefir milk?
    Will grains form using this method or do I need to purchase some grains?

    • Depending upon how the kefir was cultured, you can sometimes make a shabby wannabe kefir by combing kefir and milk but the odds of it forming viable grains are very slim.

      For the real deal, get the grains. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Mary

    I made some Kefir cream cheese about a week ago, we all loved it but there’s still some left in the fridge. Just wondering if you’ve made it and if once made, it keeps as long as the kefir milk? ie: as long as it’s palatable it’s ok. Thanks for the all your fabulous advice!

    • Yes, you can trust your nose, eye and taste to determine if a fermented food is still good. As the cheese contains less liquid than kefir, it is more “stable” and will have a longer shelf life.

  • Kris

    I have been using store bought organic milk not lowfat..Makes super tasty kefir. Does the process of fermenting it also make it less fattening? Will it cause weight gain? Thx!

  • Donna

    Hi,
    Just wondering if kefir is fine to put straight on skin as moisturiser?
    Thank you for your time.
    Donna

    • It’ would work UNLESS you’re sensitive to dairy.

    • I have put kefir on my skin to moisturize and it works well although sometimes I have noticed that it burns a bit and I need to wash it off. I would guess that this is probably because of the high acid content in the kefir.

      I would suggest testing it out on less sensitive areas before grabbing a handful and rubbing it on your face or you might not like the results!

  • Michelle

    Have you used water kefir? Do you know how to make it? Thank you!!!

    • I’ve used kefir grains or tibicos but I found the standard kefir grains easier to use both for milk and other ferments. Your best bet is to do an online search for a source ato purchase them and your source will provide directions.

  • While living and traveling with the Bedouin of Egypt our camels’ milk was re-cycled through bladder’s tied to humps, saddles, slung over shoulders, gently rocking and swaying throughout the days into star filled nights. This ever available beverage remaines impregnated within organs and inner lining, and as far as I know the cultures’ within are as continuously old as a thousand caravans passing through generations, each giving birth and moving on since time-and-memorial!

    Caravans of yak-and-camel, goat-and-pony crossing steps, spanning deserts, passing through forests, over mountains and tossing oceans, always destine to places never before heard of, for generations unseen.

    These growing colonies evoke such images and answer such questions as; From where, and from when did this wonderfully tangy-and-tasty treat originate and is it the same in variety and character as human cultures? Does it vary as greatly as do we, in its taste and colonial heritage…

    Kefir is an undying treat from pantry shelf to village hut and outward bound into a sea of culinary possibilities!

    Anthropologist, Caril Ridley

  • Sonia

    Hi, here are some questions I have:

    1. I was just given kefir grains with kefir yesterday for the first time. All I did to seperate them in the morning (24 hours), was use a fork to extract the grains and start over in a new mason jar. Is that wrong?

    2. When I opened the fridge to see my finished product I saw a big, long, rubbery substance with what looked liked grains inside? I assumed it was kefir grains that I’d missed & added it to my new batch. Can the grains take on a different appearance when reproducing? And when reproducing do they seperate or just get bigger?

    3. Are there benefits to seperating the whey from the kefir and is using one over the other more beneficial? or should I just mix or blend it all together?

    A lot of questions, I know. I’m really new at this & quite nervous about trying it. Thank you for taking the time to answer.

    • Q. # 1….sounds right. #
      #2. I haven’t a clue
      #3. Both are good;; however, kefir is typically separated from the whey.
      Just keep on working it and you’ll soon have it down.

  • Mark

    Two questions:
    1. Still confused about refrigeration once Kefir is made. Have read that orgianlly when cultrued in goat stomachs, herdsmen simple stored without any cool storage. Is this because they drank it in a matter of days and therefore no problems as with other milk products?
    2. I put NuStevia in my kefir for taste. Will this alter the probiotic action of the drink?

    • Once kefired, the product continues to ferment and eventually reaches a point where it is too sour to be taste good.
      To retard fermentation, refrigerate.
      Flavor your kefir as you wish.

  • Sandy

    Kefir grains are not readily available where I live in Canada. I can however get at kefir culture starter for milk. How will that work to culture grains or is it the same thing?

    • It might be. If the starter replicates itself so that you can use it indefinitely then you’ll know it’s the real thing. Look again at my article and the various resources and I’m sure you can find a way to get kefir grains in Canada.

  • Katie Pace

    Hi ,
    I have been making keifer awhile. I am wondering if a keifer that is more than 48 hrs would still be safe. Do you know if there is a limit of time to keep at room temp ? Thanks

    • As long as it tastes good, it is good.That’s the beauty of lacto fermented foods, they’re safe. However if left out too long, the flavor becomes overly sour and not pleasant to drink.

  • Jessica

    When making almond milk kefir would it be advantageous to cycle the kefir grains w/ milk kefir…meaning…make almond milk kefir then feed the grains w/ milk and back to almond milk? Would this cycle keep the grains alive?

    • It might do so. Perhaps you can give it a try and let us know.

    • When using non dairy milks for kefir you do want to switch to normal mammal milk (cow, goat, sheep etc) about every 4 batches to keep the grains alive and growing.

      Another good idea, keep a separate batch of grains growing with just mammal milk so that you have a backup should something go wrong with your other grains.

  • Andrea

    Can you use almond milk?

  • Ann

    You said it’s good to ripen the kefir for 48 hours at room temperature. But I understood that you are supposed to change the milk every 12 to 24 hours. I’m confused about that. Should you leave the grains in the same milk for 48 hours to ripen and what about the 24 hours? Did I miss something?
    Thanks.
    I’ve been changing the milk every 24 hours and then refrigerating the results which have been very tasty. The first “batch was very thin which I threw out but the second was very thick and the 3rd and 4th batches have been in between the first two.

    • Hmmmmm, I’ve never heard of changing the milk every 12 to 24 hours. Keep it out until it has the flavor and consistency that you enjoy which is a matter of personal taste. Not to worry, before it can go bad it will taste more sour than you’d like.

  • SHEEBA

    Hi,
    Do you boil the pasturized milk before making Kefir?? Like when you make yoghurt we do bring the milk to a boil, was wondering whether its the same with Kefir

  • audrey newell

    My kefir came out very thin. I have made it in past and was as quite different, and much more delicious. I used a very small nylon strainer. Might that have beent the problem?
    Thank You,
    Audrey

  • CindiJ

    Can I make kefir by using kefir? I use yogurt to make additional yogurt and buttermilk to culture more buttermilk. Can I use kefir in the same way? If so, how do I do this? Thanks for your help.

    • You can make a lousy and not so tasty approximation of kefir using just kefir. But why bother? Get the grains and you’ll have a great and sustainable beverage.

  • Thankyou for your time
    can I use the same grains for making your apple drink as I do for milk kefir

    • Yes, kefir grains will kefir both juice and milk. With milk the process is sustainable and produces more grains. In juice, the grains do not increase and their life span is limited.

  • rita

    i would love to make some kefir milk can i get the kefir grains at a health food store and what are the best ones to get thank u very much, rita

  • My questions: How do you determine
    1. when the kefir fermentation has finished?
    2. how long do the grains last and how many times can they be re-used?
    3. from where do you obtain the grains?
    Thank you for your time and assistance.

  • Linda Neely

    My Mom used to let some of her fresh milk sit and “clabber up”. She then drank it or used some in baking. what is the difference between it and Kefir?

    Thanks

    • You’re describing naturally soured or clabbered butter milk which, indeed, is tasty.
      Kefir is even tastier. It is incubated with a specific culture which provides invaluable probiotic. Also, depending upon how you make it, kefir can be pleasingly effervescent.

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