ilk kefir is one of the easiest and healthiest ferments to get started with. All it takes are a few simple steps and it will be your friend for life! (Literally for life…milk kefir grains will live indefinitely if fed and cared for properly.)
Both milk and water kefir are among my favorite ferments because of their ease and their health benefits. And of course, mine is appropriately named Kiefer. Sutherland?…Keifer Sutherland? Brilliant, I know!
If you haven’t caught on yet, I name my ferments and affectionately refer to them as my “Kitchen Pets”. They are alive after all! I have to feed them and clean their “cages”, so to me…they’re pets! (Head over to these posts and you can meet Kevin, Seymore and Stokely. The rest of the gang has yet to be introduced!)
…kefir is the perfect addition to smoothies, adding protein, probiotics, vitamins and minerals.
So what is milk kefir, you ask?
Kefir is pronounced kee-fer (also keh-fur and keh-feer…but around these parts we’ll say kee-fer, m’kay?) and it is simply drinkable yogurt.
However, kefir is more potent than yogurt with its numerous strains of “good guys” (beneficial bacteria). It’s full of calcium, magnesium, folate, vitamins K2, B1 and B12 and contains billions of friendly microbes that help your “good guys” flourish.
Better yet? Kefir can even be enjoyed by those with dairy intolerance’s (not those with true allergies). During fermentation, the bacteria and yeasts consume the natural sugars in the milk (lactose), making it digestible for those who are lactose intolerant.
Dairy kefir is most beneficial when made with raw milk (although grains that come dehydrated will need to first be re-hydrated in pasteurized milk). If raw milk isn’t an option, kefir can successfully be made in pasteurized/homogenized whole milk. (Read up on why raw milk is best.)
Are they really “grains”?
Similar to Kombucha, Kefir is made from a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY), however the milk kefir “grains” looks quite different than a kombucha “mushroom”. When rinsed clean, they resemble tiny clusters of cauliflower, but there is no relation to cauliflower nor are they an actual grain.
I’m about to go all geeky (consider yourself warned!)…these grains are actually bound together in a gel-polysaccharide bio-matrix. Basically, they’re “firm, lumpy, gelatinous blobs held together by big sugar molecules (glucose and galactose).” (source)
Seriously guys, milk kefir is a cinch to make. So grab some grains, (ask a friend if you know they make it…these grains grow and double in size and us foodies HATE throwing away perfectly good grains!) your supplies and lets get fermenting! Once your grains are hydrated you’ll be enjoying the benefits of this healthy tonic every 24-48 hours!
1 quart raw milk
1-2 Tbs. kefir grains (or 1 pack kefir starter)
Quart size jar
Coffee filter or paper towel
Fine mesh strainer
(It’s important to note the difference between milk kefir grains and milk kefir starter or culture. Kefir grains will continue to ferment batch after batch, whereas a starter culture will only make one batch of kefir. The following recipe uses kefir grains, if you have a kefir culture, the process will be similar, but you should reference the directions on your package for accuracy.)
To make: Once you have procured your kefir grains (either from a friend or online) be sure they’re hydrated and ready to go (follow instructions included in the package if buying dehydrated grains).
Step 1: Pour 1 quart milk into a clean jar.
Step 2: Add milk kefir grains. Cover with a coffee filter or paper towel and secure with a rubber band.
Step 3: Wait 24-48 hours. Milk kefir, like other ferments, prefer temperatures between 68-85℉, the warmer they are, the quicker they’ll ferment. If your grains were “hibernating” it may take them slightly longer to “wake up” and get active.
Step 4: Using a non-metal spoon or spatula, strain your milk kefir through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Your kefir is now ready to enjoy or stored in the fridge for later.
If you love store-bought flavored kefir you may find you’re disappointed with the taste of your homemade kefir. The sad truth is, those store bought “healthy” kefir drinks have upwards of 33 grams of sugar per one cup serving! That’s more than 8 teaspoons of sugar people! This is a far cry from a healthy drink!
If the tang of plain kefir is too much for you, try adding a small handful of blueberries and whizzing it in the blender. Or use kefir as a smoothie base (just keep the fruit to a minimum…remember fruit smoothies can easily become unhealthy when too much fruit is consumed at one time). I like to add a few drops of liquid stevia to my smoothies to help cut the tang (I tend to like a sweeter smoothie but not the excess sugar). Click here for a sample smoothie recipe.
- If 1 quart of milk kefir every 24-48 hours is too much, gift half your grains to a friend and only make 1 pint at a time.
- If you need to stop making kefir for a week or more, let your grains “hibernate” in the refrigerator in a glass of milk. Don’t neglect them too long without refreshing the milk (every month should do). I have successfully brought my grains back from over 6 months of hibernation with no adverse results.
- What happens if you let your kefir ferment longer than 48 hours? Chances are it’s just fine. However, if there is any visible mold, you will need to discard your grains and start again. Kefir left out for up to a week should be fine (this is how they extended the “shelf life” of dairy thousands of years ago!). Your kefir will be rather tart, if it’s not palatable, your best bet would be to strain out your grains and start a fresh batch.