Note: if you’re not planning to start your Milk Kefir right away, store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready.
You will need:
1) Add the Milk Kefir grains to 2 cups milk. Cover with coffee filter & secure with elastic band.
2) Allow to culture at room temp- 68 to 78 degrees is ideal. Choose a draft-free place, out of direct sunlight, where your Milk Kefir won’t be disturbed.
3) Check in 24 hours. The kefir will be ready when it has thickened and has a pleasantly sour smell. Your first batch may have an off flavor- if so, the liquid can be discarded or used in a recipe after grains have been removed. It sometimes takes a cycle for the grains to wake back up.
4) When your Milk Kefir is ready, strain the grains from the finished kefir (stirring it with a spoon first will make it strain easier). Put the grains in fresh milk and start your next batch. You can increase the amount of milk to 1 quart.
As your grains increase in volume, you can continue to increase the amount of milk. The goal is to keep the ratio of grains to milk that produces kefir to your taste. Longer culturing times make a more sour product, shorter times make a milder product.
Your finished Milk Kefir can be enjoyed as is, or blended with fruit and/or honey for a delicious smoothie. Extra grains can be shared with friends, eaten, or dried and saved for future use.
Download instructions here.
Kefir is a fermented probiotic beverage made by adding “grains” to either milk or sugar water, and allowing to culture at room temperature for 18-48 hours. The term “grains” is used, but they really are gelatinous colonies of beneficial bacteria and yeast. There are two varieties of kefir grains: Milk Kefir and Water Kefir. They may have the same last name, but they are different organisms with very different appearances, yet possess similar probiotic properties.
What is Milk Kefir?
The more commonly known variety is Milk Kefir. The grains used are whitish colored, gelatinous globs that have an appearance similar to cauliflower.
Milk Kefir can also be made with a direct-set Kefir Starter, without the use of grains. This is a powdered starter culture, made for single use. This can be convenient, as it doesn’t require the maintenance of grains. The kefir can often be used to culture a second or third batch, but will eventually stop working. Actual kefir grains are preferable, as they are reusable, shareable, and produce a kefir with a much higher beneficial bacteria count.
Milk Kefir is a slightly thickened, pleasantly sour and effervescent drink. It is the Superman of dairy cultures, with an even higher bacterial count than yogurt. It contains 30 different types of beneficial microbes, along with: vitamins A, B2, B12, D, K, protein, folic acid, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphate, and iron. Kefir actually colonizes the intestinal tract with good bacteria. It stimulates the immune system, boosts your metabolism, and has antimicrobial properties. 80 percent of your body’s immune system is in your digestive tract. Research has shown that Milk Kefir can suppress the growth of pathogens and inhibit the growth of E coli. Those with lactose intolerance often find that they can tolerate Milk Kefir better than other dairy products. This is because the lactose in the milk is converted by the good bacteria, through fermentation, to lactic acid. Lactic acid soothes and heals the gut lining. The grains basically predigest the lactose for you!
There is much folklore about the origination of Milk Kefir. It’s believed to have been discovered thousands of years ago by shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains. These shepherds stored their milk in animal skins, commonly goat stomachs (mmm!). Wild yeasts fermented the milk and turned it into a thick, bubbly, nutritious drink that provided the shepherds with energy & sustenance. The grains that eventually formed became a well guarded secret, considered to have magical healing powers. The secret was kept until the early 20th century, when a Russian spy “acquired” some. From there, the secret was out, and its use spread through Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.
While commercially available Milk Kefir is convenient, and better than none at all, it is not ideal. The techniques used don’t allow for the high bacterial content that is found in home made kefir. Most of these kefirs are not made with actual grains, but the powdered Kefir Starter. This makes it easier to get a more uniform product, which is needed in commercial production, but creates a less optimal product. It is not allowed to culture as long, for fear of a slight alcoholic content developing, which is not permitted legally. It is also pasteurized, to stop the fermentation process and allow for longer shelf life. Pasteurization kills the good bacteria you’re trying to cultivate, so it kinds of defeats the purpose.
To make your own milk kefir, the process is fairly simple. With live kefir grains, you add them to your milk (cow is good, and they particularly like goat’s milk) in a glass jar. Cover with a coffee filter, cloth, or paper towel, and secure with a rubber band. The grains need to breathe, but this will also keep anything unwanted out. Allow to culture at room temperature (70-77 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal) for 18 to 24 hours. The length of time needed depends on the temperature of the room, the ratio of grains to milk, and your preferred taste. The longer you allow the mixture to ferment, the more tart and tangy it will become. Longer fermentation will also lead to a higher bacterial count. It is ready when it has thickened. It will be slightly gelatinous, effervescent, and will have a pleasantly sour, yeasty smell. Taste it along the way as you experiment and play around to find the right flavor for you. With longer fermentation, your kefir may separate (the whey from the milk solids). This is fine, just stir or shake to mix it back up. When the kefir is finished, strain or remove the grains from the finished kefir. Stirring first will help make it easier to strain. Be sure to use a plastic strainer and a plastic or wooden spoon, as metal can interfere with the bacteria. Place your grains in fresh milk and start the process again. Your finished kefir can then be enjoyed!
Too many grains?
Over time, your grains will grow and increase in volume. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed. They can be shared with friends, pulsed in the food processor, or added to smoothies or other recipes for a super dose of probiotics.
Taking a break
If you go on vacation or need to take a break from maintenance, your grains can be placed in fresh milk, covered with a lid, and refrigerated. It will continue to ferment, but at a much slower rate. Don’t neglect them for too long, though. Remember that they’re living organisms and will eventually need to “eat” again! When you’re ready to start them back up, take them out of the refrigerator and place them in fresh milk and follow the same fermentation process. After refrigeration, it may take a couple of batches for the flavor to be right again.
New to Milk kefir?
We recommend that you ease into the consumption of Milk Kefir if it is new to you. It’s powerful, beneficial bacteria can initially cause a diuretic, “cleaning out” effect. This happens as the good bacteria begins to populate the gut, killing off toxins as it procreates. Start with a small amount daily, then increase as your tolerance allows. Your body will eventually begin to crave it, and the wonderful feeling in your gut after drinking it!
The uses for your finished kefir are practically endless. It can be enjoyed plain or used in smoothies, dips, and sauces. It can be used to replace Buttermilk or sour cream in recipes for baking. It makes a great kefir ice cream or tenderizing marinade for meats. It can be strained through cheesecloth or a yogurt bag to remove the whey (which has many uses itself) and flavored to make a kefir cheese, similar to cream cheese. Milk kefir can also be added to your animal’s diet. Animals often have digestive issues too. Watch them go nuts when you mix a little with their regular feed!