About this Recipe
By: Morgana Jane
Milk Kefir, a fermented milk beverage, is one of the easiest things in the world to make and is such an incredible nutritional benefit. I keep at least 3 liters on hand at all times, and there is always a fresh batch brewing on my counter! Kefir is great to drink on it’s own and it’s natural flavor is similar to plain yogurt followed by a bit of a fizzy finish. I didn’t care for it much at first, but I absolutely love it now. It’s also a fantastic base for your favorite smoothie.
- Kefir Grains
Milk Kefir has a flavor similar to plain yogurt and there is a noticeable little fizz to it. For this reason, Milk Kefir is often referred to as the Champagne of Milk. If you’re not fussy about it’s natural flavor, it’s easy to give it a little flavor boost, Just add a couple of slices of lemon or orange peel to the kefir, once you have strained out the grains, for a lovely hint of citrus. Truth be told, you can pretty much flavor it any way you like! Vanilla, Mint, Berry – anything at all. You can even drop your favorite herbal tea bag into it for added flavor.
Milk kefir is protein rich, and a great source of calcium, niacin, B12, and folic acid. Most importantly, milk kefir is a probiotic containing 30 plus strains of good bacteria that help maintain a health gut. Milk kefir is similar to yogurt, nutritionally, but offers more bang per cup. Yogurt contains a mere 4 or 5 strains of bacteria compared to the 30 plus offered up in milk kefir. And most notably, the bacteria in yogurt is transient, and passes through your digestive system, whereas kefir actually stays put, helping to recolonize the good bacteria in your gut. Good to know!
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1 – Accoutrement
You don’t need any fancy equipment to make kefir, and you likely have some of what you do need in your kitchen already:
- 2 quart jars for fermentation
(I like larger jars for fermenting because they don’t overflow when things get going… and you only need a couple of these)
- 1 quart jars for storage of kefir
(half a dozen will do)
- fine mesh strainer
(metal is fine for this job)
- tight fitting lids
Step 2 – Procure Some Grains
Kefir grains are not really grains, but sticky little colonies of good bacteria. You can purchase them online, in health food stores, and if you live in my town, email me – I will give you some! Kefir grains are prolific, and reproduce madly. You start our with a tablespoon full, and within six months, you have enough grains to start your own mail order business…
Step 3 – Start Dating
Now here’s the thing about kefir grains – it’s going to take you a while to get to know each other, so give yourself that time. Making kefir is super easy. Perfecting it requires a relationship.
On your first date, put one tablespoon of kefir grains into a 1 quart jar and add half a liter of milk. Cover the jar with a loose lid or a cloth held in place with an elastic (you don’t want it to be air tight, but you do want to keep bugs and dust out).
Set the jar on your counter in a warmish (but not too warm) spot. Mine do well at between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 – 20 degrees Celsius) and leave them there for about 24 hours.
There are only two ways to kill your kefir grains: excess heat, and starvation. Moderate heat speeds up the fermentation process, but too much heat will kill the grains.
Step 4 – Magic
You don’t need to stare at your milk kefiring away for the next 24 hours, but you can check in on it from time to time to check the ambient temperature and see how things are progressing.
Kefiring is kind of boring, actually. First you will notice some bubbles forming, later, things will begin to thicken up, and soon after, a layer of separation will be visible – but this all takes time.
The first time you make your kefir will take the longest because the grains need to get used to their new environment. Kefir grains love consistency. They like the same kind of milk, the same volume of milk, and relatively the same temperature on a consistent basis (mine like classical music, but maybe yours will prefer jazz ;o) They are very adaptable and resilient, and they will become cozy in whatever environment you provide for them – but keep that environment as consistent as you are able.
Step 4 – Strain
Your kefir will be ready to strain in about 24 hours. You will know it’s ready because if you swish the contents of the jar you will notice that it has become much thicker – not thick like yogurt, but thicker than milk. There will also be a thick layer at the top, some bubbles, and perhaps a slight line of separation. And at the bottom of the jar, the kefir will look somewhat like this:
Place your mesh strainer over a glass bowl (I find a batter bowl is perfect because it has a little spout, making it much easier to pour the strained kefir into a jar for storage – however, any bowl will do!) and pour the contents of the jar through the strainer. Use a rubber spatula to lift and stir the grains to help kefir pour through. When all the kefir has gone through the strainer, use the spatula to press any remaining kifer from the grains.
Step 5 – Cap, Store, Repeat
Place a tight fitting lid on the storage jar, and pop it into the fridge. Kefir has a very long shelf life, and will continue to ferment (slowly) even while in the fridge, becoming stronger in flavor and thinner in texture over time. Mine never lasts a week in the fridge and I am sure I wouldn’t care for the flavor within two weeks.
Next, you’re going to want to keep the train rolling. Kefir loves a consistent, solid routine so once you have strained the grains, drop the grains back into a large fermentation jar (go for the 2 quart jar this time) and start the process all over again, only this time, add a full liter of milk to the grains. After the first ferment in their new home, they will start getting a feel for their new environment, and once they become well established, it will take about a tablespoon of grains to one liter of milk to make a liter of kifer in 24 hours.
We go through a liter or more of kefir here everyday, so I am always making kefir (or rather, the kefir is making itself and I give it a nice warm place to sit while it goes to work) however, you may not wish to make so much – which is fine, because when you have enough kefir on hand, you can put the grains to sleep in the fridge until you are ready to make more.
To put your grains to sleep, simply drop them into a 1 quart jar, add a cup of milk, put a tight fitting lid on the jar, and pop it into the fridge. They can rest like that for up to a week.
Kefir Tips and Notes
— There are two ways to kill your kefir grains: excess heat, and starvation. Kefir does best in moderate heat between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 – 20 degrees Celsius) temperatures much higher may cause them to die. And, remember, you have to feed your little buddies, or they will die. They are little organisms, and like all organisms, they must eat to survive. What do they eat? Milk sugar. That’s their thing – without it, they perish, so if you have a stock of grains resting in your fridge, don’t forget to replenish their food source every week or two.
— You can put your grains to sleep in the fridge for a week or two, and even longer if you need to. Simply place the grains into a jar, add 1 to 2 cups of milk (depending on the amount of kefir grains you have (I currently have an excess of about a cup of grains, which I keep sleeping in two cups of milk for two weeks at a time…) put a tight lid on the jar, and store in the fridge. If you need them to sleep longer, strain them (discard the milk they were sleeping in) rinse them in cool water if you like (I do) then drop them into a clean jar with fresh milk, put a lid on it, and put them back into the fridge for another week or two.
Remember, aside from excess heat, starvation is another way that you can kill your kefir grains. You can keep them in a nonproductive state for as long as you like, but, you have to keep replenishing their food source – fresh milk. Once they have consumed all the sugar in the milk, they will starve and die if you don’t give them more fresh milk.
— Kefir grains are crazy prolific… I am not kidding you! Their kind of like zucchini – there is never an end to them. You start with a tablespoon of grains, and pretty soon, you have three cups of grains. You will notice that although you started making kefir with a tablespoon of grains, that within a week you have two tablespoons of grains. In no time at all, you’ll have a quarter cup, and soon after, a cup. What to do??
Thin them. Put some to sleep in the fridge. Give some to friends. Sell them on CraigsList. Compost them (I can’t – I feel guilty, like I murdered them…). Some people mix them into a smoothie. As long as you are making kefir, you will have more and more and more grains.
— Grains VS Time. Once your grains are established (wide awake in their new home and producing like maniacs) you will notice that the more grains you use the less time it takes to make kefir. When my grains are going full on, I can make a liter of kefir with two tablespoons of grains in 12 hours. That’s where I like to keep them in so far as production goes. It works for me and my schedule. When I put them to sleep, we start our wake-up routine all over again: 1 tablespoon of grains to a liter of milk for a liter of kefir within 24 hours, until they are fully awake again, and we get back to our comfortable routine. Go with whatever works for you.
— Kefir is variable. Sometimes it’s thicker, sometimes it’s thinner. It tastes different in the fall months than it does in the summer months. It ferments faster in warm weather than in cool weather. Sometimes it smells yeasty, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s kefir. It’s nature, not science. You will get to know your kefir over time. They’ll become your little buddies and you will become familiar with their variable nature, but until you get them figured out, don’t worry that one batch is different than the next, smells different, tastes different, has more bubble, less bubbles… You’ll figure it out over time. The only time you really need to worry about your grains is if they smell foul. They smell weird and that’s ok, but if they smell foul – toss them out!