How to Make Milk Kefir
Milk Kefir is not only easy to make, it is a delicious, probiotic-rich, versatile beverage your whole family will enjoy.
These instructions utilize the traditional starter culture known as Milk Kefir Grains. Click here for information on making Kefir with a direct-set style starter culture.
Start by gathering your equipment and choosing a variety of milk to use:
Equipment. Click here for more information on choosing the best container, cover system, utensils and more
Milk Considerations. Milk Kefir Grains can be used with pasteurized or raw milk, homogenized or non-homogenized milk. We do not recommend using ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk or ultra-pasteurized (UP) milk. UHT/UP milk will yield inconsistent results. If using raw milk, use milk that is fairly fresh to avoid issues with rising bacteria levels. For more information on choosing a milk variety, click here. Alternative milk varieties such as soy milk or coconut milk may be used, click here for more information on the importance of revitalization periods for the Kefir Grains when using alternative varieties of milk.
A note about hygiene. When working with Kefir, it is important not to introduce competing bacteria to the process. Be sure to wash and rinse your hands well prior to working with the milk. Also be sure to thoroughly clean and rinse the container and all utensils that will come in contact with the milk or the Kefir Grains. Beware soap and food residue the dishwasher may have missed. When in doubt, give everything an extra rinse. The culturing container can be cleaned with regular soap and hot water (rinse very well) or with vinegar. Never use bleach on any item that will come in contact with the milk or Kefir Grains.
The Basic Process
Culturing the Kefir
Choose a safe spot. An ideal culturing spot should be relatively warm but not excessively so. Temperatures between 70° and 80°F are ideal (see below). The best fermenting spot for Kefir is out of direct sunlight. Indirect light or darkness is neither favorable nor problematic. Be sure the Kefir is not fermenting near any other cultured foods such as kefir, yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, etc. In addition, do not culture your Kefir near a garbage can. Cross contamination of stray yeasts and bacteria can be problematic for the Kefir Grains and any other fermented foods you are working with.
Stir Occasionally. While not required, it can be helpful to occasionally stir or gently shake the culturing mixture. Agitation allows the Kefir Grains access to fresh milk during the process and will generally speed fermentation.
Allow the Kefir to ferment. Check the Kefir every 6-12 hours or so. Unless it is particularly warm in your home, kefir normally takes at least 24 hours to form. The length of the fermentation period is dependent on ambient temperature. Ambient temperatures which are too hot or too cold can disrupt the process, too cold and the process slows down, too hot and fermentation proceeds too quickly and results in a less desirable flavor pattern. We recommend choosing a culturing spot with an ambient temperature between 70 and 80 degrees for ideal results.
Remember: Faster fermentation isn’t necessarily better. Kefir which cultures too quickly can have negative effects on the digestive tract. In addition, slow and steady fermentation results in a more desirable taste profile.
How to Know it Worked
The primary sign that the process worked properly is that the milk will thicken and coagulate. Animal milk cultured with Kefir Grains will initially thicken, then coagulate, and then separate into curds and whey (solid portion with a clear liquid portion). Ideally, Kefir should only culture to the point where it thickens or coagulates. Which particular point is best depends on the taste profile you prefer. Some experimentation may be necessary to find the best point at which to stop the process. We do not recommend culturing the Kefir to the point it separates into curds and whey. While it is safe to consume (provided the kefir has not big sitting longer than 48 hours and it smells, looks, and tastes okay), the taste isn’t generally considered pleasant and the acidic level of the Kefir can be hard on the Kefir Grains. If you accidentally allow your Kefir to over culture, the Kefir can be used for cooking in place of milk in recipes. Please note, alternative milks such as soy and coconut milk may not thicken significantly during the culturing process.
Normal Variations vs. Signs of Problems
Normal Variations. Each batch of Kefir is unique and therefore may not proceed exactly as the previous batch. Some common variations include:
Signs of Potential Problems.
Harvesting the Kefir
Congratulations! You’ve brewed your first batch of Kefir. Now comes the fun part, harvesting and enjoying your beverage. Prior to harvesting your batch, you will need to prepare a clean jar with fresh milk to transfer the Kefir Grains into.
Removing the Kefir Grains. There are several ways to remove Kefir Grains from finished Kefir. Some people simply use their fingers. Be sure your hands are very clean before attempting this! Many people though find that using a fine mesh strainer is more efficient. Simply place the strainer over a bowl or storage container and pour the finished Kefir through the strainer. You may need to use your (very clean!) fingers to gently work the kefir through the strainer to locate the Kefir Grains. Please note, if our Kefir has coagulated or separated into curds and whey, it is often helpful to first stir the Kefir well to homogenize the liquid prior to pouring it through the strainer.
Flavoring. If desired, Kefir can be flavored using flavor extract, fruit, or even flavor syrups. An additional option is to use a secondary fermentation period to infuse the Kefir with flavor and allow the Kefir yeast and bacteria to develop further. Click here for more information on flavoring Milk Kefir.
Storage Tips. Unless a secondary fermentation period is used, Kefir should be immediately stored in the refrigerator. While estimates vary, we recommend consuming Kefir within two weeks.
More Ways to Use Kefir. Kefir is good for more than just drinking! Check out our collection of recipes for more ways to use Kefir.
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