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how to make kefir

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How to Make Kefir at Home

kefir

I’ve been really digging kefir lately. If you’ve never had kefir before, it’s a fermented milk product that is similar to the texture of thin yogurt. It’s a little bit sour, tangy and slightly carbonated. By fermenting the milk, the lactose is broken down, making it easier to digest. The fermentation process also adds tons of folic acid and probiotics to the kefir. Probiotics are good news for your digestive tract. I use kefir as a base for smoothies, in recipes and just to drink. Yum!

My favorite thing about kefir is how flippin’ easy it is to make. There are lots of fermented foods out there (kombucha, yogurt, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, etc.) but I consider kefir the absolute easiest (and quickest!) one to make. It only requires two ingredients—milk and kefir grains—and once you have the kefir process going, you can keep it producing for as long as you like.

kefir grains

To make kefir, the first thing you need to do is track down a good source of healthy kefir grains. Kefir grains are cauliflower-looking blobs of yeast and bacteria that you use to inoculate milk (and turn it into kefir).

Unless you have an awesome friend who is willing to part with some of their grains, chances are, you’ll need to order them online. There are lots of people selling kefir grains out there, but you have to be careful, because if they aren’t packed and shipped correctly, they’ll be D.O.A. I had excellent luck with my order from Fusion Teas. They came packed beautifully, were super healthy and reasonably-priced.

Also, make sure you aren’t buying “kefir starter”. Starter is a one-time use kind of thing and is totally different from kefir grains. If you treat your grains right, they just keep growing and growing and you’ll never have to buy them ever again. With kefir starter, you have to buy new each time you want to make a batch of kefir. Grains are where it’s at.

kefir grains

For the second part, you’ll need milk. Your kefir grains will need lactose to feed on, so any milk with lactose is a good option. Any milk from a mammal contains lactose—cow and goat milk are both great choices. You can ferment non-animal milks (such as nut milks, coconut milk, soy milk, etc.) using kefir grains, but you’ll kill your grains in the process. If you aren’t keen on dairy, you might want to look into something called water kefir—a type of fermented drink made from water and other sugars.

kefir

Once you have your grains, chances are, you’ll need to reactivate them from shipping. This is easy, peasy. All you need to do is just take milk and plop the grains in it and let it sit at room temperature for a few hours.

For each tablespoon of kefir grains you want to reactivate, add 1/4 cup milk into a glass jar with the grains. Put on a lid (secured, but not too tight) and let it set in a cozy part of your house. Every 12 hours, come back, strain the grains out of the milk, put the grains back into the jar and replace with fresh milk. You can use the soured milk in smoothies, in baking and recipes. Don’t be surprised if your fermented milk smells heavily like bread yeast—that’s a good sign! Repeat the process every 12 hours until your grains are reactivated. You’ll know your grains are reactivated when the milk thickens in the 12 hour period. Once your grains are reactivated, you’re now ready to make kefir.

kefir

Making kefir is a very similar process to reactivating the grains—mixing milk and grains in a jar and letting them rest at room temperature, just with a different ratio. To make kefir, for every 1 tablespoon of kefir grains you have, you’ll want to add about 8 tablespoons of milk. You don’t have to be totally accurate about it, but this 1:8 ratio seems to give me a good, thick kefir in about 12-18 hours (depending on the warmth of the day). Place both the grains and the milk in a glass jar with a well-fitting lid. Because kefir becomes slightly carbonated when finished, you don’t want to fill up your jar all the way.

kefir jar

Secure the lid (again, not too tightly) and then sit the jar in a warm, but not-in-the-sun spot to rest. I place my jar on my kitchen counter, right between my bowl of clementines and my lentil sprouts (more on those later this week).

kefir sprouts clementines kitchen

All that’s left to do now is wait! Within about eight hours, it should start to thicken. By 12 hours, it should be really thick. And by 18-24 hours, the kefir might to start separate into curds and whey. The longer the kefir sits and ferments, the tangier and more carbonated it will be. I’m usually not on the ball, and my kefir almost always ends up at the curds and whey stage. Which is okay, because I love the tang! And you can mix the curds and whey back together just by gently shaking the jar.

kefir

Once you are happy with the thickness and tanginess of the kefir, you can open the jar—remember, it’s carbonated now, so it’ll hiss—and strain the grains. When working with kefir grains, you need to only use glass, plastic and stainless steel utensils, bowls and strainers. And use the stainless steel sparingly. Using other reactive metals can kill your kefir grains on contact.

I strain my grains by placing a mesh sieve over a glass bowl, and pouring all the kefir in.

kefir

So awesome, thick, creamy and bubbly!

kefir

I use a plastic spatula to gently push the kefir through the sieve, being careful not to push too hard on the grains. After a while, all the kefir is in the bowl, and the grains are left in the sieve.

kefir grains

I then pour the kefir into a bottle, and stash it in the fridge—it’s ready to use!

kefir

And then, I take my grains and start the whole process again with a clean jar and fresh milk. I know some folks rinse their grains, but I never have. I just take the grains directly from the sieve and drop them into a clean jar. Chlorinated water kills kefir grains on contact, so it just seemed pointless to chance it when it’s been working for me to just skip that step.

Right now, I’m making about two cups of kefir a day, which is perfect for us! But, my kefir grains are growing—I started with about one tablespoon of grains six weeks ago, and now I’m up to about three—and eventually I’ll need to slow down my kefir production. Doing that is easy! Instead of letting the kefir ferment on the counter, all I have to do is let it do its thang in the fridge. By fermenting the kefir in the cold, the process takes much longer—upwards of 10-14 days. And I can always restart my speedy production by bringing the grains out of the fridge again.

kefir

So there you have it, Kefir 101! If you’re interested in jumping into the world of fermented foods, I highly recommended starting with kefir. It’s easy, delicious and has a ton of uses. I think I might just be a kefir-maker for life.

Have you ever had kefir before? Have you ever made your own kefir?

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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48 Responses
  1. Awesome post Cassie! really interesting and inspiring… I might one day give it go. I’m pretty lazy though, so after the first two rounds I’d probably kill my kefir grains 🙁

    1. Cassie

      Oh yes! You can use it instead of a sourdough starter in sourdough bread. You can use it in place of sour cream for dips and the such. You can strain out the whey and make kefir cheese with it. You can make kefir biscuits, kefir ice cream, kefir pizza dough! You can even make kefir butter!

  2. Amy

    It’s like you guys anticipate all my culinary ventures. My bucket list this semester includes kefir making and home brewing, just to name two. I’ve had my eye on making kefir for a while now, but there is so much information out there on the net that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Thanks for this great post! I hope it works for me as well as it did for you.

  3. I could’ve sworn I was reading my friend Liv’s blog. This was a really cool entry. I’ve never heard of anything you just talked about aside from Clementines, milk, and the other kitchen utensils.

    Do you ever have to worry about sour milk or the soured dairy upsetting your stomach or causing food poisoning? I didn’t see any cautionary tales about that..

    1. Cassie

      Nope. Folks have been souring dairy for centuries. I honestly think the whole “soured milk is bad” thing comes from the fact that the average milk in today’s grocery store is packed full of so many chemicals and hormones that it does go bad if left out. Fresh, local, raw (or lightly pasteurized, like mine is) milk from a reputable source and you’re golden.

    1. Cassie

      Any milk with lactose works! Your kefir grains will need lactose to feed on, so any milk from a mammal contains lactose—cow and goat milk are both great choices. You can ferment non-animal milks (such as nut milks, coconut milk, soy milk, etc.) using kefir grains, but you’ll kill your grains in the process—which is fine, it just means you need new grains for each batch. If you aren’t keen on dairy, you might want to look into something called water kefir—a type of fermented drink made from water and other sugars.

  4. Kathi

    Sorry – one more question 🙂 do you flavor yours? And is there ever too much of a good thing (meaning should intake be limited)

    Thanks again!

      1. Sandy

        I do flavor mine with washed citrus fruit peelings after I have removed the grains from the kefir.
        It’s called a second ferment.
        Orange and lemon peel works great and is said to increase the kefir’s vitamin content.
        You can leave it on the shelf or refrigerate it after adding the peels.
        TRY IT, NUMMMM

  5. Jen

    Thank you for sharing this.For some time now I’ve wanted to start taking this.Im told it’s very good for you.But I wanted to make it from scratch.I don’t like pre made anything!

  6. lisa

    I have grown Kefir in the past and found the benefits in the digestion process amazing. I add it to smoothies and drink away! I am going to have to go after some more grains and may try your resource. I feel bad going back to the person that I got them from to ask for more. i was gone and the hubby was not as diligent as he should have been in feeding them. So much better than store bought kefir and worth the effort to keep them growing. I was told to eat a grain when you have an upset stomach or dont feel well. That has worked as well.

  7. Grace

    Hi, I have been making Kefir for the past month and for some reason my batches don’t get carbonated and have a gross taste after a day. Do you have any suggestions? I’m wondering if I should order new Kefir grains from someplace different. Where do you order yours?

  8. Mary

    I’ve been making kefir for a couple of months now but yours are the best and most specific directions I’ve seen. Thanks for an excellent job!

  9. Liesel

    Thanks for this blog, easy to follow and very informative. We tried using Kefir once, but it was an epic fail. Will have to try again 😉

  10. Melody Lunsford

    I just started making kefir a week ago today. I took some and put in some blueberries and bananas in my nutrition bullet. Very good. I have dealt with ulcers in the past, so this is good for my tummy.

  11. Darlene

    This is my first time making it I’m doing something wrong my kefir looks spoiled. Taste bad to me the grains go to the top of the jar fast and it separates in the middle. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Cassie

      Sounds like it make have fermented a little long—if it’s separating and tastes like rank sour cream, that’s the case. Next time, just pull the grains out a day or so earlier. You can still use the kefir you made—it’ll be awesome in buttermilk biscuits!

  12. Is this in the buttermilk family wei was young my mom would get her church ready and we would help make our own butter and butter milk and we would sour our milk and it was ready when sour and u skim off the top of milk ,

    1. Kay

      I love making kefir and do it daily. I have read that you can actually ferment nut milks, and it does not kill the grains. Also, I have read that people with dairy sensitivity can usually drink milk kefir since the lactose is broken down by the grains. When I make it, I usually sweeten it with organic agave. I know that’s a sweetener, but all my family loves it and will drink it without coercion. It’s also good with added fruit like blueberries, strawberries, or pineapple. I use frozen organic and blend the fruit with a bit of kefir. Then I stir that in with the rest of the kefir. A good additional source of info on making kefir, kombucha, and fermented foods is http://www.culturedfoodlife.com .

      1. Kay

        To answer your question, the milk cultures much faster if it is at room temp. There is no danger of spoiled kefir because the good bacteria overtakes the bad. It is later put in the fridge to slow down the continued culturing.

  13. Syl

    I got some kefir grains from my niece and I love them, but my question is, how do I make, or grow more kefir grains from the grains she gave me?

    1. Cassie

      They will naturally grow the more batches you make (if you use dairy milk). If you use them daily, you should have double within a couple of weeks.

  14. Donna

    I have just started on my journey in making kefir. Your photos and directions were great and answered my questions whether I was doing it correctly or not. I am very excited to work with my kefir.

  15. Caroline

    I have shop bought kefir at the moment. Can I use that as the starter for making my own kefir? Or, do I need to get these grains first if all? Thank you!

  16. Twala

    I use kefir to soak my chicken in like one would soak the chicken in buttermilk before I batter in flour. The kefir makes the fried chicken awsome!

  17. Hassan Chutoo

    Normally,I use natural yogout to ferment my milk. I,ll definitely try your method once I receive the kefir grains.
    Thank you and may God bless you

  18. Syl

    I live a very busy lifestyle and I left my grains in the fridge for a few months without feeding them. Is it to late to save them and start again, or do I need to buy new grains.

  19. Phyllis

    I’ve been making kefir for a week or so. Gifted some grains from an acquaintance. She said they were a bit neglected. I have about one tablespoon of grains. I’ve tried various amounts of organic whole milk to culture the grains. I live in hot Texas and our house is upper 70’s with air conditioning. If I leave the grains until they start to separate not curds and whey (only a few hours), strain them and refrigerate, they separate again and I pour the foil the whey and what is left is a grainy kefir. How do I get the creamy consistency I see in videos of making the kefir?

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