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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
So awesome, thick, creamy and bubbly!
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.
I then pour the kefir into a bottle, and stash it in the fridge—it’s ready to use!
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.
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.