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What is Kefir?
If you’re looking into how to make kefir at home, there’s a good chance you already know a little of it’s history. Feel free to skip ahead here! For those that don’t know, kefir is a fermented drink, usually made from milk, and full of probiotics. (Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in your gut. They are imperative for good health, and if you’ve taken antibiotics in your lifetime there’s a chance that your body has fewer probiotics than it should. Antibiotics – while great for ridding us from infection – can’t distinguish between good and bad bacteria. They kill off your good bacteria too. For more information on probiotics and gut health see this article from Dr. Axe.
Kefir is an excellent way to rebuild the colony of good bacteria in your gut. It’s been around for over 3000 years, and the name kefir itself means “feeling good”. As I mentioned, it’s most often made with cows milk. The yeasts and bacteria in the kefir grains (or starter) break down the lactose, possibly making it suitable even for those who might be lactose sensitive. (Everyone is different. If you are very sensitive, perhaps you should look into making water kefir, which I know nothing about.)
Kefir is similar to yogurt, but it has far more good bacteria. While you can get kefir in the grocery store, making it at home is cheaper and, I believe, more beneficial because anything you buy in the grocery store is likely pasteurized. The pasteurization process may kill off much of the good bacteria – the whole purpose of the kefir!
I personally don’t think that it tastes that awesome – so I put it in my morning shake. There are tons of ways you can use it, and drinking it straight it definitely an option!
Finding your Kefir grains
For me the most difficult part of the home made kefir process was getting my own kefir grains. You can buy them in some health food stores, but good quality kefir grains are hard to find retail (again, because of the pasteurization process ect). It’s best to get them from someone who makes kefir at home – kefir grains are always multiplying and you don’t want too many grains in one batch – it actually makes nicer kefir when you stick to just a few tablespoons of grains per liter of milk. People are often looking to give away their extra grains.
If you can’t find grains in your area, there is a Facebook group specifically for the sharing of grains. See if you can get some sent to you!
Supplies you’ll need to make kefir
Making Kefir is pretty basic (YAY!). You hardly need anything. There is some debate about if steel can hurt your grains, so stick to glass and plastic for the entire process. You’ll need:
- Large glass container (I use a 1 L mason jar)
- clean tea towel
- plastic strainer
- plastic or rubber spatula
- kefir grains & milk
- a room temperature (or warmer) environment
Place your grains and milk in your glass container. I find that just a couple tablespoons of grains in a liter of milk is enough. Cover with the tea towel (it’s going to be fermenting, so no tight lids! It needs air). Set it out of the direct sunlight in a warm (or room temperature is fine) place. It’ll take some trial and error for you to find out exactly how long you want to let it ferment, but I find my kefir needs about 3 days.
( ↓ I like it really thick, as pictured. This is after 3 days.)
When it’s time to strain it, it’ll probably be separating – that yellowish/ clear liquid is the whey. I drain some of that off when possible, to make my kefir a little thicker. It will smell yeasty, sort of like bread. If it smells like rotten milk, it probably IS rotten milk – don’t drink it! I’ve heard that (especially if you received your grains in the mail or if they are dried out) it can take a couple batches to really wake them up and make successful kefir.
I empty the contents of the jar into my strainer, and smash the kefir through with a spatula. Don’t be afraid to squish your kefir grains – they are really rubbery and… bouncy. You won’t hurt them, and I’ve never pushed any through the strainer. You’ll be left with ready to drink keifr and your separated grains.
The grains go back in the glass jar (I don’t even always clean it between batches – but you certainly can) and you make another batch. You can store your finished kefir in the fridge, or I’ve heard you can store it on the counter and it will just continue to ferment. I’ve never done that, because honestly it tastes weird enough cold… warm is not for me. I keep mine in the fridge. It keeps for weeks, just like yogurt!
A few notes on caring for your grains
(Just FYI you can find information onlinet that is totally contrary to almost everything I’ve posted here as far as the care of the grains goes. This is what works for me, I haven’t killed any grains yet and I’ve been making kefir for over a year now. I firmly believe they are pretty hardly little dudes.)
Over time your grains will multiply. With each batch you’ll have a few more, and eventually some of them will need to go. Find a friend who needs kefir grains and give ’em away! I’ve heard of dehydrating or freezing them for future use, but I just can’t fathom why I would want to hoard kefir grains like that.
You might notice that the grains are covered in a “slime” when you strain them. That slime is called kefiran and is a sign of healthy grains. You’ll get used to it.
If you ever forget your grains in their milk for too long and they are really thick with kefir or if you drop them (or touch them) and need to wash them, rinse them in fresh milk. I try really hard not to touch my grains. I don’t know that it would hurt them, but I just never want any bacteria from my fingers messing with them.
When I first got my grains I believed everything I read online about how they need to be fed everyday. I was super stressing about finding a “babysitter” for them while I was on holiday – but I don’t worry about that anymore. I’ve found that if you put them in a big container of milk in the fridge they keep just fine. I’ve kept them that way for up to two weeks without feeding them! They sort of hibernate in the fridge.
One last thing –
Remember that this stuff is FULL of beneficial probiotics, and that your body might be really lacking probiotics at the moment. Start with just a 1/4 cup or so of kefir per day, it might take your system some getting used to. It won’t hurt you to take more, but you’ll be able to avoid any gas or adjustment issues if you take it slow.
Good luck! Let me know how the kefir making goes for you 🙂
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