I learned how to make milk kefir with grains several years ago.
Not only does it save us $700 per year, but it provides 10 times more probiotics than store-bought kefir. It’s superior in taste and nutritional quality.
But, learning how to make kefir is scary at first. It was for me.
Therefore, my goal is to answer your questions, ease your worries, and give you a step-by-step process that’s easy to follow.
how to make milk kefir from grains
Homemade milk kefir is one of those things we can’t shut up about. Once we discovered it, it was like a golden ticket to unlimited, free yogurt. And we wanted to tell the world.
If you’re confused about milk kefir, we get it. It’s weird.
I had so many questions when a friend of mine offered to share her kefir grains with me. Honestly, I didn’t know what she was talking about. What the heck are milk kefir grains?! I have to feed them daily?! But I trusted her and the rest is history.
Milk kefir is just too good and easy to keep as a secret. Like having a chicken that lays your daily breakfast egg — or, perhaps more appropriately, a cow for milk — your milk kefir will provide you with daily Greek-like yogurt.
For us, we were daily Greek yogurt consumers, but it gets pricey over time. With milk kefir, we’re getting in even more probiotics, vitamins, and minerals than Greek yogurt… all for pennies.
Is it Hard to Make Homemade Kefir?
Kefir was my first ever experiment doing something like this at home. I had never fermented anything before, not kombucha and not sourdough. While it’s incredibly simple, it seems hard at first.
I had a lot of questions at the beginning, like
- Does my milk kefir need more time to ferment?
- Will I make myself sick? Is it dangerous?
- What type of milk works best for milk kefir?
- How long can I take in-between feeding milk kefir?
- How many days can I hibernate milk kefir in the fridge?
- What is milk kefir supposed to taste like?
- Do you separate the cream from the yellow liquid?
To answer these questions, I watched endless YouTube videos and read blog posts until I realized that I just needed to figure it out on my own.
I’ll share what I’ve learned over the years of culturing milk kefir. We’ll go over these questions in the article and include an easy step-by-step guide to fermenting milk kefir at home.
Don’t worry, milk kefir is easy and forgiving, and you’ll soon grow to love it as much as we have. You might even give it a name. Ours is absolutely named Keith.
Plus, who doesn’t love a gift that keeps on giving?
What is Milk Kefir?
Commonly known as kefir yogurt, kefir is a fermented drink that hails from the Caucasus region in Russia.
It is traditionally made with cow’s milk to create a creamy, tangy, and slightly sour yogurt. If you’re used to the tang of Greek yogurt, you’ll love this flavor.
There are also kefir grains that ferment in water, known simply as water kefir. These can be fermented with liquids such as water, coconut water, almond milk, soy milk, and other plant-based drinks.
However, milk kefir requires dairy only. While it’s most common to ferment it in cow’s milk, you can also use things like sheep and buffalo milk. This article focuses only on milk kefir.
Fermenting milk kefir starts with kefir grains. Kefir grains are translucent, squishy, yellow-ish beads that vaguely resemble cauliflower florets, cheese curds, or cottage cheese.
These grains are technically known as scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), and you can’t make or grow them yourself. But don’t worry, like everything these days, they’re easy to buy on Amazon.
Milk Kefir Benefits
The health benefits and “healing powers” of milk kefir have been touted for centuries.
It was said that the Prophet Muhhamad gifted milk kefir grains to his followers, asking them not to share it with non-believers.
Kefir grains have indeed been a closely guarded secret for ages. The Russian government has even officially recognized kefir’s whacky origin story.
In the early 1900s, the All-Russian Physician’s Society wanted to study and sell milk kefir as a medicine to help improve nutrition and health around the country. However, milk kefir was found only in certain families, passed down from generation to generation, and never shared with outsiders.
Ultimately, a young woman, Irina Sakharova, was employed to obtain kefir grains for the society. However, the man she approached for his kefir grains fell in love with her, abducted her, and proposed for her hand in marriage.
Once her employers freed her, Irina took the man, Bek-Mirza Baychorov, to court for her abduction. He pleaded guilty and paid his settlement fee in kefir grains.
Now, 113 years later, all of us can drink kefir. But before you grab a $5 bottle of kefir at your local grocery store, instead consider growing your own at home.
Homemade milk kefir has the same high calcium, B vitamins, phosphorus, and potassium that you get with a cup of milk. But on top of that, milk kefir, like all of its fermented friends — kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, and sourdough, is packed with gut-healthy probiotics.
Milk kefir health benefits also include:
- Contains up to 10 billion probiotic bacteria that support gut health
- Increases bone density
- Strengthens your immune system
- Aids digestion and reduces constipation
- Lessens allergies
- Lowers blood pressure
Milk kefir is also suitable for lactose-intolerant people (like me) because the healthy bacteria in kefir metabolize lactose.
Considering that more and more scientific evidence has found that having a healthy gut is the backbone of our overall health, follow your gut and give milk kefir a try!
Recipes Using Kefir
You may be thinking that you don’t eat much yogurt, and that’s fine! Since we’ve made milk kefir, I have experimented with dozens of recipes. It’s fun to replace unhealthier foods like buttermilk, cream, and even sour cream with some kefir.
While I don’t have all of my recipes written down, you can comment below with questions and I can get back to you. But I can share that I use kefir in the following recipes:
- Yogurt and granola
- Key lime and pumpkin pie (as a cream replacement)
- Veggie dips (as a mayonnaise replacement)
- Lasagna (as a ricotta cheese replacement)
When experimenting with kefir, sometimes I balance out the tanginess with some sugar, but in so many of these recipes, you’ll never know the difference!
Where to Buy Kefir Grains
Unlike sourdough starter and kombucha scoby, you can’t make kefir grains at home. You can buy live kefir grains on Amazon or ask a friend who already makes kefir to give you some.
At grocery stores, you can buy packets of dehydrated kefir grains. Don’t buy these.
These only contain 10% of the healthy probiotic bacteria strains found in live kefir grains and the taste will be inferior. So go for the gold and buy live kefir grains.
My first grains were gifted to me by a friend in Mexico and were, incredibly, 40 years old. This is the best gift that kefir gives you: you only need one grain to have a lifetime of kefir.
In fact, every time you make kefir and feed it milk, it grows in size. I’ve read stats that it can multiply up to 15% every 24 hours. Therefore, you can give kefir grains out freely to friends and family without diminishing your own stock.
When we left Mexico, I accidentally left my kefir grains in the fridge instead of packing them into my suitcase. So upon landing in the US, I bought these live kefir grains for $9.99 on Amazon. We highly recommend them!
Cost of Homemade Kefir Versus Store-Bought Greek Yogurt
Before we started making kefir yogurt at home, we bought greek yogurt at the grocery store.
Between the two of us, we went through about 2 containers of Greek yogurt per week. We still consume the same amount, but now all we have to do is buy whole milk to feed our kefir grains.
Weekly Spend Comparison
Greek yogurt (FAGE 2%) is $7.50 per container, so $15/week.
To produce the same amount of kefir yogurt, we need to feed our kefir grains (we paid $10 on Amazon) a half gallon of whole milk. Whole milk (Good & Gather) is $2.69 per gallon, so $1.35/week.
In a year, that saves $700. Plus, homemade kefir tastes better.
Before we teach you, step-by-step, how to make kefir at home, let me introduce you to our recommended supplies.
Supplies to make Kefir At home
Once you have kefir grains, you’re ready to start making kefir yogurt.
For general kefir starter kit, these are the supplies that we use and recommend.
Your Kefir Starter Kit:
These are the grains that we have used and loved for the past year. They’re organic, delicious, and hardy.
We once took these kefir grains on a multi-day road trip, onto a plane, and into a new country. The trip, which took nearly three days, didn’t even slow production.
We recommend a plastic mesh strainer because there’s conflicting evidence of whether you should let metal touch your kefir.
Kefir is acidic, so when it comes into contact with certain reactive metals (like copper and brass), it will react and affect the taste.
Stainless steel is an exception to this rule, as it is a non-reactive metal. However, if you’re not positive about what material your metal strainer, spoon, or jar lid is, it’s best to opt for plastic.
Also, size is important here. It’s best to have your mesh strainer fit into the containers you’re most likely to store your kefir yogurt and whey protein in. We opt for a 4-inch strainer.
When choosing a container for your kefir, consider a few things.
First, I like to wash or rinse my kefir container every time I collect the yogurt and grains, so find one that is easy to clean in a few seconds. It definitely helps if you can fit your hand inside the mouth!
Second, kefir grains need a little bit of air, but leaving an open container can invite flies. So, I chose a container that has a flip-up lid that I leave slightly ajar. It also works if you have a screw-on lid container that you just leave on loosely.
In this scenario, it’s fine if the lid is metal, as long as it doesn’t touch the kefir. Some people also cover the lid of their containers with a coffee filter or a breathable cheesecloth. All of these options work just fine.
For two people, I need a container that is at least 750 ml (25 ounces/3.25 cups) big to fit the grains and milk with some room to spare. This is dependent on how much kefir you plan to make.
I like to keep the plastic spoons that come with my takeout for this. Again, stainless steel spoons have been proven to be fine with kefir, but when in doubt of the type of metal your utensils are, go plastic.
While any dairy milk can culture kefir (cow, sheep, buffalo, etc.) always go for whole milk. Don’t skimp with skim! The higher the fat content, the thicker the kefir, but any milk will work.
We opt for whole milk (organic when possible) for the most delicious and nutritious kefir. The general advice is also to try to go as raw as possible, so avoid UHT (ultra-heat-treated) or highly pasteurized milk.
Food containers to store the kefir and whey protein
You’ll want to have two clean food containers ready to go when you’re collecting your kefir yogurt.
If you want thick, creamy yogurt reminiscent of Greek yogurt, you’ll need two food containers. The first is to collect whey protein liquid and the second is to collect your yogurt. For two people, you’ll want each container to hold at least 500 ml (17 ounces/2.25 cups).
How to make homemade milk kefir step-by-step
Making milk kefir isn’t like manufacturing a car or even following an exact recipe. It’s much more fluid and casual than that. Just remember that your kefir is a live culture, and therefore needs to be fed from time to time.
Once you become familiar with your kefir grains and how much kefir you want to eat, you’ll be able to optimize your kefir routine.
Now that I know how fast my kefir grains grow, I can easily change things on the fly like:
- going from eating kefir daily to twice a week
- feeding 1 person to 4 people on my next batch
- making the kefir yogurt thicker or lighter than the last batch
- growing extra grains to give away to a friend
In our step-by-step guide on how to make milk kefir, you’ll learn that your kefir is harder “to kill” than you think and that making kefir is an enjoyable and easy part of your daily routine.
STEP 1: Prep
Gather your “milk kefir starter kit” items and get prepped! Make sure everything is clean and try not to touch your grains. Again, you want your grains to last a lifetime, so don’t go infecting them with your germs!
As we mentioned above, it’s the best and easiest practice to only let plastic and glass touch your kefir grains.
Certain metals are too reactive with acidic kefir, affecting the taste and strength of your kefir over time.
The exception is stainless steel, which is fine to use, but if you’re unsure of whether your utensils, containers, lids, and strainers are stainless steel or not, just avoid it.
STEP 2: Feeding the kefir grains
Using a plastic or stainless steel spoon, place 2 tablespoons of kefir grains into your plastic or glass container. Pour in 2 cups of whole milk. This is the amount I use to feed two people kefir yogurt daily.
STEP 3: Cover your kefir
Cover your container but let some air get in (but not dust or flies). This can be done by leaving the lid slightly ajar or loosely screwed, or covering the top of the container with a coffee filter and a rubber band.
It’s generally discouraged to use metal lids. However, if you have one and it’s not touching the kefir, go ahead. Everything will be fine.
Remember, if you cover your grains too tightly, carbon dioxide can build up. Although unlikely, this could make your container explode like any other fizzy-ish drink.
This is a big reason why homemade kefir is so much healthier than store-bought kefir.
Shelf-stable store kefirs cannot have too many healthy bacteria or they’ll explode. I’ve read that store-bought kefir only has 10% of the bacteria that you can have at home because of this.
STEP 4: Fermenting your kefir
Put the container in a dark place (like inside a cabinet) or lightly cover it with a tea towel.
Around 24 hours later, check on your kefir grains. Fermentation rates depend on many factors, such as the health of the kefir grains and the temperature (warmer temperatures will make kefir ferment faster).
In general, kefir will be ready to drink in 24-48 hours.
When you start seeing patches of transparent, yellow liquid, you’re on the right track.
STEP 5: Deciding when to collect your kefir
How do you know when your kefir is ready to eat?
While this may be an unhelpful answer, it simply depends on you.
Many bloggers I read like to drink kefir when it’s the consistency of tomato juice. However, we personally like it as thick as Greek yogurt to go along with granola.
Some people call this “over fermentation.” We call it the best and yummiest way. If you like it the way we do, then you need to wait longer for fermentation.
For a thick yogurt, wait for large swathes of clear, yellow liquid to appear. You’ll see your kefir curds on the surface and floating around like clouds. I collect my kefir when the yellow liquid is 1/3 to 1/2 of the container.
What is that yellow liquid anyways? It’s liquid gold aka pure whey protein. You’ll want to keep that for your smoothies.
STEP 6: Straining out your whey protein
Using your plastic or stainless mesh strainer, pour the kefir carefully into your mesh strainer over a plastic or glass container to collect your whey.
A tip here is to place a spoon like a dam so that the yellow liquid whey can flow out without the kefir curds.
Whey is produced because bacteria in kefir eat the sugars and lactose in milk and, in turn, produce probiotics. The casein protein in the milk causes the curds to form, taking along with it the fat and creaminess. What’s left over is mostly water and whey protein.
Whey protein, the basis for most protein powders, is an incredible superfood. Whey promotes muscle growth, assists the liver in detoxification, reduces hunger, and regulates blood sugar levels.
STEP 7: Straining out your kefir yogurt
After removing the whey protein, you’re left with what looks like cheese curds. In fact, they’re referred to as kefir curds.
Using a new container, collect your yogurt kefir by carefully stirring the contents of your strainer with a spoon or banging the strainer against the container.
You’ll have beautiful, superfood kefir yogurt! Well done! Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks and enjoy.
STEP 8: Clean your kefir container
When nothing is left but your kefir grains, take this opportunity to clean out your kefir container.
While some recommend cleaning your kefir container at least once a week, I like to at least rinse ours out each time to make sure nothing extra funky happens.
STEP 9: Return your kefir grains to the container
Once you’re done cleaning your container, place your kefir grains back in and start again by adding fresh milk!
You’ll have noticed that your kefir grains have either grown in size or multiplied. This is great news! It means you have healthy, kefir grains.
If you want to slow down your kefir yogurt production, toss some kefir grains in the trash to reduce how much you’re making. Or, add more milk. Continue to experiment until you find your sweet spot. After a few cycles, you’ll get the hang of it!
A quick note:
For new kefir grains that you’re activating, follow these steps for 2 cycles before eating.
The same goes for after you’ve hibernated your grains in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
We get this question a lot, and we were worried at first too.
Can Kefir Make You Sick?
When you’re new to milk kefir, you may be wondering if you’ll make yourself sick and give yourself food poisoning. How can leaving milk on the countertop for two days not make you sick?!
The good news is that the acidity of milk kefir, which has a pH of 4.5 or less, keeps the bugs at bay. These acidity levels were found in studies to inhibit foodborne illnesses such as Listeria, Salmonella, and E Coli.
Research also points that water kefir is more likely to harbor pathogens than milk kefir.
Regardless, here are some good practices to minimize any risks of getting sick from milk kefir:
- Wash your utensils and containers often
- Keep your kefir container (lightly) covered to keep out dust, bugs, and bad bacteria
- Look at your milk kefir before collecting it. If something looks off, then throw out the whey and yogurt, and start again with fresh milk.
- Use your nose. One time in the past three years, I thought that my kefir smelled funkier than usual. I decided it was because I hadn’t cleaned the container recently. I threw out the yogurt and whey, added fresh milk to the same grains in a clean container, and waited for the next batch.
A Final Pep Talk!
While the first weeks of making milk kefir can be weird and scary, remember to keep it simple. As long as you feed the kefir once in a while, it will be fine!
Don’t worry about finding the best milk or following the best practices. Keep it fun and experiment!
There is so much you can do with milk kefir, and, most importantly, get adventurous with the recipes you cook! If you haven’t sprung for kefir grains yet, you won’t regret it.
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