25 April 2013

Making Kefir

A few years ago, in order to get more kinds of probiotic in our diet, I learned to make kefir, (pronounced kuh-feer). Now that I am eating a vegan diet, I do not use any dairy, but my husband does, so I continue to make the kefir for him. I was pretty intimidated when I first started working with the kefir grains, since I knew little to nothing about how they should behave. But after a misstep or two, I got the process down to a science and discovered that kefir is very flexible and much more tolerant to neglect that I thought it would be.

I could extol the virtues of kefir here, but instead I will give you a play by play on how to start your kefir and a recipe for my husband's favorite Mango Lassi. But if you are interested in knowing more about the health benefits of kefir, here is a website where you can find more than you really want to know about kefir,  Dom's Kefir website....
I believe there is a fair amount of latitude in how you treat the grains and still get an acceptable end product. I have heard many different ways of managing your kefir grains, some people say you must culture every day, others say culture in the fridge to slow down the process, but that you can't store the grains in the fridge for long if you aren't using it much, some say only use pasteurized milk, others say it is best to use raw milk... So I am just going to tell you what has worked for me and suggest that you read what several people have to say on the subject and then decide how you will proceed. Speaking from my own experience, I have found that the grains will tolerate a lot of different environments and schedules, after all kefir grains have been around for centuries, without pasturized milk or other coddling. There are a few things however, that must be done right in order to keep your kefir grains healthy and happy.  First of all the grains are a living entity, a collection of yeasts and bacteria that need a clean environment to live in and the proper kind of food to feed on in order to thrive and reproduce. By clean environment I mean a very clean glass container, but no plastic, since plastic has microscopic pores that will be impossible to clean well enough to prevent contamination. I run the glass container through the dishwasher with the heated dry option on to make sure there are no stray yeasts or bacteria hanging around. All implements that you use with the kefir grains need to be non-metallic, so use a plastic or nylon strainer, and plastic utensils, but no metal, it could damage the viability of the grains. If you handle the grains with your hands, make sure they are very clean first, I wear latex gloves if I am handling them to make sure that I don't contaminate the grains. Kefir grains need quality food to be healthy, just like we do, so if at all possible use organic milk or fresh raw milk to culture your kefir. If organic milk or raw isn't an option, then at least make sure that you use very fresh milk, don't use milk that has been sitting in the fridge for a week, since pasteurized milk doesn't go sour like raw milk does, it just goes bad and the bacteria that is growing in it is not of the beneficial variety.

What you will need to begin making Kefir:
Kefir grains, at least 1 tablespoon, (they can be found at Amazon.com from several sources, just read the feedback before purchasing to make sure other have been satisfied with the grains they received. I would say to be on the safe side look for a seller that is selling fresh live grains that can be delivered to you in a couple of days.)
A clean glass jar and lid. When starting with new grains that need to be grown, use a pint jar and plastic lid or two part regular lid with plastic wrap between the lid and the kefir grains in the jar.
Very fresh milk. Organic or raw is best, but fresh at the very least. Reconstituted powdered milk can also be used .
A plastic or nylon strainer
A plastic spoon or spatula
A plastic funnel, optional but I like it since I don't want any of the grains to miss the jar when transferring and hit the counter.

My Story...
 When I got my grains in the mail, inside the bubble pack envelope, I found a sandwich sized ziploc bag with less than 1/4 inch of goo in the bottom of the bag. I had no idea what kefir grains looked like, so I just followed the directions and waited to see what would happen, but I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had just wasted my money... I waited 24 hours and the milk smelled vaguely of yogurt, but was thin and there was no whey, so I left it another 8 hours. By this time there was a little more activity, so I strained the liquid off and found a bunch of little white things that looked like cottage cheese left in the strainer. I rinsed them with water trying to find the goo that I had originally put in the milk but all that I found was these tiny pieces of what I took to be clabbored milk. At this point I was pretty sure something was wrong and that my grains had just dissolved in the milk. I decided to just put the white ricotta cheese looking pieces in fresh milk with about half of the milk I had strained off to start with. Thinking that maybe the "grains" were like yogurt and you just used some of what you had from your last batch to start your next one... Wrong... the little pieces of clabbored milk were the kefir grains. They had just started to revive and take on their true shape. So after a day or two more of being fed fresh milk the grains were making nice thick kefir and yes, I had gotten my money's worth. The point of this story is to say, be patient, follow the directions, once your grains have made their home in the jar on your counter, they will start producing tasty healthful kefir for you.
Mature Kefir grains look like cauliflower florets

 When you order the grains you will be shipped about a tablespoon in quantity. They won't look like much. You will probably wonder if you got the right thing... Once you receive your grains, put them in milk immediately. For this quantity of grains add 1 cup milk to the grains in a pint sized canning jar and leave at room temperature in a place out of direct sunlight, (direct sunlight could damage your grains) and leave for 24 hours. The first batch you make from newly arrived grains will probably be thin and smell and taste a little off... I would just strain the grains out of the milk the first time or two and put the liquid in the compost or if you have a septic system flush it down the toilet, (it is great for promoting microbial growth in the septic tank! I use extra kefir in place of the very expensive name brand product called Rid-X that serves the same purpose). After the first day or two the kefir will begin to thicken and the taste will be similar to that of plain yogurt and will have pockets of yellowish liquid throughout, (the liquid that you see is whey, it will blend back into the milk when you use the kefir).
The grains will float to the top of the jar and pockets of yellowish whey will form in the milk when the kefir is ready.

Now you can pour the kefir through a plastic strainer, reserve the strained kefir liquid and put the grains back in your culturing jar with a spoon or spatula and cover the grains with a cup of milk.

Of course this is much more than a cup or two of milk, but I have been growing my kefir grains so that I will have enough to share at a class I am giving. The grains are what is left in the strainer in this photo.
 At this point your milk is colonized  and you can either store the strained kefir in the fridge in a glass jar for use in smoothies and other goodies, or go for a fermentation of the kefir, which will give you a full flavored, slightly effervescent kefir that has a more developed family of helpful yeasts and bacteria.  I found that the one day culture of kefir was pretty weak in flavor, and there is very little sparkle or effervescence, but if I left it to culture another day, the flavor was much improved and the sparkle far more pronounced. I almost always ferment the kefir liquid for a day before I put it in the fridge. So I have one jar culturing with the grains, and one jar without the grains fermenting for a day or two, (depending on the inside temperature).

According to those who are in the know, kefir should be cultured every day in order to keep it healthy. I will agree that they produce great kefir when cultured every day, but since my husband is the only one consuming it, He can't keep up with the supply. What I do is culture the kefir every day until I have enough to last my husband for a few days, then I put the grains in the fridge covered in milk and leave them for up to two weeks. Since most of the kefir that is consumed at my house is made into lassi and smoothies, and goes straight from the jar to the blender, I make sure to label the jar containing the grains with bold letters stating that these are the Kefir grains DO NOT USE. I would hate for my happy little colony of kefir grains to end up blended into a smoothie!! If in two weeks I haven't used the grains, then I drain off the kefir liquid, add fresh milk and leave it on the counter, after 24 hours, I pour that off , add new milk and place in the fridge. Any of the milk poured off of the grains is usable of course, but I usually pour the storage kefir into the toilet to boost the health of our septic system.

As the amount of grains in your jar grows you will need to increase the quantity of milk that you add to the grains for culturing. If you are getting thick, whey filled kefir in 8-12 hours then increase the size of the jar and double the amount of milk you add to your grains. It should take a full 24 hours to develop your kefir, so if it is taking less time you need to change the environment some, either increase the volume of milk being cultured or reduce the temperature of the culturing environment to slow the process., And I would say yes, you can culture in the fridge from time to time, just not every time you culture so that the grains have the opportunity to grow and maintain their colony health).

Healthy grains will grow and multiply fairly quickly so if you are having trouble staying ahead of what is being produced and you have gone up in container size and have added increasing quantities of milk, to the point where you can't use it all, then it is time to divide your grains. If you need less kefir, then decrease the quantity by removing 1/4 of the grains, (more if you are really not keeping up). You will need to reduce the amount of milk you are using to culture the kefir when you divide the grains. It should take about 24 hours to culture, if it is taking longer than that, the volume of milk in is too much for the grains to handle, so reduce the quantity until you are getting cultured kefir in about 24 hours.  What do you do with the extra grains? The grains can be eaten, or if you have a friend who loved the lassi when you serve her once, you can share some of the grains with her! You can also rinse the grains thoroughly in water and dehydrate them in a dehydrator with only air, no heat, (like most yeasts heat will kill kefir yeasts), until they are completely dry. Then store them in a small quantity of dry nonfat dried milk in a freezer bag. Label and store in a cool dark place, (dehydrated grains have a 2 year shelf life if dehydrated without heat and stored properly).

Now that you have Kefir, what do you do with it? Well, if you like the taste of plain yogurt, then you will probably like the taste of plain kefir, but if you are like my husband, plain is kind of... meh... He prefers to have his kefir in a lassi or smoothie. You can also use the kefir to make other lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, when you want to avoid salt. It makes a killer ranch dressing as well as other salad dressings, or it can be used like buttermilk in pancakes or other soda leavened foods, but heat kills the healthful properties of the kefir, so if you are looking for the health benefits then stick to uncooked preparations.

Here is my husband's favorite:

Mango Lassi 
Makes one serving but may be doubled or tripled without overfilling the blender.
One heaping cup frozen mango pieces, (for details see: Mangos)
One cup kefir
One healthy tsp. honey (if your mango is very, very ripe and sweet, or you like a tangy lassi, the honey is optional)

Place frozen mango and kefir in blender then add honey (which keeps honey from sinking to the bottom under the blades where it might not mix in). Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

I also like to make these into popsicles  for a refreshing snack for hubby while he is working in the garden. Kids love them, they taste similar to a cremesicle without the sugar and preservatives! What a way to feed them their probiotics!

If you are looking for healthful  ways to add good flora to your digestive tract, or want a more digestible way to consume milk, then I would recommend Kefir. Yogurt is good, but as far as healthy yeasts and bacteria for you gut, Kefir beats yogurt hands down. Here is a couple of quotes from Kefir.net "...Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.”
Yogurt has two basic forms of helpful bacteria,  where Kefir has 13. "...Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yogurt, Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.
It also contains beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir, which dominate, control and eliminate destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body. They do so by penetrating the mucosal lining where unhealthy yeast and bacteria reside, forming a virtual SWAT team that housecleans and strengthens the intestines. Hence, the body becomes more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites. So the bottom line is, Yogurt is beneficial, but Kefir is superior in its benefits to intestinal health.

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Tasty Tuesday#4
Farm Girl Blog Fest #29
Farm Girl Friday #105
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #69
Farm Girl Blog Fest #30
Clever Chicks Blog Hop #32


  1. Now that you're done on the computer, Hon....can you make me a lassi? Yum!

    1. Nope! I just sat down... :) Sure I can, you've earned it!

  2. I am a vegan as well and have made some great homemade soymilk kefir and even chickpea kefir. It's a lot more watery than regular milk kefir (unless you use coconut cream where it is very thick) but has that same sour taste and similar probiotic results. I was amazed that the kefir grains were completely happy in the equivalent of thin chickpea porridge! I add date paste to my home made milks for sweetness and I double ferment my kefir using date paste as well. Most of the time my results end up very carbonated and slightly alcoholic but are amazing in my morning green smoothies. So long as I dunk them occasionally into regular milk they keep on keeping on. I keep some grains going in plain milk for my omni husband and for use in cakes etc. but am constantly experimenting with just how far I can go with these amazing grains :)

  3. Thank you so much for the info!!I have been toying with the idea of using some of the extra kefir grains to try and culture cashew milk... since you say it will work on other things besides milk I will try your suggestions and also give the cashew milk kefir a bash! I will post my results on the blog. Thanks again for the tips and for visiting my blog!

  4. After reading this I am not ashamed to confess that I buy mine. :) This is not a recipe for absent-minded people. I so respect anyone who makes their own. Your instructions are easy enough for a novice. Great job, Elle.

    1. Thanks Limner! I appreciate the input! I often worry that I am being too wordy, but I do want to make sure that anyone who reads the blog can follow the directions and feel like they have all the info they will need to succeed!
      If you ever want to give kefir making a try just let me know and I'll mail you some grains!

    2. Wow. Thanks. :) I cannot imagine being so competent as to make my own. I'm not as efficient as I used to be, and memory is not what it used to be. I often forget ingredients in something as simple as cornbread. :( The meds are more to blame than my ineptness, but still. Besides, for some odd reason I am often turned off by the process of making certain foods. It's getting so I cannot eat foods like fish, if I have to clean them. This week it's the smell of collards. Elle, maybe I'm too old for intricate prep. :)

      I buy two brands of kefir from WFM, but when I imagine how it was made in a skin while riding on a camel, I grin. Or was that yoghurt? LOL.

      Then again, I might make some after I move onto the farm I dream about. :) Thanks for the standing offer.

  5. *GASP* I just checked out the Vitamix blender. Slow down my heart! :(

  6. I know they are pricey... I bought my Vitamix in 1982. It had a chrome base with a high powered motor and a stainless steel canister, it came with a 30 year warranty! I used it practically every day for more than 30 years. It ground wheat into flour, made ultra smooth hummus, and the best smoothies... The stainless steel canister would frost up when I was making the smoothie with frozen fruit, it would come out almost like sorbet! Unfortunately, the motor finally burned out, so now I am using the blender attachment on my Bosch bread kneader. I need to replace the Vitamix, I just hesitate to drop that much cash for something that is made of plastic. Once you've had chrome and steel, it is hard to settle for plastic! I have heard that the new Vitamix and the Blendtec are of similar quality, powerf and durability, so I will need to do some research before I buy again. I will have to save up my pennies for awhile before I can buy either one!

    1. P.S. Did you notice that the glass straw you sent me was featured in the smoothie photo :)

    2. Hope I remember to tell you something about the Vitamix in a letter. But first, they're all made of plastic??? Even the professional line?

    3. Nooo. LOL. I was too busy checking out the drink to notice the straw. You're a gem! You really do use it! :) Thanks.

      I can't read for very long any more so I try to read my favorite bloggers once a week. It's like being in a life class. I get to visit other people's lives. Yours sounds ideal.

    4. The canister is high impact plastic, even on the commercial models, the base exterior is also plastic on both home use and commercial units, but the motors are probably metal.
      Yes, I use the straw a lot! Thank you for the very thoughtful gift! I also wear the bracelet, not on the wrist but around my ankle. I have very much enjoyed wearing it! It makes me feel happy.
      I know what you mean about checking in on favorite blogs and feeling like you get a glimpse into people's lives... it is nice to get to spend some time with people like you, even if it is vicariously :)

  7. thank you for your article. Wall travel in from one country to another my kefir grains which were in a plastic ziplock bag became exposed to laundry detergent the brains themselves did not touch the detergent but just even being next to the back of the tree seems to have given the drains acts like he detergents tease tease when I reach the green tea with milk they seemed fine I am wondering are migraines ruined. They still flowed a bouncy and pretty and made a wonderful batch of out of milk the next day

  8. I would say that if your kefir doesn't taste like laundry soap that everything is fine! Thanks for visiting my blog!


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