Kefir is a traditional fermented milk beverage that is even higher in beneficial gut bacteria than yogurt. It is often called the champagne of milk products due to its effervescence (fizziness) and light, tart flavor. Homemade kefir is much thinner than yogurt, in fact, it’s more of a beverage than a spooned dairy product. Most store bought kefir also has added sugars, thickeners, and made from a culture starter (bottom right photo), rather than from grains.
What are Kefir ‘Grains’?
Kefir ‘grains’ are small, gel-like colonies of bacteria living together in bunches (upper left photo). When in contact with milk, the bacteria break down the lactose (milk sugars), and create a thicker, fizzy drink that is loaded with beneficial bacteria. Some people that have lactose intolerance (like myself) have reported that they can consume kefir without issue because the grains digest most of the lactose. Everyone is different, so experiment with whether you can drink it if you are lactose intolerant. Unlike a culture starter, the grains can be used indefinitely – which means that if you take care of them, they will provide you with as much kefir as you could ever want.
Much like kombucha bacteria colonies, kefir grains cannot be made from scratch. You will need to get them from someone who has been cultivating the colonies. On the plus side, the internet has made procuring kombucha and kefir grains relatively easy. Look for a reputable distributor, and follow their instructions on how to revive the grains.
Once you have acquired kefir grains and have revived them, start with small batches of kefir, no more that 1 quart of milk. In a glass container, combine the milk and kefir grains. For fast fermentation, leave the container out on the counter, covered with a cheesecloth. Depending on how many grains you have, how much milk you are fermenting, and the temperature of your house, fermentation can take as little as 4 hours and as much as 1.5 days. Keep checking and tasting the kefir until you achieve your desired consistency and tang.
Strain the kefir from the kefir grains, and then place the grains into a new batch of fresh milk, starting the process over. If you cannot drink 1 quart of kefir per day, I suggest you slow ferment your kefir in the fridge. It takes longer, and it will be less thick, but you will not be wasting milk. Experiment with fermentation times to reach your desired tang and thickness level. From my personal experience and refrigerator temp, it takes about a week to ferment half a gallon of milk in the fridge.
If your kefir separates (over-ferments) there are a few things that you can do. First, strain your kefir grains from the separated milk, then lightly wash them in cool water, and place them in a new batch of fresh milk. The separated kefir is still edible, so if you want, you can blend it back together. Another option is to create kefir cheese by straining the whey further from the solids using a cheesecloth. To avoid over-fermentation, you can 1) increase the amount of milk 2) decrease the number of kefir grains 3) shorten fermentation time.
Second Fermentation Fruit Kefir
For flavored kefir, first ferment your kefir normally until you reach the desired consistency and tang. Remove your kefir grains and start a new fresh batch. With the kefir you just made, puree fruit such as strawberry, blueberry, pineapple, or peaches, and then mix the puree into the kefir. You can either drink it as is, or place it in the fridge for a day of two and allow the leftover bacteria to break down the sugars and thicken the kefir even more. Experiment with fermentation time until you reach your desired consistency.
Ways to use Kefir:
- Use kefir in your cereal instead of regular milk.
- Use kefir in your protein or meal replacement shakes instead of milk.
- Try a second fermentation fruit kefir.
- Use kefir in cooking and baking recipes that call for milk.
- Make Kefir ice cream.
- Make Kefir cheese.
Below is a link to a great website that answers a ton of additional questions you may have, check it out if you are thinking about making your own homemade kefir: