How to make Kefir

Today I’m posting a review of kefir grains along with instructions for making your very own kefir at home. The people at Kefir Kitchen have generously sent me a free sample of their grains (the starter bacteria), all the way from Turkey to Canada, in exchange for a written review of the product.

In case you’re wondering what the heck kefir is, it is a thick and sour fermented drink made from milk and kefir grains. Its taste and texture is similar to yogurt. Traditionally, it is made with sheep or cow milk, but it’s possible to make it with plant milks. Nobody knows the exact origin of kefir grains; it is believed that they were first found by shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains that cross Russia and Turkey.

Like most fermented products, kefir is good for your gut health. It contains 30 strains of bacteria — compare that to the 2-3 strains found in yogurt! — and it includes a unique strain called Lactobacillus kefir. According to Authority Nutrition, the unique strain inhibits the growth of E coli, Salmonella and H Pylori.

If you choose to buy kefir, read the labels first to see if the brand contains live bacteria. Manufacturers often add preservatives to products, which kill the beneficial bacteria and produce a drink that tastes like kefir but lacks the health benefits. For this reason (among others), many people prefer to make their own batches at home.

To be honest, I had never actually tasted the drink before testing out the grains for this review. I tried a bottle from the store, just to get an idea of what flavour and consistency to expect (in other words, making sure I had not messed up my batches).  It was all an experiment for me. In spite of my inexperience, I successfully made several batches. If I can do it, anyone else should be able to make it too.

Enough talking. Here are the instructions!

HOW TO MAKE KEFIR

Ingredients and Materials Needed

  • 1 batch worth kefir grains (3 Tbsp)
  • 1 Liter milk
  • glass jar (for fermenting)
  • mesh lid, cheesecloth, or other loose covering for jar
  • plastic or other non-metal strainer
  • medium-sized, non-metal bowl
  • glass or plastic jar (for finished product)

Step 1: Get Kefir Grains!

You can use kefir starter kits or kefir grains, but the grains are preferable. Starter kits can only be used a few times and they contain fewer strains of bacteria (about 10), while grains can be re-used over 100 times. This difference is due to the fact that kefir grains grow and reproduce by 1.5 times with each batch. The extra grains can be used to start a second batch, or they can be given away to friends and family.

If you are looking to make water kefir, you must use water kefir grains. This post deals strictly with milk kefir grains.

As mentioned previously, I got my grains from Kefir Kitchen. The company obtains its grains from universities in Turkey and ships them out in dried form.

When my package arrived in the mail, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning opening a present.

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In case you’re wondering, that’s a bar of kefir soap which they also sent me.

There are enough dried grains for one batch of kefir.

Step 2: Activate the Grains

Place the grains in a glass or plastic container with a bit of milk, and let them sit on the counter for 7 hours at room temperature. Strain them from the milk. They will be slightly rubbery and slippery to the touch.

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As you can see, the grains are not that big, or at least not compared to other pictures that I have seen online. I guess it will take a while for them to grow to a larger size.

Step 3: Start the Batch

Place the activated grains into a glass jar with 1 L of milk. You can use any type of milk you like such as 2%, 1%, or skim. Cow, goat, or sheep milk are all okay to use.

It is possible to use soy milk and other plant milks, but the grains will reproduce at a slower rate than with animal milk. For more detailed instructions on using plant milks for kefir, check out this fantastic list of vegan kefir recipes using practically any milk that you can think of such as almond, sunflower seed, hazelnut, walnut, and coconut.

After adding the milk and grains to the jar, cover it with a loose lid or with mesh. Don’t use metal. Keep it at room temperature in a dark place for 24 to 48 hours.

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I covered my jar with one of those small, finely woven fabric bags meant for bagging produce at the grocery store.

The kefir becomes increasingly thick and sour over time, so you may want to test it at the 24 hour mark and decide if it needs more time. I like to do 2% cow milk at 24 hours and soy milk at 48 hours.

Step 4: Strain

Separate the grains from the finished kefir. Use a plastic strainer or some cloth mesh and strain the liquid into a bowl. If you fermented the kefir for 48 hours, it may look as though the milk has curdled. Don’t worry; it’s fine. As you continue to sift the liquid, it will gradually become smooth.

Place the grains into a separate bowl. Set the bowl aside. There will be a protective barrier clinging to the grains, and it may look slimy. This is normal. Do not rinse the grains with water, as this can wash away some of the beneficial bacteria.

The strained kefir should be fairly smooth. Pour yourself a glass and try it out.

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It looks like a glass of milk, but it most certainly tastes different from two days ago!

Transfer the rest of the kefir into a glass or plastic container and store it in the fridge.

Step 5: Reuse or Store Grains

You can do one of two things with the grains. You can make another batch of kefir right away, following the exact same directions.

Or, you can store them in the fridge until later use. Simply place them into a small glass or plastic container with a small amount of milk. They will continue to ferment at a slow rate in the fridge. If storing for more than one week, change the milk once every week so the grains have a steady supply of food.

Optional Step – Flavouring

Though I have not tried this myself, the folks at Cultured Food Life recommend using a technique called second fermenting. After straining the grains from the kefir, add lemon or orange peel to the liquid and leave on the counter for another 2-12 hours. Other possible flavours include dates with vanilla, basil and lemon, or lavender.

My Conclusion

This was a fun project for me. I felt like I was taking care of a pet, and in a way I sort of was. Kefir grains are alive with bacteria, and they need to be treated properly.

It was tricky for me to strain the kefir grains from the milk, as they were quite small in size. Perhaps that’s the norm for dried kefir grains, I really don’t know. The filtering process would have been much easier had the grains been a larger size.

As it turns out, I can’t drink a straight glass of kefir. It’s too sour for my personal taste. However, I did use it as a yogurt substitute in my smoothies, and I really enjoyed that.

I’m impressed with kefir’s versatility; it can be made using traditional or vegan methods, it can be flavoured with natural ingredients, and it can be used in both savory or sweet recipes. All in all, this was a good experience for me.

Have you ever made kefir? What are your best tips or tricks?

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