For answers to common questions see our Kefir Frequently Asked Questions page.
Milk kefir is a fermented milk product that is cultured using “grains” of symbiotic bacteria and yeast. The grains are not related to cereal grains and resemble cooked cauliflower in appearance. Grains multiply and are reused indefinitely.
Kefir is similar to yogurt in taste and appearance, but contains vastly greater amounts of living cultures. The consistency of kefir can range from slightly thick milk to yogurt depending on the conditions and how long it ferments. Kefir is most commonly consumed as a beverage or a smoothie base.
Other names: Keefir, kephir, búlgaros, mudu kekiya
History: Milk Kefir is said to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains where shepherds made it in leather bags. The shepherds kept the grains contained in the region until the late 19th century when they were leaked into Russia and subsequently spread around the world. What we know for sure is that they have been around longer than any of us.
Interesting fact: While yogurt greatly dominates the fermented milk market in the U.S., Kefir accounts for 80% of all fermented milk sales in Russia.
Grain characteristics: Milk kefir grains resemble cooked cauliflower with more of a rubbery feel. The grains can vary greatly in size and occasionally need to be separated for best results. White strings will be seen when the grains are pulled apart. The strings are kefiran, a beneficial substance produced by the grains. Milk grains, if consumed, are sour and chewy (Better to just make kefir with them).
Growth: Milk grains generally double every 7-10 days. They seem to multiply best in whole milk, but any type of dairy milk is fine. Temperature is a large factor in growth. Grains will grow slower in winter months when the room temp is lower and faster in summer months.
How to make kefir
Milk kefir is extremely easy to make!
1-2 cups milk
1 tablespoon milk grains (Order here)
Put milk in a plastic or glass container. (Cold milk from the fridge is OK). Add the grains. Cover with a cloth held by a rubber band and place away from direct sunlight. Check the kefir around the 18 hour mark and see if it has thickened. If not, check again at the 24 hour or 36 hour marks. Once the kefir has thickened it is ready to be strained and used. Use a spoon to find the grains and scoop them into another container where the process can be repeated. Alternatively use a colander or strainer to remove the grains. The resulting kefir can be stirred and consumed as-is or placed in the fridge. Kefir stored in the fridge is best consumed within a day if you prefer mild tasting kefir.
If at 24hrs the kefir has separated into curds and whey use more milk or fewer grains next time. On the other hand, if the kefir has not thickened at the 24hr mark use less milk next time or place in a warmer area.
Tip: Harvest and chill the finished kefir in the fridge each night for a breakfast smoothie in the morning.
Adjust the recipe depending on how many tablespoons of kefir grains you have.
Ex)1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon grains
1 quart milk, 1/4 cup grains
2 quarts milk, 1/2 cup grains
The grains can be strained out or spooned out. Experiment with both and see which you prefer. I find the spoon method far quicker and less messy if there are only a few grains. If you have lots of small grains it’s usually easier to strain.
The kefir grains themselves should never be refrigerated unless you are needing a break from kefir making.
Kefir should not be stored in metal containers due to its low ph level. However, using stainless steel strainers and spoons to work with the kefir is perfectly fine since stainless steel is inert.
Kefir is a powerful probiotic and anyone new to kefir should start slow (half a cup at first). Over the first week you can build up to consuming 1-2 cups per day. While there is no harm in starting full strength, you might experience gas or bloating as the kefir cultures push out the existing bacteria.
Top ways milk grains are harmed:
1) Neglect – Kefir grains need fresh milk each day when kept at room temperature. Kefir grains can be stored 2-3 weeks in the fridge, but will eventually die off if stored for extended periods
2) Heat – Kefir grains do not survive at temps above 100*
3) Non-dairy milk – Kefir grains can ferment other types of milk (Coconut, soy, almond), but need to be returned to dairy milk periodically to restore the grains. The grains require lactose on a regular basis to survive. It’s also fairly rare for grains to multiply in non-dairy milks.
4) Using containers that are unsanitary or have soap residue in them. Always give your kefir containers a good rinse after using soap. Alternatively, clean with vinegar.