kefir-1

Milk Kefir Tutorial

In order to make cultured kefir milk, you must start with LIVE kefir grains.  These grains, which are clusters of yeast and live bacteria, have been cultured for thousands of years.  They multiply when they are put in milk and kept at room temperature.

Kefir grains ready to culture

As you can see from the picture, the kefir grains look like cauliflower.  Kefir is a living organism, so you must care for it carefully if you want it to thrive.   Here are a few rules:

*Kefir does not like metal.  Only use wood or plastic utensils when working with your kefir.

*UV rays harm kefir, so keep it in the dark as much as possible.  As you can see, I have a glazed crock with a lid (not airtight) that I keep my kefir in when it’s culturing the milk.  I also use glass quart jars when storing the grains in the fridge.

*You must use very clean utensils when working with kefir because it will be culturing at room temperature.  You don’t want to be growing anything BUT kefir bacteria.

Equipment

You do not need a crock, but if you have one, you can leave your kefir out on the counter while it’s in the milk.  If you don’t have one, you can use a glass jar kept in a dark cupboard.

Step 1:  Put about 1/4 c. kefir grains in 1 qt. milk.  You can use any kind of milk, even soy or rice milk, but the kefir might not multiply in lactose-free alternatives.  If you have access to raw milk, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the kefir grains multiply.

Milk added to kefir grains

Step 2: Cover the kefir milk loosely (your main goal is just to keep light and dirt out).  If you are culturing your kefir milk in a glass jar, store the jar in a dark cupboard.  Just don’t forget it’s there!

Step 3: Kefir likes to move around, so stir it occasionally with a clean, non-metalic spoon.  Or swish it around in the jar.  You’ll notice that the kefir grains float, and they begin to form clumps in the milk.  This is a good sign!  This means your kefir grains are doing their work.  They’re breaking down the lactose and the proteins, and forming good, healthy bacteria colonies.   You will also notice that the kefir milk smells yeasty.  This is what you want!

Kefir, 8 hours cultured

Step 4: The kefir milk is done in as little as 12 hours, especially if the weather is warm, and as long as 24 hours.  The whey may begin to separate.  Just stir it gently to incorporate it again.  How do you know when it’s done?  Mostly, you will learn by experience . The kefir milk becomes more tart as time goes on (like buttermilk).  It can also taste like yeast, especially if it’s cultured for longer than 24 hours.  I usually let mine sit the full 24 hours because I don’t drink it plain.   If I were to use it on cereal, like many people do, I would strain it earlier.

Straining the kefir milk

Step 5: Using an impeccably clean plastic strainer placed over an impeccably clean plastic container, filter out the kefir milk, leaving the kefir grains in the strainer.  The kefir milk will be thick like buttermilk.  You may have to gently stir the grains around in the strainer to get the milk to go through.  It also helps to stir the cultured kefir milk before pouring it into the strainer to “loosen” up any clumps that are sticking to the bottom of the jar.

Step 6: Use the kefir milk!  I love to use the kefir milk in smoothies (1/2 c. kefir milk, 1/2 banana, and a handful of strawberries is great!), or in place of milk in almost any recipe (see my Sprouted Wheat and Kefir Bread recipe on this site).

Kefir milk, ready to store in the fridge

Step 7: If you’re ready to make more milk, just put the strained kefir grains in a new jar and start over at step 1.  However, if you don’t need more kefir milk right away, you can store the kefir grains in the fridge.  Simply put the kefir grains in a fresh jar with just enough milk to cover.  As your kefir grains multiply,  it’s a good idea to keep one batch of kefir grains working while another batch rests in the fridge.  I have found it helpful to label the jar with the date (because I forget).  You can store the kefir in the fridge for up to a month.  It goes dormant at that temperature and won’t multiply.  If you need to keep it longer than that, it’s a good idea to get the grains out of the fridge, bring them up to room temperature, and “feed” it with a little fresh milk.   Then it can go back to sleep!

Step 8: When you’re ready to use the reserved grains, simply strain out the milk it was kept in and start over at Step 1.

36 thoughts on “Milk Kefir Tutorial

  1. Amanda T

    This is great! Thank you! We’re actually all off milk and lactose now as our tummies are intolerant and Theresa is allergic. Once our cheese is gone, we’ll need to make the switch there, too.

    I’ll let you know how it works with soy, as that’s what we use all the time.

    Reply
  2. fiveintow

    You may actually be able to use kefir anyway because the kefir eats the lactose in the milk. However, if you don’t want to risk it, you can also use goat milk, coconut milk, and rice milk to make kefir. Or, you can use water kefir grains, which makes a nice bubbly drink out of sugar water! I have a tutorial on that coming up soon. :)

    Reply
  3. Alice Hoffman

    I am wondering where you purchased your kefir grains? I see a bunch of places to order them online. Most are selling about 1-2 teaspoons of the grains and it seems like you have more than that in your crock. We have a large family (9 living here) and need to be able to produce enough for us all. If I buy 2 tsp of the grains, will they too multiply enough to make a few cups of kefir a day?

    Reply
    1. fiveintow

      I bought mine from someone on craigslist. She gave me about a quarter of a cup, which was very generous. They do multiply fairly quickly, especially in the summer. Water kefir grains multiply even faster. I have given away tons of grains and still have plenty. They just keep growing! But, if want to start with a larger amount, you may do better to try to find someone local to you to get them from. I know that some other websites have forums where you can offer your cultures to others for nothing but shipping costs (I could try to find that for you). I have even shipped mine to people across the country, but at least one batch died because they got too hot in transit. So, if you can pick them up, you might do better. But, even a couple grains will work! It’s amazing stuff.

      Reply
    1. fiveintow

      Let me know if you have any more questions! This reminds me to get some more of my recipes up. We use milk and water kefir in lots of cooking, and we’ve noticed a huge improvement in our health. If you live anywhere near Seattle, I’d be happy to give you some grains!

      Reply
      1. Gary Garver (206) 634 0546

        I would really like to get some ,kefir grains here in Seattle for my raw goat’s milk- I’ve just brewed up some Kombucha and I, will give you some and/ or give you a new ” mother” Thank you in advance! Call me ,if you want (it’s easier for me) Thank you again, Gary-ji

        Reply
        1. Kristen Glover Post author

          I’m sorry, Gary. We are moving and I will not have any grains available because life is kind of crazy! I’ve had to stick the milk kefir in the fridge for now because I kept forgetting about it with all the packing. :( I hope it survives the trek to Texas!

          Reply
  4. Libby

    Thank you for such a clear tutorial! I was gifted some grains and just made my first batch. I used raw milk and left for a little over 24 hrs. The result was slightly sour, slightly fizzy kefir. The consistency of my kefir was not like a runny, drinkable yogurt (like the one I’ve bought from the store) but rather still milk like. Any ideas?

    Reply
    1. fiveintow

      The runny-ness of the kefir may be due to two reasons. One, it takes a little bit of time for kefir to “wake up” in a new environment, particularly if you change milk, etc. Since the grains are new to you, it’s very likely they’re just getting used to their new home. Chances are, it will be slightly thicker the next time you do it. Also, kefir slows down in the winter months. You may need to culture it slightly longer to get it the consistency you want. Also, be sure to stir the mixture right before you strain it. The kefir clumps will loosen up and you’ll get a thicker kefir milk when you are finished. Good luck!

      Reply
  5. Connie Adams

    I ignored my jar for a while, very strong smell. I strained rinsed gently and started w/ more raw milk. Will they be ok to consume or have I ruined it and have to start over. How can I tell if it is actuall is spoiled?

    Reply
    1. fiveintow

      Kefir are pretty resistant. Once you’ve added them to the fresh milk, they should begin to clump together, and even stick to the jar if you don’t stir them. If they are dead, they will not multiply or clump together. The milk it produces will not be tangy. But, it might take a few rounds for them to be back to normal so don’t give up too soon. I would culture this batch, strain of the milk and use it for baking, just in case, and then add a fresh round of milk. By the second batch, you should see signs of the kefir acting like kefir. It should smell sweetly yeasty, and you should start seeing those clumps. You can go ahead and drink this batch now. If you don’t see any of those things happening after a round or two, it’s probably dead.

      Reply
  6. Janet

    Hi. I had my kefir in the fridge for a week resting in milk while I was away. I then strained and discarded the milk and rinsed them in a little fresh milk and then put them in my jar with fresh milk. Can you then immediately use the next lot of kefir milk? It cultured very quickly and separated to curds and whey but that could be because I used raw milk for the first time. I just am not sure if you need to wait a few times after the grains have been in the fridge. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. fiveintow

      Absolutely, it will be just fine. Unless it smells off or you see some yeasty overgrown on the top, it is safe to use, especially after only 1 week in storage. It may have cultured very quickly also because after a rest, kefir is usually ready to go! In fact, sometimes it’s good to give it a rest every now and again, especially if you stop seeing the growth you want. I hope that helps!

      Reply
  7. Traci

    HI – I found your blog on a search for kefir grains. I wonder if you still have extra? I purchased some a few days ago via Craigslist and I have figured out via much internet searching that they are contaminated. Ugh. Anyway, I live in Seattle and would love to get grains instead of the starter culture I am using now. Thanks. Your blog is fun to read as my kids are now college age.

    Reply
    1. Kristen Glover Post author

      I got my first batch on craigslist from someone in Seattle. She had both milk and water kefir grains. The grains were beautiful and healthy and I used them for years. I finally had to get a new batch after one of my twins accidentally dumped my grains down the garbage disposal (be still my heart!) and I ordered some water kefir grains from Amazon, just to see if they were good so I could recommend them to people who were nervous about craigslist. I got them from here: http://www.amazon.com/Keysands-Organic-Grains-Crystals-Tibicos/dp/B0051WV5K6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378005356&sr=8-1&keywords=water+kefir and they were gorgeous. They more than doubled every two days. I mean, I had kefir grains coming out my ears. I had to leave them since we just moved to Texas and I knew they wouldn’t survive the heat, but I’m getting ready to purchase more once the weather cools. I have had friends order all kinds of bacteria from Cultures for Health with great success. Otherwise, check out any local co-ops, farmer’s markets, or raw milk suppliers for help. Best of luck!

      Reply
      1. Rose

        I wanted to let you know I LOVE your idea of keeping a spare set of kefir grains in the fridge and rotating them every month.
        I accidentally threw a batch of grains down the sink drain last year. This was tragic as we live in Central America and I had to wait to till we went to the states again and order them there, as you cannot purchase them here. I was without grains for nine months.
        I have grains again that are happy and healthy and multiplying like crazy. I went ahead and tucked some in the fridge this afternoon, so I will always have a spare.
        LOVE YOUR IDEA.
        Thanks again Rose

        Reply
  8. glenda

    why can’t you strain kefir grains and put in water? I think my grains were good ones, the milk did not get nasty smelling but the milk thickened, but I was unsure what kefir was supposed to look or taste like. it was not real fizzy but just got the grains in the mail. I was unprepared. do not have plastic in my kitchen much but had a small tea strainer that is Stainless Steel. I now only have milk that is highly processed, my other gallon was gone with the cup of milk I put my new grains into. so I strained them rinsed them in well water and they are now sitting in some well water. can I just add sugar water to keep them until I can get more milk or can I convert them to water kefir instead? I thought I saw a blog about could use them if you filetered them well. I am too new to this I guess. hate to lose my grains but in the middle of a holiday weekend and 50 miles from a grocery. what to do??

    Reply
    1. Kristen Glover Post author

      If you have milk kefir grains, it’s best to store them in milk because milk kefir does not feed on sugar. So, just put them in enough milk to cover and refrigerate until you’re ready for them. They will slow down and go dormant in the fridge. Even processed milk will keep them happy in storage, or if you don’t have any form of milk (even coconut milk, rice milk, or goat’s milk) will work. They can stay in the fridge for quite some time–I’ve kept mine for a month and had them get right back to work once put in fresh milk.

      Milk kefir will be thick, a little bit like a runny yogurt, and will have the same kind of tang. It will get thicker (and stronger-flavored) the longer it sits. It doesn’t always get fizzy, especially at first, so you probably did everything right and it came out well!

      Unfortunately, you can’t convert milk kefir to water kefir. Some websites say you can, but milk kefir and water kefir are actually completely different strains of healthy bacteria. You can use them in cross-applications, for a time, but they will eventually die. It’s best to keep the milk kefir grains in milk and the water kefir grains in sugar water! I hope that helps!

      Reply
  9. Lynda

    I am just beginning Kefir hoping to help my body recover from a long illness, do I need to add it slowly. I have been using a cup in my green smoothie and I am getting some burping and tummy bloating>

    Reply
    1. Kristen Glover Post author

      Kefir is pretty gentle on the system, unlike kombucha which has such a strong detoxifying effect, you have to increase it gently so you don’t shock your system. However, if you’re noticing side-effects, definitely slow it down a bit and add more only when your body seems to have adjusted.

      Reply
  10. Vali

    Hi, hope you can help. I’ve just been given some kefir in milk by friend and not sure quite whate to do. I have added some extra milk to it with an airtight lid..is this ok?…also realised later that the milk had gone off and was not good…will this be a problem for it. Or could I strain the grains out and start fresh. Please help…I really need this to work as my daughter suffers from illness and know this will really benefit her and the whole family. Thank you

    Reply
    1. Kristen Glover Post author

      Your kefir will be fine even if you used sour milk. Just strain it, soak it in fresh milk (just enough to cover) for a few hours and then strain AND DUMP that milk. You can then put your grains in a fresh batch of milk. Do not over-culture it (give it 12-24 hours, no more) just to make sure none of the bad bacteria from the spoiled milk has time to take over. After that, it should be totally fine.

      Also, you do not need to cover it with an airtight lid. It works best if the kefir can breathe. I have a crock with a loose-fitting lid that keeps it dark and keeps the bugs out but lets the air in.

      Reply
  11. Lindsey

    Hello!
    I just started making my own kefir last week and it’s so different than the store bought kind that I feel like I’m doing something wrong. It never thickens up, just stays the consistency of milk and hasn’t taken on that yogurty taste but more if soured milk with a touch of almost carbonation. Also, my grains look like a lump of cottage cheese rather than cauliflower. Does this sound ok, wrong? I’d appreciate any help. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Kristen Glover Post author

      It takes a few batches for milk kefir to get going full speed, so don’t give up on it yet! It will taste different than store-bought kefir, however, so don’t expect the exact same taste. Milk kefir will be tangy, more so than plain, unsweetened yogurt. It will also have a slight yeasty smell, which might carry over into a slight yeasty taste. That’s all normal. Also, I have found that my kefir thickens more or less depending on the temperature inside my home. In the colder winter months, kefir cultures more slowly and therefore thickens less. This is also not something to worry about. The fact that it’s already somewhat effervescent is great! And, if you grains look like cottage cheese, that’s fine too. They only look like cauliflower when you rinse them off and can see them without all the milk solids attached. It sounds like your grains are actually doing just fine. Give it another couple batches and it will start to thicken. I hope that helps!

      Reply
      1. Lindsey

        Thank you so much, I really appreciate your feedback and taking time to respond to me :) I’m feeling better about it!

        Reply
  12. Nicole

    I set my kefir in the fridge with just enough milk to cover them, let them sit for about 3 weeks, and when I pulled them out to use them, the milk had really thickened. I thought the kefir would go dormant when resting. Is the fact that the milk thickened and sour a bad sign? Or is this normal? I rinsed the grains in water and immediately put them in another quart size jar to make another batch of kefir. Do you think this will be okay?

    Reply
  13. Ana

    Last month we relocated from Zurich to Seattle and unfortunately, didn’t bring our beloved Kefir grains with us. Since then, I have been searching for someone willing to share some with me to resume drinking our smoothies for breakfast. Can you please tell me if you know someone who could give me a tbsp of grains?
    Thank you so much!

    Reply

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