Have you heard of milk kefir? Maybe all you know is that is has some connection to probiotics and everyone seems to pronounce it differently. Well, here are the basics on how to make milk kefir, along with the benefits and ways to use it.
What is Milk Kefir?
I had someone just recently say to me, “I keep hearing that word everywhere – kefir. What is it, exactly?”
I’m glad that the word “kefir” is indeed everywhere – that means more people are using it! Kefir is actually a Russian word, pronounced in English with a short e sound and the emphasis on the last syllable. You can hear it pronounced here.
Simply put, kefir is fermented milk. Expanding our explanation a bit, kefir is:
- a scoby of beneficial bacterias and yeasts
- typically referred to as kefir grains
- looks like cottage cheese lumps (water kefir looks a bit like opaque bean-bag stuffing)
The kefir grains turn wholesome dairy into a powerhouse of probiotics, vitamins and beneficial bacteria. You can use it to re-culture your gut while on prescription antibiotics.
- To learn more about probiotics while on antibiotics, click here.
- Also of interest, healing a broken gut from yeast overgrowth, click here.
Kefir, like any cultured dairy, can be an acquired taste. When we first tried it, we just didn’t like it.
A few years later, as our tastes have matured around a whole foods diet, we now consume milk kefir several times a week. One of the best things about it is that it protects the beneficial bacteria in the very harsh environment of your stomach. That allows all that good bacteria to do its job of regulating your gut in healthy ways.
- Cultures for Health also has simple tutorials on how to get stared with both kinds of kefir, as well as how to use your cultured water and milk.
If you decide you’d like to know a bit more about fermented foods, be sure to check out the Ferment All the Things section of the Homestead Kitchen chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. Don’t have your own copy of the book? No worries, we wrote one just for you – to learn more, click below. For a free sample from that chapter, simply email me at Tessa@homesteadlady.com.
What Types of Milk Can You Use to Make Kefir?
Milk kefir is traditionally fermented on cow’s milk, but you can use goat, sheep, water buffalo, yak, etc. You can also kefir coconut milk. Kefir is made by two types of fermentation – alcohol (from the yeast present) and lactose (from lactic acid). Dairy milk is the most reliable ferment host for milk kefir grains, but coconut will work.
Nut milks give varied results, FYI. Their chemistry when mixed with milk kefir grains is such that some work just fine, and others are just blah.
How to Make Milk Kefir
This is a quick food you can make on your counter!
- 1 Quart Fresh Milk
- ¼ Cup Kefir Grains, hydrated; or, one packet dehydrated grains
- Cover your kefir grains in wholesome milk (cow, goat or coconut) in a quart size jar with a lid. You can also attempt to kefir nut milks, but the results can vary.
- Put a lid on your jar and let it sit overnight.
- Taste test for optimal flavor.
- Strain out the kefir grains and put them back into the jar.
- Recover with milk to be used the next day.
- Store your strained kefir milk in a jar with a lid in the refrigerator to slow down further fermentation.
- Or, use in your favorite recipe.
If the jar is really full of milk and kefir grains, I place it inside a bowl because, as the milk ferments, the gases can cause the kefir to overflow its jar.
I usually ferment kefir 24 hours on my kitchen counter. Which just means that I let it sit there with the lid on loosely. You can ferment for less times if you like a less tangy flavor.
Troubleshooting Milk Kefir
Your milk kefir should taste tangy like yogurt and maybe even slightly sweet. It should never smell putrid or be so powerful that you can’t actually eat it!
If you’re concerned the milk kefir is off:
- Do a smell and taste test. If it smells or tastes nasty, you may have an over-fermented culture or one that is simply “unhappy” for some reason.
- If you decide your kefir grains need a reset, put them in a colander, and drain off all the old cultured milk.
- Place the grains in a clean jar and feed them with undiluted cream for 2-3 fermentation cycles. Fresh cream from the cow is best, but if you can’t find that, use the least pasteurized cream you can find.
- Taste the kefir after a few fermentation cycles and see if the flavor has improved. This process should sweeten them up and get their ecology refreshed.
- If not, you might place them in a colander and drain off the cultured milk again. Then, lightly rinse them in filtered water and repeat step 3.*
- You can start feeding with your regular milk as soon as you’re satisfied with the flavor.
* Rinsing the grains with water is like stripping them naked and is only a last resort measure to more fully reset the grains. However, it’s a little like continually giving an antibiotic for an illness instead of finding the cause of the illness.
Question Your Methods First
If your kefir grains continue to produce “rancid” kefir, I would look at your methods of culturing and ask a few questions.
- Is your jar clean?
- Is your milk free of contamination? I always use fresh milk because of its undamaged bacteria set and because I consider it far more healthy than commercially produced milk. Regardless of what milk you or I use, it’s important to be sure that the source for the milk follows safe handling practices. Contamination is the enemy of any dairy enterprise, fresh or commercial.
- Are your grains old or unhealthy? Or just weak? Kefir grains should be reproducing themselves continually; this is a sign of a healthy set of grains. Milk kefir grains should also be robust in size and resemble cottage cheese.
- Are you double dipping? Use clean implements when working with the kefir and don’t drink directly out of the jar, and/or use a spoon to mix that has been in your mouth. Even if you aren’t ill, you have your own bacterial set and you don’t want to confuse or contaminate the kefir grains.
I will say that I’ve NEVER had to rinse my grains in water. If I did, I would most likely purchase new grains or get locally acclimated grains from a friend rather than continue to work with ones I had to baby so much. I would also do a strict methods check on myself as outlined above!
What to Do With Milk Kefir
We typically use ours for morning smoothies, to culture bread dough, and to flavor cream soups and savory dishes.
>>—To learn to use milk kefir to culture bread dough
and Make Yeast Free Bread.—<<<
For my family of seven, I usually do a quart a day so I always have a new quart of kefir to work with every morning. If I’m going to make a batch of kefir bread, I culture more. The same amount of grains can culture quite a bit of milk.
How Much Kefir Should I Drink?
If you’ve never had much in the way of fermented foods, start with a few tablespoons a day. Work your way up to a pint or so, for a great probiotic boost at the beginning of the day.
Some people find the kefir sits better in their gut if they drink it in the morning on an empty stomach. I usually just add mine to my smoothie.
Consult your holistic practitioner if you have any concerns about your gut health.
If you’ve never tried it before, I encourage you to give kefir a try. If you discover milk kefir isn’t to your liking, try water kefir. Water kefir is what our family uses to make natural sodas – we love it!
What’s your favorite ferment? What about your favorite way to use kefir?