I’ve been making milk kefir for a while now, and it’s so easy to do and provides so many health benefits. Try making kefir to add to your favorite smoothie, or just drink it on its own for a snack. Learn all about how to make milk kefir in this easy tutorial.
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Gut-Healthy Words on Food Labels
I have spent many a day at the grocery store looking at foods that are labeled as “probiotic”. I used to wonder what this meant. Why is it that you have normal milk, and then next to it you have kefir milk that has “probiotics”? Is this something that is fed to the cow? If it’s so good then why isn’t it in all milk?
These are all things I wondered. That’s when I started doing some research into what kefir was.
A few years ago I dove into the world of sourdough and grew my own sourdough starter. I learned that bread made from sourdough uses the natural yeast in the grain to ferment it, which strips away certain components of the grain like phytic acid. These components make grain difficult to digest, which is why many people are grain intolerant today.
When I started reading similar benefits about kefir, it made a whole lot of sense. What kind of milk do we drink today? Well, for starters most milk at the grocery store is ultra-pasteurized. This means that the raw milk is boiled at a high temperature to kill any bad bacteria. The thing I found interesting is that this process also kills the good bacteria.
What Our Ancestors Did
When I think back to our ancestors many years ago, they were drinking raw milk, making their own bread, and eating what they grew. Now a days, we have ways of processing our food to make it cheaper and more accessible. But the problem is that often times, this processing actually removes many of the benefits that the food used to have.
When we strip away so much of the beneficial bacteria from our food, our gut isn’t left with enough good bacteria to keep us healthy.
I’m sure you’ve heard of “gut health” and how it important it is. I am not an expert by any means on this topic, but I do know it’s very important to have good gut health. Your gut is what breaks down your food, allowing you to assimilate nutrients into your body. If the acids and functions of the guts aren’t working, you might have:
- digestive issues
- mood swings/headaches
- food intolerances
- auto-immune disorders
If you suspect you may have poor gut health, there are many things you can do to change that. Some people go on the GAPS diet, which is meant to rebuild the bacteria in your gut. Or you can try making your own kefir and drinking it every day, slowing adding good bacteria to your tummy day by day. Then try sourdough bread, and next make some homemade sauerkraut. You will quickly become addicted to fermentation!
Read the Research
What is Milk Kefir?
Milk kefir is milk that has been fermented by kefir grains for 12-24 hours. Kefir is slightly thicker than regular milk, but not as thick as yogurt. Milk kefir will have a slightly sour taste, similar to greek yogurt (not sour like the milk has gone bad).
Kefir grains aren’t actually a grain. They are little balls of cultures and good bacteria that feed off the lactose in the milk. Once they eat all the lactose in your milk, they become hungry and need to be fed again. You don’t actually eat the kefir grains, you just use them in milk to activate the good cultures. Then you strain them and viola you have kefir.
Kefir Milk Benefits
Milk kefir gives your stomach the good bacteria that it otherwise wouldn’t get from pasteurized milk. The pasteurization process is meant to remove potential bad bacteria from milk, but the problem is it removes all the good stuff too. That’s why adding kefir grains to milk is a great alternative to drinking raw milk if you don’t have any near you.
Kefir contains microorganisms known as probiotics that can aid in digestion, weight managment, and mental health. Yougurt is the best known probiotic food on the market, but kefir is actually much more powerful. Kefir grains contain up to 61 strains of bacteria nad yeast, making them a rich and diverse probiotic source.
Kefir grains contain the microorganism Lactobacillus kefiri, which protects against harmful bacteria. Making your own kefir is also a way to boost your calcium and vitamin K levels, an effective way to improve bone health and slow osteoperosis.
Milk fermented by kefir has very low levels of lactose and can help improve digestive processes.
Homemade v. Store bought Kefir
Buying kefir from the store is good, but here’s my worry.
In order for the kefir to get to you, it must have been fed and strained at least days if not weeks or even months before you buy it. Also, how many grains were used in the fermentation process? Many companies may choose to use less grains to save money and produce the most cost-effective kefir.
I just think that while buying store-bought kefir is better than nothing, making your own is not only way cheaper (free) but is way more bang for your buck.
So as you can see, I am a big fan of making your own kefir.
What kind of Milk is Best to use in Kefir?
If you have access to good raw milk, that would be the best milk to use. Raw milk contains a lot more good bacteria than pastuerized milk, so you will get a better kefir using raw milk.
If you buy milk from the store, you want to avoid using ultra-pasteurized milk. Check the label on the milk you’re buying at trying to buy Grade A VAT pasteurized/homogenized if possible. Sometimes the label will say “lightly pasteruzied” or something along those lines.
Also, I have heard that kefir grains love goats milk. This is what we primarily use because our local grocery store sells lightly pasteurized local goats milk. Its a thick and rich milk that makes great kefir for smoothies!
Always buy local, grass-fed milk if you can. See this post for some tips on finding local farmers near you.
Where to find Kefir Grains
One thing I wish I would have done is ask our neighborhood facebook group if anyone has any milk kefir grains. Make sure you specify milk kefir, as using water kefir or yogurt grains will not work as milk kefir. I have given away lots of kefir to neighbors for free.
Once you own a few kefir grains and feed them every day, they quickly grow and duplicate. So it’s very easy to pass them along to someone else 🙂
If you can’t find them locally, you can get them on Etsy here. I ordered from this company a while back and they also provide you instructions and good info on how to keep the kefir. They aren’t sponsoring this but I do recommend them 🙂
HOW TO MAKE MILK KEFIR
First, start with 1-2 tablespoons of milk kefir grains. Be sure you are using grains specific to milk kefir, and not water kefir or yogurt grains. Those are different.
If you get fresh grains from your neighbor, you can use them right away to make kefir. Simply put about 2 tablespoons grains in a quart sized mason jar and fill with high quality milk.
Next loosely place the lid on and set on your countertop at room temp for 12 hours. You can place the kefir in the fridge at that point so the grains don’t over-eat as the cold slows down their eating.
When you’re ready to drink the kefir, strain the grains with a fine mesh strainer. The milk is now kefir, and the grains can go back in their jar and filled with new milk.
A Note about Grains Purchased Online
If you buy grains online, they will likely be starved by the time you receive them. It will take 5-10 feedings to bring them back up to speed. Place them in a small glass of milk and re-feed every 12 to 24 hours until your milk starts smelling like kefir.
How to Take Care of Kefir Grains
Kefir grains, simliar to sourdough starter, are alive and need to be fed. This doesn’t mean however that you have to feed them every day like a pet.
If you want kefir (say in your smoothie every morning), you can get on a schedule of feeding the kefir during the day and placing it in the fridge at night. Then, straining it for drinking the next morning. This is what I do 🙂
If you don’t plan on drinking kefir every day, simply keep the grains in your fridge. Keep them in a small glass jar with milk for up to a week. At that point, you should feed them with fresh milk. The cold temp in the fridge slows down their eating so they can last longer.
I have never left my grains in the fridge unfed for longer than a few days. So, always check for mold and make sure your milk smells like kefir, not like milk that has gone bad. I’ve never had this happen before though.
Tips for Making Milk Kefir
When straining the grains, use a wooden spoon to press the grains up against the strainer. This helps the grains not accumulate milk build up, which can happen.
Keep the grains in a glass mason jar with milk. Change out the jar every few days so you don’t get milk build up around the lid.
You can also strain the grains through a mesh cloth or tea towel. Simply pour the milk with grains through the towel, and squeeze the grains until all the milk comes out.
Give grains to a friend! Once your grains start multiplying, give a tablespoon or two to a friend as a gift. They will never have to buy kefir again!
I think my grains are dead.. what do I do?
Chances are, they are not dead. When I first got my kefir grains which I ordered online, it took me about 12 feed and re-feeds until they starting making potent kefir. Looking back I think that was probably too many, but I wanted to be sure it smelled right to me.
Remember that similar to sourdough starter, your grains are very resilient and it is actually difficult to kill them. I see many people over on Instagram say they killed their sourdough starter, when really it just needs to be fed. If you forget about your grains for a few weeks in the fridge, chances are you can revive them with 5-10 feedings until the milk starts smelling like kefir again. Of course, always check for mold and be sure to smell the milk – it should smell like kefir, not like bad milk.
What to do with Growing Kefir Grains
You will notice after a few weeks or months that your kefir grains are getting big!
If you let your grains continue to grow, they will eat the lactose in the milk faster and keep multiplying. Try giving some kefir grains away to friends and family if you have too many.
Or discard the grains into your compost bin, or feed them to your backyard chickens along with homemade fermented chicken feed. A great source of probiotics for them, too!
- 1-2 TBSP milk kefir grains
- 1 quart raw or lightly pasteurized milk (avoid ultra-pasteurized)
- Start with 1-2 tablespoons of milk kefir grains. Be sure
you are using grains specific to milk kefir, and not water kefir or yogurt grains. Those are different.
- If you get fresh grains from your neighbor, you can use them right away to make kefir. Simply put about 2 tablespoons grains in a quart sized mason jar and fill with high quality milk. See my note below if you order grains online.
- Next, loosely place the lid on and set on your countertop at room temp for 12 hours. You can place the kefir in the fridge at that point so the grains don't over-eat as the cold temp slows down their eating.
- When you're ready to drink the kefir, strain the grains with a fine mesh strainer. The milk is now kefir, and the grains can go back in their jar filled with new milk.
If you buy grains online, they will likely be starved or very hungry by the time you receive them. It will take 5-10 feedings to bring them
back up to speed. Place them in a small glass of milk and re-feed every 12 to 24 hours until your milk starts smelling like kefir.