How to make kefir

by Louise Lee

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About kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk product that is made by inoculating the milk with a certain type of bacteria, called kefir grains, These are cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. Kefir is a sour tasting drink that has amazing health benefits. It contains beneficial yeast as well as friendly probiotic bacteria along with vitamins and enzymes. The kefir grains eat the lactose  in the milk during fermentation, so kefir has the added benefit of being nearly lactose-free.

Kefir is simple to make. It requires only two ingredients — grains and milk.

Kefir grains

The nicest way to get grains is from a friend. If you don’t know someone who makes kefir, you can order the grains online. I bought mine from Donna Schwenk at I’ve been using them for over two years, and I’ve given away lots and eaten even more of the extras that grow as you ferment milk. If you order online, make sure you are getting grains for milk kefir, not water kefir.


Grains are living organisms, so once you get them, you need to treat them accordingly. It’s a commitment that you can’t just leave at intervals and come back to. Heat and starvation will kill the grains. But you can rest them when you need to by putting them in milk (one cup of milk for one tablespoon of grains) and refrigerating for a week or two. When you are ready to make kefir again, pour off the milk and throw it away. Add fresh milk to make kefir again.


If you can get raw milk, it is the best way to go. It requires a little more effort, but it’s worth it. If you start with grocery store milk and switch to raw like I did, you will not need to be convinced that they are two different products. My grains grew very slowly until I found a source for raw milk. Then they went wild.

Current law in Arkansas allows us to buy raw milk if we go to a farm and pick it up. I get raw milk, and before I make kefir I separate the cream. I pour a gallon of milk into a gallon glass jar and let it sit on the counter for an hour or two until the cream rises to the top. Then I remove the cream with a ladle, label it and put it in the refrigerator.


IMG_7634If you use pasteurized milk from a grocery or health food store, look for whole milk from cows NOT injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST). Check to make sure the milk is not ultrapasteurized. Ultrapasteurization extends the shelf life and it seems to be popular with the organic brands, which also lean heavily toward non-fat and low-fat, which is not good. Before I switched to raw milk, I used Hiland.


How to make kefir

Put the grains in a sturdy glass jar, and add milk (one cup milk for one tablespoon of grains).


Let sit on counter for about 24 hours or until it thickens.


Strain kefir.

I use a plastic strainer and a large measuring cup. I run the plastic spatula through it and use it to scrape the creamiest part of the kefir from the bottom of the strainer into the cup.


Pour the kefir into a jar, and measure the grains into another jar.


I didn’t always measure the grains when I used the store bought milk, but I have to with the raw milk because they grow so fast. A quart jar of fermented milk produced about 3/4 a jar of kefir and there were three tablespoons of grains plus some extra (not show in this photo).


Add milk to grains and put it back on the counter until it thickens.

Currently, I’m making three quart jars of kefir. After I strain the grains and pour the kefir, I measure three tablespoons of grains into a clean quart jar. I label one of the jars with the current day of the week. When you make kefir over a long period of time, it’s easy to forget how long it’s been on the counter.

The kefir will separate into curds and whey, especially during warmer temperatures. This is okay. You can shake the jar(s) a couple of times a day and again before you strain it.

Second ferment kefir

I pour the kefir into quart and/or pint jars. At this point, you can drink it or put it in the refrigerator.  But there’s another simple option that increases the probiotics and nutrition in the kefir. It’s called second ferment.


Just add something with some natural sugar to feed the kefir for another twelve hours and put it back on the counter for. The simplest and most elegant thing to add is a thin slice of lemon peel. Orange peel works too, and any small piece of fruit is good. I love mango or fig. Of course, you could just add some honey or sugar. One of my favorite things to add is crystallized ginger. Dried fruit works, and so does jam or jelly or preserves. Inulin is a prebiotic powder made from chicory root. That’s what I used today.


I use Post-it page markers to indicate what I added before I set it on the counter. “Plain 2” for second fermented kefir with inulin, “Ginger 2” for ginger, etc. I stack the three quart jars of kefir in the back corner of my counter. Then I stack the one quart and two pint jars of second ferment kefir toward the front. They will go into the fridge after twelve hours.


The extra grains go into a small jar if I’m planning to give it away. Otherwise, they go into my NutriBullet cup for a smoothie. Today I added some barley greens powder, pomegranate powder, and frozen blueberries to the kefir and extra grains. Sometimes I add some local raw honey. And sometimes I just have it plain, because I love the taste.


And this is my reward after my batch of kefir is finished.


Later I will come back and have a cup of coffee with fresh cream. This cream was on the top of the half-gallon jar of milk and I scooped it out with a gravy ladle.


There are jars of cream in the fridge and any day now I will get out my stand mixer and make butter with it. And there will be buttermilk too.

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