Making Homemade Kefir

Contributing Author: Heidi Harkopf, MS, RD. This blog post is based upon the writing of our former University of New Hampshire dietetic intern Jennifer Behymer, MS, RDN. Photo credit given to Jennifer Behymer.| View Author Bio

Kefir is a tangy fermented dairy product similar in consistency to a drinkable yogurt. It can be found plain and flavored in most supermarkets. In addition to great taste, this scientific review highlights evidence associating kefir with gut health and other potential health benefits. In addition, you’ll have the added benefit of the 9 essential nutrients found in cow’s milk.

Making kefir at home is easy as all you need is milk, a glass jar, and kefir grains. And unlike homemade yogurt, the milk does not need to be heated first, making it less hands on than yogurt.  Kefir grains are not really a true grain but rather soft “cauliflower” looking clumps which are good bacteria and yeasts living in symbiosis with each other.

If you have a friend who already makes kefir, you’ll have easy access to the grains. If not, your starter grains can be purchased online. Once you have them, you’ll never have to purchase them again if you make kefir regularly.

The Process

Place a few teaspoons of kefir grains and one cup of milk into a glass jar. You can use skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk, but you will find the consistency improves with the higher fat levels.

Cover it with a breathable cover such as a dish towel, disposable coffee filter, paper towel, or cheesecloth and secure it with a rubber band or the jar lid ring. This allows the kefir to breath.

Let the jar sit at room temperature (68-85°F) for 24-48 hours to allow the kefir grains to ferment the milk. As time goes on, you’ll notice the milk start to thicken. How long this process takes depends on the temperature of the room. In warmer temperatures, it can be done in under 24 hours, but in cooler temperatures it can take 48 hours.

You will know it is ready when you nudge the jar and the top of the kefir has a soft set to it and it appears there is a separation of liquid at the bottom.

Half a cup of milk poured over kefir grains and covered with cheesecloth.

When it comes time to strain the kefir, feel free to experiment to determine the technique that works best for you. Here are 2 techniques to try:

  1. Pour kefir into a fine mesh sieve. You will need to stir it in the sieve to encourage the separation of the liquid from the grains.
  2. Line a strainer with cheesecloth before pouring the kefir through. Then, gather the cheesecloth up around the grains and squeeze gently to help further separate the kefir.

Newly made kefir after 48 hours at room temperature.

You can enjoy your kefir right away, or if you prefer it cold (or want to save it for later), store it in the refrigerator but make sure to cover it with a lid. Use your grains in the sieve or cheesecloth make the next batch.

Fresh-strained kefir ready to enjoy and kefir grains in strainer after being rinsed.

Make Your Own Kefir Recipe

Directions:

  1. Place several teaspoons of kefir grains into mason jar. Add 1 cup of fresh milk.
  2. Cover with a dish towel, disposable coffee filter, paper towel, or cheesecloth secured by a rubber band or jar ring so the mixture can breathe while it ferments.
  3. Place in a room temperature-to-warm spot, 68°-85°F, for fermentation and out of sunlight.
  4. Allow to ferment until milk is slightly thickened, generally 24-48 hours depending on how warm your room is.
  5. Drain kefir through a strainer or cheese cloth into measuring cup or bowl. Stir lightly with spoon or spatula to help cultured milk strain through.
  6. Add the strained kefir grains to a clean jar.
  7. Repeat steps 1-7 for the next batch!

Cooking notes: 

  • Your kefir grains will multiple in time so periodically you will need to toss some away or find a friend to share them with.
  • Make a back-up: Once your grains have multiplied to where you need to toss some away, freeze excess grains in ¼ cup milk in sealable freezer bag, gently pressing out air gaps. If you need to use your back up– thaw the bag in the refrigerator overnight and once thawed begin making with fresh milk.
  • Vacation maintenance: If you will be away and unable to make fresh kefir, place your grains in milk and store in the fridge until you return.

 How to use your kefir:

  1. Enjoy drinking as is. Or for a real treat, stir in a teaspoon of maple syrup.
  2. Use it in your smoothie.
  3. Use in place of buttermilk in recipes (such as homemade ranch dressing, marinades and baking).
  4. Use it in place of yogurt and milk in your overnight oats.

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