Are you curious how to get started making milk kefir? I will show you how to activate kefir grains so you can begin incorporating this microbial-rich cultured food into your family’s diet. You’ll learn how to make thick kefir in no time!
Life may be busy, but I think it’s worth the extra time it takes to feed our bodies more traditional nutrient-rich foods like ancient cultures have been making for thousands of years.
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Watch: How to Activate Kefir Grains
What are Milk Kefir Grains?
Milk kefir grains are bacteria and yeast that work and live together. They are called “grains” because of their appearance. There is no actual grain contained in milk kefir grains. Source
Benefits of Fermented Dairy
According to Sally Fallon’s book “Nourishing Traditions“, fermentation of milk and the consumption of fermented milk products results in many beneficial changes:
- Breaks down casein (milk protein) which is one of the most difficult proteins to digest
- Restores several enzymes that are destroyed during pasteurization, helping to digest lactose and absorb calcium and other minerals
- Increases vitamin B and vitamin C content of milk
- Lowers cholesterol and protects against bone loss
- Provides beneficial bacteria and lactic acid to the digestive tract
Tips for Activating Milk Kefir Grains
- Do NOT use raw milk for activating kefir grains. Because raw milk contains its own bacteria, those bacteria can introduce competition for the rehydrating grains and keep them from activating properly. Source
- The temperature for kefir grain activation should be between 68F and 85F.
- You will know your grains are activated and that you have made kefir when the milk thickens and smells and tastes pleasant — similar to yogurt but not as thick.
- Make sure you do not use reactive metal when working with your kefir grains. It can interfere with the fermentation process. Stainless steel is acceptable.
Where to Find Kefir Grains
You may be able to ask a friend or neighbor for some of their kefir grains. Kefir grains multiply over time, so those who use their grains regularly will probably be glad to give some away. If you are able to find active grains like this, you will not need to activate them and can go straight to making your own milk kefir.
If you don’t know anyone who has kefir grains, you can purchase dehydrated milk kefir grains from several different sources.
Etsy is a source you can use to purchase kefir milk grains from small businesses.
How to Activate Kefir Grains
- Empty your dehydrated milk kefir grains into 1 cup of fresh, cold pasteurized milk and stir. I use a quart mason jar, but you could start with a pint jar and then switch to a quart jar as the amount of milk you add increases.
- Cover with a coffee filter or cloth secured with a rubber band and let culture at room temperature.
- After 12 hours, look to see if the milk has thickened to the consistency of heavy cream or thin yogurt.
- As soon as you notice a change in the milk’s texture, strain out the kefir grains (discard the milk or use it in baking) and put them in fresh milk. Increase the amount of milk by 1/2 cup.
- For each batch, only increase the amount of milk if you notice the milk thicken. If it doesn’t thicken within 24 hours, strain the kefir grains but add the same amount of fresh milk to the grains that you did the previous time.
- Each batch happens around every 12 hours and the amount of milk you add increases by 1/2 cup each time. This continues until you reach 4 cups of milk. Once you get to this point, your grains are activated!
How to Make Thick Kefir
To make thick kefir, you will want to use whole milk. Skim milk won’t make a nice, creamy kefir like you are hoping for. If you find that whole milk still doesn’t produce as thick of a kefir as you would like, you can use heavy cream instead.
As your kefir grains continue to mature, you will find that they become more efficient at creating a thick kefir. Watch your kefir carefully to ensure it doesn’t over-ferment. When this happens, the kefir becomes very thick, but it begins to turn into curds and you will see a liquid whey at the bottom of the jar. You can still use the kefir at this point, but it will be extra sour and the texture won’t be as smooth.
Making Milk Kefir
Once your kefir milk grains are activated, the process to make kefir is really simple.
- Add your kefir grains to a glass jar and add up to 4 cups of cold milk. I usually only use 1 1/2 cups of kefir in my morning smoothies, so I use a pint jar and add 1 1/2 cups of milk.
- Cover the jar with a coffee filter or cloth and secure with a rubber band. Alternatively, you can cover the jar loosely with a plastic lid, which is what I prefer to use. Do not use a metal lid because it can interfere with the fermentation process.
- At around 12 hours from when you added the milk to your kefir grains, you will want to check to see if the milk has thickened. If your house is warm, such as during the summer, this process may occur even sooner.
- Once the kefir has thickened to your preference, strain out the grains using a fine mesh strainer. You can use the kefir right away or store it in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks.
- You can now add your kefir grains to a clean jar and begin the fermentation process again for the next day. If you need a short break from making kefir, you can store the grains, covered in milk, in a glass jar in the refrigerator.