Milk kefir is a cultured dairy drink that is made from a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. It is traditionally used as a drink, but it’s also great for smoothies and as a buttermilk substitute.
It doesn’t thicken like yogurt, though you can get it to be as thick as a loose custard. It also tends to have a stronger flavour than yogurt, and can even be sparkling when fresh.
However, it is much easier to maintain then yogurt. It ferments at room temperature, and you don’t need to preheat the milk before culturing. I always have a jar of kefir on my counter. I use it for culturing whipping cream and as a starter culture (either as whey or straight kefir) for most everything I ferment in my kitchen.
The most difficult part of making kefir is finding the culture. Most health food stores carry a powdered “kefir” starter which isn’t actually real kefir, it’s just some of the bacteria strains found in kefir, and may not be robust enough to culture over and over again. If you want to maintain your own colony of kefir grains then you need to either buy freeze dried grains or make friends with someone who has them.
- 1-2 tbsp of kefir grains
- 1 liter of milk or cream
- Put the milk and kefir grains into a glass jar.
- Leave in a warm location for a minimum of 8 hours, and up to 48 hours depending on how strongly flavoured you want your kefir to be.
- Remove the grains and reserve for future use.
-My kefir culture usually floats, so I simply scoop it out with a spoon. If it sinks, then I pour slowly. It’s a well-formed mass that is easy to remove as I pour out the milk.
-If you have too many grains, or you leave your kefir out on the counter too long you will end up curdling your milk. This is perfectly good to eat! Read up on kefir cheese to know how to use your over-cultured milk.
Like all living beings, kefir does require a bit of TLC. Here’s how to care for your new “pet”:
-Kefir is happiest in fresh milk at room temperature. Try to pace your culturing with your consumption so that you can keep your kefir out of the fridge. If you only use a little bit of kefir, then just culture 2 cups with 1 tbsp of grains.
-Alternatively, you can store your kefir in the fridge with lots of milk for 1-3 weeks. I’ve even left it for up to 4 weeks while we were on vacation. It wasn’t happy. But a few batches of milk later we were back in business.
-Happy kefir will keep multiplying, so you’ll quickly end up with more grains then you’ll need. Though the grains are edible, I would recommend passing them along to a friend instead (or otherwise disposing of them).
-If your grains turn a funny colour, then it’s likely that they’ve picked up some invasive mold/bacteria. Unfortunately the best way to fix this is to throw them out and start anew. (I’ve had my grains go pink on me. Luckily I have lots of culturing friends!)
-Kefir can cross contaminate with other cultures (yogurt, sourdough, etc) so it’s best to culture them in a separate rooms of your house. I do all my kefir culturing in the kitchen, sourdough in the living room, yogurt in the dining room (I’ve had kefir grow in my yogurt before) and other ferments in the bedrooms.
Weird, Wonderful and Completely Untrue Kefir Tales
There are a lot of stories going around about how to care for your kefir, that are just not true. I’ve had the same culture kicking along for the past 4 years so I’m pretty sure I know my stuff:
-You don’t need to wash your grains. They just need fresh milk to keep them healthy and strong. Water is unnecessary and probably not beneficial considering the potential risks of chlorine for our little friends.
-You can use metal utensils… unless you use really old-school copper or iron utensils… then the latic acid of the milk might damage your utensils.