It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: It's easy to make kefir -- a thick and tangy drink that's full of probiotics -- at home. Emma Galloway from My Darling Lemon Thyme shows us how.

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originated several thousand years ago in the Caucauses. It's thick, creamy, and brimming not only with minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes, but also with probiotics and beneficial yeasts, too. Plus, it's easier to make than yogurt and the end product is practically lactose-free -- great news for the lactose-intolerant among us. 

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More: Craving creaminess without dairy? Cook this pasta entrée tonight.

To get started, you'll need some basic equipment and two ingredients: milk and kefir grains. This recipe calls for full-fat cow's milk; you can use rice or coconut milk in place of cow's milk, but the grains won't multiply like they normally would, and you'll also have to use dairy milk to "perk" them up every now and then. It's also best to use organic milk -- or even better yet, raw milk, if you can find it -- but plain, everyday homogenized milk is fine, too. (And the fermentation process is thought to replace a lot of the goodness that is lost through pasteurization and homogenization.)

You'll have to source your grains (these aren't actual grains, but combinations of yeast and bacteria similar to a kombucha SCOBY) from a preexisting culture. If you can't find a friend to give you his or her extra grains, do a quick Google search to find grains for order. When kefir grains are properly cultured, they'll reproduce regularly, which means you won't run out of grains for your future batches (and you'll have plenty to share with friends who come knocking). 

Homemade Milk Kefir

Makes 1 liter

4 to 6 tablespoons milk kefir grains
1 liter milk


One 1-liter glass jar
A small square of muslin
1 rubber band
1 large plastic sieve
1 plastic or wooden spoon

Note: Metal or stainless steel can weaken the kefir grains, so be sure to use plastic sieves and either wooden or plastic spoons.

Pour the milk into your glass jar and add the kefir grains. Cover the top of the jar with muslin and secure it with a rubber band. Next, place the jar in a dark place (I put mine in the pantry), and leave it for 12 to 24 hours, until you see that the liquid is beginning to separate into curds and whey.

In the summer the mixture will ferment quickly, but at colder temperatures, this process will take longer. Avoid making kefir in rooms hotter than 90° F; at this temperature, the milk might spoil before the grains can culture it. 


Pour the entire contents of the jar into a plastic sieve placed over a bowl. Gently shake the sieve from side to side to encourage the kefir liquid to drain through. If I have left the jar sitting for a bit too long and really solid parts have formed, I rest the sieve in the bowl of drained whey. I mix the solid parts gently back into the grains until the really firm curds are loosened, and then I lift the sieve back up and re-strain the liquid. (The firm curds will loosen when you pass them through the sieve, while the springy kefir grains -- similar to tiny cauliflower florets -- will maintain their structure.)

The strained kefir is now ready to be used. Drink it plain or sweetened, or substitute it for milk, yogurt, or buttermilk in your baking and cooking. Strained kefir can also be stored in the fridge for up to a week.  

More: Keep your milk kefir in simple, beautiful glass jars. 


Use the strained kefir grains to make a new batch in a clean jar; there's no need to rinse the grains between batches.

You can make as little or as much kefir as you want: I usually make 1/2 liter every other day. The grains will not survive outside of milk, which means you either have to use them to make more batches of kefir milk (which I never object to), or say goodbye. You can slow down the production by letting the mixture ferment in the fridge instead of the pantry.

Another option is to keep the grains in milk (that is, unstrained) in the refrigerator, where they'll survive for a good couple of days if you go away or you simply want a break. I recommend discarding the kefir liquid if you've left the mixture for more than 4 days. Simply strain the kefir grains and use them to start a new batch.

If you only have a tablespoon or two of grains to begin with, just use a cup or so of milk until your grains have multiplied enough to ferment more milk.

You can freeze 
excess kefir grains: Rinse them well, pat them dry on a clean cloth, coat them lightly in powdered milk, and then freeze them in a double-lined plastic bag. Keep in mind that kefir grains that have been frozen don't always ferment milk like they should: It may take up to three months of fermentation before they produce consistently good batches of milk kefir. 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emma Galloway

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Helen Morrissey
    Helen Morrissey
  • Elina Chernousova
    Elina Chernousova
  • Lina Calin
    Lina Calin
  • George H
    George H
  • Emma Galloway | My Darling Lemon Thyme
    Emma Galloway | My Darling Lemon Thyme
Former chef | Author of My Darling Lemon Thyme-Recipes from my real food kitchen | Photographer


Helen M. November 13, 2014
I have made it with soy milk and it is very runny and sour - it tastes nice, especially with a tiny bit of maple syrup, but I just want to check that this is the expected result?
Emma G. January 6, 2015
The end result is kinda fizzy and definitely sour. I'm not sure the grains will stay alive for long if using soy milk though as it's the lactose in cows milk that is feeds off. Maybe alternate soy/cows milk when fermenting to keep the grains happy.
Helen M. January 6, 2015
Thanks for this - it actually worked well - everytime I change brand of soy milk I get a different result, but the grains have grown and are still alive two months later. I am vegan, so the milk alternation is not really an option although I have seen it as advice in other places as well. Seems to be fine with the soy though.
Emma G. January 10, 2015
Oh that's so cool to hear! I've not had any luck keeping mine alive with coconut milk for any length of time, so it's good to know they do ok on soy. Thanks for letting me know xx
Elina C. August 7, 2014
Kefir is well known and loved in Russia. We didn't know yogurt in USSR, but kefir was very popular.
I prefer kefir with musles, not milk.
You can add any fruit inside. Try strawberry. Just add and blend.
Blend kefir with some sugar and cocoa powder - even children will like it.
Homemade kefir becomes creamier if it rests in the refrigerator for 10 or more hours.
If it becomes sour, add something sweet and blend.
0.5 litre of kefir and a big piece of fresh loaf was easy and quick lunch in USSR.
tamater S. January 5, 2015
Elina, can you tell me what "musles" is?
Melanie May 18, 2015
I think she meant muesli ;-)
Lina C. August 6, 2014
Do you know how can flavor or sweetener be added, and at what point? Should it be right before drinking individual servings, or in the entire jar before storing? What are good ratios of sweetener/flavor to kefir?
Emma G. August 6, 2014
Hi Lina,
I mostly just use my kefir in smoothies, so this is when flavours are added such as banana and berries (which naturally sweeten it although you can also add a touch of honey/maple if you like things sweeter). If you are just wanting to sweeten/flavour it and then store it in the fridge for easy access I would sweeten once you've strained the grains out. How much or how little you add depends on your own personal tastes. xx
Lina C. August 7, 2014
Thanks much, Emma!
George H. August 5, 2014
A simple question.

Can you use some existing kefir as a "seed" to kick off the fermentation process instead of "kefir grain""?
Emma G. August 5, 2014
Hi George, I have read that you can (I've not tried it myself) and this is how most commercially made milk kefir is produced. However the end product is nowhere near as rich in probiotics etc as the proper stuff made with kefir grains and I'd say the lactose levels could possibly still be quite high.