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Author Notes: Kefir is a probiotic dairy drink that is very simple to make at home (you just need to acquire some "starter," aka kefir grains, either online or from a friend). The homemade stuff is typically more potent than store-bought, and of course fresher. Better still, the grains can be used over and over again, and stored in the fridge in some milk when not needed. You can drink the kefir itself plain/as is, put it in smoothies (my favorite use), strain it to make “kefir cheese,” or even use a few tablespoons to soak your oats, grains, or nuts, a la Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The kefir smoothie pictured is kefir + frozen banana + mango. —Amanda Waddell
Makes 2-3 cups
- 1 to 2 teaspoons kefir grains
- 2 to 3 cups milk, preferably organic and whole (avoid “ultra-pasteurized,” which will not work)
- Kefir grains are live, active cultures that look like little pieces of cottage cheese or tiny cauliflower (see photo above). You can buy them online or get some from a friend if you’re lucky enough to know anyone who has some. You can also try to finding a Facebook fermentation group (I belong to one called “Boston Culture Sharing”) to see if people in your area are willing to giving away any for free. Craig’s list is a good resource, too; I’ve sold quite a few starters (sourdough, kombucha, kefir, etc.) there. If you just want to buy online, I suggest either Cultures for Health or the Kefir Lady, which is where I got my grains years ago.
- When you get the grains—you’ll probably have about teaspoon or so—place them in a strainer and rinse with filtered water.
- Put the rinsed grains in a glass jar and cover with about one cup of pasteurized milk—I use whole, organic, pasteurized milk. DO NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk. It is too “dead” for the grains to ferment.
- Cover the jar with a cloth and secure with a rubberband. Allow the jar to sit at room temperature for about 24 hours; you can stir it once or twice if you like but it’s not necessary. The milk will be undergoing fermentation during this time, a safe process that can only happen at room temperature, not in the fridge. Have a little faith in the safety of this—kefir dates back centuries! (Legend has it that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. It is still widely consumed today throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.)
- You’ll know the kefir is done when the milk doesn’t swish around when you move the jar. It will seem thick toward the top, and you may also see small pockets of whey (clear yellow liquid) start to separate out—that’s a tell-tale sign it’s ready (see first photo in series above). If you see more whey than milk, you have let it ferment a little too long. It is totally safe to consume, but will just be a bit more tangy.
- Place a strainer over a large bowl and dump the contents into it. The resulting (strained) liquid is your kefir, and the grains in the strainer are now ready to be used again. Place them back in the (rinsed out) jar, cover with fresh milk, and repeat the process.
- Use the strained kefir right away, or refrigerate until needed. It lasts for weeks, if not longer, in the fridge (though it does get more tangy over time, as fermentation slows, but doesn’t stop completely).
- For smoothies: Blend kefir + whatever fruit/veg you like in a blender or food processor. I find that the best smoothies always have at least some frozen fruit in them, which makes everything extra thick and creamy once blended. My favorite is 1 frozen banana + 3/4 cup wild frozen blueberries + 2 cups kefir (and sometimes a scoop of Green Superfood powder, available on Amazon). If the mixture looks too thick, just dilute with milk, water, or, my favorite, coconut water.
- Consume smoothies immediately, or within a few hours at most. Real kefir is so alive that it will begin feasting on the sugars in the the fruit pretty quickly, so after a few hours, most of the smoothie’s sweetness will be gone. I always drink immediately.
- Some Final Notes: –The kefir grains talked about here are also known as “milk kefir grains.” They can ferment dairy as well as non-dairy milk (such as coconut milk, which is excellent). “Water kefir grains” are different and are used to culture sugar-water instead of dairy. They can be found online at all of the places listed above. I’ve experimented with them, but prefer kombucha over water kefir in terms of non-dairy, fermented drinks. // –Avoid using any metal utensils or bowls when making kefir, as it can react negatively and produce off-tasting flavors. (A metal strainer is fine since you’re only using it for a minute.) // –Your first batch of kefir may take a bit more time to ferment, as the grains need to adjust and acclimate to your house and the milk you’re using. // –Your grains will grow in size and multiply as you keep using them, and as they do, they will be able to culture larger amounts of milk. A tablespoon of grains can culture at least 2 to 3 cups, sometimes more. If you find you can’t keep up, just give some grains away or discard a bit. // –If your kefir is too strong for your liking, try fermenting for only 12 hours, or add some fresh milk to an over-fermented batch and let things balance out. It takes some experimentation to get it how you like it.