09 August 2011

when grains eat milk

In America, homemade ice cream is commonplace. Cheesemaking, though less common, still has a cool vibe to it. Even making your own yogurt is not unheard of, and at the very least, lots of people here eat yogurt.

But making kefir . . . that's weird. I mean, seriously, who drinks kefir?

In Eastern Europe, lots of people. In America, only the weirdos. And as a weirdo extraordinaire, here is how I make milk kefir.*

1) Find a source of milk kefir grains. This is the hardest part. You can't use storebought kefir as a starter, like you can with yogurt; you actually need "grains," gelatinous, funky-looking lumps that are in fact complex collections of bacteria, yeasts, lipids, proteins, and sugars. When used to make kefir, the grains aren't incorporated into the milk. They stay in their little clump while doing their culturing work, and are then strained out for future uses.
By the way, if you have texture issues, do not try making kefir. The finished product is silky smooth, but the kefir grains look like jellied cauliflower, and while I find this (as most things) oddly amusing, those with more delicate sensibilities will probably be skeeved out.

Anyway, suggestions for where to obtain kefir grains: Craigslist, this forum, this woman, or a friend who is also weird enough to have them on hand. That's what I did. :) And I actually have enough to give away right now, so just ask if you would like some.

2) Okay. Now that you have obtained kefir grains, the rest is easier than burnt toast.

Place 1/4 cup of kefir grains in a quart glass jar. Pour in 3 cups of whole milk, screw on the lid tightly, and shake thoroughly. Now loosen the lid and set the jar out on the kitchen counter. Check it 24 hours later, shaking again to see if it has thickened and acquired a yeasty aroma.

(The kefir may have separated a bit, with thicker curds on top and a thin layer of whey at the bottom, like this.
Shake it up regardless.)

The consistency should be thinner than yogurt, but thicker than buttermilk. Perfect for smoothies, which is generally how I use it! If still too thin, loosen the lid again and let it culture longer, but if it is ready, pour through a fine mesh strainer to separate the grains from the kefir. It will be smooth and thick, like this.
Refrigerate the kefir (and grains).


Kefir is an acquired taste because it's so strong and tart-- not a typical American flavor. I have always liked it in fruit smoothies, but I might venture to drink it straight now, months after first tasting it. :) It works well as buttermilk too. Give it a try-- make a smoothie with 1/3 cup kefir, 1/3 cup plain yogurt, a banana, a peach, a splash of vanilla, and a dollop of raw honey. See what you think, and bump up the kefir to yogurt ratio next time.

As for your grains, just keep them in a little glass jar till you are ready to make more kefir. I never rinse them off and everything has worked out fine. Also, they will grow as you continue to use them, so you can share them too!

For more information visit here.

*Kefir 101: as in yogurt, the kefir bacteria and yeast break down lactose and distribute probiotics in the milk they culture. (There are far more beneficial probiotics in kefir than in milk.) Kefir is thinner than yogurt. It has a distinctive yeasty aroma. You can also make kefir with coconut milk, water, and probably other things I don't know about, but I stick with cow juice. :)

{I didn't take the photos, but alas, I don't remember where I found them}


  1. If you still have some extra kefir grains, I would love to try to make it!

  2. I drink kefir!! :) Loooove it so much. We make it at home too. But then again, I guess it's because I'm Eastern European, haha. I'm really enjoying your cooking experiments, my dear.

  3. Well, lemme see if I can dehydrate some, and I'll send them to you. :)

  4. I married a Finn and let me tell you, the bubbles freaked me out. A lot. It does take getting used to. I found starting by adding fruit helped. We Americans don't expect dairy to be bubbly like champange. Good, but different.

  5. I'm probably too late, but I've been looking for some Kefir grains too.

  6. Mine have been distributed :) but I think that those other sites would be great places to look.