Making Kefir

June 29, 2011

Admittedly, it took me a few attempts to make a kefir batch. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t sure what a finished batch should really be like. I also get the feeling that many authors dabble in making kefir, but really stick to yogurt, which left me a little confused. These books included:

  • Better Than Store-Bought by Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Colchie, 1979
  • Fresh Food from Small Spaces by RJ Ruppenthal, 2008
  • Nourishing Traditions by Sallon Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., 2001
  • Truly Cultured by Nancy Lee Bentley, 2007
  • Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, 2002
  • Packaging from kefir starter from New England Cheese Supply

First off, what kind of milk?

  • BTSB: whole or skim, though “whole milk makes a smoother product.”
  • FFSS: none specified, but if using a milk alternative like soy milk, add a little extra sugar
  • NT: whole nonhomogenized milk with optional extra cream
  • TC: whole milk and a little extra cream.
  • WF: none specified
  • Packaging: non specified

Mind you, some of these books are dietary books, so having nonhomogenized milk original fat content fits into the NT’s agenda, but I’m not sure if this is essential or not.

Two sources recommended only filling the non-metal container ¾ of the way full, as the kefir will foam a little bit when fermenting.

The milk should be heated to room temperature or slightly warmer (the packaging suggested 86⁰ while others thought 65-76⁰ was fine) before adding the kefir grains, which some suggested may need to be rinsed with milk. All authors agreed that it should be left a room temperature, though Ruppenthal was the only one to strongly advise against using a yogurt maker or keeping it warmer than room temperature, while New England Cheesemaking Making Supply Company thought it was okay. Ruppenthal was also the only one who believed that light was bad for kefir fermentation, suggesting the process be done in a cupboard.

So far, mostly good, but how long? Everyone agrees that it is done when you think it is sour enough, but nobody really agrees even a little bit about how long that might be:

  • BTSB: 8-24 hours, though they appeared to be using an imitation culture rather than kefir grains.
  • FFSS: 24-48 hours. He also mentions shaking it to increae the alcohol slightly, but I was not sure if he was referring to milk based kefir or more of a soda pop style kefir.
  • NT: wrote 12 hours to 2 days, but usually happens within 24 hours if using powder. She indicates that it only needs to be stirred if grains are used to redistribute them.
  • TC: suggests “12 hours to 2 days, stirring 2-3 times during the process.”
  • WF: 24-48 hours, agitating the jar periodically to remix the milk as it separates.
  • Packaging: 12 hours until thickened

WF was the only one that warns about separation, which I actually think is due to the cream I added to the milk. I’m not sure if whole milk that is homogenized would do that.

Everyone agreed that I had to strain the kefir to separate out the grains once I deemed the kefir done. The kefir would then store a few weeks in the refrigerator to be consumed. To be honest, my finished kefir was pretty thick, but could be squeezed though a cheesecloth. I never found any kefir grains. Makes me wonder about my starter culture, like, is it really kefir, or just another culture being passed off as kefir?

If I had of found grains, I could have taken them and:

  • FFSS: keep them in a covered cup of milk in the refrigerator and to refresh the milk every couple of days. This would give them a storage life of two weeks before they have to be used to make a new batch to keep them in good condition.
  • TC: disagrees, believing that can be rinsed and then placed in a small jar with ½ cup of filtered water. She says they will store there for a few weeks, or in the freezer for a few months. “If they are left too long in storage, they will lose their culturing power.”

Got it figured out? I’m guessing that honestly, it isn’t that hard to make kefir, and it isn’t hard to mess it up. None of my batches really turned out like I thought they should, but something definitely happened. Honestly, I just wasn’t trusting myself, so they were probably okay.

One other thing to note is that kefir can be used to make non-dairy based products, but everything I read on the topic did suggest that special non-dairy kefir grains should be used instead.

Additional kefir recipes and ideas:

  • Wild Fermentation talks about making kefir with coconut milk. He also mentions using fruit or vegetable juice, sweet water, rice milk, soy milk, or nut milk. He writes, “Cranberry juice dyed the grains red, and Gatorade (!) left a neon blue stain. Whatever the medium, the grains seem to transform it, though they do not rapidly multiply as they do in milk. The process is exactly the same as kefiring millk…” He then included a recipe for pepita seed milk and kefir.
  • In the book Better than Store Bought by Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Colchie, they brefly discuss making kefir, and provide two flavored recipes. One is adding 2 tablespoons honey and ½ teaspoon vanilla extract before chilling. The other is to puree a 10 oz package of frozen strawberries to a quart of kefir.
  • Making cider using kefir grains and cider yeast
  • I have also seen kefir cheese in the grocery store, which Ruppental says is made with very mature, less runny kefir that has been strained like making yogurt cheese, giving it 24-48 hours to drip. The whey from kefir cheese, he adds, “could be used to culture a batch of kimchi or sourdough starter.”

One Response to “Making Kefir”

  1. […] I have access to had books devoted to kefir, so the books I found discussing kefir were either DIY or the advantages of eating a fermented/probiotic diet. A lot of these same books also talked about […]

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