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How to Culture Kefir

By Abby Eagle

Put Kefir grains into a clean glass jar. Add milk and gently stir with a soft edged spoon, so as not to break up the Kefir grains. Lightly screw on a plastic lid (one which won’t rust) without the cardboard insert, which could harbour the growth of unwanted organisms. Leave the lid loose enough, to allow carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation process to escape from the jar. (Unless you want a fizzy Kefir that is.) Store the culture out of direct sunlight in a cupboard or on top of the refrigerator for about 24 hours, giving it a gentle stir or shake two or three times during that period.

As fermentation is dependent on temperature, time, quantity, the activity of the culture, and the type of substrate, only experience will teach you the optimum culturing conditions. As a general guide Kefir will ferment twice as fast at 30 degrees Celsius as at 20 degrees.

Fresh milk will thicken at first into a consistency much like a smooth yoghurt, then with longer fermentation it will separate into a layer of thick curd floating on top of a greenish whey. Homogenised and pasteurised milk will give a different result to that from raw milk.

Once the Kefir has cultured to your liking, strain it through a sieve using a fork to separate the curd from the grains. Pour the curd back into its jar and put the Kefir grains into a clean jar with fresh milk and repeat the process. If you don’t have time to sieve the Kefir, just hook the grains out with a fork.

Some sources claim the Kefir grains shouldn’t come into contact with metal but I don’t think it makes any difference. In fact there was a commercial operation in Australia in 2000 that used to culture Kefir with real Kefir grains in 200 litre stainless steel drums.

If you need a rest from consuming cultured milk, then the Kefir grains should survive a few months in the refrigerator. I generally store excess Kefir grains in a small amount of milk in a jar in the fridge, so that I always have some on hand for a friend. I have heard that Kefir grains may also be stored with success in filtered water but be aware that chlorine and other chemicals may kill the culture. I sometimes culture Kefir on alternate days and leave the Kefir and the grains in a refrigerator in between times.

There is no need to warm the milk when you culture it with Kefir grains, as you would do with a yoghurt culture. In fact I would advise against doing so. The only times I have received reports of problems was from people who were trying to treat kefir as if it was yoghurt. Kefir grains seem to be quite resilient to changes in temperature. Just pour cold milk straight from the refrigerator onto the Kefir grains, or warm from the cow.

The Kefir grains should double in quantity every week. One report from a commercial manufacture, indicates that Kefir grows faster below 28 degrees Celsius. Kefir grains are edible and according to some sources have documented anticancer properties. Blend them into a banana smoothie, add them to a raw cheesecake, eat them as they are or share them with a friend.

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Abby Eagle gives comprehensive lectures about traditional nutrition including demonstrations of recipes from around the globe. Abby is the local chapter for the Weston A Price Foundation on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. As well as a wealth of information about ancient wise food ways, he is a source of free Kefir grains and Kombucha. You can find more recipes and information at his website rejoiceinlife.com

COMMENTS - 29 Responses

  1. dear out there,
    i am a bit confused about culturing kefir. is there anyone in melb that may ba able to assist me? thanks

  2. Louise,
    Arabella is the Weston Price Chapter Leader for Melbourne. Her email is:
    broadbean@optusnet.com.au
    Otherwise:
    http://www.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html
    is an awesome source. He lives in Adelaide I think.
    Blessings
    Joanne

  3. 3. Sophie Kipner
    Apr 8th, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Thank you, Abby, for your wonderful instructions on Kefir-making! I would love to get into the habit of making my own probiotic drinks, as I can never find anything other than coconut kefir in California for those of us who are allergic to dairy. But to be honest, I am not in love with the coconut kefir and would love another suggestion as a base if you have one. I could try making my own coconut water kefir, as maybe it is the taste from the manufacturer’s concoction I’m not particularly fond of!? Would rice or almond milk work? Also, how long do the Kefir grains last for in the fridge between rounds?

  4. Sophie,

    Almond and rice milk should work fine.

    I’ve also experimented with making water keffir and then using this as a starter for making a range of drinks. My favourite has been mixed berries - I add a large cup of squashed berries to an airtight jug containing one cup of water keffir and then fill with filtered water. I let it ferment out of the fridge for 3 days and then about a week in the fridge then I strain the berries out and I’m left with a lightly carbonated berry drink. I’ve also used organic lemons which I’ve just cut into segments with the skin left on which results in a bitter lemon style drink that is very refreshing. I’ve not thought to try coconut keffir (I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!).

    I’ve not been able to locate any keffir grains so have had to use keffir starter from the health food store but this seems to work fine. I have to admit I find the idea of keffir grains doubling in quantity every 2 weeks a bit daunting - I think that would make me feel a bit pressured!

  5. Sophie, try to get hold of water kefir grains. See info here: http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html#alternativekefir
    There is a whole lot more information on this site about kefir too. The grains last a long time in the fridge and you can regenerate them if they have been inactive for a long time by fermenting them in milk or whatever you use, straining them and then using them again.

  6. 6. Sophie Kipner
    Apr 9th, 2008 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you, Sarah and Filippa! The lemon and berry drinks sound amazing. I’ll let you know if I end up with any new worthy recipes. Can’t wait to get started…

  7. Hi there. I also can’t have milk at all. I was wondering if anyone knows if you could use apple juice or similar things? Also.. would ordinary milk kefir grains work for juice? I don’t know how much difference there would be between those and water kefir grains. I mean if it is said that they would work for almond or rice milk.. we know that those have absolutely zero components similar to real milk. So i wonder if the cultures would just take to whatever simple carb in any type of drink. Let me know, thanks.

  8. 8. CHRISTINA ROUSSETIS
    Sep 1st, 2008 at 6:30 am

    Hi There

    I brought my kefir from Greece- given to me by a family member. I have found recently though it has gone slimey and the fermented milk is also going slimey. Is this OK, or is there something wrong with it. Is there any way of “cleaning” it??

  9. What do you mean exactly by “slimey”. If you check out Dom’s Kefir site (http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html#obtaining-kefir-grains) and scroll down to the “Kefiran in detail” section they have some really good information. If you look at the little video he has running, it shows that kefir is kind of slimy but you may mean something else.

  10. How to clean kefir? Or does it need one?

  11. hi…
    i read you can put the kefir grains in any liquid to ferment…
    To keep your kefir growing though, it does need dairy milk….I presume you could put half the grains in apple juice, and half in milk…
    When apple is done, put grains back in milk to feed them…Shake them well in the milk..
    Use half the grains next time you use another liquid…
    Make sure you freshen milk….fortnightly???
    regards ingrid

  12. Hi
    I just made my first batch of kefir and wanted to ask if it is normal for the strained kefir, when refridgerated, to kind of seperate (you can see some whey seperating)? I was kind of expecting it to look all white and pretty sitting in the jar :). Does anyone have any tips on how they kefir? eg. how long do you leave it before you strain or how do you know when it is ready to strain? Also, do you make a small batch each day, or a bigger batch every few days and rest your grains in between? This is so exciting!
    Jules.

  13. Jules,
    Kefir is very exciting! If you want ’smooth’ kefir: you need to provide a bit more milk for the grains. Leaving them too long in the same milk, esp. in warm weather, will cause the grains to eat up all their food supply, & the acid of the whey will produce curds. This is ‘clabber’ - the cheesy creamy-looking curds separated from the liquid whey. You can simply stir it up, to recombine. If you want to separate them, don’t stir or shake them for a day. Line a large funnel, plastic sieve or colander with a thin cloth, and gently pour in the mixture. Let the whey gently drip into a container - it can take 24 hours or more. Don’t try to squeeze out the cloth, or speed the process. You can use the curds as a cream/cottage cheese. It’s good for Labne, the Turkish cream cheese dip, made with garlic. The whey will store in the fridge for weeks, & has amazing healing properties. Use the whey in making sauerkraut or sourdough bread.
    You know kefir is ready when the milk is coagulated in the bottom of the jar, & it moves together as thick firm ‘jelly’. There will be ‘rivers’ on the sides of the glass jar (you’ll know what I mean when you see it!) Strain in to a clean glass jar, & refrigerate (niacin & folic acid increases significantly during the second fermentation).
    Don’t wash the grains; they need their slimey kefiran to protect themselves. I keep my grains going in a cycle, so that they’re always fresh & well-fed.

  14. Thanks Anita!
    I made my second batch and didn’t let it go for as long so it didn’t completely separate like last time. This batch has not separated in the fridge overnight and is nice and creamy like, so I think I’m ‘kefiring’ rather than clabbering now :-). One thing I’m still unsure on is the kefir utensils (glass bowls, strainer etc). Do I need to keep these separate and not use them for other things? The person that gave me the grains, said it was forbidden to wash them in any detergents and to keep them only for kefir or my grains will die. Do you really have to be that cautious? I buy herbon eco friendly dish detergents, can I wash my utensils in this, or must I stick to water only?
    Jules.

  15. Hi Jules, Well done! You’ve got it now. It’s best to keep the kefir strainer & (silicon) spatula separate, just for them, & only need to rinse under hot running water, maybe with a little scrubbing to get them clean. You don’t want any chemicals in with your kefir. After scraping the kefir jar out with the spatula, wash out the jar too - a bristley bottle-brush is good for this. Otherwise, the jar gets a bit too murky, & will ’set’ the kefir quicker. You don’t need to be really super-hygienic; remember they were making kefir back in Russian peasant farm kitchens before chemicals were ever invented! Kefir has a mechanism that resists contamination from harmful bacteria, so it keeps itself sterile. There are certainly no rules or authority when you are doing this; you can basically make kefir anyway that makes you happy, anyway you like it. There are no kefir police, if you want to ferment for optimal probiotic benefit you may do that; or you may just want a good tasting drink that is healthy. Just keep those grains happy with plenty of good milk to feed on, & they’ll reward you with good health! You look after them, & they’ll look after you!

  16. 16. Cathy Mifsud
    May 1st, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Hello again Anita!
    I have a kefir question too. For two years I made kefir without any problems until one day close to the new year my grains and kefir had a sort of velvetty top to it. It tasted ok but very different. It kept happening to each new batch even though I had tried thoroughly rinsing my grains so I let them go to the compost. This happened to two other friends of mine. I then got a new batch and all was fine for two months then the same thing happened.
    Has this ever happened to you??
    Is it safe or should I throw them out? Can I heal my grains?
    Even in the fridge in a bowl that I hadn’t drunk because of the velvetty top, it has started to grow.
    Kindest regards,
    Cathy.

  17. Hi Cathy,
    The kefir grains are ok; it’s happened to me before, too. With raw unhomogenised milk, it’s the thick cream rising to the top of the milk, upon which a little mould grows a velvety-layer (you can lift that off, but I’ve eaten it & not died-LOL:) Just make sure you’re stirring the grains into the milk when you first put them in, to INNOCULATE all the milk, & then you can stir again a bit later. Don’t wash the grains; they need their kerifan (slimey coating) as protection. Keep up the fresh milk supply to them; don’t leave them too long in the same milk, & they’ll be fine.

  18. I’m fairly new to kefir and all has been going well. Now that it’s colder, my kefir is kind of setting a bit like baked custard before you can see any little pockets of seperation. Is this normal? What do others do when kefiring in colder weather? Should I buy some sort of insulation like an easiyo to keep it warmer? Unfortunately my oven light won’t turn on without the heat, so using my ovens not an option. Cheers, Kobi.

  19. Kobi,
    This is normal with Kefir; mine is doing the same. Just watch it, & you’ll see when it’s ready, when it no longer moves as liquid milk, but is thick & coagulated. It’ll just take a bit longer in cooler temperatures. DO NOT heat Kefir grains, as you’ll kill the pro-biotics, good enzymes & bacterias. Can stand jar on a woollen cloth, or wrap it up, but don’t heat.

  20. Thanks very much Anita. I’m quite relieved to hear that. Do you know the protocol for kefiring every second day? I read that you can kefir on alternate days, but can’t find any info on this, how to do it or if it makes the grains dormant etc. Cheers, Kobi.

  21. Hi,
    I just wanted to reach out to let others know that Dom at http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html and his family are having a tough time at the moment and it might be a good time for all us kefir lovers to pay it forward and make a small donation via his website. If we could also let a few other kefir lovers know too, perhaps we could make a difference.
    Kate.

  22. Kobi,
    You can ferment Kefir with milk for longer than 12 hours, if you watch them carefully, & don’t let it get too ’set’, or you’ll have trouble straining them. You can also culture Kefir on alternate days and leave the Kefir and grains in the fridge inbetween times, but the grains will slow down with the chill.
    Or, you can put less milk in the jar, & just ferment that much, if you’re too busy. But, make sure you feed the grains/cultures with fresh milk, to keep them happy & healthy. Above all, look after your grains!

  23. @Anita: when you say “leave the kefir and grains in the fridge inbetween times” do you mean leave the kefir grains in their milk in the fridge, or the grains in milk and the kefir seperately? I’m trying to work out if you strain your kefir, fridge that, then place the kefir in fresh milk and chill until ready to pull out for the 12 hours to ferment. Can’t quite wrap my head around this alternate kefiring either Kobi, so if anyone knows the step by step method, please share!

  24. Ben, kefir & grains in milk in the fridge. But, I do really prefer to keep the kefir going constantly at room temp., so there’s always enough ready to drink (first thing in the morning, & before tea).
    Here’s some links to show a visual of ‘how to’ kefir-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdVQlTK3hcg&NR=1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCvDKrHUutE (There’s 3 here-very good info.)

  25. Hi all,
    Has anyone tried using soy milk?

    I seldom wash the glass container.
    Do you think that would be ok?
    Thanks

  26. Hi Gracie,
    Most commercial soy products are not recommended for kefir. It’s actually quite difficult for kefir grains to ferment the ‘normal’ (soy isolate) variety of soy milk. This may be a good indication regarding how difficult these commercial soy milk brands are to digest by humans! It’s said that if it can be kefirred, it’s good for you! More importantly, for the health of the kefir grains, they may not be able to get their needs from soy, so it may render the grains non propagable (will cease growing), unless a mixed media is used (a dairy/mammal’s milk, & a non-dairy substitute), or alternating days of media used. If you wanted to use soy because of the lactose free, then be assured that if you ferment dairy kefir normally, then put it in a jar in the fridge overnight, the vast majority of the lactose will be eaten up, & be easily digestible.
    If you leave the fermenting glass unwashed, it’ll kick-start the next fermentation a LOT faster. So, washing in warm running water is recommended, using a clean cloth, with no detergents. Always check the glass has cooled before adding the grains & milk, then stir to inoculate all the milk with the grains. Sounds like you’re doing fine.

  27. I’m really loving my Water Kefir (Tibicos), & make it simply with some lemon slices, some Jaggery (same as rapadura, in cubes) for sweetener), leave for 2 days, then bottle with some crushed berries. First thing in the morning on an empty stomach. I find my health has been so good with drinking all the ferments, no troubles whatsoever! I also drink milk kefir, & kombucha ocassionally.
    Here is a great doc. on the health benefits- http://www.weim.net /homeovet/Docs/water%20kefir.pdf.
    I have some grains/culture to spare, if any wants some, email me on gamgo (~AT~) optusnet .com .au

  28. I’ve got great big healthy & robust Milk Kefir grains, if anyone wants some. Can post around Oz.
    Gam go@ optusnet.dot.(COM) au
    Replace caps.

  1. 1 Tigers Milk at Good Health Naturally Pingback on Jul 25th, 2008 at 2:16 pm
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