As part of my campaign to cut back on unnecessary containers* I decided to try making my own yogurt and kefir. Yogurt making did not go very well. Kefir, however, turned out to be amazingly easy.
If you’re unfamiliar, kefir is like a pourable yogurt, but with a different set of probiotic bacteria. Yogurt has about one billion bacteria which feed gut bacteria and clean your intestinal tract. Kefir has about 40 billion probiotic bacteria, which repopulate gut bacteria.** If you consume both, you pretty much cover all the bases in the probiotic department.
If you’ve never tried kefir, I recommend starting with a sweetened variety, and work down (up?) to plain.
There is a lot conflicting information about kefir making. Some sources say it has to be raw milk, some recommend pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized, some that it doesn’t matter. Some say it has to be whole milk, others that it can be skim. Many insist it is necessary to strain out the “grains” (the lumps in kefir that carry on fermentation from batch to batch) to use for new kefir. Some advise heating the milk, others culture kefir with cold milk. Some claim kefir should be be sealed while fermenting, others keep it open to the air.
I found the simplest method works great.
You need milk, a jar, and your favorite plain kefir from the grocery store. That’s it. Kefir doesn’t have to made from cow’s milk, but I haven’t carried out experiments. Let me know if you make non-dairy kefir. I’m curious.
- Find a plain kefir you like. I settled on Nancy’s, a local brand. It is delicious and organic. It’s also pretty expensive, so making my own saves money.
- Heat 4 cups of milk (I use 2%, pasteurized and organic, but any kind will do) to barely bubbling, about 180 degrees fahrenheit. Let it cool to lukewarm (less than 100 degrees F). Many kefir makers don’t heat the milk . I do. It sits on the counter for 24 hours, so I’m extra careful to kill any unwanted bugs.
- Mix about 1/2 cup of store-bought kefir with a similar amount of the semi-cooled milk. Stir.
- Pour the rest of the milk into a quart jar. If you want to remove skin that may have formed during heating, use a strainer.
- Add the milk-kefir mix to the milk in the jar. Stir.
- Remove a little of the kefir-milk if needed. There should an inch or two of open space to allow gases to expand. Cover the jar tightly with a lid.
- Leave the sealed container on the counter for 24 hours or so. It’s done when it has thickened a bit — not as thick as yogurt.
- Stir or shake thoroughly and try a swig. Delicious! Sweeten (if you must).
- Store in the fridge for up to a week with the lid tightly closed.
- Use leftovers as a starter for the next batch.
Plain store-bought kefir is a little sour for my taste, but newly-made kefir is mild and delicious. This changes as the week goes on. Refrigeration slows, but doesn’t stop the fermentation process. Kefir gradually increases in sourness, as it also matures into a better “mother” for the next batch.
Many, many sources recommend using non-metal utensils, so, even though I have no idea if it’s necessary, that’s what I do. I have a silicone whisk for stirring, a glass container with a plastic lid, and a nylon net strainer. Metal spoons, metal lids and a metal whisk, however, have all come into contact with various batches of kefir and it seems to do all right.
Finally, safety tips: if your kefir turns any color other than white, doesn’t thicken, looks or tastes funny, toss and start over. Always use clean utensils and jars!!! Fresh milk is best. Check the sell by date, and use at home as soon after purchase as you can. Every 2 – 3 months, use a new, store bought kefir, to make extra sure your culture is healthy and fresh. That’s the great thing about this recipe. The starter and the milk are right next to each other in the store, affordable and convenient.
Happy kefir making. If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes.
**“Kefir vs. Yogurt: Which One is Better?” , Doctor’s Health Press