How To Make Milk Kefir For Optimal Benefit

by lydia on August 4, 2012

I have recently switched to fermenting everything in anaerobic ferment vessels. I believe it’s an optimal way to ensure I am getting a truly anaerobic ferment, thereby avoiding mold and other nasties, and enhancing the lactic acid bacteria content of my finished ferment. (I had a mason jar of kefir tested at a local lab and the tests showed it had mold in it, mold that was not detectable on the surface prior to the test. Mold should not be able to thrive in a properly done ferment in the first place). That said, I’ve had to go back and revamp all my old recipes to convert them for anaerobic fermentation.

Kefir’s Benefits

‘Kefir is a cultured and microbial-rich food that helps restore the inner ecology. It contains strains of beneficial yeast and beneficial bacteria (in a symbiotic relationship) that give kefir antibiotic properties. A natural antibiotic – and it is made from milk! The finished product is not unlike that of a drink-style yogurt, but kefir has a more tart, refreshing taste and contains completely different microorganisms. . . kefir does not feed yeast, and it usually doesn’t even bother people who are lactose intolerant. That’s because the friendly bacteria and the beneficial yeast growing in the kefir consume most of the lactose and provide very efficient enzymes (lactase) for consuming whatever lactose is still left after the culturing process. . . kefir is mucous-forming, but . . . the slightly mucus-forming quality is exactly what makes kefir work for us. The mucus has a “clean” quality to it that coats the lining of the digestive tract, creating a sort of nest where beneficial bacteria can settle and colonize. . . .

Kefir is made from gelatinous white or yellow particles called “grains.”  The grains contain the bacteria/yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk proteins) and polysaccharides (complex sugars). They look like pieces of coral or small clumps of cauliflower and range from the size of a grain of wheat to that of a hazelnut. Some grains have been known to grow in large flat sheets that can be big enough to cover your hand. No other milk culture forms grains. . . making kefir truly unique. Once the grains ferment the milk by incorporating their friendly organisms into the final product, you remove these grains with a strainer before drinking the kefir. The grains are then added to a new batch of milk, and the process continues indefinitely.’ Donna Gates, The Body Ecology Diet

Kefir helps the digestion of lactose, containing a variety of bacteria that are thought to break down lactose in the stomach in people who are deficient in the natural lactase enzyme. Kefir is a rich source of the B vitamins, B12, B1, biotin, folic acid and pantothenic acid. We know that B vitamins are beneficial for numerous functions namely for energy, getting adequate amounts are important in dealing with stress as well. Additionally kefir is plentiful in vitamin K, and the minerals calcium, magnesium and many essential amino acids. The complete proteins in kefir are partially digested allowing them to be more easily utilized in the body. Tryptophan is abundant in kefir, this amino acid is known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system, as are the minerals calcium and magnesium. Kefir’s ample supply of phosphorus, the second most abundant mineral in our bodies, helps utilize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for cell growth, maintenance and energy. Regular use of kefir can aid relief of intestinal disorders, promote regularity, reduce gas and create an overall healthy digestive system. The many health benefits of kefir are too good to pass up, that’s why I decided to start brewing my own kefir and consume it daily.

How to Make Anaerobically Fermented Milk Kefir

Fermented Milk Kefir
Author: 
Recipe type: Beverage
 
Ingredients
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh live milk kefir grains
  • 1 1-liter vessel
  • Raw milk to fill jar
Instructions
  1. Place grains into jar, add milk and stir gently with a wooden spoon.
  2. Clamp down the lid and add the airlock.
  3. Fill the airlock with 1½ tbsp. water.
  4. Place the jar in a cupboard or cover the jar, not the airlock, with a towel and leave on the counter. Keep in a warm place for 12-18 hours.
  5. Remove airlock, place the plug in.
  6. Strain out the kefir grains and start a new batch.
  7. Place your finished kefir in the refrigerator or keep on the counter for another 8-12 hours without the grains.

When I am not using my grains, I keep them in a small Fido jar with fresh milk to feed the grains. I change this milk every few days. If I need to store my grains for longer between uses I store them in an airtight Fido jar in the fridge and make sure to feed them with fresh milk once a week. It is possible to freeze milk kefir grains, though I have never found the need to do so.

Want more information on how to ferment foods anaerobically and properly? Check out my favorite eCookBook with lots of amazing recipes, tips and info. Also, check out the jars I recommend….Click on the banners below to learn more!


 

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{ 63 comments }

FarmgirlCyn (Cindy) August 4, 2012 at 8:36 am

I have just started fermenting my kefir in a 1 L Fido….wowza! What a difference! My kefir is creamy and thick and even a bit fizzy. After reading all the pros and cons going around about the proper vessel and methods used to ferment, I am using both my 3 L Pickl-It and my Fido jars.

lydia August 9, 2012 at 6:51 am

Cindy,

I know – I love the results I get for my milk kefir in my PI. It’s also got my grains very happy and producing well.

Tammy Stewart August 5, 2012 at 10:53 am

what if I’ve left my kefir grains in the frig for a month or more without adding fresh milk?

lydia August 7, 2012 at 7:14 am

Tammy,

They won’t be able to really kefir your milk properly until you re-nourish them. Take a week to feed them every 2-3 days or so in fresh milk in an airtight vessel, either covered on the counter or in a cupboard. After 3 feedings or so, try brewing a small batch and see how it goes. Hope that helps!

Zsa Zsa September 18, 2012 at 10:50 am

I also just started doing my milk kefir in a pickl it and love the difference. They seem to be bigger and yes happier. I use alot less milk and so probably need a smaller jar. Do you also use a pickl it for second fermenting?

lydia September 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Zsa Zsa,

Yes, I use the Pickl-It with airlock for the first ferment. Then I remove the airlock and place in the plug-r OR I just swap to a Fido lid after I have removed the grains for a second ferment. Hope that helps!

BB November 3, 2012 at 12:53 am

How did you know your Kefir had mold? Would you not be able to see it with the naked eye? So does an air tight container avoid the mold that could accure from just putting a light cover on it?

lydia November 3, 2012 at 1:06 pm

No, I could not see any mold on the surface of my milk kefir. The mold was found because I had it tested at a local food lab.

Michelle Wagner January 28, 2013 at 11:22 am

I am going to receive in the mail from marilyn the kefir lady some kefir grains . I told her I was going to make some kefir in my pickle-it jar and she says that kefir needs air to work but what I have seen from your site it should be fine to use a pickle-it with an airlock could you please reasure me this is fine. Also I would like to use a 1.5 liter pickle-it jar with airlock for making kefir how much grains should I use and should I fill the milk to the shoulders or should I start out with a smaller pickle-it jar first then go to the 1.5 liter jar. I can’t wait to start making kefir soon

lydia February 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

Michelle,

I spent a bit of time reading quite a bit on the microbiology of ferments, but did not keep all my sources handy. I’d suggest looking up ‘The Handbook of Functionally Fermented Foods’. From what I understand, traditionally kefir was done anaerobically in animal skins. The reason I had mold in my mason jar kefir was because of oxygen. I believe you will experience wonderful results/benefits from kefir done anaerobically while avoiding the possible issues with oxygen getting into your ferment and wreaking possible havoc.

Just adjust the recipe to reflect whatever size jar you decide to use – 1 1/2 Tbsp. grains for a 1.5 liter, 2 TBSP. grains for a 2 Liter and so on…….

Enjoy!

Anonymous January 31, 2013 at 1:28 pm

I have made kefir before pickl it’s and much prefer with pickl its. I think the kefir grains are happier too and the kefir is more consistent. I think I have 1 tablespoon grains to 1 -2 cups milk however you adjust too your preferences.

Sharon February 10, 2013 at 1:38 am

I’m very new to fermenting and also have been reading a lot on using an anaerobic environment to ferment. I’ve purchased a Pickl-It and was wondering how the second ferment in the Fido or from removing the airlock from the Pick-It affects the ferment since it’s not anaerobic then. Thanks.

lydia May 9, 2013 at 9:08 pm

The second ferment is really to just get it to the consistency you want it – it’s not even necessary and the primary ferment is done. You are not really ‘fermenting’ because the culture is removed. Hope that helps…..

Michelle April 13, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I’ve just purchased dehydrated milk kefir grains and plan to make kefir in my pickle-it jars. Should I use my pickle-it jars to activate them? Thanks!

lydia May 9, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Absolutely!

Erika May 8, 2013 at 9:16 am

I’ve just purchased milk kefir grains also and want to activate them, I put them in 1 cup of milk in a 1 liter pickle-it jar with the airlock in place with water in it. Is this correct since I can’t find a smaller pickle-it jar? The smallest pickle-it I have is 1 liter. I’d love your guidance on this! Thanks!

lydia May 9, 2013 at 7:04 pm

What was the quantity of grains you started with?

Erika May 9, 2013 at 6:32 pm

I also purchased dehydrated milk kefir grains and to activate them I put them in a 1 liter pickle it jar (the smallest size I have) with only 1 cup of milk and put the water in the airlock and change it out every 24 hours. Is it okay that there is only 1 cup of milk in there as opposed to 4? Please let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for your help.

Erika May 9, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I used 1 packet from Cultures from Health. Does it matter that my pickle-it jar is only 1 quarter full? Does it matter that it is 3/4 full of air (what does the 3/4 air do to the ferment)? I’m sorry for such strange questions! :)

Thank you for your help!

lydia May 9, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Yes, air is an issue. Can you find a small Fido jar local to you, like a 1/2 liter? I’ll be honest starting the milk kefir grains dried I’ve never had luck with – you may find it takes several tries to get them really going.

Erika May 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Yes, I bet I could find a small fido jar. I’ll switch over as soon as I can find one. By several tries do you mean over the course of several days?

lydia May 9, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Yes – several batches to get it really going. Taste after each batch and see if it sours.

Erika May 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Hi Lydia,

I bought the 1/2 liter fido and switched tops. Very easy. The only bummer was when I got home the 1 liter (with only 1 cup of milk) had turned to curds and whey (solid surface on top after 24 hours), so I strained and strained and strained using the whey to reveal the grains. I found a few little clumps but not many. I added the cottage cheese mixture that was left over after all my straining to my smaller container in addition to the little clumps that were for sure kefir grains and added 2 cups of milk to this because it had changed to curds and whey very quickly. I’ll check it again in the morning to see how it is doing. I hope I didn’t blow it too badly. I appreciate your help.

Jillayne June 7, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Hi Lydia-
I’m curious about the second ferment without the grains. How does the consistency change? I enjoy the texture and consistency of using a packet starter because it thickens up and is more mellow is flavor, but I use kefir grains because it’s just more economical. I end up with a more sour watery kefir. I’m going to try this, but I’d like to know what signs will tell me that the first fermentation is done? How will I know when the second ferment is complete? Or should I just go by the amount of hours you have listed and then just taste the final product? Thanks!

Jeanne November 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Lydia, I’m really new at making kefir and would like your opinion.

When you did your testing, were you able to keep the same kefir grains as the ones that tested with mold or did you need to use new grains? The reason I ask is because I just received new grains and began my trek down the kefir road. I’m using Pickl’it jars but the amount of milk that I used filled only 1/4 of the jar. In my excitement to try the kefir (after 19 hours of fermenting), I think I tried it way too early. It tasted like mold.

I immediately went for the activated charcoal, dumped out the old product and began again with the same kefir grains. The taste wasn’t the least bit sour which had me concerned. I could only find ultra-pasteurized milk, which could be my problem. Any thoughts? Do you think that I should I order a new batch of grains?

It did seem that my grains did multiply so on the next batch, I filled the jar around 3/4 full. That should cut down the amount of air in the jar.

lydia November 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Jeanne,

I started over with new grains, so yes, ditch those grains. Whenever you are dealing with mold on food like that you need to start completely over. The problem was likely that there was too much air in the jar -it’s important to only brew/ferment with a jar that is as full as possible, at least 3/4 full.
Ultra-pasteurized milk won’t work -it can be pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized. If you are trying to do organic milk, most of them are ultra pasteurized unfortunately.

Matthew December 11, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Will air get in with a regular mason jar with a paper towel/rubber band? How did you become aware of the mold?

lydia February 9, 2014 at 9:53 am

Yes air will get in with just a paper towel. I was not aware of the mold until it was tested. It was not on the surface at all. Mold starts growing below the surface first -once it’s on the surface than it’s clearly invasive.

Bee February 9, 2014 at 9:40 am

Does this apply to making Co milk Kefir or are Mason jars with the lid ok?

Also, do a vented lid produce more bacteria and an anaerobic lid produce more yeast?

lydia February 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

Yes it applies to both. I don’t know what you mean by a vented lid Bee. But to produce more of the beneficial bacteria/yeasts you need the right environment. Oxygen prevents that.

Bee February 9, 2014 at 10:01 am

By vented lid, I meant using a paper towel to cover

Where can I get fido jars in stores? What size do I need for Co milk Kefir and how many should I get? (I’m on a budget, so I can’t afford pickle it jars).

Can u please give me the correct method for making Co milk Kefir bc I’ve obviously been doing it wrong and haven’t been feeling well since trying my own batch

lydia February 9, 2014 at 10:19 am

A paper towel to cover allows oxygen to get in to the ferment.

Fidos can be purchase at places like BB&B, Crate & Barrel, Home Goods (maybe). I buy mine from Sur La Table they have good prices and if you spend around $60 (I believe) the shipping is free.

I am reworking my post on coconut kefir. I would use the same basic method as this, but a shorter ferment time. It will not have the same results bacteria wise that milk kefir will. It is less rich in beneficial strains. I would like ferment it with water kefir grains instead of milk kefir grains if you are intolerant to dairy at all because the grains will need to be stored in milk when you are not fermenting with them.

Bee February 9, 2014 at 11:10 am

Thanks for the fast replies. I’m really freaking out about this bc I’ve been using the paper towel method and fear I contaminated myself and my grains with pathogenic strains. Are my grains bad now?

Are fido jars enough to prevent air? From what I read, it may not be air tight enough.

Also, how r u supposed to check if it’s done.? .. By opening the jar to test it, air will be introduced

Lastly, how is the finished cmk best stored if it needs to be anaerobic? Or does the anaerobic jar only pertain to when the grains are actively fermenting it?

Ps, when resting the grains in the fridge when not using them, do they need to be in an anaerobic jar too, or can they rest in a normal ball jar lid?

Bee April 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Have u finished the post on coconut milk Kefir? If so, can u post the link?

lydia April 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I haven’t finished only because I haven’t gotten a good photo…. 😉

It’s similar to milk kefir though with a couple differences – and it’s not nearly as probiotic rich. I’ll try to get it posted soon!

Tina March 3, 2014 at 10:28 am

Lydia, I can seriously attest to the difference of making kefir in an anaerobic vessel compared to a mason jar. I was using a mason jar method years ago…never really liked the taste and the grains never grew at all in my raw milk. I recently began making kefir again, but in an anaerobic vessel and it’s amazing. We love the kefir and my grains are growing like crazy in my raw milk!
And so I’m wondering, do you always try to keep the grains to a little over 1 Tbsp. for a quart? What do you do with all of your extra grains?
And if I cover my grains with some milk in the fridge, when I’m ready to make kefir do I need to pour this milk off and add new or can I just transfer from fridge to counter top with the same milk?
Thanks so much!

lydia March 4, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I’ve used extra grains in smoothies or popsicles or shared them with others. Yes, the milk used to store grains in should be poured off and discarded.

Peggy Lindstrom April 2, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Hi Lydia,
I have a question I have been making kefir and cultured veggies for a while now and I am experiencing pimples breaking in out on my chin and mouth area. I’m trying to figure out where the problem might be searching the internet and wondering if it might be a reaction to histamines? Although I don’t have any other symptoms other than the pimples. I’m wondering if I should try these other jars you are talking about. I started to make coconut milk kefir but I think I will still have the same reactions because I think it might be the kefir grains not the milk. I culture my veggies with kefir whey also.

lydia April 7, 2014 at 11:55 am

Peggy,

The break outs sound like hormonal issues and liver congestion to me. Histamines are produced whenever you digest anything….but that said = proper fermentation of veggies and dairy will certainly rule out the introduction of undesirable yeasts/bacteria into your system to react to. I definitely recommend fermenting anaerobically no matter what. You do not need to culture with whey – just salt and an anaerobic environment. I’d eliminate all dairy for 3 weeks and see if you get any improvements.

Peggy Lindstrom April 2, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I forgot to mention I don’t use raw milk I use organic milk it is pasteurized and homogenized.
Thanks,
Peggy

Peggy Lindstrom April 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Hi Lydia,
Thank you for your comments and I will try doing what you recommended. I know why your saying to eliminate the whey, but don’t you get a lot more benefits from using the whey and salt? When you ferment anaerobically do you ferment for a longer period of time?

lydia April 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

The reason whey is added in mason jar ferments is because it helps drop the pH quickly, but it also skips steps of fermentation -it is unnecessary when you provide the right anaerobic environment and adding whey does not make it a more healthful end product. Mason jar ferments also require more salt because of this very issue.

RACHEL GARST July 23, 2014 at 3:13 am

Peggy Lindstrom, FYI….whey is a milk product and should only be used with milk fermentation. Whey should not be used to ferment produce…..it will change the taste as well as the healthfulness of it. the LAB’s from milk are different organisms than the LAB’s from produce. if you combine them by mixing whey with produce the LAB’s are competing with one another, and may be responsible for your pimple breakout.

Tina July 23, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Lydia,
I’m having some struggles figuring out the best grain to milk ratio. I know some use a 1Tbsp. to 1 cup milk ratio, but you only recommend 1 Tbsp. for 1 liter (about 4 cups), so I’m wondering you thoughts and experience? Thanks!

lydia July 24, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Tina,

When you ferment anaerobically you typically need less starter because the environment does most of the work. Perhaps some of the recipes you are referring to are not done anaerobically?

Tina July 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

This makes sense. Yes, the recipes I was referring to our not done anaerobically. I will go ahead and use this ratio and see how it goes. Do you aim for a kefir that is more the consistency of a set yogurt or do you like it more drinkable? Thanks again!

lydia July 24, 2014 at 2:19 pm

If you want it to be more like yogurt use more cream or all cream. The thickness may vary depending on temp. and how long you let it go etc…..Play around with it a few times to see how it turns out for you.

Peggy Lindstrom July 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Hi Rachel,

Thank you so much for that information, I have not been using whey in my cultured vegetables and my face is clearing up.

Christina March 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Would it be ok to leave the grains in for 24 hours during each primary fermentation, rather than just 12-18 hours? I plan to only use 2 cups of milk at a time as well. But I don’t want to weaken the grains if doing that consistently will not provide enough food for them.

lydia March 25, 2015 at 2:16 pm

You can do that and it’s okay for the grains but you may not prefer the outcome as much. Play around with the length of time and see – I find the longer it ferments the more tart and less palatable it becomes for me.

Christina March 26, 2015 at 8:57 am

Wonderful, thank you for your help Lydia. Do you have any recommendations as to a good source for purchasing kefir grains? I was considering Cultures for Health, but I asked them about using anaerobic fermentation and they said they have found that doing so with their particular kefir grains yields very inconsistent results and can often damage the grains. So they recommend an aerobic environment during the first fermentation stage and then if I want to culture anaerobically, to do that with the second fermentation stage.

lydia April 3, 2015 at 11:06 am

I don’t understand how anaerobic fermentation would damage grains that makes zero sense to me. You can also check out Kombucha Kamp for water kefir grains as well. I’ve gotten them from there before and they work well for anaerobic – problem is you don’t get a lot at one time. Your first batch or two should be just to grow more grains….they should grow (multiply) pretty quickly..

Christina April 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Ok, thank you Lydia!

Benjamin August 5, 2015 at 3:19 am

Hello Lydia, I’d like to get my milk kefir-grain based kefir tested so I can see the bacterial and yeast strains present.

Please can you tell me anything about the test you arranged with your local lab that would help me procure the same type of test where I live? (London, UK). The name of the test or any description etc, anything that will help me first google, then actually engage a lab.

Thanking you kindly :-)

lydia August 7, 2015 at 6:38 am

Hi Benjamin,

I honestly do not know. You’d have to call around locally to find a place that does food safety testing. Many restaurants and food establishments have to hire a service/company to test their equipment and facilities and sometimes the food products as well. Hope that helps.

Benjamin August 7, 2015 at 7:04 am

Thanks Lydia, there are no shortage of places offering microbiology testing of foods but it would be great to know what kind of test profile / specifications you accessed so that I could seek out the same thing. Is that something you could share? :-)

For examples, I could approach any of these UK based test providers –

http://www.eurofins.co.uk/food-testing/food-microbiology.aspx

http://www.als-testing.co.uk/services/foodanddrinktesting/microbiologicaltesting/

http://www.campdenbri.co.uk/services/microbiological-testing.php

lydia August 7, 2015 at 7:56 am

Sorry Benjamin – I wish I had been more thorough at the time I posted this and included that information. I really don’t remember the name of the test. It tested for the basics they typically test foods for safety and I don’t have a list of all the markers handy or my results handy.

I suggest calling one of the labs to see if you can test for mold in your kefir. The way to avoid mold is by keeping the oxygen OUT of the kefir and if your kefir vessel gets low with a lot of space in the vessel and is left for too long that way, mold can form. This is particularly concerning if it’s a repeat exposure issue in folks with mold sensitivity. That’s really all the info. I can offer at this time. I wish I could delve into this more and have updated testing performed -but time and money do not permit this currently.

Benjamin August 7, 2015 at 9:45 am

Thanks again Lydia, if I do procure test results, would you like me to share them with you along with the context? I have both anaerobic (probiotic jar) and aerobic vessels and if I proceed with testing would attempt to control all variables other than the vessel in order to compare the desirable bacteria, yeasts and undesirable molds present in kefir made using the differing vessels. Citizen science! =)

lydia August 7, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Of course – I would absolutely love to hear how your results turn out!

Brenda December 15, 2015 at 6:57 pm

Making anaerobic fermented goats milk kefir the very first time
Completed 1st fermentation removed grains
May I use the same bottle to pour back fermented milk for a second fermentation on counter
Do I cover the bottle again with a towel?

lydia December 15, 2015 at 7:13 pm

Yep – just switch the lids.

Sergio Valadez August 14, 2016 at 11:50 am

Read through ALL of the comments and I am having trouble understanding why everyone switches from a regular anaerobic Pickl-it container for the first ferment over to a Fido jar or a Pickl-it with a stopper for the second ferment. Is this necessary or do people just not want to “waste” their regular Pickl-its since they only have a limited amount. Would I be able to ferment the second ferment with a regular anaerobic Pickl-it with the airlock (like the first ferment) or would something go wrong.

Someone mentioned that the second ferment is merely aging without fermentation; however, I do not believe this is the case as the second ferment makes the kefir more sour and therefore does in fact ferment as there are still probiotics left over from the grains (even if the grains themselves are removed). I would think that this fermentation would benefit tremendously from an anaerobic fermentation; however, I am open to being corrected.

Thanks so much ahead of time

Joanne Myrol September 22, 2016 at 12:21 am

I have been making my own kefer in a glass milk jug for over a year. I do sometimes smell a yeasty type smell. What harm does yeast do to a person if ingested?
Thanks,
Joanne

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