Kefir: how to make milk kefir and its health benefits

Joanna SochanDigestive and gut health, Nutrition, Recipes2 Comments

How to make mefir

I’m a big fan of eating kefir on a regular basis as it’s both a highly nutritious food and a great natural remedy. Personally I consume milk or coconut kefir daily and also recommend it to my clients with digestive complaints as well as to the vast majority of clients who are on the GAPS diet to heal their guts, to deal with autoimmune diseases, autism, ADHD, hormone imbalances, depression, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue, to name a few.

When I first mention kefir I find many people don’t know what it is and the name sounds a bit exotic to them. Well, kefir is simply milk that is fermented by the kefir grains for about 24-48 hours. The grains are a gelatinous, living bacteria and yeast culture that is white or yellow in colour, and looks like small cauliflower pieces.  The grains ferment the milk, incorporating the beneficial flora and friendly yeasts to the milk creating a powerful, natural probiotic mixture. Here is the photo of my grains. Milk kefir grains

Kefir and the grains originated in the Caucasus Mountain region where local people have been using them for centuries. The people living there are known for their longevity and enjoyment of good health till late in life. In early 20th century Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner (in Medicine) Ilya Mechnikov investigated and then promoted the grains’ health enhancing properties. He introduced the concept of probiotics and reportedly consumed kefir and other fermented dairy products daily.

To clarify, there actually are two types of grains: milk  grains and water grains. Milk (dairy) kefir grains can be used with cow milk, goat milk or coconut milk. Water grains are used with sugar water, juice or coconut water. The term “grains” describes the look of the culture only. The culture does not contain actual “grains” such as wheat, rye, etc. If you’d like to find out more detailed information on the grains and kefir please visit the GAPS Australia website .

Amazingly, the grains will continue to produce fresh kefir indefinitely, providing they are fed milk on a regular basis (every 2-3 days on average). I have had my current batch of the grains for eight months now and they are happily working around the clock producing great tasting kefir and keeping me healthy!

You can readily buy the grains online, at farmers markets or your local health foods shop. In Australia the grains can be found on the www.gumtree.com.au and other websites. You’ll need around 2 tablespoons per 1 litre of milk to get started (the grains will cost you around $10 per tablespoon).

Kefir benefits

  • A very potent natural probiotic containing large numbers of beneficial bacteria and friendly yeasts. In fact, kefir is the most powerful and effective source of good bacteria obtained from either food or probiotic supplements.
  • Provides beneficial bacteria and yeasts to replenish the gut bacteria thus helping with all digestive disorders such as IBS, SIBO (Small intestine bacterial overgrowth), Candida (kefir is anti-fungal) as well as diarrhoea and constipation.
  • Alleviates food intolerances and allergies by helping to repair damaged gut by balancing gut flora.
  • Rich source of easily absorbed key nutrients such as vitamins (vitamin D, vitamin A and K2, and a number of B vitamins including B1, folate, biotin, B6), minerals (especially calcium, magnesium and phosphorus) and proteins that are pre-digested and thus more easily absorbed by the body (kefir is a very good source of protein). Fermentation releases nutrients from the food, making them more available for the body to absorb and utilise them.
  • Boosts immunity by balancing the gut flora which interacts with and regulates the immune system.
  • Improves lactose digestion – fermentation predigests the dairy, making it easier for our digestive systems to process, hence fermented foods are better digested by people with gut disorders and many, but not all, people with lactose intolerance.
  • Supports bone health, helps to build and maintain bone density. It is a great addition to the diet of peri-, menopause and post-menopausal women.
  • Supports and enhances detoxification.

Milk kefir recipe

I recently made a fresh batch of milk kefir and documented the steps by taking photos so you’ll be able to follow the recipe easily. You’ll need:

  • 1-2 tablespoons milk kefir grains
  • 1 litre of fresh organic milk – raw milk is best but it’s hard to get. Organic, full-cream, unhomogenised milk is also fine (Paul’s Organic full cream, non-homogenised milk from supermarkets in Australia is good to use). Goat milk can also be used
  • Plastic mesh-type strainer and a wooden spoon
  • Opaque ceramic container or glass jar to ferment the kefir in
  • 1 litre clean glass jar with lid to store it in the fridge

Step 1
Place the fresh grains in clean ceramic container or glass jarCeramic container for kefir

I use ceramic container (as per my photo) as it’s opaque and will protect the grains from the light (important for vitamin preservation). The grains will increase in volume as you go fermenting subsequent batches and you’ll notice the increase after a month or so.

You’ll need to remove the excess grains and keep their volume to about 2-3 tablespoons per 1 litre of milk. The removed grains may be blended with kefir to amplify the probiotic and therapeutic properties. Also, you can give away your excess grains to friends and family so they too could start fermenting their own kefir. Otherwise add them to your compost mix to enhance it.

Step 2
Add fresh, room temperature organic, full-cream milk, then gently stir contents with the wooden spoon and cover with a plate or a lid (don’t screw it on tightly). Let it stand in a dark place at room temperature for 24-48 hours or until the kefir thickens and sours to your liking.

Choose a spot away from direct sunlight for the fermentation e.g. in a cupboard or use an opaque container (as per my photo). Do not fill the fermenting jar more than ¾ volume as the milk is likely to overflow after fermentation starts. Importantly, kefir is usually prepared with the lid ajar so that gas produced during fermentation can escape. If the jar is sealed airtight, a slightly carbonated product will result.

As a guide, it’s best not to ferment for too much longer after the kefir shows signs of thickening or small pockets or layers of whey appear (a pale-yellow liquid). The longer you ferment it the more sour it’ll be. You’ll need to find the consistency and fermentation time that matches your taste buds!

Kefir fermented in a cooler temperature (e.g. in winter) is smoother and less sour but takes a little longer to ferment (2-4 days).

Step 3
Pour the fermented milk mixture into a plastic colander and strain the kefir into a bowl to separate the kefir grains from the liquid.

Milk kefir

Step 4
Wash the fermenting container and reuse the kefir grains for a new batch by repeating the whole process.

Kefir may be consumed right away or better yet, stored in a sealed bottle/ jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. It  will continue to ferment in the fridge but at a much slower pace. After it’s kept in the fridge for one to two days, the flavour will improve and nutritional value will increase as well. Vitamins B6, B3 and folic acid increase during storage due to bio-synthesis of those vitamins mostly by yeasts. Hence if you drink it over 3-5 days you’ll consume slightly different mix of nutrients and probiotics every day!

Double fermented kefirMilk kefir with orange

By double fermenting kefir, more nutrients will be added and the taste will be enhanced becoming more mellow.  After the it is fermented to your liking (as per above), strain it and add fruit or juice of your choice and ferment it for another of 8 to 12 hours. When done, keep it in the fridge.

Here is the photo of my double fermented orange kefir. I added a few pieces of orange peel plus 1-2 pieces of orange flesh and a few small pieces of cinnamon stick. It can be sweetened or spiced depending on your preference. You can add citrus fruit peel, chopped fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, raw honey or molasses.

Kefir: culinary uses

  • Consume it as a probiotic supplement and digestive booster – have 1-2 tablespoons of kefir with each meal to enhance digestion
  • Have it as a drink between meals, add spices or a small amount of juice
  • Add it to smoothies for extra creamy consistency
  • Use it instead of a salad dressing or mayonnaise
  • Make a tasty cheese – simply drip the kefir overnight to get a cream cheese-like paste. Add your favourite herbs, garlic and salt and pepper and spread it on bread and biscuits or make it into a veggie dip.

How much kefir to have?

Kefir is a powerful probiotic food and having more is not always better.  Although it is considered very safe if you drink or eat it in moderation, be aware that it may cause certain gut side effects such as bloating, reflux, constipation or intestinal cramping. If this happens, stop consuming kefir for a week or so and then start again with small doses (e.g. half a teaspoon) and gradually increase, if able. Note that some individuals may not be able to tolerate kefir until their guts are repaired and gut flora imbalances corrected.

As a guide, it would be wise to start with 1 teaspoon per day for a week or so to allow your body to get used to kefir and then gradually increase the amount slowly until you have 2-3 cups per day (or more!).

Sample breakfast recipe

Kefir and Chia Pudding
½ cup of chia seeds
1 cup of kefir

Put chia seeds in a bowl. Pour kefir over the seeds and then stir until the chia seeds are all well coated with kefir. Let it sit for 20 minutes or even better overnight in the fridge. When it’s ready add 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder and coconut flakes, mix well (add a bit of water if required to achieve creamy consistency). Sprinkle with nuts, seeds and cinnamon. Top with warm stewed apples (my favourite!).

Start with 1 tablespoon of the mixture to see if you can tolerate it, as this mix is high in fibre and probiotic bacteria and thus it may cause bloating, gas and/ or other gut symptoms in people with more severe gut flora imbalances. This recipe can be prepared in advance and eaten over several mornings or as an afternoon snack.

If you don’t tolerate dairy products, you can make kefir using coconut milk. You may need more kefir grains to ferment coconut milk or cream i.e. instead of 2 tablespoons of grains per 1 litre of dairy milk, you may need 4 tablespoons or more. It’s best to experiment with proportions to find your fine tasting coconut kefir.

I hope you got excited about making your own kefir and will use my recipe! I’d love to hear about your own recipes and tips. Please comment/ share below. Thank you!

Good health and blessings
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Joanna Sochan
Adrenals and Gut Health Expert
Naturopath Herbalist Nutritionist

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