If you don’t know kefir, or you love it but have never made it, it’s time to get excited about learning how easy it is to make raw kefir a home! Learn all about it in this article.
No worries if you don’t have access to raw milk. Kefir can also be made with commonly found pasteurized and homogenized cow’s milk from the grocery store.
Below I’ll discuss the differences between making raw kefir and pasteurized milk kefir and how to get started.
How to make kefir?
- Add kefir grains to milk. Raw milk or pasteurized milk. Cow, goat or sheep.
- Let sit room temperature to ferment to you liking, usually 12 – 24 hours.
- Strain out kefir grains and save them to start another batch.
- Enjoy your finished kefir!
What is kefir?
Milk kefir or dairy kefir is a fermented dairy drink made by inoculating milk with kefir grains. Kefir grains are the symbiotic culture that’s used to make kefir. You can make kefir with cow, goat or sheep’s milk. There are also a few other uses for the kefir grain starter cultures beyond that. In this article I will focus on fermenting cow’s milk with kefir grains.
What is raw kefir?
When I say raw kefir, I’m talking kefir made from raw, unpasturized cow’s milk. Kefir is a fermented dairy drink. It can be made with cow, goat or sheep’s milk. You can use pasteurized milk if you can’t find raw milk. Just avoid ultra pasteurized dairy.
What is a kefir starter? Is a raw kefir starter different?
The way that milk is fermented into kefir is by using a live culture commonly called kefir grains. Kefir grains are actually not grains at all. They are a type of SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). This symbiotic active culture is what you add to your milk to ferment it.
Kefir grains are a mesophilic culture. Mesophilic cultures are used in some cheese making. That means you can actually use kefir to start cheese at home and avoid buying freeze dried cheese starter cultures.
Mesophilic cultures are active at room temperature, that is one of the reasons kefir is easier to make than yogurt.
Kefir grains look like little blobs of cottage cheese or tapioca. When a batch of milk kefir is done, you strain out the grains and add them to fresh milk to start a new batch. As they ferment they also grow and reproduce, so you will eventually have more kefir grains than you know what to do with! This is an excellent problem to have. You can bump up the amount of kefir you are making. If you don’t want to increase the amount of kefir you’re making you can give them to friends, eat them or even feed them to the dog.
It only takes about 1 tablespoon of kefir grains to ferment 1 quart of milk.
Kefir grains are the same no matter if you’re using raw milk or pasteurized milk to make your kefir.
Are kefir grains actually grains?
No, kefir grains are a symbiotic culture of bacteria. They are not grains at all. Don’t worry paleo and gluten conscious friends!
How long do you ferment milk kefir?
There are many factors to consider when determining how long you should ferment your milk kefir, because there are many variables. Here are a few:
Ambient room temperature
That just means how warm it is in your house. If it’s warmer, ferments develop faster. Cooler rooms ferment things slower. The ideal temperature for happy kefir is 65 – 85 Fahrenheit, as with most cultures. Even within that range there will be differences in how quickly a ferment develops based on how warm it is.
Ratio of kefir grains to milk
The more kefir grains are added to the milk, the quicker it will ferment. Just like with a sourdough starter. If you want your sourdough starter to reach peak faster, add more starter to your water/flour/starter ratio, but that’s for another post on another day. I prefer using 1 tablespoon of kefir grains per quart of milk.
Like with most cultured food, a lot of the details are left up to you to decide based on your specific tastes. The amount of time you ferment your kefir will affect the flavor, texture and nutritional makeup.
Longer fermented kefir will be thicker, more tart and nearly devoid of any lactose. Shorter fermented kefir with be thinner and drinkable with a milder taste.
How long I ferment my kefir depends on all the points above, but I mostly think about what I want to use the kefir for. If I want to make Kefir Cheese like I do in this YouTube video, I want my kefir on the thicker side. If I wanted to make a parfait or eat the kefir with a spoon I ferment it longer until it’s pulling away from the sides and the whey is starting to separate.
Want to enjoy your kefir as a beverage? Many store bought kefir is thin and drinkable. If that is what you’re going for you can ferment it for a shorter amount of time.
How long is too long to ferment kefir?
Kefir grains are living things. They do need to be fed regularly to be kept alive. That means if you let your kefir ferment too long, the grains will begin to starve. At room temperature I would recommend not fermenting your kefir much passed 36 hours. When the kefir is thick and the whey starts to separate, it’s time to feed your grain buddies and use that finished kefir.
How long you ferment your kefir or raw kefir is up to you!
Keep an eye on it and watch for it to look, smell and taste how you want it to. When it looks good, strain out the kefir grains and start a new batch. After you’ve made kefir a few times you will know how to get the results that you want intuitively.
How is kefir different than yogurt?
You’ve probably pondered the kefir vs yogurt question like I had. Yogurt is definitely the most well known fermented dairy item in America. I think many people just figure that kefir is a thinner version of yogurt, but that is not the case at all.
Yogurt is made by adding a yogurt culture to warm milk and keeping that milk warm for a period of time for it to ferment. The starter culture for yogurt can be a store bought culture like this heirloom yogurt culture from Cultures for Health. However, a cheaper and easier way to start yogurt is use a small amount of store bought yogurt to start a new batch. Of course, you could use a bit of yougurt from a previous homemade batch to start a new batch too.
Kefir is made at room temperature using kefir grains as the starter. The process only takes 8-24 hours depending on how warm your home is. Kefir grains can be from a friend or you can get them here online as well.
Why is kefir easier to make than yogurt?
Yogurt needs to be heated and cooled to maintain a certain temperature. Usually between 110-115 Fahrenheit . Kefir ferments at room temperature! That means no heating or cooling. No need for a pot on the stove.
You can watch my video on How I Make Yogurt in My Instant Pot here on YouTube.
Raw kefir vs pasteurized milk kefir
You can definately make kefir from either raw milk or pasteurized cow’s milk. I make raw milk kefir now, but I did make mine with pasteurized or vat pasteurized cows milk for years.
Depending on where you live, it might be hard to find or even illegal to buy real raw cow’s milk. There seems to be a lot of confusion of the safety of this natural super food, but that’s for another post. If you can’t get raw milk locally in stores, check around to see if you can find a local farmer or homesteader that will share. If it’s absolutely not an option, you can still make great kefir with pasteurized cow’s milk following the same directions.
Ultra-pasteurized cow’s milk should be avoided. This milk is heated to a very high tempurature. This kills off all the bacteria, and damages enzymes and beneficial nutrients. The kefir grains need those enzymes and nutrients to grow and thrive.
Is raw milk or pasteurized milk better for making kefir?
I believe raw milk is more healthful, natural and full of nutrients. This is why I chose to make raw milk kefir at home.
When I first started keeping kefir grains about five years ago I wasn’t so aware of the benefits of raw milk and I didn’t know where to get it. I made my kefir with regular store bought pasteurized homogenized milk. I’m glad for this experience because now I really know the difference between making kefir with raw milk vs making it with pasteurized milk.
The biggest difference between raw and pasteurized milk when making kefir is the health of your grains. I noticed that my grains were small and broken up and slow growing when I was feeding them pasteurized milk. When I started using raw milk they became big and jiggly and clumpy and reproduced faster than before. They seem way more happy now!
Maybe even more that pasteurization, homogenization really affects your kefir’s final product. Homogenization is a mechanical process that factories perform. It makes it so the cream will not separate from the milk. Homogenized milk is a smooth consistency and texture.
Raw, natural milk that hasn’t been put through that process will have the cream separate and float to the top. This is great if you want to use the cream separately, like when making butter or whipped cream.
When making kefir, I find that the cream separation makes a big difference in my final product.
Homogenized milk is a thicker creamier texture. Raw milk has the cream float to the top. Kefir grains will also float to the top as the kefir ferments. This means the grains will be stuck in the milk fat. I found that this somewhat inhibits the milk below the cream line from fermenting. To remedy this I’ve take to stirring my raw kefir gently a few times throughout the process. This really helps things ferment more evenly.
Even with stirring the raw kefir as it progresses, I still find that the pasteurized milk yields a more predictable texture than raw. The trade off is a better flavor and better nutrition in the raw milk kefir. Not to mention, if you carefully skim off the cultured cream from the top of your finished kefir, you can use it as you would sour cream!
How to make the best raw kefir
- Use good milk – fresh raw milk is best from grass fed cows.
- Keep things clean – hot soapy water to wash your jars and utensils is adequate.
- Stir gently a few times as your kefir ferments.
- Don’t over ferment it – kefir only needs 12-30 hours at room tempurature (depending on how warm your house is).
How I Make Fermented Dairy Kefir Video
This video shows me actually making kefir. I was using pasteurized milk at this time. Watch me strain the grains and start a new batch here in this video on the Preserving Today YouTube channel.
Where to buy kefir grains?
The only commercial cultures that I have ever personally used have been purchased from Cultures for Health. I can say their products are top notch and have worked great every time. It’s also convenient that you can buy Cultures for Health products on Amazon. Best part is that if you take good care of your kefir grains you will only need to buy them once! You can use them again and again.
I did not buy my kefir grains from Cultures for Health. I got some from my cousin, she got them from a friend but if I remember correctly that friend bought them from Cultures for Health.
Flavoring raw kefir
There are endless ways to flavor your finished kefir. I will definitely be writing more on that subject in future pots. The most important thing to remember when flavoring kefir is that you need to wait until the kefir with it’s primary ferment and you’ve removed the grains before adding anything.
Use fruit, herbs or spices to flavor your kefir. Just remember to do it after the grains have moved on to fresh milk in a different jar.
Can I do a secondary ferment with my raw kefir
Yes, totally. There are benefits to this depending on what you’re going for.
A second ferment would be when the grains are removed from the finished kefir. Instead of moving that kefir to the fridge you would leave it longer on the counter room temperature to ferment further. This can be done along with flavoring, or plain. Doing a 2F often can leave you with a more bubbly, effervescent outcome, especially when flavoring with anything sweet.
Leaving your kefir for a 2F can also help it thicken, make it more sour and decrease the lactose in the milk even further. If you are sensitive to dairy, longer fermented kefir might be just the ticket.
Do I have to keep making kefir forever?
Perpetual ferments like kombucha, sourdough, water kefir or dairy kefir can seem exhausting. They are like pets! Living things that need food, water and the proper environment to survive. This doesn’t mean you are now a slave to your milk kefir culture.
You can take a break from making kefir by placing the dairy kefir grains in the fridge similarly to how you treat a sourdough starter when not in use.
How to take a break from making kefir
- Place kefir grains in a clean half pint jar.
- Cover with about 1 cup of milk.
- Put a lid on and label with the date.
- Move to the refridgerator.
- Take kefir grains out and use them or feed them new milk occasionally. Ideally at least every 2 weeks.
Feeding them at least every two weeks is best, but I’ve gone 6 weeks before and they were still alive. Not ideal, but they survived.
When you pull them out of the fridge, strain them and put them in new milk either to ferment a batch or to put back into the fridge for storage.
Get started! Do you have what you need?
Here is a list of equipment with links to Amazon for everything I use in my kitchen to make kefir. I hope you get started and love it as much as I do!
- Any old glass jar. I usually make a quart at a time.
- Nylon mesh strainer
- Canning funnel
- Cultures for Health Kefir Grains
- Small silicone spatula
- Plastic reusable lids for canning jars
Have you made kefir before? Do you do it like I do? Let me know in the comments.
Want to learn more about fermentation? Check out this post Everything You Need to Know to Get Started with Fermented Vegetables