How to Make Fermented Milk Kefir at Home

by Kaitlynn Fenley

Are you looking for an easy fermented drink to make at home? Then milk kefir is for you! You just need milk kefir grains, organic whole milk, a glass jar, a cloth covering, and a mesh strainer. You never have to replace the starter culture for milk kefir. Once you acquire milk kefir grains, they last forever as long as you feed them fresh milk. Homemade milk kefir is an affordable source of probiotics, vitamins, and nutrients.

Raw Milk Kefir

This week I went on a deep internet dive to learn about the history of milk, and why humans started to consume milk from animals in the first place. I certainly learned a lot.

To summarize, someone used animal milk for nutrition, and probably survival, for the first time around 10,000- 7,500 years ago… Someone most likely observed the similarities of breastfeeding human babies and baby cattle, then made the decision that keeping the animal to consume its milk was a more reliable nutrition source than killing the animal and eating the meat. The milk was almost always naturally fermented into what we know as buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, and cheeses.

Since there were no refrigerators, milk was stored at ambient temperature in ceramic jars or canteens made from the stomachs of sheep. These vessels (and the utters of animals) harbored microbes that always led to some kind of natural fermentation, most similar to raw milk kefir.

Kefir Milk Benefits

There are many benefits of milk kefir. Milk kefir is the most nutritious, easily digestible dairy product.

The basic nutrients of kefir are similar to that of the milk from which it is produced. Thus, it is high in protein, healthy fats and calcium. The kefir fermentation process improves the nutritional value of milk by increasing the quantity, bioavailability, digestibility, and assimilability of vitamins and nutrients.

The word Kefir, which is derived from the Turkish word “keyif” means “good feeling” and I think that perfectly describes milk kefir! Kefir is known by a variety of names in other countries including képhir, kiaphur, kefyr, knapon, kepi, and kippi.

Whole Milk Kefir

Anyways, after 5 years of not eating or drinking any dairy, I’ve been trying milk kefir and eating hard fermented cheeses! I’m very excited. I also now want a dairy cow… and Angora goats. I gave up dairy five years ago when I was healing my eczema, and thus my gut. Now, I am ready to reintroduce high-quality home fermented dairy into my diet.

For now, I am making milk kefir at home using organic non-homogenized cream top milk from a brand called Kalona Supernatural. It still includes the cream and comes from grass-grazed cows on small Amish and Mennonite family farms in the Midwest. Until I get land and animals of my own, this milk is a great option.

Ingredients and equipment you need for this recipe

You only need two ingredients to make milk kefir:

  • high quality milk, you can use cow, goat or sheep milk
  • milk kefir grains, click here to shop where I bought mine
  • 16 ounce mason jar, thoroughly cleaned
  • cloth covering and a rubber band
  • mesh strainer

Goat milk kefir is quite delicious, but I usually use cow milk. It’s important to sterilize your milk before culturing. The only time I do not sterilize my milk is when the carton is brand-new and unopened. It’s very simple, you just have to heat the milk to 181° F, then cool it. Some people do make milk kefir using raw milk with great success, but I’ve never tried it. Using raw milk can introduce wild, sometimes unwanted microorganisms to the kefir.

Milk Kefir Grains

So what kind of microbes ferment milk into kefir? Many different types of yeasts and bacteria make up the microbial communities called kefir grains, and the specific species vary depending on where they are from and the milk used to feed them. Kefir grains consist of a a species rich and robust microbial community. Take a look at this chart from a published paper on Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products. It shows how diverse and species rich the microbial communities in the grains can be and how microbial composition varies by region:

More Fermentation Recipes to Try

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How to Easily Make Milk Kefir at Home

Are you looking for an easy fermented drink to make at home? Then milk kefir is for you! You just need milk kefir grains, organic whole milk, a glass jar, a cloth covering, and a mesh strainer. You never have to replace the starter culture for milk kefir. Once you acquire milk kefir grains, they last forever as long as you feed them fresh milk. Homemade milk kefir is an affordable source of probiotics, vitamins and nutrients. 

  • Author: Kaitlynn Fenley
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Fermentation time: 24 hours
  • Total Time: 24 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Category: Drinks
  • Method: Fermentation

Ingredients

Scale
  • 16 Ounces of organic whole milk (about 500 mL)
  • About 20 grams milk kefir grains

Instructions

  1. Add the milk to a glass jar. If the milk is brand new and pasteurized, proceed to step 3. If not, continue to step 2.
  2. To sterilize your milk: Place a thermometer in the jar of milk. Place the jar of milk in a pot of water and allow it to get to room temperature. Slowly, on low heat, bring the pot of water to a light simmer.  Bring the temperature of the milk up to 181° F (83° C). Once it reaches this temperature, remove the jar of milk from the hot water bath. Leave the thermometer in the jar, and cover with a clean towel. Allow the milk to cool down to about 110° F (43° C). This process can take an hour. Once cooled, remove the thermometer and proceed to step three.
  3. Add in the milk kefir grains and stir the milk gently.
  4. Place a breathable cloth lid on the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Allow the milk to ferment for 12 to 24 hours. (Aim for 12 hours if it is warm in your house. Go for 24 hours if it is cooler in your house)
  5. When the kefir is finished, you may need to give it a stir. It should be thick, pleasantly tart, you should see “rivers” on the sides of the jar after pouring.
  6. After fermentation, strain off the kefir grains and add them to a fresh batch of milk. Store the finished kefir in the fridge in a sealed bottle for up to a month.

Keywords: milk, kefir, dairy

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6 comments

Bala May 7, 2022 - 9:53 am

Hello Kaitlynn, thanks for the post on kefir. We are looking for milk kefir grains to make home made Amish kefir. I was wondering which of the strains of L.B would you recommend based on your research. Also, you have posted the link of Etsy seller and wanted to know how those strains compared with with some of the others like
http://www.gemcultures.com/dairy_cultures.htm
https://positivelyprobiotic.com/
if you have tried them. Thanks again.
-Bala

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley May 7, 2022 - 4:00 pm

Hello!

I’m not familiar with any special differences between Amish kefir and regular milk kefir, other than the fact that Amish kefir is most likely made with non-homogenized milk (or raw milk). I haven’t worked with any of the grains you linked, so I cannot make a valid comparison. All grains have slightly different strains. I really like the grains I bought on Etsy. They work well and multiply often.

Reply
Jane Coverdale August 2, 2022 - 6:41 pm

Hello Kaitlynn, I’d love to make my own kefir but I mostly live alone and can only drink one glass a day max. Can I make kefir every 2-3 days or does it have to be daily?
Thanks, Jane
P.S am so happy I found you on Instagram, have been making the dill pickles which are delicious and tomorrow I’m trying the lemons, thank you for all the amazing information!

Reply
Jane Coverdale August 3, 2022 - 7:48 am

Hi Kaitlynn, your dill pickles recipe has triggered a fermenting frenzy in my house and today I’m trying lemons. I would love to make my own kefir but I mostly live alone and it looks like the yield will be far too much for me. Can I leave the grains for 2-3 days before making the next batch and if so how?
Many thanks for all the information, Jane

Reply
Kaitlynn Fenley August 3, 2022 - 8:34 am

So glad to hear this! yes, you can leave the grains in fresh milk in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before making the next batch.

Reply
Jane Coverdale August 3, 2022 - 5:12 pm

That’s great thanks, I’ll give it a go!

Reply