How to Make Kefir Water and Milk Kefir
What Does Kefir Taste Like? Oh, the Kefir Variations!
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Kefir is a probiotic-rich milk drink similar to thin yogurt. It is easy to learn how to make kefir with many variations on the end result. There are different types of kefir you can make, each with options regarding how often you desire a new batch. Here is a tutorial of how to make kefir water and milk kefir, as well as different variations. I certainly had fun trying them all!
What is Kefir?
Unlike many other cultured dairy products, kefir is made from a combination of bacteria strains and yeasts. Traditional kefir is made from cow, goat, or sheep’s milk that is cultured by kefir grains. These grains were developed several hundred years ago in the Caucasus Mountain area of Eastern Europe and Asia. Although they are called “grains”, they have nothing to do with the grain that grows in the ground. They are composed of polysaccharides (large carbohydrate molecules), multiple strains of bacteria including several Lactobacilli strains, and yeast that all live together in symbiosis. They look like squishy little white cauliflower florets and are rubbery or gelatinous in texture. As they are cultured numerous times, they will grow and divide. It is not possible to harness these in nature like with sourdough yeast; they must be acquired from someone who already has them. However, they can be used, multiplied, and passed down indefinitely if cared for properly.
How to Care for and Use Kefir Grains
Because kefir grains are alive, they must be fed consistently. The bacteria feed on the lactose in milk, producing lactic acid. They must be cultured at standard room temperature (68-77 degrees F). Storing kefir grains: you can place them in the fridge for a week where they will lie mostly dormant. They still need to be in milk for food, but they will not properly culture the milk. If you try, the milk simply goes sour. If left dormant, they only need a half cup of milk, and it should be switched out every few days if possible. When ready to use your kefir grains, be sure to use nonreactive materials. Due to the acidic nature of the kefir, it will react with copper, zinc, and aluminum. While stainless steel is generally considered safe, it is best to just not use any metal. Glass is best for storage of kefir and fermenting because it cannot harbor bacteria in scratches, and it absolutely will not react. When the kefir is cultured, you can strain it through a nylon mesh strainer (easiest!), doubled cheesecloth, or a coffee filter (not my preferred method). Be sure that anything with which you touch the kefir is absolutely clean.
You do not want bacteria competition happening in your kefir. Place the kefir grains in your glass jar and cover with milk. Rather than using a canning jar lid, use a porous covering like cheesecloth, a thin dish towel, coffee filter, or paper towel that is tightly covering the opening. You can use the lid ring or a rubber band to keep it in place. Kefir grains need to breathe, but you do not want anything else invading your kefir. Place in a dark area and allow to sit for 12-24 hours. Your kefir may separate as it cultures. If that happens, simply stir with a wooden or plastic spoon and continue on. You may use alternative milks with the kefir grains, but most give inconsistent results. Coconut milk is the most consistent, although it does not thicken as mammalian milk does. If you do use alternative milk, every fourth batch still needs to be done in regular milk to ensure that the cultures are getting fed properly.
Milk Kefir Recipe
- 2 tsp milk kefir grains
- 2 cups milk or milk alternative
How to Make Kefir Water
What is water kefir? Similar to milk kefir grains, water kefir grains are translucent, gelatinous symbiotic yeast and bacteria cultures. They feed on sugar water with minerals. Like milk kefir, they culture at room temperature and will become dormant in the fridge. The result is still slightly sweet and less tangy than milk kefir. It can also be easily infused with other flavors to make a lovely substitute for soda. Water kefir should be made with either bottled water or water that has been boiled because the chlorine in municipal water will harm the culture. Boiling the water beforehand is a good idea, anyway, to help incorporate the sugar and minerals better. Allow the boiled water to cool to room temperature before adding it to the kefir grains. The grains also like a varied mineral source. This can come from your natural water supply, a pinch of sea salt or pinch of baking soda. Other sources include a half teaspoon of molasses, or a small handful of raisins. You have many choices of sugar when making water kefir. However, the more refined sugars tend to be the best for the kefir grains themselves. The best sugar for water kefir is white cane sugar, brown sugar, cane juice crystals, sucanat, and raw sugar. Sugars such as maple syrup or coconut palm sugar can be used in very low amounts combined with another sugar. Honey has its own bacteria that can compete with the kefir grains and is not recommended. Sugar substitutes such as stevia and agave do not have the proper nutrients to feed the kefir grains and cannot be used to make water kefir. Fruit juice is not good for water kefir grains because the acidity level can hurt them. Culture in a glass jar in a dark area for 24-48 hours.
Kefir Water Recipe
- ¼ cup water kefir grains
- ¼ cup sugar
- 4 cups water
- Mineral source if not using well or spring water
If you do not truly want to consume kefir every day, or don’t know where to buy kefir grains, you may consider using a freeze-dried kefir culture powder. These may be kept in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to use them and will make a single batch of usually one-quart size, and it’s how to make kefir without grains. I found that the culture powder produced kefir with a much thicker consistency, almost as thick as yogurt while my kefir grains produced only a mildly thickened drink. The powder culture also produced kefir with a very mild flavor, much less tangy. It felt and tasted like a thin yogurt. With a powdered starter culture, you also have the option of using alternative milks, coconut water, or fruit juice as your culture medium. These batches of kefir (as well as the ones from kefir grains or even store-bought kefir) can be re-cultured several times before the bacterial culture becomes spent. Simple add ¼ cup of cultured kefir to one quart of new liquid, stir, cover and allow to sit for 12-16 hours as it cultures. How many times you can re-culture depends on the freshness of your kefir and how clean you keep your supplies and workspace.
Flavoring Your Kefir
What does kefir taste like? Through trying many culturing mediums and types of kefir, I have found that I really just don’t like it very much. Water kefir was milder, but I just plain did not like milk kefir. However, there are many ways of consuming kefir. One method involves what is called a “second fermentation.” After the grains have been removed, a flavoring is added; it can be fresh or dried fruit, bags of herbal tea, or spices. The kefir is covered and allowed to sit for an additional 12 hours as the flavors infuse. You can even add some sweetener to the milk kefir to make it more palatable if you need. I highly recommend adding fresh blueberries to the water kefir second ferment. Leaving them whole gave a delicate blueberry flavor, but crushing them gave a more powerful punch plus pretty coloring.
Over time, your kefir grains will multiply as you culture them. To avoid overculturing, you can share them with friends and family or blend them up in a smoothie for extra probiotics. If you are new to probiotic foods or kefir, then I suggest that you begin with only consuming a half cup to cup per day as your gut adjusts to the sudden influx of good bacteria. Even a good thing can cause your body to feel not-so-good as it figures out how to fit the new bacteria in. You may experience some bloating. When you no longer bloat, you can feel comfortable increasing your daily intake of the wonderful probiotic goodness that we know as kefir.
Originally published in the January/February 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.