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Milk Kefir F.A.Q & How-To Guides

What is kefir?

Wikipedia: Kefir or kephir (/kəˈfir/ kə-feer), alternatively milk kefir, or búlgaros, is a fermented milk drink made with kefir “grains” (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter) and has its origins in the north Caucasus Mountains. It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep milk with kefir grains. Traditional kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed.”
Kefir is a cultured milk drink made with kefir grains with amazing health attributes. Kefir’s tart and refreshing flavour is similar to a drinking-style yoghurt, but it contains beneficial yeast as well as friendly ‘probiotic’ bacteria found in yogurt. Lactobacilli in kefir may exist in concentrations ranging from 1 million to 1 billion colony forming units per milliliter. Kefir grains contain up to 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it a very rich and diverse probiotic source.

Why Probiotics?

Probiotics have an anti-inflammatory potential, assisting the digestive system’s role in the immune system. More info here:

Kefir for your Pets:

What are kefir grains?

Kefir grains are combinations of yeasts and bacteria living on a substrate made up of a variety of dairy components. These live kefir grains look like tiny cauliflower florets and are rubbery and gelatinous in texture.

What do I need to make kefir?

  • A glass jar that can hold a minimum of 250ml of milk, preferably that has a lid that is not too airtight, as gas needs to escape while fermenting.
  • A fine-meshed sieve or strainer (plastic is better, stainless steel is fine, avoid other metals)
  • A spoon (again, plastic is better, stainless steel is also fine, avoid other metals)
  • Full cream milk. Full cream milk produces a thicker nicer kefir than low fat or skimmed. You can add a touch of cream to your kefir to make it thicker. Do NOT use UHT/long-life, skimmed or nut milk – it will not work. Preferably organic, or a reputable dairy shop’s milk is also fine, as supermarket milk may contain growth hormones and antibiotics which may damage your kefir grains.
  • A warm spot to culture your milk. Ambient room temperature is fine.
  • A refrigerator to store your kefir.

How do I make it?

  1. Add 2-3 teaspoons of hydrated kefir grains in a clean jar, and add a cup of full cream milk of your choice. (Dehydrated grains will require steps 1-5 to be repeated a few times until they are culturing properly)
  2. Cover with lid, not too tightly, to allow gas to escape.
  3. Leave to culture for 24-48hours, in a warm place (ambient temperature ranging from 20C-25C is best), but away from direct sunlight. Colder temperatures will result in kefir taking longer to culture.
  4. After 24-28 hours, give the kefir a good stir or shake and pass the contents through a sieve, strainer or very clean mutton cloth, into a clean glass jar to store your kefir in.
  5. Gently squeeze or stir the kefir through the strainer, or just pick out the grains with your ‘clean’ fingers if grains are large enough.
  6. Either mature/ripen your kefir as per the “How do I reduce the lactose in my kefir” section or store the kefir in the refrigerator for consumption.
  7. Put your separated kefir grains into a clean jar and repeat the process.

How do I know when the kefir is ready?

The process is done when the cultured milk has a distinctive tart fragrance, is thicker than normal milk, but still pourable. It will be the consistency of liquid yoghurt. You can leave it for a longer time for a stronger and more tart taste, if desired.

Is there lactose in kefir?

All cultures consume sugar in order to produce the beneficial microorganisms found in cultured drinks. Lactose in milk is the primary food supply for dairy cultures like kefir.
The lactose content in your kefir is determined by 3 things:
  1. The lactose content of the milk you started with;
  2. Amount of time that your kefir is cultured for; and
  3. How soon you consume your kefir (whether you consume immediately or choose to ripen your kefir)

How do I reduce the lactose in my kefir?

The lactose in kefir can be greatly reduced by ripening or maturing your kefir.
  1. Take your freshly cultured kefir with grains removed, and pour into a clean jar, filling no more than ¾ of the way full.
  2. Place the lid on the jar, but don’t seal tightly, as a lot of gas will build up during this process.
  3. 1-2 times a day tighten the lid, and give it a good shake to loosen everything up.
  4. Loosen the lid again slightly.
  5. Store for up to 5 days at room temperature on warmer days, and up to 2 weeks during cooler times.
  6. Tighten the lid and consume as needed.

How much should I feed?

  • Start slowly, and work up gradually to around one tablespoon per 15kg for dogs per day.
  • Humans should also start slowly – around 3-5 tablespoons initial, and build up gradually to about a cup per day.

How long does the kefir last?

Up to 30 days in the fridge.

What should I do if my kefir is too tart?

Kefir is meant to be tart as it is a fermented drink. If it’s too tart for your consumption, then decrease the time you ferment it and/or add more milk to your kefir. As your grains grow, you will need to add more milk otherwise it is likely the kefir will taste too strong. Note that adding more milk or reducing the amount of time, increases the amount of lactose in the kefir.

When should I split my grains?

When your kefir is getting too strong and/or too thick for your taste, or it starts fermenting a lot sooner; and you don’t want to add more milk.

What should I do when I split my grains?

Cultured grains should be shared freely. Remove the excess kefir grains, rinse thoroughly in water, and leave to dry on paper towel.
Once dry, store in an air-tight container and share with members, other culture friends, family, your domestic worker (it tastes nicer than Amasi ) They can be stored dehydrated for several months.

Help, my grains aren’t growing in raw milk!

If too much raw milk is used, sometimes the kefir cultures will not grow or may shrink. Try using less milk and once a week or so put your grains in some full cream cow’s milk to rejuvenate them.
Make a few 48-hour kefir batches in the cow’s milk until the grains starts to grow. It may be worth growing enough to split them and then alternating the type of milk you use to ferment them.

Taking a break from making kefir:

  • If you’re not getting through drinking all the kefir (bummer) and want to take a break from making it every day or two, strain the kefir grains and put in a jar with enough milk to cover it and leave in fridge for a few weeks.
  • Rinse off the milk when you want to start using it again, and repeat process as per normal.

Managing your kefir grains colony:

As the grains grow you’ll need to add more milk otherwise the kefir becomes very strong and thick which might be undesirable. Start off with 250ml of milk and add more as needed, or separate your grains.
Do not ferment your grains for longer than 48 hours without adding milk, as you risk starving the grains which might damage them. Storing your kefir grains in milk in the refrigerator slows down the culturing process greatly.

Kefir Exchange Programmes:

Our Kefir Exchange File was created for members who have grains to share or are looking for grains:
Alternatively, join Culture Exchange South Africa – they have an extensive network as well: