Milk kefir & dairy-free kefir

Apr 18, 2020 | Anna's Best Recipes, Breakfasts & smoothies, Desserts & drinks

This is easy to make  and a fantastic support for your immune system.  I have many packets of kefir grains packaged up in my freezer in 2019 ready to post to you (in Ireland) or to be picked up (by prior arrangement, with social distancing) if you live locally.  These will get you started.

I call kefir the king of fermented foods.  It’s very like natural yoghurt but more tangy because it is fully fermented so contains no milk sugar (lactose).  It also thinner.  Sometimes I strain my kefir through muslin to get a texture like greek yoghurt but mostly I use it as a drink, in smoothies or blended with a banana.  Milk kefir contains over 30 different types of probiotics (beneficial yeasts and bacteria)  compared to one or two species in yoghurt.  Kefir includes lactobacillus plantarum and rhamnosus which studies have shown can help alleviate inflammatory bowel conditions.  It also contains saccharomyces boulardii which successfully raises secretory IgA (an antibody) in your airways and gut.  sIgA defends you against throat, lung and gut infections. Commercial kefir products are of variable quality and often are not fully fermented.  This means they taste sweeter but have not broken down the hard-to-digest milk protein (casein) nor the lactose (milk sugar).  They do not always contain live bacteria either.  Making your own is the way to go and its really simple.

Friendly gut bacteria perform 80% (!) of your detoxification. They are important for energy, good skin, allergy control, preventing obesity and diabetes and healing your digestive system.  They reduce the tendency to auto-immune conditions by promoting “immune “tolerance” or balance.  Every type of good bacteria has its own special functions so the more you can get into your diet the better.  Our grandparents ate a lot of fermented foods before the days of fridges but now our diet is sterile.  Because kefir is easy to make and use it’s one of my favourite fermented foods to share with people.  Use it any way you like, so long as you don’t expose it to heat.  Eating it fresh ensures more beneficial bacteria.  Add it to smoothies, knock half a glass back after a meal once or twice a day, or even use it to soak oat or buckwheat based muesli overnight to make super-digestible Birchner muesli (recipe on this blog).

Making kefir
There are two ways to make kefir.  You can use live kefir grains that reproduce and will last a lifetime if you treat them right or you can purchase kefir freeze-dried culture packets (single use).  In the recipe for Basic Kefir, I teach you how to make kefir using live grains.  Kefir “grains” are in fact a cluster of microorganisms (bacteria and beneficial yeasts) held together by a polysaccharide matrix named kefiran.

Where to buy live kefir grains
In Ireland try the Sharing Starter Cultures Ireland FB group.  This is a group of people who swap and donate surplus cultures – just put up a post to see who near you has grains to spare and collect for free.  Or ask for grains from myself by post or enquire in your local independent health store.  Good grains will be creamy-white and look like springy cauliflower florets.  Treat them right and they will live indefinitely, and grow. From anywhere in Ireland you can also buy grains online at www.adverts.ie.  Or buy the kefir culture packets I mentioned before, but these only make a certain amount of kefir –you have to keep buying them.

Quantities
If you are only making kefir for one person, use1 tbs of grains for a cup (230ml) of milk.  In a warm kitchen this will usually be fermented within 24 hours.  If you are using from frozen it can take longer for the grains to revive.

How to Make Dairy Kefir
For top-quality kefir, try to buy organic milk.  Goat’s milk is great but cow’s milk is fine too.

People who are dairy sensitive CAN usually tolerate well-fermented (i.e. not shop bought) kefir.  This is because, when the kefir organisms ferment the milk, the lactose (milk sugar) is broken down and so is the casein (the main milk protein).  Lactose intolerance is due to not producing lactase, an enzyme that digests lactose.  Dairy sensitivity/allergy is due to difficulties breaking down casein.  Casein is the protein that causes a problem for people with dairy allergy or sensitivity.  The kefir micro organisms hydrolyse (break down) the casein, in effect pre-digesting it.  This means there is no intact casein left in the kefir.  Lactose is digested by kefir bacteria to produce beneficial lactic acid.

You can use the method below to make any amount of kefir you like.  Just keep in mind that a good rule of thumb is to use 1 tablespoon of kefir grains per 1 cup of milk.  So, if you want to make 1 cup of kefir, use 1 tablespoon of kefir grains and 1 cup of milk. For 2 cups of kefir use 2 tbs of grains and 2 cups of milk. Never heat kefir as this kills the good bacteria.

For 2 servings:
2 tbs live kefir Grains*
450ml/2 cups whole milk preferably organic.  I use raw organic milk (available from organic markets such as The Green Door www.thegreendoor.ie in Dublin 12).
Plastic strainer

  1. Place fresh kefir grains in a glass jar and add the milk (It’s best not to fill jar more than ⅔ – ¾ full)
  2. Place a lid or plastic wrap loosely over the jar (those good bacteria need oxygen to fermwent) and let sit at room temperature for approx. 18 to 24 hours, or until the milk has thickened. (You might want to designate a spot for kefir fermentation in a cupboard or away from direct sunlight).
  3. It is important to swirl the kefir gently in the jar a few times during fermentation to mix the grains with the milk. This means all the milk is fully fermented, allowing less possibility for food sensitivity reactions (to lactose or milk proteins).  If you are not sensitive to dairy products you don’t need to be so careful.
  4. Pour the contents into a strainer to separate your grains from the liquid kefir.
  5. Wash the jar, then place the kefir grains from the strainer back into the washed jar. (Do not add kefir grains to a jar that is still hot from washing! The heat can kill your grains) Then add fresh milk.
  6. The whole process is repeated again. The ready-to-use kefir can now be stored in the fridge until you are ready to use it – it will last for weeks, probably becoming more tangy as it goes as the last of the sugars are consumed by the grains.

If you are going away, remember to put your kefir grains in enough milk to keep it alive and fermenting for the number of days you are away. If you are away for 5 days, you will need 5 cups of milk per tablespoon of kefir, and it will still be alive when you get back.  Or strain the grains and store in the freezer.  They usually come back to life no problem.

How to Make Almond (or Coconut) Milk Kefir
This is an alternative to dairy kefir if you are vegan or highly sensitive to dairy.  Don’t worry that the almond milk is sweetened.  The kefir grains eat the sugars from the honey or agave syrup, using them up to support itself, leaving the finished product as low sugar (low glycaemic index) drink that won’t mess with your digestive system.  Or buy unsweetened almond milk and add a teaspoon of natural agave syrup or honey to each 230ml of milk.  Never heat kefir as this kills the good bacteria.  I buy my almond milk for this from Dublin Food Co Op in Newmarket, near St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin 8.  http://www.dublinfood.coop/  Most decent health stores sell almond milk.   Ecomil original is a good brand (free from harmful additives like polysorbate 80 and sodium carboxymethylcellulose).

For 2 servings
2 tbs live kefir Grains*
450ml/2 cups agave-sweetened or honey-sweetened almond milk
500ml (or larger) glass jar with lid (or use a saucer/muslin and elastic band)
Plastic (not metal) strainer

  1. Place fresh kefir grains in a glass jar and add the almond milk (It’s best not to fill jar more than ⅔ – ¾ full)
  2. Place a lid or plastic wrap on the jar and let sit at room temperature for approx. 18 to 24 hours, or until the milk has thickened or has become sour to your liking. (You might want to designate a spot for kefir fermentation in a cupboard or away from direct sunlight)
  3. Pour the contents into a strainer to separate your grains from the liquid kefir.
  4. Wash the jar, then place the kefir grains from the strainer back into the washed jar. (Do not add kefir grains to a jar that is still hot from washing! The heat can kill your grains) Then add fresh milk.
  5. The whole process is repeated again. The ready-to-use kefir can now be stored in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
  6. If you are going away either:
    a.strain off, rinse (in filtered or boiled cooled water) and freeze your grains until you want to use them again
    b.put your kefir grains in enough milk to keep it alive and fermenting for the number of days you are away. If you are away for 5 days, you will need 5 cups of milk per tablespoon of kefir, and it will still be alive when you get back (especially if you put it in a coolish place).
    c. some people bring the grains with them on holidays so they don’t miss out!

*There are special considerations that you have to take when making almond, coconut or other non-dairy kefir.
Kefir grains do not survive in almond or coconut milk long-term. They grow and thrive by eating the lactose from dairy milk, and since there is no lactose in almond or coconut milk, the grains will need to be refreshed in dairy milk (sheep, goat or cow) once a week or more.  Beneficial cultures in dairy-free kefir will be less diverse and possibly lower in number.

Allow 1 cup or 230ml milk for each tablespoon of kefir grains, and make kefir in the usual way by fermenting the kefir with the milk (24 hours per cup of milk works well).  The lactose in the milk feeds and grows the kefir.  Then you can reuse the grains to make almond or coconut kefir again. You can also rinse them in coconut or almond milk to remove the dairy if you are allergic. The more often you do this, the more your grains will grow and multiply. It’s the lactose that keeps the bacteria alive and thriving.

Did you know?
In hot weather your kefir will be ready sooner.  Warm temperatures speed up the process.  Cooler temperatures delay it.

Books on fermenting, with lots of recipes:
Schwenk, Donna Cultured Food for Life
Pike, Charlotte  Fermented