In this article, we explain how you can make your own fermented milk kefir grains and importantly how to store them for long-term use. We introduce maintenance-free kefir and give you sources to find the best cultures, equipment and recipes in Australia.
What exactly is Milk Kefir?
Kefir is a slightly sour fermented milk drink made from kefir (pronounced keh-fear) grains and milk, it is similar to buttermilk but actually makes you feel good! Translated from Turkish, it means ‘pleasure, good feeling or feel good’ and is thousands of years old. Kefir has been called the champagne of yoghurt and it contains 30+ strains of probiotic bacteria, 40 aromatic compounds and a ph-stable antioxidant. It confers good health and vitality if taken in small quantities daily. It also produces a small amount of alcohol in the fermentation process, approx 1-2% after 7 days, as reported by Dominic Anfiteatro.
The easy way to make milk kefir is with a starter culture. One teaspoon of dried culture can be mixed with 1 cup of pasteurised milk and left to ferment for 18-24 hours in a glass jar with a plastic lid (preferred instead of metal). It can also be made with a fresh culture.
If you need kefir culture or grains, a kefirko or any other equipment, we recommend our friends at NourishMe Organics in Victoria, and Green Living Australia in Queensland. The Kefirko, shown above, is a very handy product to make and strain kefir. It comes with full instructions and recipes.
Kitchen equipment: See my first post.
Culture: Lactobacillus species are always present.
Substrate: They will eat refined sugar – don’t worry it will be consumed before you drink the kefir.
Time period: 1-2 days
- Maintain your culture by straining your kefir crystals daily and moving them to a clean vessel, they need to be fed with sugar and new milk with some kefir from the previous batch.
- They can grow very rapidly and need to be filtered to prevent overgrowth and milk separation.
- Water and milk kefirs like to their vessels/ jars to be out in the light with breathable covers.
- Watch for contamination (pink mould) and any colour changes or bad odours mean they need to be thrown out.
- Make a new batch from your backup starter culture in the fridge
If you separate the curds and whey you can make soft cheeses, medium or hard cheeses and adding culture gives you different textures and appearance, ageing with brine or mould allows different flavours to develop.
You may be surprised to learn that you can make cheese with kefir, without using rennet.
Benefits: Mental alertness, improved regularity (through bowel), reduces fungal or bacterial infections elsewhere in the body including candida, and weight loss.
Dose: If you are sensitive to dairy, you may have a reaction. If you have not had problems before it is recommended to start taking a small dose, one teaspoon daily over several days. When you start talking milk kefir for the first time you may experience a bad reaction, this could be flu-like symptoms or stomach ache or feel like an allergy. This is not documented very often as people usually stress the health benefits of kefir but something you need to be aware of before you start. It is called the Hertzheimer reaction and caused by massive numbers of bad bacteria dying off in your body (most likely your gut). You are much less likely to get a reaction to the Maintenance Free Kefir product from Green Living Australia.
Dehydrating – best for long term, convenient and/or transportable storage of grains
1. Pat your kefir grains dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. You may rinse them ahead of time if you wish in chlorine-free water.
2. Layout on a clean surface. A cloth or paper towel works well for non-fan drying, a plate, wax paper or any clean surface (non-metal) works fine for forced air drying. Skip to Step 6 if you have a fan or dehydrator.
3. If you don’t have a fan, cover loosely with a paper towel to protect them as they dry, this will take about 2-5 days, depending on room temperature and humidity.
4. Check them as they are drying, flipping them around half-way to expose the damp parts near the bottom.
5. If you have a fan, lay them out as mentioned in step 1 and angle a low or medium force of air towards them (just be careful not to blow them away!). If you have a dehydrator that can do 45°C or less, than this is an acceptable method as well. They will dry in about 12-48 hours, depending on room temperature and humidity.
6. You can stop the drying when they appear almost dry but are still barely squishy if you are storing them for a short period of time (such as a week or two). They are slightly more active and fresh in this state. Otherwise, proceed to step 8.
7. When the grains are completely dry (hard, small, and depending on sugar, either clear or a shade of light to dark brown) put them into a plastic bag or jar with cotton balls (to absorb excess moisture) and store them at room temperature or in the refrigerator. You can also store them in a paper envelope, inside a jar OR coated in milk powder in a bag or jar.
8. Dehydrated grains can successfully be reconstituted after a year or more.
Refrigerating – best for the temporary storage of your grains
If you need to store them temporarily, you can always put them either in their own kefir or in a little plain water (or even in some sugar water, similar to their recipe) in the fridge. The colder temperature will greatly slow the fermentation process. This is the best method of storage if you’re planning to take a break of about a month or less. However, they can keep many, many months this way so it makes for a good alternative if you wish to avoid dehydrating the grains. It may take a few batches to fully reactive them. If you’re taking a long break dehydrating may be better for the situation. You can always use a combination of methods for back-up, too.