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How to make Kefir  RSS feed

 
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By request, I've started this thread to explain how to make milk and water kefir and try to answer to my best ability any questions about kefir. Kefir is a fermented drink, made to cultivate beneficial bacteria that makes for a happy gut. It's easy to make, and anyone can do it. I got my kefir grains for making milk kefir from The Kefir Lady. It's one of those things that you really only have to buy once, and you can keep them alive indefinitely. I make my kefir using raw cows milk I get from a local farm, but it can also be made using goats or sheep milk. The woman running the farm has two Jersey cows she milks every day. Kefir can be made from pasteurized grocery store milk, but I'll be the first to tell you it just ain't the same. I tried it once when I couldn't get raw milk and never did it again. The flavor and texture is very different and I personally found it unpleasant. Here's how I make my milk kefir, and I make a pint a day:

1:  Each morning I pour cold milk from the fridge into a pint mason jar, and set that in a bath of hot water from the faucet to warm it up.
2: Once the milk is no longer cold, add kefir grains and stir.
3: Cover with a breathable cloth and rubber band. Leave the jar out at room temperature. Kefir fermentation off-gasses, and if a lid is screwed on the jar will explode.
4: After 24 hours, strain using a wire mesh strainer and spoon to separate the kefir grains from the now kefir. What was liquid milk will now be a gelatinous globule, which readily breaks apart and easily goes thru a wire strainer with a little stirring. It'll take a minute or two to get it all thru the strainer. Put fresh kefir in fridge.
5: Repeat steps 1 thru 4.

I refrigerate my milk kefir as I like to drink it cold, though it's ready to consume when finished. The kefir grains will grow, so every couple days I take some out. I could leave them in, and add more milk and make a quart a day or more, but I like the pint a day schedule for myself.

Out of milk? Going on vacation? Put the kefir grains in a clean mason jar, add distilled water to cover the grains, and put them in the fridge. They'll go dormant and last for a few months.

Water Kefir:

Making water kefir is essentially the same process as the milk kefir, but takes a little longer. I purchased my water kefir grains from Kombucha Kamp. I make a quart of water kefir at a time, which is the appropriate volume to make with the amount of water kefir grains in one package they sell. A key here is to use distilled or reverse osmosis water or quality well water. Crap in municipal water will kill the kefir grains. Here's how I make my water kefir:

1: Bring distilled, reverse osmosis or quality well water to a boil.
2: Pour about a cup of water into a glass pyrex measuring cup.
3: Add 1/4 cup of organic raw cane sugar along with about a teaspoon or organic unsulphured molasses.
4: Stir until sugar and molasses are fully dissolved and incorporated, about 30 seconds.
5: Let cool.
6: Pour sugar solution into quart mason jar, and fill jar with distilled, reverse osmosis or well water, leaving about a 1/2 inch of head space.
7: Add water kefir grains.
8: Cover with breathable cloth and rubber band and leave out room temperature for four days. If you screw a lid on the jar, you guessed it, it will explode.
9: Pour finished water kefir thru a wire mesh strainer to separate the grains from the now water kefir. Refrigerate water kefir.
10: Repeat steps 1-9

Making kefir is really easy. I have found the kefir grains to be pretty hardy and can take some abuse, like forgetting to strain the milk kefir and doing it the following day, making 2 day kefir. It's extra tangy. And to be totally honest, I've unintentionally made 3 day kefir. Woooo!!! Sour!!! I drank it anyway. I've spaced out and left the water kefir on the counter top for an entire week. You guessed it, the flavor has some extra wang to it. :)  If I'm scrambling to get out the door in the morning and realize I hadn't made my milk kefir (morning is when I make mine every day) I'll toss the whole jar, grains and all, in the fridge so slow down the ferment to keep it from getting extra tangy, and then strain it the next morning. I've never made myself sick or even had an grumbly belly resulting from multi day milk kefir or week long fermented water kefir.

Any questions? I'll try to answer!







 
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Excellent thread, thank you.
 
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I hadn't heard of kefir until a neighbor gave my wife some starter grains to make smoothies to help our kids digestive issues. Unlike James, we don't have raw milk and instead make our kefir from pasteurized, homogenized whole milk from a local dairy. The taste and consistency will vary from one locale to the next because of varying milk quality and local weather. I don't quite like the kefir enough to drink by itself but instead make smoothies, kefir oatmeal (just soaked rolled oats overnight in kefir), and as a buttermilk substitute (pancakes and waffles from kefir are great). And it is dead simple to make: we basically do the same as James but don't even wait for the milk to warm up and we use a coffee filter and rubber band instead of cloth to over the jar. One note: you can't use ultra-pasteurized or ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk as the proteins have been changed such that the kefir no longer ferments well.

We've also found that kefir will keep on the counter at room temp for a few days to a week but will become so tart after 48 hours that it's not worth it. The kefir will keep at least a month in the fridge, but we've found that after two weeks it's too tart. For those who've never tried kefir, it tastes similar to yogurt with a texture similar to half and half (between milk and cream). Or at least that's what ours is like.
 
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I have only just begun to make water kefir and I hope to depend on your knowledge and prior experience to achieve a decent batch. Any advice would be much appreciated.

I started on Wednesday, I used well water, heated a half cup of water, added a quarter cup of cane sugar, swirled to dissolve, added about 3 cups of tap water and then added my packet of water kefir grains (purchased from CulturesforHealth.com).

On Sunday (4 days later), I strained the now activated grains, threw out the sugar water and repeated the steps I took on Wednesday using my now plump, translucent, activated grains.

Tuesday, I began a jar of flavored kefir for its second ferment. I took a clean glass jar, added a half cup of tart cherry juice, then added strained water kefir to the jar to one inch from the top and capped it with an airlock (because I am afraid of exploding jars). The grains were transferred to another jar of fresh sugar water to begin a first ferment.

Now, having said all of that, am I on track to a good batch? And, I had a bit of the first batch of plain, first ferment left that didn't fit into the jar with the cherry juice, I tasted it (my first ever taste of kefir) and it was mildly sweet, but somewhat yeasty tasting. Is it usually yeasty tasting?

In regards to temperature, I did not know upon ordering these grains and becoming their caretaker, they require temperatures of 68°F-85°F. We have had outdoor temps drop into the low 40s a few nights this week. I put my jars on top of the upright freezer, the warmest spot I can offer, and the thermometer I placed by them has read 66° a few early mornings. I may not be able to provide a proper temperature for them as the weather gets cooler. Any suggestions there?

I have read that a longer ferment will increase the alcohol content, at what point do you start to lose the beneficial, good for you, probiotic rich aspects and have just a jar of homebrew? I'm sure you couldn't end up with a product that could be gut beneficial and make you drunk. If that was possible, I think I'd be starting a new business.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Including pic:
IMG_20171004_101043684.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_20171004_101043684.jpg]
Water kefir
 
James Freyr
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Hey Karen I think you're on your way to making good water kefir. The 3 cups of tap water, that's well water coming out of your tap right? My finished water kefir does have a certain flavor, I guess it could be described as a little yeasty, and it will have this subtle residual sweetness if I can call it that. If it really tastes sweet, it needs more time. Taste it each day and you'll notice a progression of less sweetness. And taste it on day one so you have a benchmark of how sweet the starting sugar water is. Yeah 66° is on the cool side. I've been making water kefir since this spring, so the ambient temp in my house has been mid-upper 70's, so I believe your water kefir will need another day or two (or more). In the winter, my wife and I keep our house on the cool side, mid 60's average. I know my water kefir will need a little more time come this winter. I've been making milk kefir for a few years now and I notice in the winter time I either have to let it go like 36 hours with the usual amount of grains, or, I leave more grains than usual in, in order to achieve a 24 hour ferment, which is what I've been doing over the winters.

The water kefir grains need some minerals to stay alive, be happy and have efficient metabolism. They can't just live on sugars alone. I use molasses for this and it also imparts a subtle flavor which I like. Another method to impart some minerals is to toss three or four raisins in. Commercial raisins are covered in preservatives and crap, not to mention residues from conventional grape growing practices, so if you choose raisins, get the organic kind.

The alcohol content, while minimal, is limited by the original starting sugar content. A longer ferment will just result in the grains consuming all the sugars, and therefore fermentation and alcohol production will stop. If you're really interested in measuring the alcohol content, a simple hydrometer (and a tall skinny vessel to contain the water kefir sample so the hydrometer can float on its own) will give you the information you need to make the calculations. Simply take a reading at day one, then again when it's done, and simple math calculations will give you alcohol by weight or by volume. It will also tell you if it is indeed done. If the hydrometer reading keeps changing from day to day, then there are still sugars being consumed. I own a few hydrometers from my beer making days and this is starting to get a little scientific about the whole process, and I don't bother with all this and I just let it go four days and start anew.

Let me know how the cherry juice turns out!
 
James Freyr
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I was just thinking about your well water. Maybe it has a good mineral profile and you may not need molasses or raisins....
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Thank you for all the good information.

Correct, well water from the tap. We do have highly mineralized water here. I don't know if it is still, after going through the filter. I had considered using molasses to increase the mineral content. The more the merrier.

I'll certainly let you know how the cherry juice turns out. I'm not looking to make an alcoholic beverage. I just wanted a fizzier drink. I have read that the second fermentation needs to be air tight and it needs be able to build up some (containable) pressure in order to achieve a carbonated beverage. I just don't want to sacrifice messy explosions for delightful bubbles. Lots of conflicting information on the subject. Aerobic/anaerobic, tight lid with burping lid occasionally/airlock. Confusing.

Our house stays mid to low 60s usually year-round, although last year a few nights at 2° left us with mid 50s for a bit on the inside. Burrr! (I just heard our PNW/Canadian friends snickering.)

I'll have to see if flavoring the kefir covers up that yeast taste. I wasn't a fan. I only finished drinking it because I know it's good for me and I'm a frugal miser.
 
James Freyr
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My wife doesn't care for the yeast taste, and she mixes water kefir with a splash of fruit juice. Grape works great. I think the current flavor in the fridge is something like blueberry/pomegranate. It doesn't take much juice to cut the flavor of the water kefir.

Yes, carbonation. If you desire a sparkling beverage over a still one, putting a lid on it will aid in some CO2 being suspended in the beverage to later be released as effervescence. The trick is to not start capturing it too early in the fermentation which will result in exploding jars. In my two decades of making beer I have had many exploding beer bottles. Not a six pack, but many cases. I recall laying in bed one night many years ago and hearing muffled pops of exploding beer bottles from the other room throughout the night. The nice thing about them exploding inside the cardboard cases is it contains all the broken glass. I've also had them explode not inside a cardboard case, like on the countertop or above the fridge, which results in bits of glass all over the room and beer on the ceiling. I'm straying off topic, but what I'm trying to get at is the weakest point in a glass container is the sidewalls. If I were to make a suggestion to experiment with using other jars, I would first recommend a symmetrically round jar like a mayonnaise jar instead of the mason jars that have four sides. Second, as backup I would put said round jar inside something like a gallon zip bag with most the air squeezed out and zipped up and hopefully in the event of jar failure the glass will be contained along with most/all the liquid.

Also you could experiment with the timeliness of when the lid gets screwed on. For example, if you know it takes seven days to make a finished water kefir, put a lid on it on day six, and see what sort of effervescence it yields. Then try on the next batch putting a lid on it on day five, for two days of captured CO2. You can work "backwards" like that, sneaking up on the amount of fizz being created until you find the desired amount of fizz or discover the point where the CO2 reaches critical mass and the jar cries uncle. :)
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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After all of those exploding bottles, she still lets you in the house?

I like your idea of working backwards ("sneaking up on the fizziness", funny). I've got lots of experiments I want to try with this new venture. Also funny, somewhere on the internet, a guy referred to his WK grains as "his high maintenance girlfriend". My motto around here is "live tough or die", hope these grains are fighters.

I thought about just flavoring and drinking the first ferment. I wonder if the second ferment increases the health benefits or would that remain the same? I don't need the fizziness. It would save time to just add the flavoring and refrigerate to drink. Probably best to add the flavoring to the individual serving, as opposed to the batch.

I don't like sweet drinks. That's why I used tart cherry juice. I have plain elderberry juice frozen in ice trays. I'm going to try that in some.

Thanks for kefir-chattin'. Nice to have feedback.
 
James Freyr
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Heh, those exploding bottles happened long before we met, when I was still a single guy. When we met, I had since moved on to kegging my beer. I found rinsing, washing, storing then sanitizing beer bottles to be a drag and much preferred to do those steps to one 5 gallon keg and only have to wash one pint glass.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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This thread is great for helping me to learn the basics of water kefir making and, by including much detail, I hope it will be available for assisting other kefir newbies for many years to come.

The instructions that came with my water kefir grains says for a flavored fermented beverage, add a half cup of juice to finished kefir, close bottle securely and let sit at room temperature for 24-72 hours.

Today I'm testing the one I made with tart cherry juice after 48 hours. It tastes like watered down cough syrup in a way. Not too good. I don't want to put effort into something I find to be much like taking medicine.

I had mentioned the yeasty taste of the unflavored finished kefir before, it's still there. The taste of both the unflavored and the flavored batches have another taste that I can only describe as "it tastes like a new babydoll smells". Does that make sense? I find smells and tastes so interconnected.

The flavored batch could possibly be drinkable if I added more fruit juice to each cup upon serving or by seeing what's the highest alcohol content I can achieve.

There are a few (less than 10) pinhead sized spots of white along the edge of the juice's surface. When touched with a spoon, they dissipate, as if made of white flour. There is also a bit of sediment in the bottom of the jar, just barely covering the bottom. Was the mesh plastic strainer I used too open weaved? I don't know. I've seen recipes where you put the kefir grains themselves into a jar of fruit juice to ferment.

 
James Freyr
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It sounds like the instructions that came with your grains are having the fruit juice sugars converted also. My wife just adds a splash of juice to finished water kefir for immediate consumption. She drinks small glasses of it, so if I had to guess the volumes I'd say she's doing 1 part juice to 2 or 3 parts water kefir.

I am unsure of what the white spots are, but they clearly sound like a mold/fungal growth of some sort.

The sediment on the bottom I also have in every jar I've made, and it's my understanding that they're tiny new baby kefir grains.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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The fruit juice sugars are, indeed, being converted and are a necessary food source for the second fermentation.

Since my last post, I strained and refrigerated the jar of plain kefir (pictured above) and added the grains to a fresh batch of sugar water. I tasted that batch before refrigerating and can report that it is mildly sweet and has a slight hint of the off tastes reported previously. It is my speculation that the grains, being new, are acclimating to their new surroundings and will begin to balance out. I hope I am correct in my guess. I still want to add molasses to my kefir, but have to wait, as tomorrow is shopping day and all I have on hand is maple syrup.

This time, when I strained out the grains, I used the same plastic mesh strainer, but I put a finer mesh metal strainer underneath of it and I caught quite a bit of tiny grain matter that would have ended up as sediment in the new batch.

The flavored kefir, I put the airlock back on and parked it for now for further observation.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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A kefir update: My kefir batches did greatly improve. I settled on a first ferment only operation; just water, sugar and kefir grains, making new batches every other day. The flavor balanced out, leaving a mildly sweet drink with a slight yeast smell (couldn't taste the yeast as much as i could smell it). Since I'm not a fan of sweet drinks, I added things like tart cherry juice or unsweetened cranberry juice into my drinking glass with the kefir prior to drinking it.

Since the weather is now turning colder, I have not been able to supply the warmer temperatures necessary for the fermenting. Today I rinsed my kefir grains and spread them out on parchment paper to dry. Once totally dry I will store them in the refrigerator until Spring.

The kefir that I put in the refrigerator today had been fermenting several days past where I normally strain it. It still seems to taste and look fine. However, if I don't post anything on the forums for the next couple of days, better come check on me.

What happened to that cherry flavored second ferment batch? The white dots I had seen floating around the perimeter of the surface disappeared and was replaced by more bubbles on the surface. I don't know direct it was headed, but the direction that I sent it will hopefully increase the flora of our septic system.
 
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