How to Culture Kefir

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You have landed on this page because you want to learn how to culture dairy, grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and beverages with kefir.


How to Culture Dairy, Grains, Nuts, Seeds, Vegetables and Beverages With Real Kefir Grains



Origin of Kefir Grains

Some people say real Kefir grains look like pieces of cauliflower. If you wash a piece under the tap you will discover something that looks like a convoluted fungi, the result of a symbiotic relationship between approximately thirty bacteria and yeasts.

There are records of Kefir being used for a few thousand years. No one seems to no where they came from. My feeling is they originated at the same time mankind began milking animals.

Real kefir grains have traditionally been shared amongst neighbours and used to culture different substrates so there must have been many opportunities for cross culturing. An analysis of Kefir grains from different parts of the world would probably show many similarities in types of bacteria and yeasts but with some differences unique to the location and the substrate.

Unlike yogurt which requires sterile conditions, Kefir is typically used in non sterile substrates with no ill effects (that the author has heard of), apparently Kefir has a mechanism which resists contamination from harmful organisms. The microflora of Kefir in a milk substrate produce some addititional B vitamins, lactic acid and other healthful substances. A keyword search of the Internet should provide you with links to articles that discuss the production of antibiotic, antiviral and anti cancer substances in cows milk cultured with real kefir grains.

Traditional societies have successfully used real Kefir for thousands of years to culture milk products in a primitive environment that lacked the technology of modern societies. (In a goats stomach hung in a doorway, for example), Having said that however, and armed with the knowledge that science now provides, you would be well advised to educate your self on all aspects of fermentation, and use sterile technique in all your ferments. In the rare event that your Kefir culture, or any other culture goes off, then you should discard it and obtain a fresh one from a reliable source. That is someone with a thorough understanding of the processes involved in fermentation and traditional methods of food preparation.

Fermented products contain live organisms (bacteria and yeasts), and as with any perishable food item, there is always the potential for contamination by pathogenic organisms. In addition the conditions under which you prepare your ferment will most likely be very different to those of a traditional group in a different part of the world hundreds of years ago. Your politically correct belief systems may also cause you to leave out a vital step or ingredient. You may believe that low salt is better when in fact it may be essential to the recipe.

You are advised to read widely on the topic of both traditional and modern methods of fermentation. Start at the beginning and master the art of grain, vegetable and dairy ferments before experimenting with olives, meat and fish. Substrates that have a high oil content such as nuts, peanuts, olives and coconut may provide a suitable environment for fungi that produce carcinogens (aflatoxins).

You may wish to enroll in a course in microbiology, but a tour of a bakery, dairy or olive farm would probably provide sufficient tutelage. In addition nothing beats experimentation to build a skill set so feel free to share both your failures and successes with the community at the rejoiceinlife newsgroup.



1. Kefir grain is the actual culture with which you culture milk. It is not a grain like wheat but a slimy culture that resembles cauliflower florets.
2. Kefir is the term for milk that has been fermented with Kefir grains.
3. Kefir whey is the thin liquid you get from straining Kefir through linen. The other component is curd or cream cheese.
4. Kefir cream is cream that has been cultured using Kefir or Kefir grains.
5. Kefir butter is butter that has been cultured from cream using Kefir.
6. Kefir is quite different to yogurt and does not require the same precision in culturing it.
7. Note: There is a big difference in the amount of cream between supermarket milk and milk from Jersey or Guernsey cows.


Uses for Kefir Grains and Kefir

Kefir may be used to sour cream, make cheese, sourdough bread and cakes. Kefir whey may be used to culture sourdough bread and cakes, and vegetables such as sauerkraut; to marinate meat and fish, brew ginger beer type beverages, and to provide organisms for starter cultures.

You will find that Kefir has a sour taste, not unlike unsweetened yogurt, the sourness being imparted by lactic acid produced by the Lactobacillus bacteria.

Even though fermenting extends the shelf life of most products, commercially grown ingredients that lack the full complement of nutrients or were harvested too early, may give disappointing results. Vegetables and fruit should be fresh, free from disease, preferably free of chemicals and grown on good soil.

Avoid powdered, skim, low fat, homogenised and UHT milk; ultra pasteurised cream, or any product that contains those ingredients. Where possible buy milk and cream from a dairy that uses pasture fed principles of farming. If a product claims to be certified organic you may find it useful for your own piece of mind, to phone the certifying organisation as well as the producer for background information. You may be in for some surprises, as not all organic certification bodies use the same criteria. Where possible look for a share in a cow so that you may obtain raw milk, butter and cream.

Ideally grains, seeds and nuts should be freshly ground in a grain mill just before use as some oils may go rancid quite quickly after milling. Grains, nuts and seeds may also be sprouted, then dehydrated or roasted before milling.

Soy is not recommended as it takes many months to remove the antinutrients.


How to Culture Kefir

When you receive your kefir grains - I usually ship about 1 teaspoon of kefir grains - they will be in a small quantity of kefir - that is the yogurt stuff - just tip all of it into a clean 350 ml glass jar. Add 200 ml of milk straight from the refrigerator, no need to warm the milk, preferably raw cow or goats milk. Lightly screw on a plastic lid (one which won't rust) without the cardboard insert, which could harbour the growth of unwanted organisms. Leave the lid loose enough, to allow carbon dioxide produced in the fermentation process to escape from the jar. (Unless you want a fizzy Kefir that is.) Store the culture out of direct sunlight in a cupboard or on top of the refrigerator for about 24 hours. It is not necessary to stir the culture but it is permissible to stir it once during that period.

As fermentation is dependent on temperature, time, quantity, the activity of the culture, and the type of substrate then only experience will teach you the optimum culturing conditions. As a general guide Kefir will ferment twice as fast at 30 degrees Celsius as at 20 degrees. Fresh milk will thicken at first into a consistency much like a smooth yogurt, then with longer fermentation it will separate into a layer of thick curd floating on top of a greenish whey. Homogenised and pasteurised milk will give a different result to that from raw milk.

Once the Kefir has cultured to your liking, strain it through a sieve using a fork to separate the curd from the grains. Pour the curd back into its jar and put the Kefir grains into a clean jar with fresh milk and repeat the process. If you don't have time to sieve the Kefir, just hook the grains out with a fork. Some sources claim the Kefir grains shouldn't come into contact with metal but I don't think it makes any difference. In fact there was a commercial operation in Australia in 2000 that used to culture Kefir with real Kefir grains in 200 litre stainless steel drums.

If you need a rest from consuming cultured milk, then the Kefir grains should survive a few months in the refrigerator. I generally store excess Kefir grains in a small amount of milk in a jar in the fridge, so that I always have some on hand for a friend. I have heard that Kefir grains may also be stored with success in filtered water but be aware that chlorine and other chemicals may kill the culture. I sometimes culture Kefir on alternate days and leave the Kefir and the grains in a refrigerator in between times.

There is no need to warm the milk when you culture it with Kefir grains, as you would do with a yogurt culture. In fact I would advise against doing so. The only times I have received reports of problems was from people who were trying to treat kefir as if it was yogurt Kefir grains seem to be quite resilient to changes in temperature. Just pour cold milk straight from the refrigerator onto the Kefir grains, or warm from the cow.

If you make kefir every day then the Kefir grains should double in quantity every week. One report from a commercial manufacture, indicates that Kefir grows faster below 28 degrees Celsius. Kefir grains are edible and according to some sources have documented anticancer properties. Blend them into a banana smoothie, add them to a raw cheesecake, eat them as they are or share them with a friend.


How to Make Kefir Cream

To make Kefir cream you may use Kefir grains or Kefir as a starter. Kefir will dilute the cream according to how much you use, while a disadvantage of Kefir grains is that they tend to get lodged in the cream. Experience will be your best teacher of how much Kefir or Kefir grains you need to culture sour cream. I generally add equal parts of Kefir to 60% fat cream. That is one cup of Kefir and one cup of double weight cream. Once again the incubation period is dependent on temperature, quantity and quality of the starter and substrate. Cream seems to require a longer fermentation period than milk (about double) and should be gently mixed two or three times in that period.

Flavour 2 cups of kefir cream with 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla essence, then whip until peaks form.


How to Make a Light Cream Cheese

A simple cream cheese may be made by straining Kefir through unbleached linen. (Cheese cloth is not quite fine enough.) Cut a piece about 45cm square, boil it for about ten minutes to remove pigment and chemicals, and hang to dry. You may sterilise it with an iron if you wish.

Line a large glass bowl with the linen and pour in the Kefir. Gather the corners of the linen and tie with a length of string, making a loop at the end. Find a clean, cardboard box that is tall enough to hang the bag of cheese with space at the bottom for a glass bowl. Make a hole in either side of the box at the top, just large enough to fit the handle of a wooden spoon through. Hang the bag of cheese from the wooden spoon from the looped string. Close the lid of the box and cover with a tea-towel to prevent intrusion from insects. Hang the cheese for about 24 hours, or longer if you prefer a stronger cheese. If you need to hang a large quantity of cheese try hanging it from a stick suspended across the backs of two chairs.

Once the cream cheese is dry enough scrape it from the linen bag with a curved scraper and store in a plastic container in the fridge. Transfer the Kefir whey to a glass jar and refrigerate. Kefir whey makes a refreshing drink and may be used in a number of recipes (e.g. Ricotta cheese may be made from whey). Kefir whey may be used as a starter for sourdough bread and so on.

In keeping with the traditional spirit wash the linen with a dilute solution of lye water (potassium carbonate) available from Asian grocery stores. Pot ash lye or wood ash lye as it also known may be made by soaking wood ash in a bucket of water overnight. The resulting caustic liquid is decanted and filtered before use. The ash may also be used to scrub bench tops.


How to Make Kefir Whey

See the section above entitled 'How to make a light cream cheese'.


How to Make a Richer Cream Cheese

To make a rich cheese use the same procedure as above but add cream to your initial culture. A good starting ratio is equal parts of milk and cream, as in kefir cream. You may culture the milk and cream together, or separately and mix them prior to hanging.

There are three basic methods for cheese making. A cultured cheese as for the above recipe; a rennet cheese made by adding rennet to hot milk, and a third method of curdling milk by the addition of an acid. The cheese may then have a new starter culture added, be mixed with a variety of other ingredients such as chives and spices, before being pressed into blocks or wrapped in wax, and then left to mature for up to a year or more.


How to Make a Kefir Butter

Butter is developed by churning cream which causes the fat to separate from the protein. To make butter, gently churn Kefir cream with the 'paddle' attachment in a food processor at a slow to moderate speed. After a few minutes the cream should separate into globs of butter and a watery buttermilk. Wash the butter in cool water to remove traces of buttermilk then press the butter into a jar or plastic container with the back of a spoon. Store in a refrigerator.


How to Make Sauerkraut

The addition of kefir whey to sauerkraut and kimchi provides additional beneficial microflora and probably creates a wider range of antioxidants. Try the kim chi recipe.


How to Make Sourdough Bread and Cake

Kefir whey provides an excellent source of microorganisms to make a sourdough bread starter which can be used to make sourdough bread and cakes. Please visit for a range of recipes.


How to Make Lacto Fermented Beverages

Visit this page for information on how to brew lacto fermented beverages and this page for specific recipes on how to ferment lacto-fermented beverages such as ginger beer, wheatgrass ginger beer, beetroot ginger beer, pineapple ginger beer, and for information on how to obtain probiotic starter cultures such as B.E. Grainfields liquid and Effective Microbes (EM).



Dufty, William. The Sugar Blues.

Hertha, Hafer. The Hidden Drug: Dietary Phosphate - Causes of behavioural problems, learning difficulties and juvenile delinquency. (Copyright holder: Jane Donlin, 2001 Inquiries to PHOSADD Australia, 112 Amethyst Crescent, Armadale 6112, Western Australia,

Fallon, Sally with Enig, Mary. Nourishing Traditions, The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats. Second edition. New Trends Publishing, Inc. Washington, DC 20007. 1999-2001.

Mollison, Bill. The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition. Tagari Publications, Tyalgum Australia,1993. (PO Box 1 Tyalgum, NSW 2484 Australia Ph: 066 793 442)

Microflora of kefir grains plus useful information at Dom's website.

Schmid, Ron, ND with foreward by Sally Fallon. The Untold Story of Milk: Green Pastures, Contented Cows and Raw Dairy Foods. New Trends Publishing 4801 W. Street, NW Washington, DC 20007.

Nourishing Traditions: The cookbook that challenges politically correct nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. By Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. Read the back cover.
The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the fallacy that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease. By Uffe Ravnskov. Read the back cover.
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. By Dr Weston A Price. Read the back cover.
The Sugar Blues. By William Dufty, Warner Books, 1975 Read the back cover.
The Untold Story of Milk. By Ron Schmid, ND with foreward by Sally Fallon. Read the back cover.

Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts. A quarterly journal publication of the Weston A Price Foundation available by subscription Or ask for the journal at your local library.






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