What is Milk Kefir?
Milk kefir is a fermented food made from cow milk or goat milk. There is another type of kefir – kefir can also be made with water and sugar, which is called water kefir. Other dairy and non-dairy milks may also be used, but for the purposes of staying on one topic in this post we will only be discussing either cow or goat milk kefir.
Another point to make; kefir is pronounced in two ways, keh-feer or kee-fur. As I understand it, the first pronunciation is technically considered correct and the second is how I learned to pronounce kefir, as well as nearly everyone that I have met. In that regard, the pronunciation could be considered regionally effected, just as many words in any language are.
What are Kefir Grains?
To understand what milk kefir actually is, it is a drinkable fermented probiotic milk product that is similar in texture to plain yogurt but contains a larger variety of beneficial bacteria that is grown by placing milk and kefir grains into a glass jar together. Kefir grains are not a grain that grows into a plant, it is a protein and lipid symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast with a jelly-like texture. Visually, it somewhat resembles the look of opaque cheese curds, and has a cauliflower appearance once covered in milk.
Homemade milk kefir is considered a wild food, meaning we are not trying to isolate specific bacteria and yeasts to grow. The resulting probiotics are dependent on the kefir grains, milk, and environment the milk kefir was fermented in giving it a wholesome and wide variety of beneficial bacteria. Large scale factory produced milk kefir is grown using selected powdered kefir strains and fermented in a controlled environment allowing only certain strains to ferment the milk. By using a milk kefir grain to ferment the milk, the beneficial bacteria in the milk and kefir grains transform the milk into a whole food probiotic that may help support digestion, immune health, and brain health development. 
Pasteurized or Raw Milk, Which is Best?
Both pasteurized milk or raw milk can be used to make milk kefir. I have used both, and prefer to exclusively use raw milk that is available locally to where I live. This decision was initially driven based upon the research and observational findings of Dr. Weston A. Price and Foundation. After drinking only pasteurized milk from childhood until 2017, which 2017 is when I first started drinking raw cow and goat milk, I do not plan to go back to drinking factory prepared pasteurized milk. The flavor comparison and how my digestion feels with consuming raw milk is exponentially better.
If you had asked me in 2013 if I thought milk was good to drink, I would have passionately explained to you why it is not. Now, years later and in a continual state of learning, I wholeheartedly believe that it’s not milk that is bad, but what we have done to the milk that is bad.
How to Make Milk Kefir.
Making homemade milk kefir is a simple 3-step process. To start, you must first have in your possession milk kefir grains. These can be purchased via this link. This milk kefir recipe can not be made by culturing fresh milk with finished milk kefir, similar to yogurt, you must have milk kefir grains to make real milk kefir. You may see videos online of using finished milk kefir to make more milk kefir, that is not the correct way to make milk kefir. You must purchase and have kefir grains.
Step 1. Begin by placing into a clean glass jar milk kefir grains, pour over fresh milk, cover jar loosely with a plastic lid, wait to ferment. Optional covering could be muslin cloth with rubber band to hold in place, or a coffee filter with rubber band. The loosely plastic lid has always worked well for me. I use that option because the plastic lid is reusable and easily washed compared to the cloth and paper options. Fermenting milk kefir is an aerobic fermentation product, it must be exposed to clean air to grow, which can be achieved by leaving the lid loosely closed.
Step 2. The fermentation time will depend upon your milk, kefir grains, and temperature in the room; so a better measurement of when the kefir is finished fermenting is based upon your personal taste preference. I prefer a mildly sour and tart flavor. At a minimum, it is at least necessary to allow fermentation to reach a slightly tart flavor. Then your taste preference for how tart you like it will determine the length of time. The more times you make homemade milk kefir, the easier it is to visually determine when fermentation is finished.
Fermentation times tend to be seasonal. Milk kefir in spring and summer will ferment within a day; on a hot summer day it may finish before the day is over. In cooler temperatures of fall and winter, kefir will ferment within a day, to day and half, and sometimes longer. If the milk kefir separates and has two layers of thick cream and clear kefir whey, the milk kefir is well fermented and just needs to be shaken to mix back together.
Step 3. To use the finished kefir and start a new batch, simply remove the kefir grains with a spoon or fork and place into a new clean glass jar to start again. You’re milk kefir is finished!
Follow this link to my YouTube video showing how to make milk kefir in less than 2 minutes.
The Wrong Way to Make Milk Kefir.
The only wrong way to ferment milk kefir is by rinsing your kefir grains with water. Never rinse the kefir grains clean with water. The more covered in milk kefir they are, the healthier your finished milk kefir product will be. Some times you will read the suggestion to rinse the kefir grains with fresh milk to clean them, this is not necessary. You are rinsing away the bacteria and yeast necessary for making milk kefir. The only time that it may be appropriate to rinse the grains is in the situation of cross contamination, or if you have taken a kefir break and are preparing them to ferment after having been stored for a long time in the refrigerator.
Of all the different homemade fermented foods, milk kefir is arguably one of the easiest to make. It is simply; start with a clean glass jar, place kefir grains in fresh milk, ferment, separate finished milk kefir from kefir grains, repeat. Making homemade milk kefir may support your overall well-being and health, it will certainly financially save you money by reducing the need to purchase probiotic supplements and pre-made milk kefir.
Is Cow Milk or Goat Milk Better for Making Milk Kefir?
If you have the option to make milk kefir with cow and goat milk, do this because it will help you decide which is your favorite. To answer this question, now, it is better answered after a few leading questions are asked.
Do you prefer cow milk or goat milk? Which do you have easier access to? For me, I consistently have access to cow milk, and a lower in consistency supply of goat milk. Goats are seasonal milk producers, so there is a gap in the year that I do not have access to fresh raw goat milk. Beyond the nutritional differences, and taste, the seasonality of the milks is why I use both.
Which tastes better, cow or goat? Are you more familiar with cow milk or goat milk? Cow milk kefir will smell and taste like are more tangy plain yogurt. Goat milk kefir has a goat milk taste as a tart drinkable yogurt. The nutritional benefits of each are relatively the same, each a source of vitamin K2 and B-vitamins.
The next question to ask when deciding, cow or goat, do you want a thick milk kefir or a more thin drinkable milk kefir? Cow milk typically thickens faster than goat milk kefir because of the higher fat content in cow milk. I have been making both for the same amount of time and since beginning, I have yet to produce a thick goat milk kefir. Maybe it can be done, but that is not my experience, which is why I make both for a variety of uses in recipes, textures, and health benefits.
Another consideration when deciding which is best for you, do you want your milk kefir grains to multiply quickly or not as quickly? The benefit to having a fast growing kefir grain is that pieces of it can be broken off to eat as a homemade probiotic supplement. With cow milk kefir, because cow milk contains more lactose (sugar) the kefir grains will multiply more quickly than goat milk kefir grains. Again, both are good options and offer benefits so the better one is the one that fits your preferences best.
If you begin with either cow or goat milk, it is easy to convert the kefir grains by beginning an initial transition batch with a ratio of 1:1 goat:cow milk, and the second batch 100% of the preferred milk. It is possible you could directly transition the kefir grains, for example if converting cow to goat, when you start a new batch instead of pouring over fresh cow milk, pour over only fresh goat milk. The first transition batch doing it this way may take a little longer to ferment, but in general it should transition perfectly.
Any clean glass jar can be used, the size will depend upon how much kefir you prefer making at once. I personally like using wide-mouthed 32oz (approximately 1L) glass canning jars with a white plastic lid. The wide-mouth jar makes transferring the kefir grains into a new jar easier.
You can purchase milk kefir grains from my supply, they are grown exclusively in raw cow milk from a single creamery milk source. I always have a supply of cow milk kefir grains. Due to the seasonal fluctuations of goat milk, I may or may not have goat milk kefir grains available, but the cow milk kefir grains can be easily transitioned to goat milk as previously described.
To purchase raw milk near you, the website rawmilk.com can be used to locate a farmer. It is possible to use pasteurized milk from the grocery store. I have done this when wanting a large amount of kefir sour cream and my raw milk supply was low. I suggest using organic whole milk, without added vitamin D or A if it can be located. Many commercial milk suppliers are now adding synthetic vitamin D and A to their milk products. While it is likely not going to negatively affect the milk kefir, it’s not a necessary additive for making homemade milk kefir and better to avoid when possible because once whole milk has been fermented into milk kefir it naturally contains vitamin D and A.
However, having mentioned that, do not consider this a perfection necessary fermented food, homemade milk kefir is one of the easiest fermented foods to make in the home kitchen. It is quite prolific and forgiving to neglect if you find yourself busy for a time. Place the entire kefir fermenting jar with milk and kefir grains in the refrigerator and come back to it when you are ready to resume.
When ordering milk kefir grains from me, the grains will be shipped fresh and fed fresh milk just before shipment. Once you receive them in the mail, discard the bag the grains are shipped and place the kefir grains into a clean glass jar. Pour over 4-6 oz of fresh milk and wait to ferment. This first batch may be used in cooking or composted. It is best to allow one batch to acclimate the milk kefir grains to it’s new home. This is a living culture of bacteria and yeast, and requires transitioning time just as it would to transplant a new plant into your garden.
Milk Kefir History and Benefits.
Milk kefir history is rich in speculation and fascination. It is said to originate from the Caucasus Mountains in origin an estimated thousand years ago and passed on through cultures from there approximately since early 1900s. Milk kefir has consistently been prized for it’s health promoting benefits and uses. Given the recent discovery of antibiotics, in comparison to the long-standing history of milk kefir, it is of no surprise that we as a collective are returning to this olden-time health food to restore what has been disrupted. The key benefit of consuming homemade milk kefir is an improvement in the health of your digestion and flora balance. Milk kefir contains strains of lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, as well as making vitamins and minerals contained within the milk bio-available for digestion. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that drinking milk kefir helps to alleviate food allergies, something that I have personally experienced to be true.
As with any fermented food, when beginning to eat it, it is best to start slow. I am unaware of any adverse reactions to eating homemade milk kefir, but in general it is always best to start small and slow. One of my favorite ways to use milk kefir is as a salad dressing, especially coleslaw. Cow milk kefir gives the dressing a rich creamy texture, an added sour flavor, and the bacteria helps to digest the raw cabbage which is often a food that triggers bloating in some. With the built-in probiotic, so-to-speak, this will help to digest the food more easily while tasting amazing.
Given this information provided about what milk kefir is, how to make it, the history, and benefits – is this a food that you will add to your diet? If you have any questions or thoughts, please post them in the comments section of this blog post.
Follow this link to purchase milk kefir grains for yourself.