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Dairy series? What dairy series? You mean Crumbs actually talks about more than just awesome kitchen appliances and eBooks?
I kid. Sorta.
The goal of Crumbs (to help you learn to eat real food on a real budget) has been slightly thwarted these past few weeks no thanks to a super awesome eBook that came out last Tuesday. (Yes, I am biased.) But that doesn’t mean the rest of Crumbs (and my brain) stops working behind the scenes.
We’ve talked about dairy kefir before. I wrote a pretty comprehensive “what is kefir” post, a step-by-step tutorial for the visual peeps (although the pictures aren’t that great – sorry!), and even another tutorial last February on Kitchen Stewardship.
Dairy kefir is hands down, no doubt about it, the EASIEST fermented food you could EVER make on the entire planet.
But I fear that many of you haven’t taken the plunge yet. I think there are some (or several) of you that are nervous about milk sitting out on the counter. Shoot, I was too until I actually tried it myself!
Take comfort in knowing that while the milk is sitting, it’s fermenting. Fermenting is not the same as going bad. Fermenting simply means there’s a big party where good, healthy bacteria are eating the sugars in the foods (or liquids) and multiplying. Fermenting is a very good thing, and milk becomes healthier as it sits and ferments.
Those wonderful, cauliflower-looking kefir grains are producing amazingly healthy bacteria that lines our gut, protecting us from bad bacteria creeping in and standing ground against our immune system. It’s like a powerhouse of healthy food and making your own is truly a baby step towards eating healthier.
Just think. It all happens while the jar of milk sits by itself on the counter, seemingly doing nothing to our naked eyes.
And we keep living our lives, doing our daily thing, not laying a single finger on the milk.
From one busy person to another, doesn’t that sound good to you? You do nothing and your food gets healthier?! This should be a no brainier!
I encourage you today – this week – to take another look at dairy kefir.
You thought yogurt was healthy? Check this out: Yogurt has 1.5 trillion healthy bacteria while dairy kefir has nearly 5 trillion healthy bacteria! Over three times as much of the good guys and way less work (although this simple yogurt making method is pretty simple).
A Review of the Basics for the Beginner
Why should you make dairy kefir?
- See numbers of healthy bacteria above.
- Healthy bacteria helps with digestion of food.
- Healthy bacteria helps to keep the plumbing and pipes clean.
- It has TONS of vitamins and minerals.
- It can help to treat candida by not allowing bad bacteria to multiply and grow. (Read the original write up on kefir to read these reasons more in depth.)
How do you make dairy kefir?
- Get grains.
- Active them in milk for 3-10 days.
- Once active, the grains simply sit in a jar with milk on the counter. 14-36 hours later (depending on the room temperature, the amount of milk and the amount of grains), you have kefir.
- Drain the grains and repeat step #3. (Read the full tutorial if you need all the fun details.)
Can you make non-dairy kefir?
Yes, but kefir grains live and thrive on animal milk. Here’s what you do:
- With active grains, make a batch of regular kefir. Donate the kefir to your friends or other family members, keep the grains for yourself.
- Make kefir using your choice of almond milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, peanut milk or rice milk.
- Make 1-2 batches of non-dairy milk.
- Make another batch of regular dairy milk.
- Repeat steps 2-4.
Can you “ruin” kefir grains?
There’s nothing worse than trying something new in the kitchen and failing miserably. Especially when everyone else is saying “Oh, it’s just SO easy!”
As your friend, let me assure you – making kefir IS easy. It’s not that you won’t screw it up – you can’t screw it up! There are no “DO” steps that you can do wrong, because you don’t “do” anything.
Plus, kefir grains are known to be very resilient. I’ve starved them, rinsed them, touched them with metal, frozen them, neglected them and even fed them nutrient-free UHT milk *gasp*. But so far, they’ve survived just fine.
BUT – you can kill your grains if you go kamikazee and extreme on them.
Here are a few practices that you should avoid, just to be on the safe side.
- Don’t store or keep them in the fridge often. Kefir thrives best when it’s fed (i.e. given new milk) every day or two days. While keeping them in the fridge while you’re out of town for a couple weeks once a year seems fine, you can damage the grains if you keep them in the fridge for 6 out of the 7 days of every week.
- Possible solution – blend up some of your grains with your smoothies in order to keep the ratio of grains to milk low, or give some grains to your friends and introduce them to real food!
- Don’t cook the grains, or allow them to get hotter than 100F. Those in warmer climates (or those in cold climates, using their oven to culture!), beware. Extreme heat will kill your grains.
- Possible solution – Make a test batch of kefir to see if it cultures. If it does, you’re safe. If it doesn’t, you need knew grains.
- Don’t rinse them if you have really bad city water. I’ve read multiple bloggers who are against rinsing their grains, but my counter-argument is that I’ve been rinsing them nearly every use and they haven’t died yet. And it’s been over a year now. The only explanation I can think of is that those who rinsed and killed their grains had bad city water.
- Possible solution – Either don’t rinse your grains, or only rinse with filtered water.
Tips for the Seasoned (and Beginner) Kefir Maker
I polled a few of my real foodie buddies, asking them what insight they can offer to those who are interested in making kefir, or who have been making it for some time. Their advice is spot on, and helpful even to me twelve months into this gig!
Be patient, observe often, and use less milk if you’re trying to develop the grains. ~ Soli at I Believe in Butter
Make sure your room is not too cold. Be careful if you’ve got it fermenting in the room with other things like kombucha. They’ve really got to have some distance between them. The longer you let kefir sit, the thicker and more tart it will be. ~ Sara at The Granola Mommy
The longer you let it ferment, the more acidic and sour the kefir tastes. We are used to that because I chronically over ferment mine lol, but if you are just beginning you definitely want to strain the kefir grains after a shorter amount of time than longer amount of time. ~ Sara at Simple Life, Abundant Life
I’d just encourage people that it’s not hard or scary to make and keep going! I was amazed at how simple it is–straining is the only time-consuming part. Once I’d made a few batches, it became routine to just keep it going. ~ Marie at The Homesteader School
Making sure my milk is room temperature before putting in the grains has drastically helped my kefir. ~ Donielle at Natural Fertility and Wellness
Aren’t sure if you will like drinking kefir straight? You can use it in smoothies, batters, and other baked goods where milk, yogurt, or buttermilk is called for. ~ Katie at Simply Foody
In the winter, I cover it with a clean cloth and rubber band. Then, I cover it again with the “magic fermenting sock”, which is really just an old mismatched dress sock of my husband’s, with about half of it cut off. In the winter it gives a nice little kick start! ~ Laurie at Commonsense Home
Are you ready? Do you feel armed with enough information to get started? If not, let me know!
Tell me in the comments whether you have or haven’t made dairy kefir yet, and if you haven’t, tell me what’s stopping you from taking this baby step!
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