Milk Kefir

Every time I mention kefir in my posts, I get a lot of questions and requests to share more information (and I’ve even sent kefir grains to some of you over the last year or so!). Today’s the day I finally got my lazy buns in gear and put a post together about one of my favorite subjects: milk kefir. Yes, I’m a nerd, but I really, really love talking about kefir (I need to get new hobbies).

If you have no idea what kefir is and why I’m talking about it, read on.

I can honestly say, milk kefir has totally changed my family’s life in a good way. We drink it every single morning (and I use it in breakfast foods and baked goods in place of buttermilk), and I’m not exaggerating even a bit, but over the last 18 months since we’ve been making and using it, we have been sick far less than we used to be (and some of my kids who deal with daily tummy troubles are doing a million percent better).

I should not even say this out loud, but I cannot remember the last time someone in my family got the stomach flu (and yes, I know because I just put that out there that one of my kids will come home from school puking today). And maybe I’m just dreaming or I’m delusional, but I swear, overall, we’re just plain healthier ever since we’ve been consuming kefir.

I know I sound like an infomercial, but I can’t help that I’m passionate about the stuff.

Milk Kefir

I had never heard about milk kefir until a couple years ago. Interestingly, it was several of you (my lovely MKC readers) who introduced me to the idea. When I found out that it was basically like drinkable yogurt with many more probiotics and good-for-you yeast strains (it’s even great for many lactose intolerant people), I decided I wanted to learn more about it. So I began reading up on milk kefir, and it didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to start making it myself.

This is one of the first articles I came across about milk kefir. Because there are many other resources online that are absolute experts when it comes to milk kefir. I’ll leave it to them to give you the nitty gritty on milk kefir, its history, all of the many benefits, and much more info. Today, I just want to touch on the basics: how I culture my milk kefir and what I use it for (and I’ve linked to a lot of external resources at the end of the post).

What is Milk Kefir:

Milk kefir, in short, is milk that’s been cultured or fermented to allow the good bacteria, enzymes and yeast to grow and produce, which in turn, makes it healthier and easier to digest. It is amazingly beneficial for gut health and is a huge source of probiotics.

Even though it’s similar to other cultured milk products, like yogurt and buttermilk, the process of making kefir (hint: it’s super easy) is what makes it unique. Instead of being warmed up and held at a certain temperature like yogurt, milk kefir uses reproducible kefir grains to culture the milk. It’s cultured at room temperature.

Milk Kefir

And no, the kefir grains aren’t actually grains (in the wheat sense) at all. They are actually little gel-like nubbins that look similar to cooked tapioca pudding pearls. They are a little squishy and might seem a bit weird, especially when you first start using them, but I promise, they are friendly. And if well taken care of, they’ll last forever.

How to Culture Your Own Kefir:

I culture either a pint or quart of kefir every day. I’ll tell you further below how we use it. But this is my process.

Milk Kefir

I put a teaspoon of kefir grains in a glass jar…

Milk Kefir

…and fill with milk (a scant teaspoon for a pint and a heaping teaspoon for a quart). I’ve found I don’t need any more grains than this (otherwise the kefir cultures too quickly and is more tangy than I like it).

A note about milk: any dairy milk (cow, goat) or coconut milk will work great for kefir (avoid ultra-pasteurized milks – raw milk will work fine). I haven’t tried it with almond, soy or other non-dairy milks, but I’ve read online that they don’t work well for making kefir. The higher fat in the milk, the better for the kefir. I use 2% milk (from Costco) and it works like a charm.

Milk Kefir

I cover the jar with a folded paper towel (or coffee filter) and rubber band and let it sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. The warmer your kitchen is, the faster it will become kefir.

Milk Kefir

When I start to see little pockets and air bubbles in the milk, I know it’s ready to be strained.

Milk Kefir

The longer it cultures, the more tart it will be. I try to catch it just as it’s starting to form those air bubbles I told you about. This is what it looks like when you’ve been a kefir slacker. Those kefir grains are starving! They need some fresh milk ASAP.

Milk Kefir

When you take the folded top off the jar, you’ll see the kefir grains clumped near the top of the milk (except it’s not milk anymore, it’s kefir!). I have friends who simply scoop out the kefir grains instead of straining, but I don’t like doing it this way (I always seem to miss some of the grains and find it’s easier to just strain it).

Milk Kefir

Milk Kefir

I give the jar of kefir, including the grains, a little stir to recombine.

Milk Kefir

And then I gradually pour the newly cultured kefir into my plastic strainer (experts say the grains shouldn’t come in contact with reactive metals so I bought an inexpensive plastic strainer to use, but I know others use metal strainers with no problems), stirring it and pressing every so slightly so the kefir drains through the strainer into a clean jar, leaving the kefir grains behind.

Milk Kefir

Milk Kefir

Every day, there are a few more kefir grains left in the strainer – those kefir grains feed off the sugar in the milk, so they continue to grow and reproduce. Because I only need a teaspoon of grains to continue the kefir making process, I use the excess grains for a couple things:

a) I either give it to a friend who wants a kefir start (or who has managed to kill theirs and needs a new start, ahem) or

b) feed it to my chickens or put it on top of our dog, Maggie’s, food (it’s good for animals, too!).

Milk Kefir

I plop the strained kefir grains into an empty, clean jar, fill with milk, and the process starts all over again. And never fear – if you need a break from kefir (or are going on vacation and don’t want to find a kefir babysitter), simply put it in the fridge once you add the milk to the newly strained grains. It can stay in the fridge for a week or so and be just fine.

Milk Kefir

The kefir that was strained is ready to be enjoyed! OR, you can be like me and let that jar of kefir (remember, it doesn’t have any grains in it – it’s the strained kefir that already cultured for 24 hours) go through a 2nd ferment.

Milk Kefir

Basically, I cap the jar and let the kefir sit at room temperature for another 6 to 12 hours. This actually increases the probiotics in the kefir AND mellows out the tangy, strong flavor. I highly recommend doing this if you are new to kefir and are getting used to the taste; some people will throw fruit into their kefir as it 2nd ferments, but I do not.

As it 2nd ferments, it will start to get the same air bubbles as it did when it was first becoming kefir. Eventually it will separate into thick kefir on the top and whey on the bottom. I shake it up and put it in the fridge to use later (and to be honest, I prefer to put it in the refrigerator to stop the 2nd ferment long before it separates this much).

Milk Kefir

95% of the kefir in our house is used in our morning smoothies. The other 5% I’ll throw into baked goods or pancakes in place of buttermilk. The health benefits decrease when the kefir is exposed to heat, like in baking, but the baked goods are still delicious (super tender and light and fluffy). I have a killer whole wheat kefir pancake recipe that I make at least 1-2 mornings a week.

I don’t have an official recipe for our breakfast smoothies but they usually consist of:
2 cups kefir
a very ripe banana
some orange juice
whatever frozen fruit I feel like adding (and often a handful of spinach)

If the kefir is overly tart, I’ll add a drop or two of agave nectar or honey. That’s it!

Milk Kefir

If you’ve ever been a guest in my home, there’s a 100% likelihood that you’ve been served a kefir smoothie in the morning.

Culturing kefir and making morning smoothies is so much a part of our routine, I’ve forgotten what life was like before milk kefir came into my life!

Keep in mind that because milk kefir is full of probiotics, and particularly if you have a sluggish gut (I never thought I’d use that phrase in a blog post, ever), you might have an adjustment period when you first start drinking milk kefir (um, I won’t go into the actual details of what the adjustment period might entail since this is a food blog and all). I don’t remember any side effects when we first started drinking it, but I read a lot online about that potential adjustment period and feel the need to issue the disclaimer.

Anyhow, there you go! Milk kefir. We love it. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have in the comments below!

If you are interested in learning more, here are some great resources:

Yemoos (a comprehensive resource for all things kefir)
Cultured Food for Life (this is the website that first taught me about kefir)
The Kitchn (because The Kitchn knows everything about everything)

Where to Get/Buy Kefir Grains:

First, try to find someone local that cultures kefir (just ask them; their kefir grains are multiplying and they’ll most likely want to pawn off the excess)
Here are a few online resources:
Cultured Food for Life (this is where I bought my grains from a year or so ago and they are still going strong)
Yemoos Market
*Note: from all the reading I’ve done, it isn’t highly recommended to buy a powdered/dry milk kefir start. If at all possible, try to get a live set of kefir grains; they’ll last longer and produce better and healthier kefir*

So what do you think? Are you weirded out or is milk kefir already part of your life? Do tell!

160 Responses to Let’s Talk: All About Milk Kefir

  1. Janet Wilson says:

    Hi Mel I am very new to kefir I am wondering how much you charge for your ksfir brains I live in Devon England.

  2. Linda says:

    Thank you so much Mel! I saw this post a while ago but honestly I’ve been scared! But after about round 5 of horrible sickness I’ve given it a go and it did take a little longer to culture (just saying if other people are worried ) and I just love how you made it doable for kids and options if you don’t want to do it every day.

    Thanks SO much !!!

  3. Jeannie960 says:

    I bought my milk kefir milk grains online 18 months ago and they’re still doing great. I put them in whole organic milk, store in a dark cub for 24hrs then strain. Sometimes I second ferment but most of the time I put the strained kefir, an avocado, a pear or whatever in the blender. I then place it in the fridge and we have a nice cold smoothie for later in the day or the next morning. I love the stuff as it tastes lovely with or without fruit etc and is so beneficial to your immune system.

  4. Natalie says:

    I live in Boise and would love to try this. Any chance you have some extra kefir grains?

    • Mel says:

      I have kefir grains building up all the time (I usually give the excess to people or my dog or chickens). I’d be happy to share some if we can figure out how to meet up (or email me your address and I can pop some in the mail – contact @ melskitchencafe . com

  5. Melissa says:

    Thanks for a great post! Just got grains for Christmas…wondering if you started activating them with whole milk as they suggest on the Cultures for Health website, or if you started with 2%. I always have 2% on hand, but don’t want to mess up my grains right off the bat – thanks!

  6. Brittany says:

    Would there be any issues with leaving the kefir grains in the fridge longer than a week? I just had a friend offer me some kefir grains, but we are going out of town for the holidays for a little over two weeks. Thanks for all this wonderful kefir information!

  7. Marci says:

    It took 48 hours at room temp for my milk to finally start getting the bubbles at the bottom of the jar. Is that okay or is that too long at room temp to be safe to drink? Thanks Mel!

    • Mel says:

      I’m not sure, Marci. I think it should be fine but you might want to do some looking online to see. I don’t think it would be spoiled, but the kefir taste may be really strong if it takes that long to culture. If it smells rotten, of course, then that would be your answer, but if it has the yeasty smell of kefir, it should still be ok.

  8. marci says:

    I wasn’t getting the bubbles a the bottom of my milk so I decided to let it sit until it did. It took 48 hours and was nice and thick like I had thought it should be. So is that too long? Is it spoiled by that point? I’m still trying to grasp this new thing!

    • Mel says:

      I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to have it sit that long…but usually the rule of thumb is to have it culture in 24 hours. Can you let your grains build up and start using more grains in a batch so it cultures quicker?

  9. Ginny says:

    I have enjoyed making kefir since reading this post! Have you try making a risen bread with your kefir? Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t, Ginny – sorry!

    • Liz says:

      Ginny, I used kefir in place of buttermilk in Mel’s Lemon Sticky Buns and the dough felt normal, rose normal, baked normal!

      I’ve also used kefir whey in place of water in my bread – all ok. I’m unclear on what if any of the good bacteria survive the heat so I’m using extra kefir and whey.

      BUT, just this last week, I made labneh (kefir “cheese”) from a 2nd ferment that had fully separated. Wonderful! I also sometimes just mix up the curds and whey but again … had a bit extra of drinkable kefir and wanted to try the cheese. You just drain the curds and result is a soft cream cheese kind of thing.

      And for other newbies – In my very cool house (62-65F), my first ferment is 36 hours and the second 8-12. And one batch might go faster, one more separation on the 2nd ferment. It varies. I think that is the nature of the process.

  10. Katie says:

    I’ve always wanted to try kefir and your post was just what I needed to get going! Thought I’d share my experience for others. First I bought the dried grains from Cultures for Health. I don’t recommend these. They hydrated fine but made a musky smelling, gritty kefir. It sort of smelled like feet and had a terrible unpleasant texture. Then I bought live grains from Fusion Teas. Well, these have been great! In three days they were multiplying. I had trouble at first because the kefir was separating into thin milk with a thick cheesy top layer in 12 hours or less. I was using 1 tbsp grains and 2 cups milk. It was super sour, too. It occurred to me to check your grain to milk ratio, and I realized I may have too many grains in there. So I put 1 tsp in 2 cups of milk and put the rest of the grains in milk in the fridge for storage. 24 hours later, the 1 tsp on the counter turned into beautiful creamy kefir with just a light tartness! So happy you helped me figure it out! One of my fave things is about a cup of cold kefir with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice, a tiny bit of vanilla and a tiny bit of maple syrup, frothed with my aerolatte frother. It’s delish.

  11. Katie says:

    I’ve always wanted to try kefir and your post was just what I needed to get going! Thought I’d share my experience for others. First I bought the dried grains from Cultures for Health. I don’t recommend these. They hydrated fine but made a musky smelling, gritty kefir. It sort of smelled like feet and had a terrible unpleasant texture. Then I bought live grains from Fusion Teas. Well, these have been great! In three days they were multiplying. I had trouble at first because the kefir was separating into thin milk with a thick cheesy top layer in 12 hours or less. I was using 1 tbsp grains and 2 cups milk. It was super sour, too. It occurred to me to check your grain to milk ratio, and I realized I may have too many grains in there. So I put 1 tsp in 2 cups of milk and put the rest of the grains in milk in the fridge for storage. 24 hours later, the 1 tsp on the counter turned into beautiful creamy kefir with just a light tartness! So happy you helped me figure it out! One of my fave things is about a cup of cold kefir with a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice, a tiny bit of vanilla and a tiny bit of maple syrup, frothed with my aerolatte frother. It’s delish.

  12. Ashlee Barnhill says:

    K Mel, I was so excited when you posted this, and it took me this long to find someone locally with grains. So I excitedly started mine, and when it came to strain them out, I used a nut bag and got maybe a half pint worth of thin kefir. So I kept that, and started a new batch, bought a plastic strainer, and when I went to strain it, my kefir looked almost gelatinous on top and somewhat solid until I stirred it. I’m straining it now, but it sure seems to be super thin again. Is it the grains of am I not doing something right?

  13. Sheriec says:

    Hey, Mel! I have been making kefir religiously since I got my grains after reading your post. It’s going great! Just for anybody else who may be checking the comments, it took my grains about two weeks before the kefir was getting really thick and tasting a little bit more mellow. At first the kefir was extremely thin, and had a carbonated taste that my kids did NOT like. I think maybe I was using too many grains, and they were readjusting to our milk from the milk they had before. But it was confusing because the insert that came with the green said to use something like 2 tablespoons of grains, whereas Mel says to only use a teaspoon. I’m down to about a teaspoon, and my kefir is much thicker and tastes much better.

    One question I have is about the second ferment. Mine separates into curds and whey almost immediately after I strain the grains out. Like within 30 minutes every time. The taste is still great (not too tangy) so I’m not complaining, I just wondered if maybe there’s a way to avoid that? Am I letting it go too long on the 1st ferment, even though it’s not separated then? Anyway. Just wondered if anyone is any advice.

    Lastly. The holy grail kefir smoothie (for my family) is frozen banana, splash of orange juice, and frozen mango! Oh my. It’s like a mango lassi. It’s my morning treat! I also throw in some chia and spinach most days as well.

    • Mel says:

      Thanks for checking in with your comments, Sheriece! It really is trial and error and I’m happy it’s working out for you. I’m not sure why your kefir is separating so quickly when 2nd fermenting…my guess is what you suggested, that maybe it’s fermenting too long the first time. Mine usually starts separating about 4-5 hours into the 2nd ferment.

  14. Karen says:

    I have been using 2% milk. Still trying to get the timing down, it seems to be done at about 18 hrs, had to strain it at midnight, yikes! ( like having a new baby) It did seem to be a bit thicker though.

  15. Karen says:

    Hi Mel, I am so excited about this! Does your milk kefir thicken up? I am on my 3rd batch now, my first two seemed to culture but not thicken. I was using 1 Tbl for 2 c milk, but now am trying 1 tsp grains for 2 c milk. And how do you pronounce “kefir”? Everyone seems to say it differently…

    • Mel says:

      Yes, the milk should thicken as the grains culture the milk into kefir. It might take several batches with new grains to get it working just right. What kind of milk are you using?

      I pronounce it kee-fur.

  16. Kami says:

    Mel, I have one more question as I learn about this kefir/kombucha world. How do you feel about the alcohol content? I know it’s a small amount. But I looked at some Kombucha at the store and it said something like “Please note: Kombucha is a fermented tea and contains naturally occurring alcohol. Do not consume if you are avoiding alcohol due to pregnancy, allergies, sensitivities or religious reasons.” That last one, along with feeding it to children, would be my concerns. But, I’m curious to know your thoughts if you don’t mind sharing.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Kami – I don’t make or drink kombucha; I just haven’t delved into that world, so I’m not sure I really have an educated opinion about your specific question. There is a lot of talk about alcohol content among all kinds of fermented foods – even milk kefir, but I don’t feel it’s a significant concern for me personally with the milk kefir I culture and we drink (I don’t 2nd ferment with fruit as that can increase the alcohol content, though). I’m not sure if I was any help! Feel free to ask me if you still have questions.

  17. Brianna says:

    I’m so excited! I just got some kefir grains from someone local, and started it today. But, I have a question. I got a little extra grains from them, and I’m not sure how I can store them. I’ve looked online and it looks like you just have to store them in milk, or possibly dry them for a few days and then freeze them.

    But, you say you have shipped them. That is what I’m wondering. When I get an excess of grains and want to share with friends, can I just put them in a plastic bag and let them sit outside of milk until they come to pick them up? For how many hours can they sit out without milk? How do you do this? Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      When I ship them, I put the extra grains in a quart ziploc and pour in about 1/2 cup milk. I flatten the bag to release all air and seal really well – and place in another ziploc bag, press out the air and seal that bag. I send it wrapped in bubble wrap in an envelope or box and try to send it when the weather is cool but not freezing (spring or fall). It’s worked every time!

      • Brianna says:

        Thanks! The ones I received weren’t in milk and they are just barely starting to make tiny bubbles at the bottom after 28 hours so I’m thinking your method in the milk will work better.

  18. Kellie says:

    Thanks for the great post, Mel! I bought some grains and it has been awesome – so far it seems super helpful to my system. Thank you!!

  19. Amy says:

    I just received my kefir grains. I ordered them from cultured food life. They don’t look like yours though. They are bigger clumps. does that matter? I made my first batch and mixed it with regular milk and a little scoop of nesquick. Hopefully that doesn’t negate to many of the health benefits. I just wanted to ease everyone into it. We’ll try smoothies next! Thanks for this post. I look forward to learning more and maybe improving some tummy issues my littles have.

  20. S says:

    I definitely fall into the slacker kefir maker catagory! Mine looks like that most of the time, but it’s still good for smoothies. I’ve never tried the second ferment before, so I’m hoping to try that out as soon as I pull out my grains again.

    A few tips from my kefir making experiences: you can also eat the extra grains… or blend them up in a smoothie for a big probiotic boost! I have left my grains “hibernating” in the fridge while traveling for months at a time and they make kefir just fine. It might take a few batches but it works. Also, sometimes if the grains are a little sluggish I’ll add a pinch of sugar to “revive” them faster.

  21. Lucy says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I just got my grains in the mail! Can I ask why you cover the jar with a lid for the second ferment, but use a paper towel for the first? I’m trying to figure out if I should buy plastic lids like yours. I only have metal lids. Thanks again.

    • Mel says:

      Mostly so I can just pop it into the refrigerator after it has 2nd fermented (and I’m afraid of spillage if it’s just covered by a paper towel). A metal lid would work just fine, too!

  22. Susie says:

    Your post was so timely for us! Someone recently suggested kefir milk for my hubby to help with his stomach problems so when I read your post I bought my grains right away and have been using them for almost a week. Thank you! My question is that I don’t seem to have an excess of grains and I’m wondering if I’m doing something wrong? I’m using 2 cups of 2% milk and a teaspoon of grains. I may get a little more then that but this morning it wasn’t even a full teaspoon. Any thoughts?

    • Mel says:

      Hey Susie – I don’t think you are doing anything wrong at all. It might take a while for the grains to really develop and grow. Especially if the weather is cooler, my grains don’t grow much – it might take 2-3 weeks before I have excess to give to someone else or feed to our animals. However, in the warmer months, I feel like they grow much faster. I’d just keep an eye on it. Of course, if you feel like they are actually diminishing (I’ve never heard of that!), then there might be something going on, but my guess is everything is fine.

  23. Kami says:

    I asked a Kefir friend for a “start” and she told me her method of using store bought Kefir as her starter. (1/4 jar Kefir, 3/4 milk). It seemed to work when I made it, but I didn’t see any “grains” when I strained. I’m guessing your method is better somehow…but trying to figure out what the difference would be?

    • Mel says:

      As far as I understand it, using storebought kefir for a start is similar to stirring yogurt into buttermilk or even milk. You get the taste and some of the texture and benefits of kefir but it’s not the same as using grains to culture it daily. It’s not possible to grow the grains from a storebought start like this – the only way to have grains culture the kefir is to get real, live grains from someone. Does that help at all?

  24. Miranda says:

    Seriously amazing timing, I was just diagnosed with c-diff after a complication full delivery and was looking for a way to dive into the world of fermented foods. Your post made it seem totally doable! Thank you so much for all your work here, it is such an inspiring and informative resource!!

  25. Renay says:

    I am going to try this! I assume you can use the kefir milk in making bread? If so, do you have to scald the milk since it has undergone its kefir transformation? I’m sure that
    would kill all the good stuff…

    • Mel says:

      Yes, you probably can but I have never done it since we usually use it for smoothies and pancakes and such. Heating it up will destroy a lot of the health benefits (even when I use it in pancakes, I know I’m not getting the full benefit from it).

  26. Julia says:

    Love your blog, most everything I make comes from you!! I am so intrigued by this and had one question before I start. How long can you keep the kefir in the fridge once it is done fermenting?? You are amazing, thank you for your wonderful blog!

    • Mel says:

      Hey Julia – I’ve kept cultured kefir in the fridge for up to 10 days or so. It takes on more of a tang/fizzy taste the longer it’s in the fridge but I haven’t had it go bad on me in that time.

  27. Natalie Hillstead says:

    Thanks for this post!! I want to try!! Where do I get the original little kefir grains????

  28. Darcy says:

    I would love to know your daily timetable for this. Like, do you start a new batch every morning and its ready to go by the next morning? Or what? How do you make it so that a batch is always ready for you to use each day without losing a bunch of it? It sounds interesting and I’d love to look into it but only if its something I can set an alarm for each day to do. If left to my memory, I’d forget about it for days on end and/or it might now work into my daily schedule.

    • Mel says:

      Honestly, this kind of depends, but usually if I’m on top of things (and the temperature in my house and amount of kefir grains means that the kefir is culturing in almost exactly 24 hours), every morning after breakfast, I strain the cultured kefir, refill the new jar + grains with milk and start again the next morning.

      • Darcy says:

        What about the second fermentation? Does that take about the same amount of time? So I’d need to start a batch 2 days before I want to use it and have 2 batches going at the same time?
        And the 2 c of kefir will make one large smoothie?

        • Mel says:

          The 2nd ferment only takes 8-12 hours. I know you’re looking for a hard fast schedule, but I don’t really do it the exact same time all year round because sometimes depending on the warmth of my house, the kefir cultures more quickly or more slowly than others. But generally speaking this is what it would look like as you start out culturing kefir:

          1st Morning: Put grains in jar, fill with milk, cover and leave at room temp for 24 hours (give or take)
          2nd Morning: Strain kefir into clean jar, put grains into another jar, fill with milk, cover and culture for 24 hours – cap the strained kefir and leave at room temp for 8-12 hours
          That night: Pop the 2nd ferment kefir into the fridge
          3rd Morning: Use the kefir in the fridge for smoothies or whatever you want, strain the kefir still at room temperature and repeat the process above.

          Does that help at all?

  29. Erin says:

    When you first got the Kefir from culturedfoodforlife did they smell like sourdough bread the first time you made it? Also, when did you go from the Tablespoon she recommends to a scant teaspoon per 2 cups? I have had great success with your yogurt method and I know your kefir method is spot on too!!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Erin – I think that’s totally normal for the kefir to have a sourdough/yeast smell (in fact, mine still does). I started reducing the amount of kefir grains a few months into culturing kefir because using the full tablespoon, it was culturing way too fast (in about 8-12 hours instead of the 24 hours it should take). That may not happen, I suppose, with the grains you have, but I’d just keep an eye on how fast your kefir is culturing and adjust the amount of grains based on that. Does that help?

      • Erin says:

        That does thank you!!! I did a batch with one teaspoon and one with 1 tablespoon (because I had extra and wanted to experiment) and the one with one teaspoon cultured faster. It was so strange!!! The grains have a mind of their own!

  30. Rebecca says:

    Thank you Mel! We just started using Kefir grains and I really hope it helps out this winter! We have been getting raw goat milk, but I have debated just using the cow milk from Costco because it would be easier. Thanks for all the details and doing all the homework. 🙂 I am excited about the second round because my kids don’t really like the taste of kefir. 🙂

  31. Mia Phillips says:

    Hey yall, I loved this past bcz I’m a loyal Kefir culturer and didn’t have time to read thru all the comments but boy oh boy! Do I have a mountain of grains so if anyone living near utah valley wants some, I have a wealth to give. Good job spreading the word Mel! The whole world needs Kefir. For real!

  32. Kelly says:

    “If you don’t want to find a kefir babysitter…”!! Hilarious! That statement right there has nudged me into trying this. Thanks for being real, Mel!

  33. Heather says:

    I am interested in trying this out, especially for my lactose intolerant kids, but I’ve tried store-bought kefir and found it rather unpalatable. I am wondering if it is like ricotta where the store-bought version is yucky, but home made is fresh and delicious, or will they be similar. Just interested in other people’s experience before I make an investment in grains and supplies.

    • Mel says:

      That’s hard for me to say because I’ve never had storebought kefir. I would describe this homemade kefir as tart and tangy – almost like a drinkable yogurt – with a slightly carbonated, yeasty taste. I thought the yeast factor would be overpowering – and sometimes when I take a big whiff of the kefir in the jar I’m like “whoa! That smells very yeasty” but it doesn’t come across overpoweringly in the taste (especially since we second ferment ours AND we aren’t drinking it straight, although I know lots of people who do). Does that help at all?

    • Liz says:


      I’ve been drinking various brands of store-bought kefir since this post … waiting for grains. I received grains a few days ago and the taste difference is night and day – to me. The homemade has a sweet-tangy-fizzy taste. The store versions taste mostly like liquid yogurt to me. I am 2nd fermenting with orange peel.

  34. Leah S says:

    Hi Mel, I’m very interested in trying out kefir, and I have a question about milk. You say an ultra-pasteurized milk isn’t ideal. Does that include the milk I’m buying from the regular section of the dairy/milk aisle in my grocery store? Do I need to seek out raw milk from somewhere?

    • Leah S says:

      Did more research, and I’m pretty sure the answer is no. You have to seek out Ultra High Temp (UHT) pasteurized milk in a different aisle and it’s a bit more pricey.

    • Mel says:

      No, you definitely don’t need raw milk. I use pasteurized milk (just the every day kind from Costco). Some brands are ultra-pasteurized and you just want to stay away from those when making kefir. Does that help?

  35. Susan in WA says:

    Love kefir! I will add my witness that my family has had fewer illnesses since we added it to our diet. (They don’t know, but it’s in their mashed potatoes, biscuits, soups.) On the second ferment, Mel, have you tried adding an orange peel? The extra flavor, and who knows what nutritional value, kicks up smoothies a notch.

    • Mel says:

      Hey Susan! I added lemon peel a year or so ago when I started to second ferment but I haven’t added any fruit to the second ferment for a long time. I’ll have to try it again. 🙂

  36. Jemma Wayne says:

    I use a bit of kefir, about two or three tablespoons, along with yogurt starter when I make yogurt, and it works well. By the way, when I make yogurt in my Instant Pot, I’ve learned to wrap a towel around and over it to get a nice thick yogurt; otherwise, the Instant Pot makes runny yogurt–at least for me. Kefir is awesome!

  37. Melissa says:

    Hi Mel,
    I got some grains from a friend and started my kefir right away. They have currently been sitting in a dark cupboard on the 1st ferment for about 50 hours now and just barely starting to have a very tiny amount of air bubbles. Has the kefir been sitting out too long now? I started with the scant tsp. of grains to a pint of milk. The milk is not ultra pasteurized and it is high fat content. Just wondering what is wrong with it. Thanks.

    • Mel says:

      I bet the grains are just a little sluggish; they’ll liven up after a few days (if they were healthy to start with). If it were me, I wouldn’t keep the milk the grains have been in if it’s been that long (50 hours). I’d discard, give the grains new, fresh milk and see if they start culturing the kefir more quickly.

  38. Kellie says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share this! I would love to try it, but we live abroad and don’t know if I can find it here. We’ll be home at Christmas, but it’s a 40 hour trip back to the Philippines. Would the grains survive that long of a trip?

    • Melissa says:

      I live abroad as well. I happened to find a friend here with grains. I asked her where she got hers and she said she brought them from the states – also a very long trip. I think they’d be fine. She said she carried them on the plane and was just going to say they were a beauty cream if anyone asked what it was…

    • Mel says:

      Hi Kellie – I ship these grains to friends/family a lot and they are in the mail at least 40 hours (I try to avoid really hot months) so as long as they are kept at cool room temperature and not overheated, I think they should be fine!

  39. Kimber says:

    Alright, you got me on board! I’m going to ask my friends for some!

  40. April says:

    I was lucky enough to find a friend with some grains they were willing to share. I will try the double ferment thing and add it to my morning smoothie. The kids already expect those to be crazy with the veggies I add so this should not be too much of a leap for them.

    I miss you guys!! Hope all is well.

  41. Nikki says:

    I’m so excited you did this post! I’ve been wanting to make my own for years but for some reason this has always intimidated me, but your explanation and pictures are so helpful I think I’ll finally start doing it! You’re the best!

  42. Paige says:

    So are the kefir grains what keep the milk from just spoiling and going bad? Because this looks a lot like my kids sour milk that they leave out on the dinner table over night… and it looks like you shouldn’t be able to eat it, but you can…

  43. Tristen says:

    Love this so much, and love your site! I’m totally your target audience, though, lol, we do food very similarly. you are better but I still consider you a kindred spirit. I brew my own kombucha, if you haven’t done it yet, I’d be happy to help you get started with that, it’s AMAZING, like literally life changing amazing, probably similar to your kefir experience. I brew my own so I can control the levels of teas though I don’t really see it as against the Word of Wisdom either way :). I’ve heard the trinity of digestive health is kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables. Anyways, if you’d ever like to talk about kombucha, send me a message or email, I’d be happy to walk you through it if you aren’t already doing it! It’s as easy as Kefir! I just ordered the grains, I’ve been using the powder and I’m not at all a fan of those, so I used your links and got all the stuff, can’t wait to get it started!!

  44. Rhonda says:

    Well This seems a little to freakish and out there for me. But it looks like you have plenty of other fad followers. I work outside the home and don’t have time for every single thing we eat or use to be homemade.

    • Katie says:

      Is there really a need for a critical comment such as this? If you aren’t interested in the recipe move on to a different one. Mel works inside the home with 5 kids and spends probably just as much time working on this blog as you do at your job outside the home. You’re superwoman Mel! Love you and you’re blog and I definitely want to try making this myself. Anything that could mean fewer illnesses for my kids is worth trying! Thanks!

    • Mel says:

      Kefir definitely isn’t for everyone, but we have loved the benefits. And it honestly takes only a matter of five minutes each day to strain it – much less than making homemade yogurt or other homemade items. I know the highs and lows of being a working mom and agree that it’s not worth the stress of making things homemade if it isn’t “your thing.” No guilt! 🙂

  45. Becky says:

    I want to second a post about sourdough bread! I’ve read a bunch about it, but you’re my most trusted food source, so I’d love your take on it!

    I bought a nut milk bag after you recommended it and use it all the time! Would that work for straining this or is it too fine?

    • Mel says:

      Yes, it absolutely would work – although I never use mine because I’ve found it is much easier to clean the little strainer than the bag (there’s my laziness coming out!). 🙂

  46. Sheriece says:

    Hey Mel! Awesome post, as usual. I already got on Amazon and bought some supplies!

    Do you find that the smoothies are enough breakfast for your kids on their own or do you serve the smoothies with other stuff like scrambled eggs or oatmeal?

    • Mel says:

      Hey Sheriece – we always serve them with what we are eating for breakfast. I’m sure if I doubled our batch or added some kind of protein to the smoothie, it would be enough, but I’m usually just portioning out 6-8 ounces for the kids. Having said that, often times, it’s usually my entire breakfast if I’m rushing around like crazy (um, like every morning!). 🙂

  47. Jill says:

    Thank you so so much for this post! My baby (15m) drinks kefir in place of a milk bottle, and I’ve been wondering about making my own but a little scared! You totally de-mystified kefir and now I need to find some grains 🙂 Thanks!

  48. Rachel says:

    I’m so happy to see this post! I tried making kiefer a few months back but didn’t really feel like I knew what I was doing and kept worrying I let it go too long or too short or I had too little or too much grains so I always ended throwing it out because I didn’t want to make anyone sick in my family! Your post covers so many of my questions! I’m ready to try it again, thanks for the post!

  49. Doug McGee says:

    So, Mel…

    Where can I get a Kefir start to begin trying this stuff out.

  50. Karen says:

    I drink milk kefir smoothies in the morning. Mine cultures quickly. Might be because I use fresh raw goat milk. If I let it go for 24 hours, it is almost solid it is so firm. I just stir it up, add a little more milk to thin it so it will go through the strainer .
    We also drink Kombucha. My husband drinks so much that I bought a 5-gallon food grade bucket make him enough!

  51. Jackie says:

    I love both milk and water kefir and I just got a herbal tea kombucha scooby from a friend and I’m excited to try that next!

  52. Fiona Chain says:

    Hi Mel,
    Thanks for this post, it is so timely for me as I have been meaning to give kefir a go for some time. Jennifer from The Nourished Kitchen, is a big believer in fermentation in all its forms for great health and I have read her book and love her blog. I have avoided dairy milk for so long (20 plus years) because it just didn’t agree with me, I will be searching for a provider of kefir grains on my side of the world as soon as I can.
    Have a great weekend

  53. Jocy says:

    I’m from Peru and i remembered my mom making this. She would add carob syrup to it and we enjoyed it that way. Thanks for bringing back memories!

  54. Shannon says:

    I have only bought kefir (just had it in my smoothie for lunch), and didn’t realize it was pretty simple to make. Of course you are the Queen of homemade, so if you say it’s good, it’s gotta be good. I think the health benefits are what motivate me to start making it now. I know yogurt is good for you, but kefir is a notch above it, right? On that same wavelength, do you or anybody reading this have a good probiotic supplement for kids and adults? There are so many options out there, just curious. Thanks for such an informative post!

    P.S. If you have any suggestions and tips for making sourdough I would love that! I have a powdered starter in my pantry and I feel like I need someone holding my hand to make it. 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Hey Shannon – haha, I know what you mean about the sourdough. I had to have my sister-in-law hold my hand with my sourdough.

      • Liz says:

        I made my first sourdough about a year ago after seeing this tutorial on The Kitchn: There are several other posts – just search sourdough. If you read through the posts and take your time … Now, I’ve had people in my part of the country (Northwest MT) say they have trouble getting a starter going. I had no difficulty getting it going, keeping it going, letting it rest in the frig and restarting and I keep my house very cool.

        I thought for the longest time that it sounded like more work than it was worth but I found it a lot of fun as well as making terrific bread.

        Re the kefir – grains are on my list. I use yogurt in tisane (herbal tea) base for my smoothies but want to try this and will read your links, Mel – thanks!

        • Liz says:

          While I am waiting to get grains, I looked at store bought Kefir and having read that many did not like the extra sugar I paid attention to the labels.

          I found several brands of plain kefir, no sugar added – milk naturally has sugar so these kefirs are not sugar free and neither will homemade be sugar free. I brought home 2 to try and like both: Green Valley Organics (lactose free) and Maple Hill Creamery. I believe these are brands available nationwide as Maple Hill is from New York state and Green Valley Organics is Sebastapol, CA.

  55. Candace says:

    Whole wheat kefir pancake recipe coming soon? 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Here it is:
      2 eggs
      3 cups kefir
      1/4 cup oil or melted butter
      2 tablespoons sugar

      Mix the above in a medium bowl. Stir in the following until just combined:

      2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      4 teaspoons baking powder
      1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  56. Barbara Price says:

    After you make the kefir, how long will it last in the fridge? (the milk kefir, not the grains) Do you need to drink right after the second ferment or will it last a few days in the fridge?

    • Mel says:

      It lasts for several days (if not several weeks) in the refrigerator. The taste gets a little stronger with time but I’ve pulled some out of the back of my fridge I forgot for probably two weeks and it was just fine (albeit a little tangy)!

  57. Jenny says:

    I was making milk and water kefir a few years ago and thought it was great. I stopped doing it for some reason but you’ve given me the inspiration to start again. It’s great to see that it’s starting to become more well known 🙂

  58. liz h says:

    Mel, this post is so timely. My husband and I were just talking about kefir the other night. Can’t wait to try making our own.
    I had to laugh at the pictures though. The kefir looked suspiciously similar to the milk-filled sippy cup I just found under the bed. 🙂

  59. Jenn says:

    I was lucky enough to get some kefir grains from an acquaintance, but I wonder if maybe they had been contaminated with some other yeast strains (I’ve read that can happen, especially if you bake and have yeast floating around your kitchen) because it always tasted really really yeasty. I did the 2nd ferment, too. It wasn’t the sourness that bothered me, but that yeastiness was unpalatable. Anyone experienced this? have advice for me?

  60. Nicole says:

    I was just curious about the serving size in your kefir smoothies to get the health benefits. Does the 2 cups kefir smoothie feed your whole family as a side dish to breakfast? Or is that a breakfast meal for one person? I had never read about this before, and I’m really interested in trying it!

    • Mel says:

      Great question, Nicole. Some people drink cups and cups of plain or lightly sweetened kefir every day. We’ve seen great benefits from the smoothies using 2-3 cups kefir. Those smoothies serve probably a 1 cup portion to my kids and 2 cups portion to me and my husband. I’m sure we’d get more health benefits if we drank more or less diluted with fruit and smoothie ingredients, but this morning smoothie system works for us. My aunt drinks 2 cups every morning straight up and loves it.

  61. Jenn says:

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this! I can’t wait to try it and see the benefits myself! Thanks so much for the post – I LOVE your blog! I do have one question for you as I haven’t read anywhere about being able to freeze something you may make with Kefir, like smoothies. I usually make a bunch in advance with almond milk and freeze so my kids can eat one for breakfast or as an after-school snack. Do you know if this would be ok to freeze with or does it take out any of the health benefits? Thanks so much!

    • Mel says:

      Good question, Jenn. I’ve heard that extreme temps (low and high) can deteriorate the good effects/bacteria of the kefir but you might try to google and look into it to see for sure. I freeze the smoothies all the time in popsicle form – they taste delicious even if we aren’t getting the same benefits

  62. susanna says:

    This was a great post it almost made me think to try Kefir again. My friend gave me a start several years ago and we tried for a few weeks but I could never get myself or my kids and husband to drink it. But we don’t like greek yogurt either so it’s just a taste thing. I wonder if I mellowed it in the 2nd fermentation if they would drink it in a smoothie with other things. Maybe I will try again. Thanks for your informative post!

  63. Alisha says:

    We’re huge Kefir fans. I ordered some Kefir grains online last year to give making it ourselves a go and I’m pretty sure I killed them right away. That, or I just left them too long and was wigged out with the thought of them being spoiled. In any case, can you proceed as directed as soon as the grains arrive or do they need to be “primed” some how? I think that’s where I got lost. That and then forgetting it a couple days and then thinking all was lost. Would you just strain and start over at that point? Do you ever store the excess grains in the fridge? I need to give it another go.

    • Mel says:

      Hey Alisha – did you buy live grains or powdered? The live grains are ready to go, although some people say it takes a few rounds of culturing kefir for the grains to revitalize after being shipped. I don’t store the excess grains; I usually give them away or give them to my chickens or dog, but you can store the excess in the fridge as long as they are stored in milk. If you’ve forgotten about it for a few days, go ahead and strain and start over.

  64. Kat says:

    I was literally thinking this week about making kefir for my girls who complain about their tummies often (and myself of course. Everyone could use a little more healthy in their life!). The only thing I was worried about is if they’d like the taste. I’m so glad you mentioned the second ferment. I hope that will make the difference. (Although, one can eat plain Greek yogurt with a spoon. I don’t think she minds tart and tangy 🙂 ). Thanks for this post. I’m so excited to try it!!

  65. Natalie says:

    I killed my milk grains cause I didn’t know what I was doing. Time to start doing it again. I also have natural yeast start and use it all the time in my baked goods, crepes, pancakes, muffins and waffles, so good for a healthy gut. We hardly get sick either and I totally believe it is from the natural yeast and probiotics from these type of things.

    • Mel says:

      Oh, I love the idea of the natural yeast!

      • Melanie says:

        A great source for using and taking care of natural yeast is the Bread Geek blog. Melissa Richardson has two great books; “The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast” and “Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast”. I’ve learned so much from her. She has great YouTube tutorials as well.

  66. Shaynee says:

    Thanks Mel! I’ve always been facinated with cultured food and drinks, and your post may just give me the confidence to give it a try at home!
    Would water based kefir be similar to kombucha, or are those two completely seperate things? I’m thinking probably separate because kumbucha has the whole “mother” sponge thing (so weird!) My family isn’t big on any kind of milk (dairy or otherwise) so I’m thinking about looking into a water option. I didn’t even know there was such a an option until reading these comments. I’d love to see more posts like this! Kitchen medicine!!!

    • Sandi says:

      Water kefir is awesome! It has the same probiotic benefit as kombucha but is made without using tea. And the water kefir grains look more like the ones used in milk kefir. It’s fun to do a 2nd ferment with them and make “soda” by adding a fruit and then sealing the lid tight to “carbonate” it.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Shaynee, kombucha and water kefir are two different things; kombucha has caffeine (like tea) and water kefir is a probiotic drink that’s a little fizzy. My friend loves water kefir and buys her grains from

  67. Andrea says:

    I did Kefir a few years ago and found that my sweet tooth all but disappeared. It was fabulous. I also found that the store bought stuff is horrible compared to what you make yourself. I LOVE that zippy zingy tartness first thing in the morning. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I am the only one that will drink it so I got a little overwhelmed in grain management. lol I even fed a few to my dog. I had just started making “cheese” with it (OMG! SO yummy with dill) before we did a Whole30 and I just never got back into it and the grains perished- it came down to wasting a lot of milk to either revive it or just buying new grains and starting over and I at the time didn’t have the urge to do either. I’ve been thinking of getting some more grains because I really miss it and that zippy bubbly tang. 😀

  68. Ann Buttars says:

    Just wondering if this could be used at night before bed? I’ve been drinking a Keefe water mixed with juice for a year. I think I will try this instead. Thanks for the great emails!

  69. Heidi Shuler says:

    So excited about this post!! I drink kefir every morning but it’s store bought. I would love to start making my own. My family always steals mine and I get after them because of the cost haha. But I was wondering about the coconut milk. I live in Wyoming where there isn’t many options. The only kind I’ve ever seen is like the Silk brand that has added sugars. Is that what you have used or is it something different I should look for? My daughter can’t have any dairy, even store bought kefir doesn’t work for her, so I’d love to know another option so she can have the benefits of the probiotics! Thanks!

  70. Kathy says:

    I’ve been drinking store-bought kefir for some time, mainly because I am a rotten pill taker, but I can swallow most anything with kefir. However, the sugar levels are high, so I’ve been thinking of making my own. This was very helpful to see the process and get the details! Have you ever made water-based kefir? I’ve seen grains for that too.

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t made water-based kefir, Kathy, but I have a friend who is a kefir guru and has almost convinced me to give it a go (although she makes water kefir because they don’t like dairy…and since we tolerate and love milk kefir so well, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to take on two kefirs in my life). We’ll see! She buys her water kefir grains from

      • Kathy says:

        Thanks for the feedback. I’m trying to eat mainly Paleo to stop silent reflux, which means no dairy. At this point, the milk kefir is the only dairy I get, and I wanted to see if I could stop that too.

  71. Jill says:

    Oh Mel! I love you! How do you always know to post just what I’m needing at that moment! Can’t wait to give this a try…..Thank!

  72. Jocelyne Desbiens says:

    Kefir is food for everybody ! I started taking kefir in 2012 upon recommandation of my doctor. I have asthma and had bouts of bronchitis one after the other all winter ! (So here in Canada, from November to April) Since 2012, I had two small colds. With all the use of antibiotics over the years, I had bad gut bacteria. Kefir really changed my life since I went from using puffers all the time and medication to being able to do things I couldn’t do anymore like biking and golfing. For my mother in law, it solved her constipation problems. People seem surprised when I tell them it doesn’t only help digestive problems, it helps your whole immune system ! Good article ! I really enjoy reading you !

  73. Ellen says:

    Huh. I never knew I wanted to make kefir so badly! thanks for the info… and let me just state: you are the least lazy person I know.

  74. Jessica says:

    Thank you for this Mel! I have used store bought Kefir when I’m feeling a little funky and under the weather but always hated the high sugar levels in it. My first baby is due any day now and I’m hoping this will help me get back to normal much faster once my little man gets here. My husband is lactose sensitive and not a big dairy fan but has continual tummy trouble and heartburn. I’m going to start making this and try to get him to drink it in a smoothie – fingers crossed!

    • Mel says:

      Good luck, Jessica! And congratulations on your first baby…so exciting!

    • Rebekah says:

      Water kefir might be a good option for your husband. I also have milk issues so we have been making water kefir. The kefir grains culture in water with a little sugar in it. You can also culture it in some fruit juices. I found it at a local health food store.

  75. Marisa says:

    Where did you get your kefir grains to get started?

  76. Jennifer says:

    I love this post! I have milk kefir neglected in the fridge for too long. My morning email with this post is a big shove to go tend to my little bacteria babies. I find that I was having to make more and more kefir and it was getting overwhelming. I love your method of keeping only a little tiny bit and either giving away or using up the rest. That feels a lot more doable. And I had heard about a second ferment but had no idea what it was about. I put kefir in our oatmeal once and I must have put too much because no one liked it. I’ll have to try that second ferment and hopefully my family can get on the kefir bandwagon with me. One last thing, I love that you said what milk you bought. “Ultra Pasteurized” gets confusing. Everything seems to be overly pasteurized and raw milk is 10 bucks a gallon plus a 45 minute road trip. It would be great but that’s dedication I don’t have right now. It was refreshing to know you have had success with storebought regular milk. I have been buying whole milk and I was pretty sure I was ‘doing it right’. But I love it when a blog like yours takes me into their kitchen so to speak and show’s me their way of doing it. Thanks so much for all your hard work and diligence sharing your recipes and pictures and things blog. Your blog is one of my favorites!

  77. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for this post!!! I have a daughter who has dealt with stomach problems her whole life. She 20 and in college now, still having issues. I have never heard of milk kefir before and am very excited to try it. Hopefully it will help her with some of these issues and keep the rest of more healthy too!

    • Mel says:

      I hope milk kefir could be a viable help to your daughter, Jennifer! It has done wonders for our family and is such a simple routine, I barely even think about it anymore.

  78. Cathy says:

    Great post Mel. I too drink kefir every morning and it is so much healthier and less expensive than the store bought variety with all the added sugar. I first learned about kefir when I needed to be on a round of antibiotics. It works wonders for digestion and for anything stomach related. I recently started making sourdough bread and I find the whole culturing thing so interesting

    • Mel says:

      I find the world of culturing foods interesting, too, Cathy! I have neglected sourdough starter in the back of my fridge I need to resurrect and do something with.

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