I'm wild about milk kefir! I'm passionate about most ferments, but the kefirs, both milk and water, hold a special place in my heart. Kefir, called the "King of Probiotics" by many, is special because it contains many varieties of not just beneficial bacteria, but beneficial yeasts as well - and for some, that can be the missing link that's been holding them back from the level of health they've been seeking.
There's a plethora of information about kefir already on the internets, so i won't bore you with the same old information. Something that's sometimes missed in online discussion is how to balance the bacteria to yeast ratio in your kefir, and i think that's important, so i'm going to focus primarily on that.
So, quick summary:
1 Tbs of kefir grains will ferment 1-2 cups of milk. Just drop the grains into a glass jar of milk, put a lid on it, and let it sit at room temp (or cooler if desired; see below) for 24-ish hours. If you have too many grains, fermentation will happen too quickly. Compost some, give some away, or eat some! My dog loves them and i munch them occasionally myself.
Use raw or pasteurized milk (preferably grass-fed/organic); DO NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk.
Kefir is an anaerobic fermentation - use a tight lid, not a cloth or coffee filter.
24 hours is generally a good fermentation time, but adjust according to the temperature of your fermentation area. Watch for the whey "breakline," where you see whey forming a line (usually toward the bottom of your jar, but it can happen higher as well). It'll look like liquid forming aroud the kefir grains. That's usually a good indication that it's ready to harvest. You can let it go longer if you want a more sour taste.
Okay, so on to the really fun science: shifting the balance of yeasts and bacteria. It's actually really simple. If you want a more bacteria-forward kefir, ferment at a lower temperature for slightly longer. For example, when i want to lean toward the bacteria side, i pop my jar into my fermentation cabinet, off to the side, where the temp stays around 68F. I let it go 30-36 hours (with a LOT of grains; go for more time if you have a normal amount of grains). The bacteria will give your kefir a more sour flavor.
Conversely, if you want more yeast, ferment at warmer temperatures (our room temp here is AZ is generally 78F to 80F which leans my kefir slightly toward a more yeasty taste after a while). Experiment to find the perfect balance for your taste.
Second fermentation is a fun way to add flavor to your milk kefir. Simply add fresh or frozen organic berries after removing the grains from the kefir and allow it to sit 3-12 hours (watch for separation of curds and whey; harvest if it begins to separate).
Flavoring Milk Kefir
You can flavor milk kefir in endless ways. Simply blend your favorite fruits into it, with or without a sweetener such as Stevia or maple syrup. My favorite sweetener is called Coco Monkey, a monk-fruit based sweetener. Coco Monkey contains inulin, and - bonus! - inulin is a prebiotic (food for good gut bugs!). Some of my favorite flavorings include:
Vanilla extract (alcohol-free if preferred)
Raw organic cacao powder, vanilla extract & Coco Monkey
Bonus Tip: Want to make the most creamy and amazing mashed potatoes? Add milk kefir, grass-fed butter and pink salt!
Again, there's so much information on the internets about water kefir that i won't bore you with repeat information. I'll brush over the basics, then leave you with some of my favorite flavors for 2nd fermentations.
Ferment water kefir in a glass jar.
Like milk kefir, water kefir is an anaerobic ferment, so use a tight-fitting lid rather than a cloth or coffee filter during fermentation.
Water kefir grains will multiply; share, eat, compost.
Fun Flavors for 2nd Fermentation:
Second fermentation occurs when you add fruit or other sugar-containing ingredients to your harvested kefir water (do not add anything to water kefir while the grains are still in it; this may harm the grains) and allow it to sit at room temperature for an additional 12 hours or so. It will get fizzier during the 2nd ferment; burp the jar occasionally to avoid an exploding jar.
Amounts don't have to be exact. I use just "eyeball" how much of each item i use. Recipes are for 1 liter of water kefir.
1/2 ea. organic lemon and lime, with peel, diced
3-4 strips dried organic mango
1.5 tsp dried organic hibiscus flowers
1 organic lime, diced
1.5 tsp dried organic hibiscus flowers
1/4 c. fresh or frozen organic blueberries
1 tsp. dried organic rosehips
3-4 dried organic apricots
1/2 organic Granny Smith apple, diced
Fuji Apple - Cinnamon
1/2 organic Fuji apple, diced
1 3" organic cinnamon stick
Cotton Candy Grape
1/2 c. organic cotton candy grapes, halved
Nothing beats good old sauerkraut for versatility. I eat it on eggs, in salads, in soup, and straight out of the jar! It's nutrient profile is impressive as well, including vitamins C, K, B6, B9 (folate), along with iron and manganese. Whether enjoyed plain or fermented with green apples and fennel seeds (my favorite fall flavor), kraut goes great with almost any meal. It's a great way to get lots of amazing probiotics into your body! Here are some of my favorites:
5lbs organic green cabbage, shredded or thinly chopped
2 T Himalayan pink salt, sea salt, pickling salt or Redmond Real Salt
1 T caraway seeds (optional, but delicious!)
Shred or finely chop the cabbage, sprinkle with salt and massage until it releases enough juice to cover itself when placed in a glass jar. Mash it down with your fist to get it all under the brine. Top with a whole cabbage leaf to help it stay submerged. Weigh with ferment weights or a food-grade plastic bag filled with water. You can ferment in a mason jar, or - my favorite - a Probiotic jar [affiliate link] which makes it super easy. Leave it to ferment between 60F and 70F up to 4 weeks. Longer ferments have a full bacterial profile and more developed flavor. After the 3rd day, you can open the jar and begin to taste it.
Green Apple - Fennel
Use the basic kraut recipe above, leave out the caraway seeds and add 1 T fennel seeds and 4 organic Granny Smith apples, sliced.
Sweet Mace / Mexican Marigold
It's not always easy to find fresh sweet mace (aka Mexican Marigold), but if you run across any, it makes a wonderful spice for kraut! Use 4-5 sprigs for the basic kraut recipe.
Use the basic recipe minus the caraway seeds, and add in a few shredded carrots and several stalks of sliced celery. Simple and delicious!