Basic Milk Kefir Recipe

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A Well-Fed Kefir

When you receive your fresh grains, whether from a friend or through the mail, it’s important to feed them with milk immediately, even if you aren’t ready to make a batch of kefir. If the initial feeding doesn’t thicken the kefir within 12 to 24 hours, strain and rinse the grains, and cover them with a new dose of milk. Continue this process until they’re reacting vigorously, thickening the milk within this time frame. You’ll also know the grains are fermenting vigorously when they float atop the milk. Sometimes it takes a few uses to revive grains. You can still drink the resulting kefir, but expect its flavor to improve and become more complex with successive feedings. Once the grains are quite active, you can store them in their milk in the fridge and create multiple fermentations with them, as infrequently as once a week.

Where to Buy Milk Kefir Grains

Basic Milk Kefir

Fermentation Time

Fermentation Type: Lacto, Aceto, and Alcohol
Primary Fermentation: 12 to 24 hours
Total Time: 12 to 24 hours
Shelf Life: 3 to 4 days

You can use either pasteurized or raw milk for this recipe, but the kefir grains will grow faster in pasteurized milk. If you use raw milk, double the amount of grains. The raw milk will also likely alter the microbial population of the SCOBY, which is fine, unless you don’t like the results. If the flavors from the first grains you try aren’t to your liking, try another source. In fact, for years I thought I didn’t like kefir, until I found the grains that I now perpetuate and enjoy.

Yield: 1 quart.


  • 2 to 4 tablespoons kefir grains
  • 1 quart cold or incubation-temperature (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk

Note: The grain measurement is an estimate. Because they’re globular, the grains are difficult to measure by volume. Since they vary greatly in how active they are, simply monitor the results rather than focus on the measurement. In general, the more grains you use, the faster fermentation happens.


  1. Place the grains in a quart glass jar, and add the milk (it can be cold or at incubation temperature, but not hot).
  2. Place the lid on the jar loosely, or lightly tighten by hand, so that excess carbon dioxide produced by the yeast will be able to escape the jar. Let the jar sit at room temperature, ideally around 70 degrees, for 12 to 24 hours. For a slower fermentation, place the jar immediately in the refrigerator and let it ferment for several days. The flavor will be a bit different with this approach, but it’s a great option if you’re having trouble keeping up with consumption. You can gently agitate the jar during fermentation, which will make the final result a bit more even, though this isn’t necessary.
  3. When you’re ready to use the kefir, gently shake or stir the jar. Set a high-quality stainless-steel, synthetic, or bamboo strainer over a glass or jar, and strain the kefir through it. Stir the grains in the strainer gently to encourage draining if needed.
  4. Rinse the grains with fresh, cool, nonchlorinated water. Place the grains in a clean jar, and add more milk to begin the fermentation cycle again.
  5. If you don’t drink the kefir right away, cover it tightly, and refrigerate. It should stay fresh for a few days. 
  6. It’ll become more acidic and bubblier as it sits. For an effervescent version, pour the strained kefir into a shatterproof, stopper-top bottle, or a plastic water bottle. Leave 1 or 2 inches of headspace, cap, and store in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Expect some nice foam when you open it!

A Secondary Fruity Fermentation

For a fun fermentation experiment and a delicious, bubbly drink, try doing a secondary fermentation with drained kefir. Add 1 part fruit juice — such as cranberry, cherry, or apple — to 2 parts fresh kefir, then bottle in sterilized plastic water bottles or stoppered glass bottles. Ferment in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks. Every few days, gently rock the bottles to blend the ferment. The amount of fizz you get will depend on the sugar content of the fruit juice. If you want a final burst of fizz and a less sour product, add a pinch of baking soda to each glass when serving.

Flavorful Ferments

I’m not a fan of regularly adding sugar to finished ferments, as it doesn’t benefit gut health. But I also acknowledge the need to slowly transition from a diet of sweetened foods to one that limits added sugars, in addition to the fact that sometimes we just need to have a treat! For either reason, here are a few ideas for adding some interest, flavor, and sweetness to your glass of kefir.

  • Golden Kefir: To 1 glass of kefir, add 1 teaspoon turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper, and a pinch of ground cinnamon.
  • Kefir-Nog: To 1 glass of kefir, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 18 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional).
  • Berry ‘n Mint Kefir: At the bottom of a glass, muddle 2 tablespoons fresh or frozen raspberries or strawberries along with 2 fresh mint leaves. Pour kefir into glass, and mix.
  • Lemon Pie Kefir: To 1 glass of kefir, add 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, and 1 teaspoon agave or maple syrup.

Read More About Kefir!

Excerpted from Homemade Yogurt & Kefir by © Gianaclis Caldwell. Photos by © Carmen Troesser. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

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