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How To & Troubleshooting Milk Kefir

The Answers You Need & The Advice You Can Trust

How should I get started?

Immediately put the milk kefir grains into 1 or 2 cups of fresh milk. The grains will be dormant from the shipping stress. The shipping recovery time is about 4 to 5, 20-hour milk changes, use 1 or 2 cups of pasteurized milk for the first week. Place the milk and grains into a GLASS container then stir it up. Cover the container to prevent anything from getting in and place in a warm area (68-78F). Every few hours, gently shake/stir the glass container for a few seconds to move fresh milk to the grains. When you see that the milk is clearly separated into whey and curds (this may not happen for the first few batches) shake again to mix the whey and curds into homogeneous liquid. You can strain the grains BEFORE separation occurs for a sweeter, less sour/bitter flavor. You may also remove the grains early and allow the milk kefir to continue fermenting.

The grains feed on the lactose/sugar in the milk. Take the glass container, stir it up, and pour it through a strainer. Take the grains from the strainer, put in another cup of new milk, then stir grains gently with a spoon. Cover with a breathable or non-breathable lid. Now you are brewing your second batch, goat milk works great!! The grains should grow by week 2. If you use an airtight lid, the milk will become carbonated. Milk kefir grains can be slowed down by placing them in the fridge or freezer. Stainless steel is the only metal that can be used; we recommend that you use nylon/plastic strainers and glass brew containers for best results.

If you are using raw milk, you may want to mix 50/50 with pasteurized milk for the first week and then use 100% raw milk. This second batch may be well cultured. However, your perfected kefir will come after the initial 6-8 batches. For the first few batches, use only 1-2 cups of milk. Later, when your grains adapt to their new home and your love, you may achieve completed ferments with ½ gallon of milk per ~24-hour brew. With all subsequent batches, follow the above procedure.

Dehydrated or freeze-dried grains are treated the same as live grains, but may take longer to notice activity. Experiment with adding flavoring or fruit during secondary/post ferments after the grains have been removed. -NOTE- Avoid “ULTRA-PASTURIZED” milk.

What are milk kefir grains? They are very strange!

Milk kefir grains, also known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bactria and Yeast) are used to make milk kefir, a fermented milk. Milk begins to ferment once the grains are added.  Kefir grains are thought have their origins in the north Caucasus Mountains. But this is not known for certain as kefir grains have probably existed for millions of years. 

The oldest known milk kefir like grains, were actually found in tombs of an early Bronze Age cemetery in Xinjiang, China, in 2014.  Estimated to be roughly 3,800 years old.  However, it is likely that kefir making dates back much further than this.

Milk Kefir grains are actually not grains at all.  Only commonly referred to as "grains."  They have a gelatinous or rubbery texture and are usually described as off-white. 

Kefir grains are a combination of lactic acid, bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars.  This symbiotic matrix forms "grains" that tend to resemble baby cauliflower, yet their appearance can vary significantly.  Milk kefir grains should be off-white to white and grow if cared for properly.  Grains should not be brown or dark yellow.

How should one care for the little milk kefir grains?

Although small and slimy, milk kefir grains are rather easy to get along with if allotted daily attention. Kefir grains are very reactive, so their results will greatly vary depending on the care they are provided. Kefir grains require a daily process of milk changes. This can be achieved in a variety of methods but let's start with this. Milk kefir grains thrive on lactose, so it is imperative that you use a milk that has lactose.

1. Remove grains from container and place into a GLASS, wide mouth mason/ball jar with about 3/4 cup of pasteurized mammalian milk containing lactose. Avoid using raw or ultra pasteurized milk for now.

2. Cover the jar with with a lid, (cloth and rubber band, nylon or a mason jar lid all work). Tighten lid slightly as to prevent any insects from crawling in. A breathable or non breathable lid will work.

3. Place the jar in a room temperature area. 65-75 F° is fine, a cooler temperature will slow the ferment, as opposed to a warmer environment accelerating the rate of ferment. Let the jar sit for about 20 hours. Grains may sink or float, both are normal and not cause for concern.

4. After about 20 hours, use a fine mesh strainer to dump the jar into. You are collecting the grains so that you can place them into another jar of fresh milk to repeat step 2 & 3. This is essentially the entire process, that is repeated daily.

5. The grains may not ferment the first few batches of milk well. The grains will be dormant from the stress during shipping and they will require several milk changes to recover. Not unusual for the first 4 or 5 milk changes to still look like regular milk. May need to practice patience.

6. Grains typically begin growing after about 8 milk changes. By this time, the grains should be fermenting the milk fairly well. You may begin noticing the milk separating into curd (thick cheesy like substance) and whey (thin watery substance).  This is a good indication that the milk is fermenting. Separation occurs once the pH level of the milk begins to drop from the acid being formed as a result of the fermentation.

7. At this time you may need to use more milk to accommodate the growing grains.  It is ok to estimate and to alter ferment times. An average ferment is about 20 hours, but is perfectly fine to ferment between 12-36 hours. It will not harm the grains to experiment with different ratios of milk, ferment times, temperatures or types of mammalian milk.

My grains are floating or sinking and an odd shape, are they dead?

Probably not, grains may float or sink as they grow and gain or lose density, this has to do with displacement. Healthy grains can both, sink and float. They will also grow in many different shapes and sizes. This is normal and natural, should not be reason for concern.

I have changed the milk 3 times and my grains are the same size, are they dead?

Milk kefir grains are known to grow quickly. Usually the grains will begin to grow after about 6-8 milk changes, the larger they
become, the faster they grow and the more quickly they will ferment the same volume of milk. If you have done over 8 milk
changes and your grains have not grown at all, please verify that you are not using "ultra-pasteurized" milk.

Please HELP! My kefir separated into curds and whey, where are my darling grains!?!

Relax, do not worry, this is very common. Kefir will always separate to curds and whey if allowed to ferment for long enough. When this happens, the curds will build up around your grains making it difficult to find or even strain them out.

Follow the below steps to retrieve your precious, milk kefir grains:

1. Stir the curds and whey back together the best you can
2. Pour it all into a strainer
3. Add a small amount of milk or filtered water to help moisturize the curds
4. Sift around with a spoon inside of the strainer until the curds break down and fall through
5. Add more liquid if needed and continue sifting until only the kefir grains remain
6. Put only the kefir grains into more fresh milk and strain before separation occurs

It is important to avoid excessive curd build-up. It is recommended to only add the grains and not the curds to new batches of milk kefir. The more the curds are allowed to build-up, the more curds you will end up with and it will eventually lead to foul
tastes and odors. Rinsing the grains repeatedly will stress them, only rinse when there is a lot of curd build-up.

I received my kefir grains yesterday, it has been almost 20 hours and nothing has happened, are my grains dead?

Probably not, kefir grains are incredibly resilient and we source all of our grains from a very large, healthy and thriving culture only hours before shipping them out in the cool evening. However, the grains can become stressed and dormant during transit. Sometimes the grains need a milk change or two before they rejuvenate themselves and become fully active once again. It is not at all uncommon for the milk to smell and taste completely unchanged during the first batch. Some grains may
take up to 3 or 4, 24-hour milk changes to become entirely revived. Please be patient and allow your grains time to recover from the strenuous journey across the world.

My kefir isn't thick like the kefir from the store.

Milk Kefir will thicken naturally a bit. Milk kefir will be thickest several hours before separation. Keep in mind, you should
ferment your kefir to taste rather than thickness. Commercially manufactured kefir has "Pectin" added to it, Pectin can be found at most stores and can be added at will. Additionally, kefir manufactured for commercial purposes does not contain nearly the number of bacteria/yeast strains that kefir from grains has, this also contributes to the different taste as well.

My kefir smells and tastes too bitter! : (

This is almost always a result of curds continuously being added to new batches, mixed with over fermenting. Try rinsing your grains of all curds and then ferment for less time. You should begin to get a better tasting and smelling kefir after a few short 8-10 hour ferments. It may take a few batches before the bacteria and yeast, balance out once again. Always remember, kefir grains are alive, they react to your particular care and brewing techniques. Please exercise patience, practice and persistence. The taste and consistency of your kefir will evolve over time, no two batches will be exactly the same.

I used ultra-pasteurized milk and my kefir turns out nicely.

While many people have good results with ultra-pasteurized milk. We have received a lot of feedback over the years that ultra-pasteurized milk may prevent grain growth or yield inconsistent results. If you are having good luck with ultra-pasteurized milk, feel free to continue using it. But if your grains aren't growing or you're not having great ferments, try using a different milk.  Oftentimes, milk may be pasteurized at different temperatures, which can affect the ferment.

Can I use milk grains with coconut, almond or other lactose free milks?

Milk Kefir grains thrive on lactose, found in mammalian milk.  While some report decent results fermenting in lactose free milks.  We recommend using a milk containing lactose.  Keep in mind, the ferment is eating up the lactose, so the lactose levels will be lower once ferment is complete.

If you still prefer using lactose free milk. You can either supplement grains by mixing lactose free milk with mammalian milk, or alternate between the two milks. If you only feed them lactose free milk, the grains may not grow, brown and slowly die. Another option for dairy free kefir, is water kefir using water kefir grains.

How do I store my grains for a few days or a few months?

To store grains for a short period of time, place grains in fresh milk, cover jar and place in refrigerator. If possible, change the milk 2x a week. Otherwise, once a week should be enough. Grains will become dormant after storage as it can be stressful on them.  They may require several milk changes to recover, after being removed from the refrigerator.

Another couple of options for long-term storage, are freezing or dehydrating.  To freeze; strain grains well, pat dry, roll in plastic wrap and then place in freeze safe container. To be extra courteous, sprinkle powdered milk on gains before wrapping. Do not freeze the grains in liquid. Grains should be free of all liquid before freezing.

To dehydrate; strain grains well, pat dry and place in dehydrator at low, or no heat.  Too much heat is the mortal enemy of kefir grains, so make sure it is below 100°F. Once grains are thoroughly dried, seal inside a bag or jar to preserve and store in a cool, dark place.

These long-term storage methods have shown to be effective for a year or longer. The longer they are stored, the less likely they are to recover, so use with caution.

Can I use metal with my grains?

Stainless steel is an acceptable metal.  Stainless steel will not harm your grains or kefir. However, other metals and materials can harm grains or leach. 

Do not use: aluminum, iron, copper, ceramic/porcelain, enameled metal or non-stick coated or wood items. Stainless steel is perfectly usable and easy to clean. Stainless steel strainers might be a little rough on the grains and may tear them down. For this reason we recommend a nylon/plastic strainer. However, a stainless steel strainer, container or spoon, is perfectly acceptable.

Glass mason jars and plastic, stainless steel or silicone spoons are a good choice. We advise against plastic brewing containers. While plastic containers are acceptable, heavily worn plastic vessels can have thousands of micro scratches that can be difficult to clean and may harbor bacteria that will influence your ferment. If using a plastic bowl or container, make sure it is a newer container in good condition with little use.

Can I use fat free, skim, 2% or whole milk? Goat milk ok for kefir?

Yes, it is ok to use any of those milks. The most important aspect of the milk will be the lactose. Fat free and whole cow or goat milk both have lactose. We tend to see best results with whole milk, but fat free and skim milk work very well and can be used.

Raw milk a good choice?

Raw milk is acceptable milk as well. Raw milk can be a little more complicated than pasteurized milk.  Raw milk has its own bacteria and the grains will require additional time to adjust to your particular raw milk.

If using raw milk, we always suggest starting the grains on pasteurized milk and then transitioning them into raw milk. First 3 batches with pasteurized milk, then 50/50 mix of raw and pasteurized milk, until the grains grow, then 100% raw milk. We recommend discarding the first few batches of raw milk until the grains have visibly grown. Want to make sure the grains are doing a good job fermenting the raw milk.

When using raw milk, it is not uncommon of the grains to need about 2 weeks of milk changes before they start fermenting well. Same is true when changing back to pasteurized milk from raw milk. The grains become accustomed to their environment, so any type of large change in their daily routine, will result in varying batches.

In our opinion, it is better to drink raw milk separately from kefir of pasteurized milk. This way you reap the benefits of raw milk bacteria as well as kefir bacteria. Mixing kefir with raw milk may result in less overall bacterial diversity. Will also eliminate the increased risk of consuming fermented raw milk.

I have been making kefir for a long time and I like to make it a different way than you have suggested.

That is great! If you have been happy with your results from your methods, please continue on. There are countless techniques and procedures when it comes to fermenting. We offer you guidance to the best of our ability. If you find that you prefer a different procedure, then please feel free to ferment the way you feel comfortable with.

Should I heat my milk or grains?

Heating your milk is not necessary. The grains will do fine with cool milk, it will just slow the ferment and hour or 2. We generally advise against heating, as brewers may accidentally overheat their milk or grains. While kefir grains are very tough, temperatures above 120°F can damage or even kill them. We don't want that happening. It is too much risk and hassle, to provide the grains a very small amount of temporary comfort.

The grains can easily survive the cold, but not always high heat. Heating may also damage the milk. So save your time/effort and do not worry about heating the milk. If you are really adamant about milk temperature. At most, just allow the milk to rise at room temperature, rather than heating.

What is a secondary ferment?

A secondary ferment is a ferment after your primary ferment. A secondary ferment is not required, but provides a good opportunity to add fruit or flavor to your kefir.

A typical ferment is usually ~20-24 hours. If doing a secondary ferment, we recommend a short, primary ferment of 8-12 hours with the grains. Then remove the grains and add mashed fruit or some type of sugar to the kefir. Allow the kefir to ferment for an additional 10-12 hours, then refrigerate. The kefir will continue to ferment even after grains are removed, however it will be at a slower rate. 

It is important to remove the grains before adding fruit, as it will help to control the pace of the ferment by slowing it down. Will also prevent any seeds from getting caught in the grains. If fruit seeds get lost inside the grains, will be difficult to find and remove them. The seeds will eventually rot and cause foul tastes and odors.

Should I use a sealed or breathable jar lid?

A sealed or breathable lid are acceptable. The kefir will ferment either way. We recommend trying both and see if your develop a preference. The main purpose of the lid is to keep things out.  Fruit flies, house flies and gnats are notorious for getting into kefir. They can enter through very small holes. So make sure you have a lid that seals out insects and dust.

We have always had great results with a plastic, screw lid that is tightened slightly. Be warned, that a jar can burst if capped completely. It is always a good idea to allow gas to escape a little bit. Listen for a hissing sound from the jar to confirm that gas is escaping. A tight lid will also trap more carbonation in the kefir, so if you prefer less fizz, a vented lid would be best.

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