Milk Kefir (pronounced keh-FEER) is a wonderfully delicious slightly carbonated fermented milk beverage similar to yogurt (or buttermilk). Kefir is simply milk that is fermented at room temperature with kefir grains for about 24 hours. It has many wonderful health benefits, a great flavor and is also usually tolerated well by the lactose intolerant. It's much easier to make than yogurt - no heating or incubating involved, and kefir has a much larger spectrum of probiotics than yogurt. The reusable, sustainable grains also make it more economical.
Kefir has gained in popularity lately, due to interest in eating more responsibly and locally, as well as more economically, combined with a greater awareness of the health benefits of probiotics from cultures and whole foods.
But with that popularity has come a load of misinformation and deceiving products on the web. Authentic kefir can only be made by real kefir grains, not from any kind of packet or powder (or from incubating store-bought kefir). Kefir available at the stores are simply imitations. This is due to regulations on consistent products with known ingredients, bottling procedures and packaging and shipping standards. As with most nutritious foods, real kefir can only be made and experienced at home.
Milk Kefir originated roughly 2,000 years ago in the Caucasian Mountains between Europe and Russia, which makes kefir one of the oldest milk ferments in existence. If you have more questions you can check out Yemoos Nourishing Cultures to see photos, FAQ's, health benefits and other information on milk kefir.
Now, lets get started!
Step 1: Supplies
A. First, you will need milk.
*Make sure the milk isn't ultra-pastuerized or 'lactose-free'. Raw milk is best, but if you don't have access to raw, simple basic whole milk works well. Skim or low fat milk will work, but the grains prefer the full range of nutrition found in whole milk.
B. Second, you will want a strainer on hand - fine plastic/nylon or stainless steel. Aluminum and other metals can leach when coming into contact with acidic liquids such as milk kefir. Stainless steel is considered safe for short term contact.
*Strainers with large holes (like pasta strainers) don't work well - the smaller grains may pass right through into your kefir drink, rendering it gritty and lumpy (and unstorable - it will continue to ferment quickly in the fridge). Though its not a health hazard to drink them, you will lose part of your culture.
C. As for the other supplies, you will need a bowl to capture your strained kefir, a jar and breathable lid to ferment your kefir in, and a jar or bottle for storing your strained kefir in the fridge. A sterile wood or plastic spoon is also handy to help strain the kefir. You may want to have some yummy fresh fruit or other vanilla extract on hand to flavor your kefir, though it is yummy plain, too!