Best Equipment for Making Kefir
Like the process of kefir making itself, the equipment and utensils that you will need to make great kefir are super simple. There are however a few rules to stick by, and some things to keep in mind which will make kefir fermentation an easier process for you.
Make Sure You Have the Right Stuff to Make Things Simple
Making kefir and other types of fermentation is an age old process which was around back in the days before we had any complicated gadgets. In fact, one can look at kefir and other ferments from the point of view that the bacteria are the gadgetry! They do most of the work for us, we just have to make sure that we provide them with the right environments and surroundings in which to do their work.
While you do not need anything high tech for kefir making, it is great to have the things that you need to keep you culture safe and makes things easy for you.
Kefir Culture Health
This is where the kefir equipment guidelines come in. Certain substances can harm the kefir grains if they are exposed to these over an ongoing period of time.
Materials such as plastic and non-stainless steel metal fall into this category as they can react with the acidity in the kefir, and leach out harmful substances.
Practicality & Convenience
The other element with regards to a kefir making kit is pure convenience. If you are going to be making kefir on an on-going basis, then you want to have vessels and utensils which will save you time, mess and hassle.
The Basic Equipment You Need
Kefir is pretty simple and you don’t need too much in the way of equipment. If you have nothing but a simple glass jar and cloth to cover it, that will suffice.
However, if you want to get into brewing Kefir on a regular basis, we do recommend some basic products that can simplify your kefir making process. The great thing is that many of these products can also be used to brew Kombucha and in vegetable fermentation as well. So buying these products provides a lot of different uses.
- a container with a lid that will hold about 4 cups of liquid. The lid does not need to seal tightly as the kefir will be releasing the gases as it ferments. You will actually never start the fermentation with the jar more than ¾ full as it bubbles and increases in volume and you don’t want a mess bubbling over the top waste of delicious kefir! You can also mark the outside of this container with a level – use a marker pen or a firm rubber band – to indicate the level of grains required for each fermentation. This makes it easy to see how many spare grains you have left to use for other experimentation or to save for future use.
- a strainer with holes small enough to catch all the valuable grains. And which you can easily clean.
- a cloth covering or cheese cloth
- a bowl in which to strain your kefir so should hold 4 to 8cups. If it has a lip for pouring that makes it easier to bottle or you can use a funnel
- a lidded bottle in which to store your drinkable kefir in the fridge or at room temperature.
- a long spoon of wood, plastic or stainless steel
- a long whisk for mixing up your kefir
- a glass sealed bottle for second fermentation (optional)
- a heater strip for cool weather fermentation (optional)
- pH testing equipment (optional)
With this list in mind, lets look at some of best equipment that will help you make better kefir more efficiently.
The Best Kefir Equipment
The most important single piece of equipment is your brewing vessel. This is what you make your kefir in and you absolutely need one to make kefir.
Best Containers for Kefir Making
- Glass Jar: The most simple and effective container is a large lidded glass jar holding a minimum of 4 cups.
- Food grade plastic containers should also be acceptable for fermenting kefir but as milk kefir is acidic always make sure it is food grade plastic. To indicate this it should have marked on the underside #1 PET/PETE and #2 HDPE/PE-HD. Anything else may start to break down and leach molecules into your kefir which is far from ideal. The advantage of plastic of course is that it is inexpensive durable and less easily damaged.
- Stainless steel is a viable option as well but it must be good quality stainless steel as it is the only metal that will not react with the acidity of the kefir. The disadvantage is you cannot easily see how the fermentation is progressing.
- Ceramic or stoneware containers are also fine and have an old world charm from when many things were stored in heavy crocs. The disadvantage is, like stainless steel, you can’t check how the kefir looks during fermentation.
- Animal Skin Pouch: And last and possibly least according to our modern sensitivities skin that was once the coat of a goat. In the Caucasus Mountains kefir was brewed on a continual basis in a goat skin hung by the entrance door. It could be gently knocked regularly as people passed through the door. If it was cool it could be moved to the sun, if hot shaded inside. If you really want to go back to the old way of making kefir, well get a goat-skin wine pouch, hang it up by your door, and make kefir in it!
How to Choose the RIGHT Container
Generally, anything that’s non reactive works. My favorite is either your basic glass jar or a nice stoneware vessel. I prefer stoneware, beacuse there’s just something about having a stone pot in your kitchen that you ferment your kefir in. It just looks cool. And incidentally, stoneware tends to stay cooler than glass and is non-see through, so it prevents any interaction from the sunlight. Since you will be brewing and storing your kefir in different vessels, you might want to invest in 2 or 3 different containers for your kefir production.
- the main fermentation vessel (the largest)
- the in-fridge storage vessel (smaller)
- sealed second ferment vessel (can be same as in-fridget storage vessel).
Of course, you can just use a single vessel to ferment and store your kefir if you wish. I find having a couple different containers make the process considerably more streamlined. Read our article about how to choose the best containers for making kefir for more information.
Best Size for a Kefir Vessel
The first thing you must decide on is what container you are going to use to ferment your kefir in. Size wise the vessel should hold roughly the same volume of milk as the amount of kefir you want or plan to consume per day. Kefir is usually left to ferment for 24 hours. If however you live in a cold climate, or prefer extra strongly fermented kefir, and want to brew for 48 hours each time, then you will need a vessel which holds enough for two days worth of kefir. Alternatively you can also use two vessels which are half the volume if this is more convenient.
I recommend a half gallon jug (2 liters) which makes enough kefir to last you for a few days while you brew up another batch if you want to keep in continuous supply. You can, of course, opt for a 1 gallon or larger, but this results in a lot of kefir. I find the 1/2 gallons are small enough where you can store the finished product in the fridge in the same vessel.
The best material for a brewing vessel for kefir is glass or stoneware (food safe ceramic). Glass is non reactive and does not leach out substances which can be potentially harmful. Metal is a definite no-no, and so is plastic. Some people do use containers made out of these materials for brewing kefir in, but we would not advise it. Ceramic is an option, but you will need to make sure that the glazing is food-grade. Some ceramic glazing can contain high amounts of lead – definitely not something you want in your kefir!
A word about using metallic objects and equipment with kefir. There is some information purporting to say that kefir grains will die if they are touched by any metal object and that this must be avoided at any cost, even by rings on your hand. This fanaticism possibly came about because in days past there was no stainless steel and other commonly used metals associated with food, like copper, brass or aluminium react with the acid kefir and metallic ions would leach into the kefir. The grains would not die instantly but it is certainly best avoided to have metals leaching into daily your health drink. It is perfectly fine to use quality stainless steel utensils in kefir fermentation process. Stainless steel is easy to clean, robust and offers excellent longevity, especially for sieves and spoons. Also Sugary Kefir Grains (SKG) are not acidic so there is little risk of any reaction when making water kefir.
Stainless steel metal containers are ok, though we still recommend regular old glass as the best solution.
What do I recommend?
I find that the all time best container for kefir making is a nice big glass jar with a lid. This is because while a lid is not necessary while you are fermenting, it can sometimes be convenient to be able to seal up the kefir directly in its brewing vessel, saving hassle decanting it into other containers. A clamp down lid is great if you are planning on doing secondary ferments – but a normal canning lid can work just fine.
Best Primary Container for Making Kefir
This is the most important piece of equipment you need for making kefir. We give you two recommendations: a basic glass jar with a lid or a stoneware crock with an optional lid (which I recommend) and stone weight. The stone weight comes in handy if you also want to make fermented veggies as well as kefir, though is completely optional
Best Bottles for Storing Kefir
If you only want to store your kefir for a day or so until consumed strong glass bottles or food grade plastic will be just fine. Even your primary brewing container will do, if you don’t mind keeping your Kefir outside of the fridge (it will ferment faster though if not refrigerated).
Typically, we find kefir put in the fridge for a day to a week tends to mellow out with the kefir turning sweeter, less sour, and the texture more creamy. So there are some good reasons to ‘store’ your kefir in the fridge for a few days. Cold kefir, too, tastes better than warm kefir.
How to Choose the Right Storage Bottle
Like the primary fermentation, you can choose glass, stainless steel, food grade plastic, or stoneware bottles. However, you are most likely to find glass or plastic bottles that are ideally sized for fridge storage.
Glass, on the other hand should be able to be used indefinitely and it might be worthwhile collecting. Just makes sure the top is plastic. Even better, perhaps invest in bottles with strong sealable swing top lids. These come in a range of sizes and are available online if not at your local market.
Bottles for second fermentation should have sealed tops as the process is anaerobic, that is, it takes place in the absence of oxygen so air should be excluded as much as possible. Second fermentation produces a lot of fizz with water kefir so sealed bottles need to be burped once or twice a day to ensure the gases do not build too much pressure. If you are completing the process in the refrigerator it will take longer than in room temperature. Swing top glass bottles are a perfect choice for this. They come in range of sizes and are designed to withstand build up of carbonization pressure.
If you opt for normal glass bottles however, to gauge gas build up level, it is wise to use one plastic bottle for the same brew. When this feels firm you will be able to gauge the glass bottles should be burped and therefore avoid nasty breakages.
Another glass option is a large wide mouth bottle such as a clamp lid jar. The only issue is that the clamp lid can get in the way when you need to pour into another container, though this is a minor complaint.
This is an opportunity to reuse strong plastic bottles that have the food grade rating. Ask family or friends to supply a few and repay their gesture with a delicious sample to encourage them to make their own kefir. You may even be able to supply them with some spare grains. Just ensure the bottles are well washed and dried before use. Because milk kefir is acidic it may be best to only reuse them for a few times in case the acids start to break down the plastic. This is especially the case in the thinner grade used in water bottles. This is why we recommend glass over plastic for long terms storage.
Best Bottles and Jars for Kefir Storage & Second Fermentation
Once you have made your kefir you then have to choose how to store it or second ferment it. Now you can use your primary fermentation vessel to ‘store’ your kefir in the fridge if you wish. But it might be too large to easily fit or you might need it to brew up a new batch of kefir using fresh milk (or water if water kefir).
As such, you may want to consider a bottle to hold your finished product. Or, if you plan on doing a second ferment, to second ferment in, then store in the fridge.
Fliptop Glass Bottles
Once you’ve made your finished kefir, you can either refrigerate it or second ferment it, the refrigerate it. While it’s possible to do both with a single vessel, you’ll probably find you keep your main fermentation vessel always out to ferment new kefir. That means you need to store your finished product in a smaller bottle.
For this, I recommend a smaller, sealed jar. If it’s completely sealed, you can use it to make a nice second ferment. If it’s just a jug with a lid, you can use it to store your kefir in the fridge. I recommend getting a glass jar that seals so you can do both in one vessel.
Investing in some fliptop bottles can make for a nice additional to your fermentation equipment. This is especially true if you are planning make water kefir and if you are planning to do secondary fermentation. Fliptop bottles allow for carbonation to build up, while reducing any risks of exploding bottles! You can either purchase them online, or if you are a beer drinker, visit your local liquor store and pick up some craft beer which comes in fliptops. You can then recycle these in your kefir making.
Jars with clamp down lids
Jars with clamp down lids are really great to have if you are planning to second ferment milk or water kefir with added flavoring which cannot fit into a fliptop bottle opening, such as fruit. Again, clamp down lids can allow for ok levels of carbonation to build, while drastically reducing any explosion risks. Having a glass bottle or jar explode in a cupboard can not only be a HUGE mess, but also very dangerous if anybody is nearby.
Best Covering for Kefir Containers
Next you will need to find something with which to cover the top of your vessel while the kefir is fermenting. While some people swear by anaerobic kefir fermentation, where one seals the ferment by screwing on the lid, kefir is generally made via aerobic fermentation.
When brewing kefir, you will want to cover the kefir jar to keep dust, air-based pathogens, and pest out of your kefir. While you can completely seal your kefir in a jar with a lid and still brew kefir, I find allowing oxygen into your kefir during fermentation produces a creamier and better-tasting kefir.
How to Choose the Right Covering Material
Generally, it’s pretty easy to find something to cover your kefir with. Any breathable cloth will work (as long as it’s clean).
Best Covering Materials
This means that the kefir is exposed to air because the container in which it is fermenting is not sealed up and the opening can allow oxygen in. This however does not mean that it can just be left wide open, as dirt and dust can fall in, insects have access etc. To prevent this, the best thing is to cover the opening with a breathable material, and tie it tightly around the neck with a piece of string, or secure it with a rubber band.
You will need to cut a square of fabric which is big enough to fit over the top with room to spare. The fabric should be something which is a tight weave, such as cotton. If you do not have any material you can cut a square out of, you can also use a coffee filter or a piece of paper towel. If you are going with kitchen towel, it might be a good idea to fold it double, as some kitchen towel brands can be quite thin.
Fastening the Cover to the Top of the Lid
As for a fastening to tie around the neck of your brewing vessel to keep the cloth on securely, you can use any old piece of string. The most convenient is to have a suitable sized rubber band on hand. Even a hair band can work well!
Best Kefir Jar Cover
Any cotton cloth will work. However, we recommend this cheese cloth as you can use it for other things like making kefir cheese. So it’s a good item to have at hand when making kefir.
Best Spoons for Kefir Making
You can use ANY spoon, ladle or mixer to make kefir. However, there are some better choices than others which can make your kefir making process a bit easier.
Ordinary kitchen spoon
The best material for spoons and utensils which will be used for kefir making is wood. Wood is completely non-reactive. However I would advise that if you are using a wooden spoon for kefir making, do not use it for other cooking and kitchen work. This is because the wood can absorb other flavors which might release very slightly into the kefir if left in it for a couple of minutes. Plastic spoons are also fine. This is because, while plastic can leach toxins, especially when in contact with acidic substances such as kefir, this should only happen if there is prolonged contact. If you were storing your kefir in a plastic bottle, then leaching would most probably occur, especially if the bottle was new.
Ladles are not a must for kefir making, but if you are going to be using one, and you only have a ladle which is made out of metal, then I would advise that you invest in a plastic one or wood. Make sure it’s a longer ladle so you can reach the bottom. I find these very useful when you want to stir up the kefir every day (or if you use FULL FAT milk which has the fat tend to creep to the top of the kefir) or if you want to mix around a second ferment to ensure equal distribution of all the flavorings inside.
Having a cake scraper handy can be convenient for cleaning out any kefir jars or bowls when you wash the emptied jar (kefir remains have a tendency to stick to the bottom)
Recommended Spoon for Kefir Making
Best Straining Equipment for Kefir Making
At whichever point you think your kefir has fermented enough you need to carefully strain out the grains. Milk kefir has a much thicker consistency than water kefir so your choice of sieve is more critical for milk kefir than water kefir.
Straining is the most time consuming process when making kefir. By simplifying (or even removing) the straining process, you can save a lot of time. You also end up with LESS cleanup after making your kefir (straining can be a messy process). If you don’t mind straining your kefir grains, then buying a simple strainer is a cheap, easy solution. However, if you want to avoid straining, then you’ll need to invest in or build a hemp pouch to hold your kefir grains. You can then just drop this pouch into your brewing vessel, suspended on a string. When the kefir is done, you simply pull the pouch out with the grains! No straining. At least this is the theory. In practice, how effective this ‘pouch’ can vary, depending on the size of your grains and the consistency thickness of your kefir. It may or may not work.
When the time comes for removing the kefir grains from the fermented kefir, a sieve is the best. Although kefir grains can grow into big globs, there are usually little pieces that either form in the kefir as it ferments, or sometimes break off from the main culture. Accidentally ingesting one of these is no big deal as it will just contain the same beneficial bacteria as that which is in the kefir. However the texture can be off-putting, and most people prefer to get all of the grains out. Once again, do not use a metal sieve for this as it can react with the kefir and ultimately damage the culture.
You’ll want a larger Sieve as the kefir, especially if it’s a few days fermented, is often clumped together and you’ll need to whist around the Sieve quite forcefully to separate the thick kefir from the grains. It’s harder and takes longer to do so if you have a smaller sieve.
It is most convenient if the sieve diameter is such that it fits across your bowl used to collect the kefir in such a way is it sits stable and even better if it large enough to hold the total fermented amount. The sieve should be large enough to allow the kefir to pass but not so large that small pieces of precious grains are lost.
- Food grade plastic strainers are perfectly fine for straining out the grains after the initial fermentation. They are easy to clean and come in many shapes and sizes.
- Stainless steel sieves are also perfectly fine but as noted before choose one not to fine that the kefir will not easily pass. You do not want to damage the grains by handling them too much.
- Cane or Wicker are better for those of you who prefer more natural materials. These too should always be washed well in super hot water or washed in a mild detergent then dried thoroughly before reusing. Drying is as important to reduce any risk of infection as thorough washing is.
Recommend Sieve Strainer for Kefir
Kefir Grain Cage
Another option instead of straining your kefir grains out is to place your kefir grains in a container or pouch that allows the liquid in contact with the kefir grains while still holding the grains. You can use a hemp pouch with wide mesh (wide enough to allow free flow of the liquid) or a plastic ‘cage’ that does the same thing.
It’s a bit of a hit or miss with this device that may or may not work, depending on how thick your grains are. I’ve found the tendency is that the area around the cage gets fermented and solidified while other parts of the jar don’t get proper fermentation. Again, it’s a hit or miss. If you can get it working for you then you won’t have to strain the kefir and the biggest ‘time constraint’ of kefir making process is essentially removed.
For best results, you might want to look at a hemp pouch with a wide mesh (maybe half a centimeter spaces between the hemp stitching). You can hang this pouch full of kefir grains into your brew with a string. However, there are some off the shelf ‘plastic kefir cages’ you can buy that may do the trick.
Recommended Kefir Cage
Best Bowl for Kefir Making
You will probably find that when you are harvesting the kefir, you will need fair sized bowl to pour it into (through the sieve). The most convenient kind to use is one of those big plastic wide mouth jugs which have a pouring mouth. This way you can then pour the kefir into the bottles or jars in which you want to store in. Either way, just make sure that the jug or bowl which you will be using is glass, plastic or porcelain.
Recommended Bowl for Kefir Production
Best Funnel for Kefir Making
A funnel for kefir making is one of the best pieces of equipment you didn’t know you needed. Basically, the job of the funnel is to transfer the finished kefir product that’s been strained into the bowl into a sealed bottle, either for making a second ferment or for storage in the fridge (or maybe both).
A funnel is best suited for pouring into bottles with as wide aperture as is practicable to fit into your chosen bottle neck. The one with soft grips on the outer funnel neck is helpful to ensure it doesn’t slip easily when in the bottle neck.
While you can certainly get buy without a funnel, there will be a mess and a loss of kefir during the transfer process. So do yourself a favor and invest in a good strainer. Some of the better funnels also have a strainer fitted so could be useful to restrain your kefir to be sure of an extra smooth beverage.
Recommended Funnel for Kefir
Optional Kefir Making Items (that Will Make You Life Easier)
The items listed above are all the kefir making basics. But you can also get gadgety with just a couple extras which can make your life easier.
Whisks and Twisters
Another handy thing to have when making and bottling kefir is a whisk. This is because when fermentation takes place, sometimes the kefir can separate into curds and whey. You can pour some of the whey off if you want a thicker kind of kefir, but either way to achieve the nicest results it is a good idea to mix the batch quickly with a whisk to get it to back to a smooth creamy texture. Most whisks are metal, but nowadays many brands also make plastic ones!
If you have a twister (for those of your who do not, it is a plastic jug with a winding lid fitting which you can twist manually to chop or blend ingredients), this can be a great alternative to a plastic whisk for making your kefir lovely and smooth. If you have the right sized sieve you can pour your kefir out of the brewing vessel directly into the twister jug – through the sieve placed on top. The grains will lie in the sieve, and the kefir will be in the jug. Merely stick in the plastic blending attachment, insert the top, and wiz up to a creamy delight. You can even add fruit or other additional ingredients which you might want to lightly blend.
pH Testers for Kefir Taste Quality Control
It might be useful to check the pH levels of ingredients and the kefir (or kombucha) for instance, the pH for the best suitable water is 7.2 – 7.5. You may also be curious to know the acidity of your fermenting kefir at various stages.
One of the easiest ways is to buy pH strips from your local pharmacy or brewing supplies store or online. The strips usually give whole number values so are only indicative, not precise.
A pH meter will give precise results and allow you to keep an accurate record of all your various experiments for kefir making variables for instance, length of time, refrigeration, second fermentations, added flavorings.
Recommended pH Electric Meter
Recommended pH Strips
Heating Solutions for Cold Weather Brewing
Kefir ferments quite happily at normal room temperatures but of course this will vary with seasonal changes, your living style and where you wish to store your equipment. The ideal range is 68–77 °F (20–25 °C) and should the cold be a problem there are a few options to keep your baby kefir warm and bubbling away.
We used to keep our beer brewing in the cupboard next to our large hot water cylinder fitted with a small aquarium heater but there are now much easier systems suitable for kefir and kombucha.
- Heating Belt is the less expensive option to keep your kefir fermenting. Store the jar in closed environment away from drafts and cool air as much as possible. For crisp autumn or spring temperatures, a heating belt will more than suffice.
- Heating pads can be placed around the container and give a more even heating over the whole container. Place an insulating fabric or mat underneath and store in closed space away from drafts. For chilly winters, a heating pad may be a better choice than a heating belt as it will keep your brew warmer (though either is better than nothing).
Recommended Heating Belt for Kefir
Recommended Heating Pad for Kefir
The Final Word
So there you have an outline of options you have to start and continue successfully fermenting Kefir. If you have any suggestions or questions leave them in the comments below so we can all continue to learn and grow.
As you can see, the stuff you need to get seriously into kefir making is pretty basic. As long as you stick to the rules with regards to what substances can come into contact with the kefir and its grains, you are good to go!
The best advice I can give is start simple and grow with it. As you learn and gain experience you will find what equipment works best you and your kefir.
Whatever equipment you use always insure everything is thoroughly cleaned and dried before use. Use hot water and mild detergent and bottle brushes, scrubs etc to ensure all residues from previous fermentations are removed. This also includes washing and drying your hands as dry hands carry far less microbes than damp hands or even food handling gloves.