Have you ever made something and didn’t even know why you were making it? That describes my relationship with kefir back in 2006.
Matt brought home some mushy little tapioca-looking things in a jar he had procured from someone at work. He said we would use it to make a yogurt-like drink by letting a jar of milk sit out at room temp with these “grains,” as he called them. “Disgusting,” I thought. But I was a newlywed, so I went with it – and I’m glad I did!
What is Kefir?
We’ve learned so much about kefir (pronounced keh-FEAR) in the past eight years, and want to share a bit of it with you. We’ll keep it basic though, so it doesn’t overwhelm beginners and doesn’t bore all you kefir masters.
Kefir is a probiotic-rich drink, much like yogurt, but thinner in consistency. It is produced when you combine milk with kefir grains and let them ferment. The term grain can be a bit confusing though, since kefir grains are really little lumps of proteins, fats, and polysaccharides – no relation to the grain family at all. I would describe them as looking similar to miniature translucent cauliflower florets.
Fermentation of kefir will occur when your mixture of milk and kefir grains are left at room temperature for about 12-48 hours. The more grains you have, the more quickly it will ferment.
Temperature and the amount of time it is left to culture will affect not only the taste, but also the thickness. It will ferment slowly in cooler temperatures, and more quickly if your home is warmer. A thicker kefir is achieved by allowing your mixture to culture for longer periods of time. You can also add a bit of cream to yield a thicker product. However, the kefir grains need to feed on the milk sugars, so you can not make kefir with cream alone.
A finished kefir will taste a bit tart and tangy. Some may describe it as sour, but it should not taste like spoiled milk. Again, the tartness depends on how long it’s allowed to ferment. Your kefir might even be bubbly or effervescent.
Benefits of Kefir
Kefir is full of healthy bacterias and yeasts that offer crazy good probiotic power. The particular combination of bacteria in kefir is thought to be more powerful than those found in yogurt. Homemade kefir made with milk kefir grains usually contains around 50 strains of live bacteria and yeast. Compare that with regular store-bought yogurt which usually contains only about 2 major strains.
That’s a huge difference.
Some of kefir’s health benefits include the following:
- improving digestive health
- increasing population of desirable bacteria in the gut and eliminating some of the harmful bacteria
- helping with gastrointestinal problems like constipation, diarrhea, and bloating
- has been used in the treatment of Candidiasis, allergies, metabolic disorders, and many more conditions
- contains important minerals (calcium and magnesium) for a healthy nervous system
- contains the essential amino acid tryptophan, which has a relaxing effect on the nervous system, and can be beneficial for people with sleep disorders, ADHD, or even depression.
In addition to all these possible benefits, many individuals who are lactose intolerant can handle kefir because the bacteria pre-digests the lactose in the milk.
Sound good? Great. Now let’s talk about making your own kefir. It’s simple and doesn’t require a lot of hands-on time, but there are a few things you should know before jumping into this project.
Before You Start
Before making kefir at home you will need to obtain milk kefir grains. You can purchase them here or get them from a friend, neighbor, or co-worker who makes kefir. Kefir grains multiply over time, so there are always kefir-drinkers out there looking to get rid of grains.
Kefir will work its magic in any type of milk, but we recommend raw milk or at least an organic non-homogenized milk, preferably from pastured (grass-fed) cows.
Keep in mind if using any metal utensils, they should always be a nonreactive metal such as stainless steel. If a reactive metal is introduced to your kefir grains, their delicate balance can be altered. If you want to stay away from metal altogether when making kefir, choose wooden, plastic, or silicone utensils.
How to Make It
You will need:
- 2 tablespoons kefir grains (purchase starter grains here)
- 2 cups milk, preferably raw milk from pasture raised cows (find raw milk here)
- 2 clean glass mason jars (purchase mason jars here)
- lid or cloth for your jar
- spoon or spatula (like this)
- small mesh strainer (like this)
1. Add about 2 Tbsp kefir grains to a clean glass jar.
2. Add about 2 cups of milk to the jar. Stir grains gently using a wooden spoon or spatula.
3. Cover jar with a cloth or lid, and allow to ferment in a warm spot in your kitchen (but out of direct sunlight) for 12-48 hours. You can taste the kefir to see if it has properly fermented, or watch for the whey (a clear yellowish liquid) to separate at the bottom of your jar. You may have small pockets of whey throughout your kefir.
4. Pour kefir through a small strainer into another clean jar, collecting kefir grains in the strainer.
5. You now have fresh kefir that you can use right away or chill in the refrigerator, and your kefir grains are ready to be used again.
Combine your kefir grains with fresh milk for a new batch, or store in the refrigerator covered with a little milk if you’re not ready to make another batch. Refrigerated grains will become semi-dormant, so this is a good option if you’re going away or don’t want to make kefir for a few days. (Keep in mind it will take cold grains longer to ferment, so only refrigerate them if you’re not planning to make a new batch right away.)
When making a new batch of kefir, there is no need to rinse the grains. In fact, when a little bit of the previous kefir is allowed to remain with the grains, it keeps them stronger. Rinsing grains is only necessary if grains have been dropped or contaminated. In this case, use only fresh distilled or spring water, never water from the tap (as it can contain fluoride, chlorine, or other contaminants).
We like to make our kefir continuously, making only what we can drink in a day or two. This usually eliminates the need for storing the grains in the fridge. It really only takes a few minutes each day or two (depending on how fast your kefir is fermenting) to strain and make a fresh batch.
Using your Kefir
Chill your kefir for best taste results. You can drink your kefir plain, although it’s usually too sour for our tastes. We like to add frozen berries to ours and blend in the Vitamix for a delicious smoothie drink. You can sweeten with a bit of maple syrup or honey if it’s still too tart for you.
I often sneak a little kefir into recipes calling for milk or buttermilk. It gives a fabulous rich flavor to baked goods. Since heating kefir will destroy much of the beneficial bacteria, I only do this when I have an abundant amount on hand.
Have you ever tried making kefir? Have you seen an improvement in your health? What are your favorite ways to eat it?
Share your experience below!
References and Recommended Reading: