Just what is kefir? Kefir is said to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains in an area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and spread over the countries of Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Kefir is considered a staple food in Russia and the reason for longevity. When yogurt was introduced to America as a food that was extremely healthy, they had actually discovered kefir. Kefir and what we use today as yogurt are two completely different things. Even Greek yogurt is a different culture. But they are all fermented foods which are extremely beneficial for you. Kefir grains occur naturally. Kefir grains were traditionally treated almost like part of the family. The word kefir means “long life” or “good life”.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains. There are also water kefir grains. Kefir grains are a combination of lactic acid, bacteria and yeasts and they resemble cauliflower. The exact nutrients of Kefir depends on your grains and the milk that was fermented.
I find kefir much easier to make than yogurt. It is better for you than yogurt and has a much thinner consistency. Kefir has a tangy flavor that increases with a longer fermentation. It contains an enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk. As a result kefir is easier to digest than other dairy products and can usually be tolerated by lactose-intolerant people. It does not add sugar to the diet as the bacteria eats it.
When making yogurt you have to watch the temperature and the time. With kefir – it isn’t a key factor to the quality of your batch. When the temperatures are warmer in the room you are fermenting – your kefir will turn much faster. The longer it ferments the stronger it gets. On a cold day, it can take 24 hours.
I have had my kefir grains for years, a gift from my cousin. They have been through a lot. I got tired of making kefir so they stayed in the back of my fridge for four months and revived nicely. You will find that making kefir is very easy and simple.
The benefits of Kefir are the beneficial bacteria or probiotics that gets introduced into the intestines and stay there. These beneficial bacteria keep the intestines healthy, provide food for the friendly bacteria living in the gut, suppress the growth of harmful bacteria, supports the healing of ulcers and colitis, supports bone health and strengthens the immune system. Kefir is a good source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, K2 and B vitamins. Many people find relief from chronic constipation through regular consumption of kefir and it may even help with allergies and asthma. It helps with cold, flu, acne, yeast infections, and even to treat diarrhea. Some people report that they sleep better on kefir.
The simple process of making Kefir
The instructions I'm providing apply to regular milk. These do not apply to water kefir or nut milk.
Step 1 – get some kefir grains. Find a friend, most are willing to share as kefir continues to grow with each batch providing a good supply of grains to share. There are sources to purchase on the internet as well. The powdered kefir starters do not last very long. Kefir grains can last indefinitely with care.
Step 2 – The tools you will need: A plastic colander, a bowl, wooden slotted spoon, and a glass jar with a lid. Don’t use metal utensils.
Step 3 – Put your new kefir grains into a clean glass jar and add milk.
The amount of milk to kefir grains can vary and is not exact. When you first get your grains, you don't want to overwhelm them with too much milk. Start with about 1 tablespoon of kefir grains to 1/2 cup of milk to start with. Generally 2 heaping tablespoons of kefir grains to 2 cups milk. You have to find what works for you as it is not exact.
The more you make kefir, the more you will understand the flavor you like. Too many grains and your kefir can ferment quickly which may be too strong a flavor. Too little and your kefir may turn and not ferment properly. I don’t notice a big difference when I have more grains, it just ferments more quickly.
Variables in temperature and milk quality can affect the process. Do not fill your container more than 2/3 full.
What kind of milk do you use? Raw cow, goat or even sheep milk makes a great kefir. Pasteurized organic milk is better than regular milk. Use 2% or even better - whole milk. Some people use nut milks, but it needs to be sweetened. Look up specific instructions for alternate milks. I used unsweetened almond milk once just not thinking and it soured – it didn’t ferment as there was no sugar to feed the grains. Water kefir can be made from water kefir grains using a sweetener and a different process.
Kefir thrives on raw milk. We've never had a problem ever with raw milk and I've been using it all my life. If you want to read up on the facts of raw milk, check this site.
Step 4 – Let it sit on your kitchen counter from 6 hours to 36 hours depending on the temperature. The warmer your environment, the quicker it will ferment. In Arizona summer and a home
at 76 degrees during the day - it takes 10 hours or less. In our winters with a house at about 70 degrees during the day and 60 at night, it takes 24 hours. The kefir will start to thicken slightly and will begin to taste a little sour like kefir and then you will know it is done. The longer it ferments, the stronger the flavor. The whey will eventually begin to separate from the kefir. It is still good, just stronger tasting. In the warmer months, the kefir sits on the counter all day, and in the evening I'll stick it in the fridge until the next morning when I'm ready to use it.
Step 5 – Strain the grains in the plastic colander. Be gentle to your grains, they are a living organism. They do not need to be rinsed – ever. Just gently stir them with your wooden slotted spoon to separate the kefir from the kefir grains. Metal is not good for your precious grains.
Step 6 – Wash your glass container that you ferment your kefir in. I just rinse with warm water every other time I make kefir.
Step 7 – Using your slotted spoon, put your kefir grains gently back into the clean glass jar and repeat the process.
Questions and Tips
New grains: When you get your kefir grains, they may be ‘stressed’ from traveling. In most cases they are fine. But you may not want to use the kefir from your first batch as it ‘heals’ and even the first two or three batches if the kefir traveled through the mail, long distances or was stressed for any reason. It won't be 'bad', it will just have a more 'yeasty' off taste. If you obtained local kefir grains, you will probably be fine the first batch.
How much kefir should I consume? Always start with small amounts, like one to two ounces and work your way to larger amounts. Many people consume one to four cups a day several days a week. If you are consuming a large amount, it is advisable to take a break after three weeks for a week. It can be used medicinally in large amounts for a short period of time. We use 1/2 to one cup daily unless we are working on an issue, then we'll consume more. My kids get a little less.
What if I'm lactose intolerant? Many people that are lactose intolerant happily enjoy milk kefir. The yeasts and bacteria consume the lactose or the milk sugar for their food supply. Very ripe (sour) kefir has the least amount of lactose. Always start with a small amount.
Are you short on time? You can repeat the process daily and have fresh kefir every day. We change out our kefir about four times a week. On the other mornings, I just stick the jar in the fridge. We don't always have time to prepare the kefir daily. It does just fine sitting in the fridge. If I know I'll be gone or busy for a few days, I'll put fresh milk with the kefir grains and immediately stick the jar in the fridge. It still ferments, just much slower.
I’m going on vacation, what do I do with my kefir? I put my kefir grains in the jar and add milk. Then I put the jar in the fridge. Most people will tell you to change out the milk weekly. But I have had the same milk in the jar for a month and my grains are just fine. You may not want to consume the kefir after awhile as it may be very sour.
What if it looks or smells bad? Dump that batch, reserving the grains and make a batch or two letting the grains heal. In most cases your grains will recover.
Do the grains contain gluten? There is no grain of any kind in the kefir grains. They are simply called kefir grains.
Will I need to change or replace my kefir grains? Your grains can last indefinitely as long as you take care of them. Kefir can become overly 'yeasty' if not cared for. This isn't bad yeast. Kefir grains a combination of yeasts and bacteria.
Can I flavor my kefir or do I need to drink it plain? Many people that like drinking buttermilk will drink plain kefir. But I like to blend some fruit first and add the kefir with some stevia or raw honey for a nice beverage. My kids will even drink this. You can add kefir to your smoothies. When I find myself with extra kefir I will use it to make buttermilk pancakes. The heat from cooking may kill some of the nutritional benefits.
Here are some of my favorite ways to use kefir:
- Blend some fruit like strawberries with milk or water. Add dates, sugar, or raw honey to sweeten. Add in Chia, flax and/or hemp seeds. Blend until smooth. Then gently mix in the strained kefir. Drink and enjoy.
- We love raw muesli with raw oats, raw nuts and seeds, chopped fruit. We top it off with some kefir and milk.
- I'll take 1/2 cup kefir and about 1/4 cup or more of nut milk or raw milk and add 2 tablespoons of whole chia seeds, some chopped nuts or hemp seeds, ground flax, and or chopped fruit. I'll sweeten with stevia or raw honey. Let it sit for a few hours and the chia seeds will thicken the mix. It makes a delicious snack or breakfast.
- I love mixing kefir with a little nut or raw milk and flavored stevia like Root Beer Stevia or Vanilla Cream Stevia. For my kids that don't like "sour" kefir - I'll do equal parts of kefir to nut or raw milk.
- You can use kefir in pancakes or muffins. You can substitute kefir for sour cream in recipes.
What do I do with the extra grains? As your grains grow, a natural process, you can blend some of the grains into a smoothie, or give them away. You don’t want to use too many grains as your kefir will ferment too quickly.
I usually have kefir grains to share. So if you are in need of some let me know.
What is your favorite way to use kefir in a drink? Share your recipes.
Updated October 30, 2015
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