Kefir…Why and How?

by Dr Uzelac

Milk kefir is a fermented dairy product similar in many ways to yogurt and buttermilk. It's how kefir is cultured that makes it really unique instead of heating the milk, adding a culture, and keeping it warm as you do with yogurt, all you need to make milk kefir are kefir grains.

Kefir has been consumed in the Caucasus Mountains for thousands of years Families passed down their prized kefir grains (the microbial bodies that ferment the milk into kefir) to their children. 

Its name, kefir, may have come from the Turkish word "good feeling" because drinking kefir was associated with general well-being and long life.

In the early 1900s, the All-Russian Physician Society who heard about this amazing elixir obtained some kefir grains. There, the probiotic kefir that was produced became widely used to treat tuberculosis (before the availability of antibiotics), digestive disorders, atherosclerosis and even cancer, with apparent success. Kefir became an extremely popular drink in Russia, and later throughout Europe.

Though it is believed that kefir originated in the Caucasus Mountains, similar lactic acid fermented milk beverages are also cultivated elsewhere in the world. People in Tibet make a beverage known as Tibetan Yogurt Mushroom or Ketara which has very similar qualities to kefir. Other traditional fermented milk beverages are made in Taiwan, northern Europe, central Asia and Africa.

What Are The Benefits?

Kefir is full of probiotics (''the good bacteria") which aid to healthy digestion and help with immunity. Each person has different  bacteria in their gut which is called microbiome and is very specific to each individual (similar to fingerprints). Your microbiome will determine the quality of your immune response, so keeping it healthy and in good shape will help you get less sick. Here is where kefir comes in place - to help your microbiome stay strong and add some new probiotic bacteria to your gut if they are not already present there.

Also, the fermenting process while making kefir,  changes some of the protein structures in the milk, making it easier to digest. Some people who can't tolerate milk often do better when drinking milk kefir.

Kefir grains are not really grains at all. These "grains" are actually tiny, rubbery, knobby-looking cell structures that are home to the bacteria and yeast that ferment the kefir. These grains are the milk kefir equivalent to the scoby used to make kombucha.

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Where can you get them? Preferably from a friend that is already successfully making kefir or you can order dry kefir grains online. 

So, How Do You Make Kefir?

It's extremely simple! Add about a teaspoon of these kefir grains to a cup of milk, cover the glass, and let it sit out at room temperature for about 24 hours. During this time, the healthy bacterias and yeast in the kefir grains will ferment the milk, preventing it from spoiling while transforming it into kefir.

When done, the kefir will have thickened to the consistency of buttermilk and taste noticeably tangy, like yogurt. Strain out the grains so you can use them in another batch, and the kefir is ready to drink.

You can reuse kefir grains indefinitely to make batch after batch of kefir. And the best way to keep them healthy is to keep making kefir! You can make a new batch of kefir roughly every 24 hours (the temperature of your kitchen can affect the exact time) just by putting the kefir grains in a fresh cup of milk. Over time, the grains will multiply and you can either eat the extra or share it with friends. You can also take a break from making kefir by putting the grains in a new cup of milk and storing this in the fridge.

Ingredients

2-3 cups whole milk
2 Tbsp active kefir grains

1/2 gallon glass jar
strainer
glass bottle with lid

 

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Directions

Warm up the milk and combine combine it with the kefir grains in a half gallon jar.

Cover the jar either with the jar lid or with cheesecloth, a paper towel, or a clean napkin (secure it with a rubber band) Do not screw a jar lid onto the jar as the build up of carbon dioxide from the fermenting grains can cause pressure to build in the jar.

Ferment for 24 hours: Store the jar at room temperature (ideally around 70 F) away from direct sunlight. (the milk will ferment faster at warmer temperatures and slower at cool temperatures)

If your milk hasn't fermented after 48 hours, strain out the grains and try again in a fresh batch (this sometimes happens when using new kefir grains, when refreshing dried kefir grains, or when using grains that have been refrigerated)

Strain out the kefir grains: Place a small strainer over a bawl, strain the kefir into it catching the grains in the strainer. Pour the kefir from the bawl to your glass bottle for storage and store it in the fridge. Once you cool it down in the fridge you will slow down and stop the fermenting process.

Transfer the grains to fresh milk: Stir the grains into a fresh batch of warm milk and allow to ferment again. This way, you can make a fresh batch of kefir roughly every 24 hours.

Tips

To take a break from making kefir: place the grains in fresh milk, cover tightly, and refrigerate or rinse them and put in a freezer.

Drink or refrigerate the milk kefir: The prepared milk kefir can be used or drunk immediately, or covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Activating Dried Kefir Grains: If you bought your kefir grains in a dried form, rehydrate them by soaking them in fresh milk at room temperature. Change the milk every 24 hours until the grains begin to culture the milk and make kefir. It may take 3 to 7 days for the kefir grains to become fully active.

What Milk to Use: Kefir works best with whole-fat cow, goat, sheep, or other animal milk. You can use low-fat milks, but refresh the grains in whole fat milk if they stop fermenting the kefir properly. Raw and pasteurized milks can be used, but avoid ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milks. Also you can make it out of coconut milk as well or water.

Making More or Less Kefir: You'll need about a teaspoon of grains to ferment 1 to 2 cups of milk. You can also ferment less milk than this, but fermentation will go more quickly. Your grains will start to multiply over time, allowing you to ferment more milk if you like. Maintain a ratio of about a teaspoon of grains to 1 cup of milk.

Taking a Break from Making Kefir: To take a break from making kefir, transfer the grains into a fresh container of milk, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze it for longer period - 6 months.

What to Do if Your Kefir Separates: Sometimes kefir will separate into a solid layer and milky layer if left too long. This is fine! Shake the jar or whisk the kefir to recombine and carry on. If this happens regularly, start checking your kefir sooner.

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Non Dairy Kefir

Use 2-4 Tbsp of Kefir grains in clean glass jar. Pour 2 -3 cups of coconut milk or filtered water (for water also add 1/4 cup sugar or coconut sugar for fermentation) Also, grains will thrive on minerals so you may add organic eggshell which has some minerals. Stir gently, than cove with a lid and let sit at room temperature for 3-4 days.

Taste is and if it is very sweet, it needs to ferment longer (fermentation consumes the sugars). Water kefir will ferment for longer time, even 2 weeks.

Kefir made from coconut milk should be refrigerated after about 2 days, as it ferments quickly. And kefir grains used for coconut kefir will get soggy overtime so it would be a good idea to use new batch after 4-5 rounds of making kefir.

Soaking kefir grains in sweet water will make them proliferate very fast (faster than in milk) so you can use them as a new batch when needed (like for coconut kefir) or give away.