Milk Kefir: What, Why, & How


Newly-made Milk Kefir
When we began our journey with fermented foods, I promised to share some of my favorite veggie and fruit ferments, as well as fermented drinks. Kefir is a staple in our house, especially because  I cannot currently tolerate milk, but can handle fermented milk. Milk kefir is simple and quick to make, and can be used in all sorts of recipes, including homemade ice cream!
What is kefir?
Kefir (pronounced: kÉ™-feer) is a beautifully creamy, pungently sour, and slightly effervescent fermented milk drink. This isn’t the typical American or Greek yogurt you buy at the store, but you can think of it as another type of yogurt. Eating it plain is definitely an acquired taste due to its intense sourness, however there are many delicious kefir recipes that soften the flavor. Kefir originated in the North Caucasus region (the Russian region between the Black and Caspian Seas) and is prepared by mixing fresh milk with kefir grains. Grains of kefir are live probiotic cultures of yeast and bacteria; they are not grains like pasta and bread. The kefir grains range in color from white to yellow, have a cauliflower-like appearance, are squishy like gummy bears, and can vary in size from 1/2 inch to a bit more than 1 inch.
Kefir Grains
Why drink homemade kefir?
The word, kefir, originates from the Turkish region and means “feel good.” This offers us a hint of its health benefits. The kefir grains, through a fermentation process of approximately 24 hours, produce a living culture comprised of more than 30 microflora. Kefir is a great aid to the immune system. We know a healthy immune system is very dependent upon a healthy intestinal tract. Kefir bolsters the immune system by rooting out the bad bacteria in the gut. Unlike your typical yogurt that normally has three to four strains of probiotic bacteria, kefir typically has 30 or more good “bugs.” Basically, kefir is a turbo-charged-crazy-colon-cleaning-energy drink. The excess enzymes found in kefir have been shown to adhere themselves to the wall of the colon to help clean out the pathogenic bacteria from the gut. The yeast (which creates the slight bubbly-ness of the kefir) penetrates the lining of the intestines, where so many destructive yeasts and bacteria reside, forming a bacterial SWAT team to clean house. The bad yeast and bacteria are destroyed, and the intestines is strengthened. The friendly yeast in the kefir was even found to destroy candida albicans, a strong and very pathogenic yeast found in most people’s guts. Many people have reported huge improvements in digestive function as a result of consuming this probiotic beverage. I, myself, drink it almost daily and can attribute part of my healing to this wonderful and tasty beverage.
Similar to most other fermented foods on this blog, I recommend making kefir at home. You can purchase this beverage at your local supermarket, however, I believe you are purchasing an inferior product. By making it at home you can control the quality of milk used and the amount of time it is fermented. I highly recommend using fresh, raw milk from local grass-fed cows and for fermenting at least 24 hours, especially if you have ever had any reaction to dairy products in the past. It’s good to note here that many people who have experienced lactose intolerance to dairy products are able to consume raw milk, and if not plain, raw milk they are able to consume homemade fermented kefir from raw milk. This is due to the live cultures which are also contained within the raw milk. In fact, I have a friend who was diagnosed with celiac disease, and was told she wouldn’t be able to consume milk products for the rest of her life, who is now successfully drinking kefir and healing her gut. So, if you are experience lactose intolerance, you may want to look into the GAPS diet. The ability to eat ice cream in your future might not be so impossible, especially if that ice cream is made with kefir! I have a super delicious kefir ice cream recipe that I’m so excited to share in one of the next upcoming posts.
Regardless of lactose intolerance, or gut problems, this is a drink that would benefit even the healthiest of people. Kefir is a complete protein with all the amino acids. It contains an abundance of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus - minerals most of our bodies are lacking. Kefir provides a range of B vitamins to your body, making it a great source of folic acid, often recommended to pregnant women in order to avoid spinal deformities in their unborn child. (source: The Body Ecology Diet, by Donna Gates)
Do you need more reasons to drink kefir? :) I have listed so many here, but kefir has also been known to help in the fight against cancer, IBS, immune dysfunction, allergies, colitis, and leaky gut among many other things (source). It’s so easy to make kefir, and yet provides your body with maximum benefits. Check out the recipe below which includes step-by-step directions for making kefir at home.

Milk Kefir: Recipe
Ingredients
2 tablespoons kefir grains (see below on where to find some)
1 quart of fresh, raw whole milk
Supplies
2 quart-sized mason jars
1 large bowl
1 non-metal strainer
1 non-metal spatula or spoon
Small piece of cheesecloth/flour sack cloth or mason jar lid
Instructions
1. Place kefir grains in a quart-size mason jar.
2. Add milk to fill jar, place cheesecloth or other cloth on top to allow the kefir to breathe, and secure with the metal band from a 2-piece mason lid. The other option is to use both pieces of the mason lid, but do not secure the top. Set the lid gently on top so as to still allow for the exchange of air.
3. Place in a cabinet for approximately 24 hours (more or less time depending on temperature of kitchen).
4. After 24 hours, strain out the kefir grains using a strainer and a rubber or plastic spatula (never use a metal utensil which can harm the live grains) and repeat the above process to make more kefir, or place grains in a jar, cover with milk and place in refrigerator until you desire to make more kefir.

Use a spatula to help push the more solid kefir through the strainer
5. Place the newly made milk kefir in a jar and keep in the fridge. The kefir will last for quite awhile. I’ve never had any of my kefir go bad (due to the live cultures).


The best place to find plump, healthy grains is through your local Weston A. Price group, or you can purchase grains from Cultures for Health, but you will need to go through a process to rehydrate them.

19 comments:

  1. I think you forgot to mention that you need to use a breathable top too. Say a piece of cloth, handkerchief, coffee filter, etc. Using just a lid that lets in no oxygen will kill the grains. ;-)
    And after having my grains for over a yr. I have found a much easier way of straining the kefir. Just get your separate container or glass and use your fingers as the strainer to keep the grains in as you pour the kefir out. Then just add new milk to the jar the grains are in. The residue left over in the jar actually will help you make more. Then when the jar gets icky looking I change it. And when the grains get too large, I have found that it makes the kefir clumpier. To solve this problem just divide the large grains into smaller ones. And it can help to refrigerate when they are fermenting, sometimes. That helps make really creamy smooth kefir for me too.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ruth! I see that I didn't explain myself very well, did I? :) I'll have to go in and edit my wording. Thanks for the heads up and for sharing your own experience with kefir! Take care!

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  2. What do you do with your extra kefir grains? I have been making it now for 6 months and I have a LOT!

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Shari! You have a few options. You can eat them (they're good for you!). Sometimes they just get thrown into our smoothies. You can also give them to friends who want to start making kefir. You can also store them in the fridge until you would like to use them, or you can compost them. Hope this helps!

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  3. I am still trying to acquire a taste for it, and would love some suggestions for the "many delicious kefir recipes that soften the flavor".

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    Replies
    1. I understand, Cindy! It's definitely a taste to acquire. :) I just posted a recipe on the blog for lemon kefir ice cream. I hope you're able to give it a shot. It's absolutely heavenly!

      http://nourishtoflourishblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/lemon-kefir-ice-cream.html

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    2. kmoors@sasktel.netMay 28, 2012 at 8:58 PM

      I can't find your lemon kefir ice cream recipe. Can you please send it to me?

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    3. Sure! Here is the link to the lemon kefir ice cream: http://nourishtoflourishblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/lemon-kefir-ice-cream.html

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  4. nice blog check my blog too Kefir Brasil :D Kefir Brasil

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  5. Just a thought on how to make it enjoyable to drink every day...
    I don't eat sugar of any kind, so I strain my kefir each day and then add a few drops of flavored Stevia (English Toffee is my fav) and it becomes the most creamy, delicious shake you've probably ever tasted! No recipes needed. I look forward to this every day!

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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