When we were doing our cheese making course back in 2010, Elisabeth Fekonia gave us some kefir grains to take home. So we’ve been using these friendly microorganisms and yeasts to help balance our inner ecosystem and supply complete protein, essential minerals and vitamins B12, B1 and C. It is also an excellent source of biotin, which helps the assimilation and absorption of other B vitamins from the body.
Kefir has all the great health benefits of yoghurt and more, because whilst yoghurt works through a bacterial conversion of the milk sugars, kefir uses both bacterial and yeast actions! Kefir is full of probiotics while the calcium, magnesium and phosphorous from the milk is maintained for proper growth of cells and for maintenance of the body and abundant energy. As mentioned above, it is easy to digest because the yeast in the grains feed on the lactose in the milk! This incredible combination of microorganisms has a wonderful effect on our intestinal flora which enhances our immune system and cleans our intestines.
Jean loves it but I can find the sour, effervescent, zesty taste quite strong soprefer to use it for smoothies! Jean’s mum, who we are staying with at the moment also loves it! She was telling us it is the first thing she buys when she travels to Eastern Europe where it is still a part of their cuisine. Indigenous people living in the Caucasus and Middle East regions consumed Kefir for many centuries in the past and scientists have been continuously confirming the health properties of kefir and its benefits in a healthy lifestyle. The origins of kefir were noted many centuries ago with mountain shepherds of the North Caucasus region, who discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent beverage. I read that in the countries of the former Soviet Union, kefir constitutes 70% of the total fermented milk consumed, and is used in hospitals for various reasons, such as for treating metabolic disorders, for atherosclerosis, for allergic diseases etc. It even used to treat tuberculosis, abnormal growth of cells, high cholesterol levels, the gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases, hypertension and ischemic heart disease and allergy.
To make our kefir, we simply add our kefir grains to some fresh milk in a clean glass jar (I’ve read in one place that for approximately every tablespoon of grains, add 1 cup of milk and in another place that one teaspoon of grains will be enough to make 1L of kefir milk but we just add however much we want to make and observe it). You then leave it at room temperature with the lid on loosely, for 12 to 36 hours (depends on the temperature of the air). We then just strain the kefir grain and drink it… or add fruit to make a smoothie… or we put a few tablespoons of it into fresh cream to ferment it in to sour cream or to make butter. We then put our kefir grains in a fresh batch of milk and wait another 12 to 36 hours. The kefir gets more tangy the longer it cultures. The resulting kefir is basically fermented milk and the texture reminds me of a lassi or yoghurt drink. Here is a photo of our strained kefir grains…
As you can see they are curious looking little organisms – a little bit like tiny white gelatine-looking cauliflower. Whilst they are called ‘grains’ they aren’t really – they are a combination of yeasts (7 types actually!) and bacteria (13 Lactobacilli, Streptococci/lactococci), along with some lipids, sugars and proteins and they are cultured, so under the right conditions they multiply. Every time we make kefir we are feeding these little guys and so they keep reproducing and growing.
When we go travelling for a while or we are sick of drinking kefir we just put them in some fresh milk in the fridge to put them to sleep. Ideally, we give them a fresh batch of milk when we can to feed them but normally after a few months of neglect we come back and culture and re-culture them for a few batches to make the kefir grain healthy again. They really thank us by reproducing!
Here are some other tips for making kefir:
- A slightly warmer temperature will speed up the fermentation process, but don’t let them go over 30°C.
- The more kefir grains, the faster the fermentation.
- Refrigerate the kefir milk after removing the grains as it will turn too sour.
- Keep the fermentation out of direct sunlight – UV kills yeast.
- Don’t rinse the grains between batches as this removes the active bacteria on the surface.
- The better the quality of milk, the better your kefir. You can use ultra heated milk, full cream or half cream milk, pasteurised or homogenised. We’d rather give our kefir grains (and us!) the full range of nutrients so we feed them the freshest milk (at the moment we are using milk from local farms where we are staying in France) and preferably raw, but if not at least only pasteurised. Lastly, don’t go giving them any of that silly lactose-free milk… the kefir grains won’t have any lactose to consume!
- Apparently over-ripened kefir (which increases the sour taste) significantly increases the folic acid content (actually you get different health properties at different stages of the fermentation but you’ll have to research it to understand the others).
- This page has some useful information about whether your kefir grains are healthy or contaminated.
- This page, from the same site as the above point, is a great FAQ page on kefir.
If you are interested in making kefir, you will have to obtain some kefir grains.So, here are some things to be aware of…
- The easiest way to obtain some kefir culture is to get some from a friend who is making kefir but you can also look online to purchase some.
- Make sure you get kefir grains and not just a starter. We saw some starter in a cooperative recently and it is just the flora from the kefir grains which means it can only be used a few times whereas the grains can be used forever.
- Our grains have tripled in size during the past few weeks so we are always happy to share them with others.
- We are using milk kefir grains but there are also water based kefir grains. We are hoping to get our hands on some of these soon to try out this ginger beer recipe!
Let us know if you try making kefir and how it turns out!