Gorgeous day today to take mineral around the twenty-four hundred acres that my cowboy husband looks after all summer. Youngest daughter and I tore across green pastures in the Polaris Ranger, seat belts on!, while hubby four-wheeled alongside in his ATV. Blue skies, frisky heifers, creek crossings, and 4,000 lbs of mineral parceled out amongst 8 locations. We left before lunch and got home just in time to milk the cows at 3 pm! Hungry? No problem. A glass of kefir was just the thing. Need another hungry mouth to feed? Let me introduce you to kefir.
What is Kefir exactly and what are its health benefits? Kefir is a yogurt-like product, a fermented milk drink that is thick, creamy, and has a bit of a tang. It is made with milk and Kefir grains, which are a collection of live beneficial bacteria and yeast. Kefir is a probiotic. It actually colonizes the digestive tract with good bacteria, whereas the good bacteria in yogurt simply feed the good bacteria which are already in your gut. Kefir is rich in protein, and packed with nutrition containing good amounts of vitamins A, B2, B12, D, K, magnesium, phosphorous, and an abundance of the essential amino acid Tryptophan which has a calming effect on nerves. And how many people do you know that have to take a digestive enzyme before they eat certain proteins? Kefir has an amazing quality of replenishing your body’s enzyme stores which aids the body in digesting various foods. Kefir is a drinkable supplement for good overall health and immunity. Remember good health begins in the gut!
What’s the difference between the bacteria contained in yogurt and those found in kefir? Kefir has several major strains of bacteria not contained in yogurt. Kefir contains what’s called “right-turning bacteria” and yogurt contains “left-turning bacteria”. The 30-50 friendly bacteria in Kefir can colonize/repopulate your gut, they stick around and work for you building your immune system and killing pathogens. The 7-ish friendly bacteria in yogurt are transient, keeping the digestive tract clean and providing food for the good bacteria that live there, but these bacteria move on through and need replaced. Both kefir and yogurt are good at restoring the body’s ecosystem after consuming antibiotics or experiencing food poisoning.
Can I have Kefir if I’m lactose intolerant? Generally, people who are lactose intolerant can handle kefir since much of the lactose (milk sugar) is consumed by beneficial bacteria and yeasts during the fermentation process.
What kind of milk should you use? You can make kefir with raw goat or cow’s milk, as well as whole milk, or lightly pasteurized milk. I am a huge believer in the health benefits of raw milk from a clean source of pasture fed cows/goats, but you can make kefir from store-bought pasteurized milk. Just go with the lightly pasteurized, non-homogenized variety and know that it doesn’t perform as well with low-fat milk.
What kills Kefir? The only thing that will damage or kill your kefir is neglect or heat. Kefir needs fed fresh milk to stay alive. So if you forget about it, it will starve and die. Heating it up will also kill it.
What if I need a break from making kefir? Easy. Going on vacation, or just want a week off? After straining your kefir grains and covering them with fresh milk, place the jar in your fridge where the colder temps will slow down the fermenting process allowing the kefir to slowly feed on the milk sugars. Going to be gone for 2 weeks or more? Use a bigger jar and more milk for 2 weeks. Or find a kefir babysitter. Need a longer break? Kefir grains also freeze well. Simply place them in a freezer baggie with some fresh milk and freeze. When you are ready to thaw, place them in a jar of fresh milk on your counter and just give them an extra day or two to get back in business. They may seem sluggish and you may think they are dead but jut keep the faith, Sistah (or Brother!). If you need to, drain off the two day old milk and place the grains in fresh milk again. They will revive. Kefir is amazingly resilient.
What is the difference between store-bought kefir and homemade? Store bought kefir usually contains high fructose corn syrup or sugar, which defeat the purpose of consuming kefir for health purposes. Sugar feeds yeast and homemade kefir helps rid your body of yeast. Some say that store-bought kefir is made from artificial kefir starters which don’t contain the multitude of goodies that traditional kefir starters do.
How long does kefir need to culture? Allow it to culture for 18-36 hours. The length of time depends on personal preference, the temperature in your home and if it is in direct sunlight or not. Kefir likes darkness and warmth. Longer culture time results in a more sour flavor. We like to culture ours for 24 hours, and then double ferment it for another 12-20 hours.
What is double fermented Kefir? It’s recommended to substantially increase the good bacteria in kefir, and to further decrease the lactose content. It also improves flavor. The second ferment uses the strained kefir, ie: what’s left after you remove the kefir grains. The kefir is left on the counter for an additional 12-24 hours, usually with something fun added for flavoring, like a strip of orange peel and a vanilla bean. Yum!
Homemade kefir is simple to make. Here is how you do it!
Kefir doesn’t react well to metals so you will need to use glass or plastic utensils and containers. It also thrives in darkness and a warmer environment (72-86 degrees F), so I don’t have much success with it in winter unless it’s kept near our wood stove. Here’s what you need to have on hand:
- a glass quart or half gallon jar (depending on how much you want to make)
- a plastic lid for the jar OR a coffee filter and a rubber band to attach it to the jar’s neck
- a plastic colander for straining your kefir grains
- a plastic spatula or spoon
- kefir grains–can be purchased online, or from a fellow kefir “connoisseur”. Check eBay or your local chapter of buy, sell, trade. Kefir multiplies like bunnies so you are sure to find someone with extra on hand who will sell them to you for the price of shipping
- a towel to drape over the kefir during the 24 hour fermenting period, or a dark cupboard
So you’ve received your kefir grains and you are ready to roll. Put them into your glass quart jar and fill with milk to within 2-4 inches of the neck of the jar. A good ratio of kefir grains to milk is 1-2 TB kefir grains to 2-3 cups milk. It’s not an exact science. Once you’ve been doing it a while, and have cups and heaps of kefir grains, you will be using way more grains than you need to and might even decide to ferment a gallon of kefir every other day because you like it so much! Now you need to cap your jar and shake it . You will do this every so often in the 24 hour fermenting process. It’s okay if you forget, I forget all.the.time. and it still does its magic. After shaking, loosen the lid–kefir builds pressure as it ferments and you don’t want your jar to explode! Place jar in a dark cupboard or drape a towel over it and check it after 24 hours. You can let it ferment for 48 hours if you want it extra tangy, it’s up to personal preference, but after 24-48 hours it’s time to feed those grains so they don’t starve to death.
So after 24-48 hours, get your plastic colander out and spoon out the kefir grains. Many times mine are on the top of the jar, but sometimes they are down on the bottom. You can gently pour the kefir jar contents into the colander, removing the larger, clumpy almost cauliflower-like kefir grains to a clean canning jar so you can begin the process of adding milk and making your next batch of kefir. Your kefir will have gelatin like globs in it, that’s fine, and sometimes my kefir grains are tiny (see kefir grain pics above) but they are powerful and keep on keeping me in kefir! Now you have kefir–the strained liquid, and you may choose to do a second ferment with flavors added, or refrigerate it and use it for all kinds of yummy healthy boosting treats!
More to come on kefir!