I have Tim Akimoff to thank for my introduction to kefir. He generously shared his grains to get me started on my probiotic adventure. There’s loads of research out there on kefir but all I needed to know about it was how healthy and healing it can be for your gut flora. I’d tried it from the grocery store but nothing could have prepared me for the difference when you make it yourself. Honestly, it took me a while to get over the feeling that I was drinking sour milk. But after a few weeks, the whole family actually looks forward to their morning kefir smoothie or kefir pancakes.The site, www.kefir.net, describes kefir as a “substance made from gelatinous white or yellow particles called “grains.” This makes kefir unique, as no other milk culture forms grains. These grains contain the bacteria/yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk proteins) and complex sugars. They look like pieces of coral or small clumps of cauliflower and range from the size of a grain of wheat to that of a hazelnut. The grains ferment the milk, incorporating their friendly organisms to create the cultured product. The grains are then removed with a strainer before consumption of the kefir and added to a new batch of milk. Another bonus is for the lactose intolerant, kefir’s abundance of beneficial yeast and bacteria provide lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process. Kefir can be made from any type of milk, cow, goat or sheep, coconut, rice or soy. Although it is slightly mucous forming, the mucous has a “clean” quality to it that creates ideal conditions in the digestive tract for the colonization of friendly bacteria.”
Terms like gelatinous, bacteria, fermented and mucous may not make you want to run out and procure your own kefir grains, but trust me, your gut will thank you! Once you’ve gone through the process a few times, it’s easy to keep your grains alive and happy. They can also be stored in milk, in a sealed container, for up to 3 weeks if you want to take a break from kefir production. The following is my production routine. I am sure there are lots of ways to do this but this is working for me.
STEP ONE: Get some grains. It may take some networking but look online or start asking around, perhaps at a local health food co-op. And although these kefir granules will make a few batches of kefir, they are not the same as the grains. My grains from Tim are a combination of Italian and Midwestern grains that may very well be thousands of years old!
STEP TWO: Start with organic, whole milk if possible. Try to stay away from ultra-pasturized (although I have accidentally used it and it worked fine). Once you get your kefir production going you can experiment with all kinds of milks and 1/2-n-1/2 for kefir cheese if you would like. I have also heard that kefir really likes raw goat milk and I have a request in to a friend that has goats.
STEP THREE: You need 3 quart jars, two sealing lids, a canning ring, paper coffee filters, plastic spoon or spatula, plastic strainer and a plastic or glass bowl.
STEP FOUR: Strain kefir grains out of your starter milk. Add whole, organic milk and secure coffee filter with a canning ring. Let sit on the counter 24 hours.
STEP FIVE: Pour strained kefir back into starter jar and seal with an airtight lid. Let sit on the counter 24 hours. This second 24 hour ferment is when the lactose gets eaten up by the friendly bacteria.
STEP SIX: So 24 hours later, you can consume the kefir, you may want to put the sealed jar into the refrigerator for later use. This may be the consistency of thin yogurt, Greek yogurt or it may have separated and look more like cottage cheese floating on a cloudy liquid (sorry, Julie Foshay and Angie Hampton, I know this is the place where you start gagging). I have read that the kefir will last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator but I have only had it last a few days because we are using it up.
STEP SEVEN: Repeat STEP 4, straining kefir grains out of the milk that had the coffee filter lid. Proceed to STEP 5, placing the kefir back in the jar and seal. Let sit on the counter 24 hours.
STEP EIGHT: Add new whole, organic milk to the strained grains and secure coffee filter with a canning ring. Let sit on the counter 24 hours.
That’s it! The kefir that has fermented 24 hours with the coffee filter lid and then 24 hours with an airtight lid is ready to consume right away. I prefer to put it in the fridge so it is cold and ready for the morning smoothie.
Oh, and don’t forget STEP NINE: Share your grains as they grow! You only need a tablespoon or so of the grains to properly ferment almost a quart of milk so once they start to grow, share them!
KEFIR PANCAKESThese taste like sourdough pancakes and are delicious with maple syrup or a little jam.
- 1 cup kefir
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or melted coconut oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a mixing bowl, whisk kefir and flour until thoroughly combined. Place a paper towel over the bowl and leave to ferment on the countertop 12-24 hours. When ready to make pancakes, add remaining ingredients. Depending on the initial thickness of the kefir, you may need to add a bit more water or flour to the mixture to make it proper pancake batter consistency. Cook pancakes over medium-high heat in coconut oil.
KEFIR CHEESESimply strain kefir overnight through a coffee filter and add fresh herbs, salt and pepper to the thickened mixture. Be sure to put the strained whey into a smoothie, in pancakes or simply do some kefir whey shots for a boost of energy. Our dogs LOVE it poured over their food and I have also heard it’s great for chickens.
Not much to the smoothie, simply put the 1/2 quart or so of kefir into the blender with a banana or two and some frozen blueberries or strawberries and a cup or so of ice. Possibilities are endless!