Adventures In Probiotics: Making Kefir

I’ve been silent the last few months, mostly because life overtakes me and sitting down to write just does not happen!

Lots has changed over the last few months, lots to share with you, I’m excited!  Hard to know where to start, but I’ll start with my new foodie adventure.

Adventures In Probiotics Making Kefir
In April I started making my own Kefir.  Have you ever had kefir?  It’s a pretty amazing food that we’ve always been a big fan of around here, but the problem for our family has been two-fold:

*The stuff from the grocery store, while amazingly yummy, is amazingly pricey!  Our family can go through a quart of Keifer in a day, and that’s an expensive habit!

*Most of what you buy from the store, unless you buy plain, is unfortunately, loaded with sugar, making a healthy product less healthy {even if it has natural cane sugar or fruit sugar, it does not mean it’s good for you}.

We make lots of smoothies around here {try this yummy one, or this one}, and I wanted to start replacing my milk for keifer.

Why?

Kefir is loaded with probiotics.  It makes yogurt look like a weakling in terms of probiotic benefit (I’ve read about 50 healthy bacteria strains in Kefir versus less than 10 strains in average yogurt).  It’s mild, slightly tangy, can be a bit effervescent depending on how you culture it, and best of all, it’s very low or lactose free!  Not only is it a great source of probiotics, it’s high in protein, B vitamins, calcium and phosphorous.  It can also be made with other animal milks if cow’s milk does not work for you, and also responds well to coconut milk for a time (but the grains will eventually have to be refreshed with cow’s milk) .

I started with grains from Cultures For Health, and followed their wonderful directions (I purchased locally, but you can buy online).  Kefir grains (not an actual grain) thrive best between about 68-85 degrees.  I started when our house was still sort of in the springtime chilliness, so it was a bit tricky to get them started.  Now is the easiest time of year to get your kefir going (assuming you have air conditioning)!

I make about a quart every 12-24 hours, depending on our room temperature.  Kefir grains grow pretty slowly, but I’m at the point where if I wanted to make more, I’m sure my grains are healthy enough that I could split and culture more.

My body does not get along well with lactose (the natural sugar found in cow’s milk), and so this has been the best solution for me to be able to consume milk without the bad side effects.

Kefir In Jar

Kefir does not react well to metals, so I avoid contact with any metals.  I use glass mason jars, plastic mason jar lids (found near mason jars in the store), a plastic canning jar sized funnel, and to strain my grains I use my plastic salad spinner insert.

My process:

*Place grains in jar.  Add milk (I alternate between whole milk and lower fat milks, because kefir grains like animal fats, so I cannot consistently use low-fat milks).

*Let sit for 24 hours or so.  I cover with a cloth rubber-banded to the top, keeping it out of direct sunlight.  Sometimes it sits for 12 hours, sometimes it’s 36.  It depends.

*When the kefir is ready the grains have typically floated to the top and it has the consistency of buttermilk.  At that point I get out a clean mason jar, strain my new kefir into that jar (you can refrigerate your new kefir at this point).

*All the original grains will be in my strainer.  I then put them back into my original kefir container, add milk, and go back to step one.  About once a week I start a fresh new mason jar.

*Before refrigerating your new kefir, you can ferment it without the grains for an extra 6 hours to increase it’s culture time.  Refrigerate and enjoy at that point.

A few extra tips:

*You should not use ultra-pasteurized milk (many organic milks you find on the grocery store shelf are ultra-pasteurized)

*You gotta keep out of sunlight, but you shouldn’t put in a cabinet that does not have constant air exchange.  Healthy kefir needs healthy air!

*Beware, because it’s a fermented product, fruit flies will be attracted to it.  Keep covered with a cloth or cheese cloth and sealed from any yucky pests that want to infiltrate your fermented goodness.

keifer photo

If you don’t like the taste plain, use in smoothies!  Or add a drop of something sweet to cut the tang (vanilla extract is great, too)!

The research isn’t conclusive, but from what I’ve read, because the kefir grains feed on the lactose (sugar), it’s actually lower in sugar than a milk.  Though, the USDA does not allow kefir makers to claim it is low sugar on their nutritional labels, because the nutritional facts on the back label is pre-fermentation, not post-fermentation (I’m not certain on this fact, but what I’ve read in other places alludes to this fact).

I use my kefir in all sorts of things.  Just recently I used extra I had in my favorite pancakes (kills the healthy bacteria, I’m sure, but still gives that great buttermilk-like flavor), home-made coleslaw, home-made salad dressing, not to mention smoothies.  It has a million uses and is so very easy to make.  I used to make yogurt, but it’s sort of been forgotten because I love kefir so much and it’s so. much. easier.

If you have the itch to start this process, you really should!  Once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it!  You can even rest it in the fridge when you go out of town for vacation, or get ahead and needs to take a few days off.  I would encourage you to read lots of online tutorials and watch You Tube videos, not to mention, read all the great info on the Cultures For Health website.

Let me know if you try making your own Kefir!  Also, let me know if you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer if I know the answer 🙂

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