Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How To Make Kefir

In my last article, Kefir - What Is It? - I wrote about the the properties of Kefir and its health benefits.  Today I'll share with you how to make Kefir.

Let me begin by saying that I got the majority of my information from www.culturesforhealth.com.  They have a great teaching website with lots of interesting, easy to read information.

There are two types of culture you can use to make Kefir:
*  Kefir "grains" - either dehydrated or propagated/divided from another growing batch. These can be reused again and again indefinitely to have a continual supply of Kefir. Kefir grains contain more probiotics than
* powdered starter culture which can be used several times but eventually stops culturing and you have to purchase more.

Kefir "grains" are not really grains at all but white, gelatinous particles containing a bacteria-yeast mixture that stick together with  protiens and complex sugars found in milk. They look similar to small cauliflower heads

The first batch I made was with dehydrated Kefir grains. You can order grains online. I bought mine from the website above.

First you'll have to rehydrate your powdered grains.

Materials needed:
* Glass jar (pint or quart)
* plastic or wooden spoon
* plastic or stainless steel strainer
* coffee filter
* rubber band
* one packet dehydrated Kefir grains
* fresh cow or goat milk - store bought milk is fine - Do NOT use Ultra pasturized (UP) milk

Before beginning note:
* it is important not to introduce competing bacteria to the kefir process - keep your work area well away from live yeasts and bacterial contaminents such as bread making yeast, sourdough, compost bins, yogurt etc.
* wash and rinse hands and utensils well before beginning.
* Kefir grows best in temperatures between 70 - 80 degrees
* keep out of direct sunlight

Step 1:
Place dehydrated Kefir grains into a small glass container. Pour 1 cup fresh milk into container and mix gently. (note - I poured the grains into the milk and stirred.)

Step 2:
Secure a coffee filter over the top with a rubber band.
The fermenting process can attract fruit flies. This will keep them out and allow the Kefir to breathe.

Step 3:
Each day, pour the kefir through a fine plastic or stainless steel strainer. Discard the milk and gently stir the grains into fresh milk.  Cover.

From 4-7 days you should begin to notice the milk becoming thicker. The smell will change from fresh and sour to a clean, yeast-like scent as the bacteria balances. Colder temperatures will prolong the process and it can take as many as 2-4 weeks to stabilize.
When the milk is reliably thickening, smelling clean and tasting wonderful within 24-48 hours, the grains have fully rehydrated and you can begin making regular batches of Kefir.

To Make Milk Kefir:

The process is pretty much the same as the rehydration technique.
You will need:
* a glass jar (pint, quart, 1/2/ gallon)
* plastic or wooden spoon (if metal it must be stainless steel)
* plastic or stainless steel fine mesh strainer
* coffee filter
* rubber band
* 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Kefir grains
* 1 to 4 cups milk

Any type of milk can be used except Ultra Pasturized: cow, goat, coconut, soy...

Step 1:
Strain your Kefir culture . By now you are not discarding the milk (kefir), you are drinking it! (or using it in smoothies or making cheese...)

Step 2:
Add 1/2 to 1 tsp Kefir grains to a fresh jar of milk. Stir gently.

Step 3:
Cover jar with a coffee filter and secure with rubber band.
Check every 6-12 hours. Your milk should coagulate (Kefir) within 24-48 hours.
Repeat. Again. And again....

This is what it looks like just before I strain the grains from the Kefir milk.

What's happening during the fermentation process is that colonies of good bacteria dominate the milk and begin feasting on the sugar (lactose) in the milk, which nourishes the grains causing them to reproduce. This causes the good bacteria to thrive and grow.  When all the sugar is consumed the grains begin to starve and need a fresh supply of lactose.
This is what happens when the kefir grains are left too long and the milk sugar has been consumed:

 The kefir begins to separate into curds and whey. This is how your kefir will look if it goes beyond the optimum point. Ideally you want to strain your kefir and add your grains to fresh milk once the initial batch has coagulated and not separated. Kefir is forgiving though, and you can still use the grains in fresh milk if the batch has separated, but you might want to use this batch for cooking in place of milk. I fed mine to our animals.
To decide when the Kefir is ready and needs to be strained I look for the slightest separation. When it looks like this - I pour it through my strainer.

See the small dots on the bottom? I'm pretty sure the milk sugar is consumed and it's ready. (Although, thinking about it, those may just be sunken grains. HHmmm. - Oh well, that's when I think it's done, and it seems to be working!)

Personal Notes:
* I am by no means an expert. I have about as much knowledge as you when it comes to making Kefir (I just started a week earlier)
* the directions say to use 1/2 -1 tsp grains... I use alot more! The picture above of the grains in the strainer came from one quart of milk! I have since divided them and am now making 2 batches (1 quart of milk each) with it.
* because our kitchen is very small and I'm making fresh bread and yogurt regularly and there's a compost bowl on the counter, I set the Kefir to culture in the bathroom. (It's also easier to moderate the temperature in there)
* this stuff is like Friendship Bread (see recipe HERE ) - it just keeps growing and growing! Soon I plan to learn how to save Kefir starter for future use either by dehydrating or by causing the grains to become dormant.
* Milk "Kefirs" more quickly in warmer temperatures. When I add my grains to fresh, warm goat milk (86 degrees) it takes 24 hours, whereas the process takes closer to 48 hours when the grains are immersed in refrigerated milk.
* Kefir has a very different taste, so it may take a little getting used to. I wasn't sure I liked it at first, but the health benefits outweighed my skepticism. Within a few days though I was enjoying the flavor.  If it doesn't appeal to you at first, use it to make fruit smoothies or sweeten it with a little honey.

Remember that I said I was making two different batches? One I bought and started from dehydrated grains and another was given to me? Well, about the time I started writing this article, my store bought batch puked.  I went to strain my grains and they poured through the strainer like water - nothing left. I poured the whole thing down the drain. The good news is, that while on the Kefir website researching info for this blog, a big CHAT NOW icon popped up so I asked what I had done wrong. It seems that dehydrated grains do not do well in raw milk - there are too many other live bacteria to contend with as it is beginning to grow. I needed to use pasteurized milk for rehydration and later introduce the grown grains to raw milk.
As soon as she diagnosed my problem, Eve, at Cultures For Health offered to send me a replacement packet to try it again. I hadn't even asked.
 I have nothing but good things to say about this company and their very informative website!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

KEFIR - What Is It and What's All the Big Fuss?

I hadn't heard much about Kefir before, but, a common thread in my life has always been "feast or famine" - one day I'd never heard of it and the next I'm completely bombarded, and so it was with Kefir. I had heard the word Kefir in passing but never paid it any mind, until one day someone asked if I made Kefir.  MADE Kefir? It's something I can MAKE? Challenge accepted.

Before I begin any new venture I tend to ponder it for awhile. It's almost an intimidation factor - beginning something new.  When I first learned about scrapbooking I was completely intrigued and immediately spend hundreds of dollars on supplies. I thought about it for 6 months before I ever touched a photo and created my first page.  As I considered getting started with Kefir, another friend approached me, excited about this new "wonder food product" he had heard great things about, and the day after I ordered Kefir "grains" on line to begin this venture, my friend Ehab, who owns our local health food store, called to offer me a Kefir culture since he had an abundance. Feast.

Here's what I've learned about Kefir:

Kefir, pronounced Key-fur, comes from the Turkish word, Keif, which is translated "Good Feeling".
At present, it is considered one of the most potent probiotic foods available.
Ok, what exactly is "Probiotic"?

Probiotics (from pro and biota - meaning "for life" ) are consumed, live organisms that are similar to the beneficial microorganisms found in your digestive tract, gastrointestinal tract, GI, or "gut". Your gut is made up of seven key organs: the gall bladder, large intestine, liver, pancreas, esophagus, small intestine and stomach.  
This "good bacteria" improves intestinal function and builds and maintains a strong immune system. Recent studies of Probiotics are indicating effective results for treating a myriad of illnesses such as: ulcerative colitis, childhood diarrhea, immune system dysfunctions, and the treatment of Crohn's Disease, to name a few.

Yogurt, a more recognized probiotic, has long been known to help restore the balance of "friendly bacteria" to your system, but now Kefir is on the scene and is reported to be a much more potent source.  According to kefir.net, whereas yogurt contains bacteria to keep the digestive system clean and feed the "friendly bacteria" that live there, Kefir creates ideal conditions to colonize 'friendly bacteria" in the digestive tract.

Kefir is a creamy, tart, slightly carbonated, fermented milk product that is loaded  with easily digestible   vitamins, minerals and complete proteins. It contains essential amino acids that help the body with healing and maintenance functions.  It is rich in vitamin B12, thiamine, calcium and vitamin K.  It also has high levels of biotin, a B vitamin that helps the body assimilate all other B vitamins, which regulate the kidneys, liver and nervous system.

Some of the reported health benefits I found for Kefir include:

* Eliminates constipation
* Heals ulcers
* Aids digestion
* Reduces or eliminates cold and flu illnesses
* Calms nerves
* Helps sleep disorders
* Builds a healthy immune system
* Boosts energy
* Heals skin disorders
* Reduces or eliminates allergies
* Lowers cholesterol
* Treats respiratory diseases such as asthma

Kefir is also being studied for it's healing properties in people suffering with AIDS, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, ADHD, herpes and cancer.

Kefir can be made from any type of milk: cow, goat, sheep, coconut rice or soy and is quite easy to make.

I have to admit, this new flavor was a bit unusual for me but by day two I was enjoying my daily glass of Kefir immensely, especially in light of all it's healing, soothing qualities.  Another edible option for consumption is smoothies. Given it's smooth, creamy texture, Kefir would be delicious blended with fruit. It can also be made into cheese!

Next blog - How To Make Kefir. Stay tuned