What is Kefir?

Milkshakes • Photo by PhilAshley.com

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about how important it is to maintain your gut health, and how a western diet sometimes doesn’t have enough of the good bacteria to keep us well and healthy.

There have been many types of pro-biotic and pre-biotic yogurt drinks around for a number of years. But the latest one is called Kefir. Whereas the usual pro-biotic drinks have a handful of good bacteria, the kefir is supposed to have over 60 different strains. You can buy it ready made as a yogurt drink in most supermarkets, but this seems to be an expensive way to get them.

So I’ve been looking into fermenting my own from a few grains I brought online for just a few pounds. As you can use any type of milk it works out many times cheaper than buying the little bottles for every day, and because the kefir keeps growing I’ve ended up giving many jars of it away to friends and family so they too can benefit from the drink.

You can use many types of milk, I myself use organic semi skimmed, but any milk or cream except UHT is fine. You can use cows, goats, coconut, anything you like really. The other benefit is that any cows milk you do use is turned lactose free once it’s fermented by the kefir grains. So everyone in our family can enjoy their daily morning milkshakes without expensive lactose free milk.

Making kefir • Photo by PhilAshley.com

To make the kefir milk every morning I pour enough milk for the next days drinks into a large glass jar making sure I more than cover the grains.

The kefir will look a little bit like mini cauliflowers, these are the grains that make the pro-biotic milk. We make it fresh every day otherwise it can get a bit sour.

Depending on the temperature and where you keep it, will decide how quickly it works, I normally leave it out for 24hrs on the kitchen side, but if it’s really hot I may leave it in the fridge during the day and take it out overnight when it’s a bit cooler. The hotter it is faster it ferments. It also needs air so a muslins cloth tied over the opening with a band over it to keep it in place. If we’re going away for a few days I tend to just keep it in the fridge in an airtight jar to halt the fermenting. If we’re away for more than a week it’ll be too sour, so I’ll flush it through with fresh milk and start again with the same grains and fresh milk. The grains are hard to kill and just keep growing, I’ve even heard of some families using the same original batch for many years.

Kefir Icecream • Photo by PhilAshley.com

To make the kefir drink, once a day I pour the milk and grains through a plastic sieve into a bowl. The milk may look lumpy as it will have separated in to curds and whey. This is normal. It’s the good bacteria taking the sugar (lactose) from the milk. I just give it a quick stir before pouring through the sieve.

You’ll need to pour the collected milk from the bowl under the sieve into a jug and pour back through the grains in the sieve 2-3 times using a wooden spoon to gently push through the curds, but don’t worry the grains are too solid and won’t go through. This is the drinkable kefir milk.

Put the grains back in a clean, rinsed out jar adding enough milk for a few smoothies and leave on the side to ferment and make some more for the next day. It’s that simple.

The only thing grains don’t seem to like is Metal so I use plastic, glass or china and a wooden spoon when sieving through the milk. The milk itself is fine to touch Metal so I use a hand blender when making smoothies, and using frozen fruit to cool down the milkshake.

Homemade kefir butter • Photo by PhilAshley.com

I’ve also fermented cream in the same way and made butter by whisking until it separates then refrigerating in a butter press. Also ice cream with a whisk and using tinned mango puree to flavour.

Here’s a bit of history I found on the internet about Kefir

Although Kefir grains occur in nature, and they are living micro-organisms. No one knows exactly where or when the kefir grains first appeared. They seem to have been around for hundreds years. What has been established however, is that kefir grains originated from the Northern Caucasus Mountain region of Russian.

According to the people of the northern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains there is a legend that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. The ‘Grains of the Prophet’ were guarded jealously since it was believed that they would lose their strength if the grains were given away and the secret of how to use them were to be common knowledge. Kefir grains were regarded as part of the family’s and tribe’s wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. The kefir was made in cows or goats milk in sacks made from the hides of animals. Occasionally it was also made in clay pots, wooden buckets, or oak vats. In some areas sheep milk was also used. Usually the kefir sacks were hung out in the sun during the day and brought back into the house at night, where they were hung near the door. Everyone who entered or left the house was expected to prod the sack with their foot or hand to mix the contents. As kefir was removed more fresh milk was added, making the fermentation process continuous. For many centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone. Strange tales spread of the unusual beverage which was said to have ‘magical’ properties; Marco Polo even mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East.

However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis and for intestinal and stomach diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century. However, kefir was extremely difficult to obtain and commercial production was not possible without first obtaining a source of grains.

You can read more about it from the link here