Jason is ahead of me on this by a few years, but I recently learned about Kefir. It was quite by accident, as my eye caught a video about probiotics and the importance of them in our diet. In tablet form, good probiotics can be very expensive, but you can also ingest them in the form of fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut etc) and kefir. Kefir is quite popular with people who seek natural ways to improve their health, but it is also popular with folks who enjoy self sufficiency because the basic starter product of the kefir never dies out: you can make batch after batch after batch.
What is kefir? Kefir is a fermented milk product that is derived from using kefir grains (a live culture) mixed with milk. It’s very popular to use organic raw milk if you can get it. If not, any other organic milk (cows, goat or sheep) is great too.
Where do you get kefir grains? If you know someone who makes kefir, chances are their kefir grains frequently grow and they have some to give away, so ask about. If not, you can get them from some organic farms (in PA, Your Family Farmer supplies them as well as raw milk). I also tested some from Amazon. It took about 5 batches to recharge them after shipping to make a good batch but they are still going strong and I use them every day.
How do you make kefir? Oh so simple! Simply add the kefir grains to a crock or glass jar, and pour in the organic milk (approx 1 to 2 tablespoons of grains to approx 2 cups of milk).
Cover with a cloth or loose lid, and let it sit on the counter for about 24 hours (longer if the temp is cool). I give mine a swirl a couple of times through the day.
You might start to see a little separation of whey, and that’s about the time it will be ready. Kefir can be a little tart/ sour, the longer it’s left, the more tart it will be, so you can test it for taste.
Use a non-metal strainer to pour the kefir into a bowl. There will be curds left with the kefir grains in the top, and just stir the mixture around until you are just left with the grains.
You can start a new batch with the grains. The grains start to multiply so if you have excess, you can eat them (good mixed in smoothies or other foods) or give them away. For the kefir milk in your bowl, you can drink it, mix it, 2nd ferment it, or store it in the fridge in a jar for about a week.
Health benefits: Kefir is packed with millions of various probiotics. These are vital to good health in the GI tract of your body. When your digestion is running in tune, this lifts the health of your whole body. I’ve seen reports of this helping metabolism, mood, energy, skin & hair health, boosts the immune system, as well as healing properties for existing conditions.
Some Random Facts & Tips:
1. Kefir grains seem to have been around forever, commonly used in the Caucasus Mountains.
2. The fermentation processes uses up the sugars and lactose in milk, so it’s close to sugar free. This is why it gets so sour.
3. There are other grains you can use to make water kefir, or fruit flavored kefir.
4. I am experimenting with non-dairy milk kefir but the jury is still out on the success, especially keeping the grains alive for multiple batches.
5. Keep testing batches with a various ratios until you reach a taste you like. I do 2 tablespoons of grains with 2 cups of milk, in a wide crock so the grains are not crowded. 24 hours.
6. You can sweeten with fruit, honey etc. You can also second ferment. Remove the grains, add fruit (or something else with sugar) to the kefir milk, cover and leave on the counter for another 24 hours.
7. You can strain the kefir to use the whey for lacto-fermentation of vegetables (eg kimchi) or to make kefir cheese.
I am learning a lot from an Australian site by a guy named Dom. http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html
He’s a Kefir Pro…. it’s not the most professional site in the world (it’s older and basic) but it’s packed full of good information, even some of the science behind it, if you like to read that.
I’m also reading http://www.culturedfoodlife.com/. This one looks a little more modern and professional, with videos too, though Dom’s is still my first choice. With this one though, I also learn a lot from the comments after posts.
What do you need to get started: Other than the kefir grains, you have most of it in your kitchen, I am sure.
Glass canning jars or crock.
I use either a clean tea towel and elastic band to cover, or a coffee filter and a metal jar ring hold in place (fermentation gasses need to escape)
Non metal utensils and strainer.
Good luck! Let me know your experience with kefir. Do you have tips to share?