Kefir

GET YOUR PROBIOTICS

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I first tried kefir at a friend’s house.  It tasted like those yoplait drinks my mom would put in my lunches as a child.  It was good and it was flavoured.  I soon discovered that it came in all kinds of flavours.  The fruit ones were my favourites:  mango, blueberry, and strawberry.  This was an easy way to get a lot of nutrition in a single drink.

As a matter of fact, kefir is packed with good things like amino acids, calcium and magnesium which all help maintain and even heal the body.   It also has high levels of different B vitamins which can help with weight maintenance because of how it aids the digestive system.  Different B vitamins also help absorb things like folic acid.  Probiotics found in kefir are approximately 30 times more than those found in regular yogurt.  Both yogurt and kefir are fermented dairy and contain beneficial bacteria but kefir has more of it and it is more potent.  In turn, kefir is a soothing drink with many benefits. No wonder it stems from Turkish word keyif, meaning feel good.  Below are general nutritional values for plain kefir that uses 2% milk.  The calorie and nutritional value will vary if using skim, full fat, or other varieties of milk.

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So what is kefir exactly?

It is basically a bacteria that comes in the form of a grain which looks like a porous piece of popcorn, lumped cottage cheese, or a fluffy cloud.  Generally, it feeds off of lactose in milk.  One large kefir grain can turn 2 cups of milk into kefir in 24 hours.  To help the grain ferment the milk, it needs to be kept at room temperature.  If the room is too warm, it will produce the kefir at a much faster rate.  If it is too cold, it can take much longer.  Placing it in the fridge will slow down the process significantly.  True kefir grains are strong and difficult to kill so while you should allow it to feed at room temperature when possible, keeping it in the fridge for short periods of time (up to a week even) shouldn’t do any damage.  Once you see it start to separate, it means that they have used up the lactose and it is time for some fresh milk.

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There is no need to rinse the grains.  It is actually better to let them thrive naturally.  They are bacteria after all.  If you constantly keep them fed and happy at room temperature, they will actually begin to separate and make what I call “kefir babies”.  The more grains you have, the faster fermentation will occur.  If you don’t go through that much kefir you can do a few things with those extra grains.  You can blend them in smoothies where you would normally add your kefir to.  It is also the gift that keeps on giving and can be given to friends and family who may be interested in growing their own.

How to make kefir

Know that the kefir I am referring to is a high quality kefir.  The kinds that come in the bottle at the store are very mild.  In health food stores you can purchase grains that last a limited time.  What you want to search for are the grains that continue to grow.  Those will not be sold in stores because people would never need to come back and purchase more.  Unfortunately, the only way to get these types of grains are by knowing someone.  Sometimes you can request on public media sites and you may find someone who has some or knows someone who does.

The kind I use is milk kefir because that is what feeds it.  You can choose the milk that you use.  I like 2% but kefir loves full fat.  Regardless, you decide.  You can even use goat or sheep milk as well.  Almond and coconut milk can work too but what you can’t do is switch.  If you have a grain that has been feeding off cow milk, do not suddenly switch to coconut milk.  There is even water kefir.  Fermented water that can be used for fizzy drinks.

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Depending on how tart you like your kefir, you can let it ferment for longer or shorter periods of time.  After 24 hours mine separates and develops a clear liquid near the bottom.  This is perfectly normal.  The clear portion is the whey and can actually be used in recipes that call for it like sourdough starters.  You can also just stir your kefir and it will blend in again.  I like to use large mason jars to store and create my kefir.  It needs to breath so place a cheese cloth over your jar as the fermentation process will release gases.  Once your milk turns to kefir, a drinkable yogurt flavour and consistency, it is done.  Be warned that for some people, the bacteria of kefir will not be easily accepted into the stomach if there are some issues there.  It will have you using the washroom so start slow and build up a tolerance.

Once you remove the grain from your jar, move it to another jar and fill it with milk.  You can now begin what is called a second fermentation with the first batch or leave it as is.  Remember that the taste should be tart.  A second fermentation will give the kefir a smoother, milder flavour.  You can even add a bit of vanilla or orange peel at this stage.  It you plan on making a savoury yogurt like tzatiki, you can throw some herbs or garlic cloves in.  Remember not to handle the kefir grain with metal.  Use a wooden spoon so that it doesn’t react.

What can you do once your kefir is done?  

In liquid form you can blend it with fruit or other flavours and drink a bit each day.  I drink 1 cup a day personally.  If you are going for more savoury flavours you can make tzatziki sauce or raita or any dip where you might use yogurt.  For sweet try a mango lassi.

Another use for kefir is a replacement for buttermilk.  I have tried this out on several recipes and it works perfectly, maybe even better.  I love this because I can only get 1 litre containers of buttermilk at the store which is too much for me.  With home-made kefir, I can use what I need.  Make some buttermilk (kefir) pancakes or put some kefir in a quiche.  I love the tang it gives to mashed potatoes or twice baked potatoes.  Before frying chicken, toss it in some kefir.  Think of it as nutritious buttermilk and that will give you the most ideas on how to consume it.

Another thing I really like to do is strain it in a cheese cloth.  The longer you strain it, the thicker it will become.  When preparing the cloth and strainer, be sure not to use metal.  Once I have the kefir in the cloth I tie it to a wooden spoon and let it strain overnight.

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The consistency will depend on your taste.  Once this is complete you will have kefir cheese.  You can mix it in spreads and even make cheesecakes with it.  It has a texture similar to cream cheese.  Blend some fruit and honey with it and spread it on a bagel.  Throw in chives and dill and serve it on toast with some smoked salmon.  Make little cheese balls and throw them in a jar of olive oil and herbs so they last longer and marinate.

If you haven’t tried kefir and are looking for something small to start doing to improve health, I highly recommend kefir, and especially growing your own.  Soon you won’t know how you managed without it!

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