Amazing Milk Kefir

In my mind Milk Kefir is the ‘Holy Grail’ of fermented foods.  It’s basically milk that has been fermented using kefir grains to feed off the fat and the sugars in the milk producing what tastes like a a slightly sour drinking yogurt.  A kefir grain is not a plant derived grain as it sounds like.  It is actually an insoluble matrix of bacteria and yeast that, when added to milk, can produce kefir with up to 50 different strains of beneficial of bacteria and yeasts.  It has more probiotic power than any other fermented food I’ve come across.

Kefir originated in the Caucasus Mountains thousands of years ago.  The name ‘‘kefir’’ is likely derived from the Turkish word‘‘ keyif’’ which means ‘‘good feeling’’.  It has been used for many years to promote good health and has been touted anecdotally for its curative properties. Many people who cannot tolerate dairy products find that they can drink kefir because most of the lactose in the milk gets broken down in the fermentation process.

Kefir has been shown to strengthen the immune system by stimulating immune cell activity as well as help prevent allergies.  Although scientists have tried to replicate it in a lab they haven’t been very successful in producing kefir grains without using other grains.  So, amazingly, every kefir grain in the world has descended from those original grains thousands of years ago!

Scientists have, however, managed to isolate various strains of bacteria from the kefir and found that some showed resistance to pathogenic bacteria like, Giardia, E. coli, H. Pylori, Salmonella, and Listeria.  I personally always bring my kefir grains with us when we go travelling to countries where food and waterborne pathogens are common.   It’s so super easy to make and helps prevent us from getting tummy bugs.

We as a family drink milk kefir everyday usually in the form of a smoothie or in an ice lollie. Though myself and DD2 love it straight up. Hope you love it as much as we do!

Here’s How to make it:

Equipment

  • Glass jar
    • It’s best to ferment kefir in glass or ceramic as they are inert, some metals can react with the grains. Very limited contact with stainless steel is considered safe.
  • Wooden, plastic, or stainless steel spoon
  • Plastic Strainer
  • A tea towel and rubber band to cover
  • Measuring spoons and jug

Ingredients for Dairy Kefir

  • 2 tablespoons of milk kefir grains
  • 1/2 litre full fat organic milk (cow, goat, sheep)
    • The less processed the better so preferably use un-homogenised or raw.

Method

  • Put the milk and grains into the jar and stir.
  • Put the tea towel over and secure it with an elastic band
  • Keep the jar in a warm part of the kitchen but out of direct sunlight.
  • During the whole fermentation process it’s beneficial to stir the grains around a couple of times (more in winter as it takes longer) to ensure all the milk gets in contact with the grains and the milk is fermented.
  • During summer kefir can ferment in as little as 20 hours.
  • During winter kefir will take longer. The length of time depends on how warm your home is but you can expect it to take about 48 hours.
  • It is normal for the kefir to separate into curds and whey. When this happens, give it a little shake or stir.

Straining the Grains

  • Once your kefir has fermented you can either strain it straight away and place the fermented kefir into the fridge OR
  • Put the whole jar with the grains still in it into the fridge and strain it the next morning.
  • Before you strain it’s best to either stir or shake up the milk and grains or else it’ll take a lot longer to sift it through.
  • Strain it, drink it, and use you kefir grains again.  As long as you look after your grains they will last forever.
  • With each ferment, your grains will usually multiply by about 3-5 % per day. You can use the extra grains in your next ferment, it usually means that it will ferment more quickly and be thicker.

Tips for winter

  • In winter, I make the kefir as usual and leave the grains in for a good few hours or overnight. The next day I will give the kefir a good stir and then place the jar into a large bowl or stock style saucepan filled with warm (not hot) water. The water should come to at least half-way on the jar. I leave the kefir in the water until the water loses its warmth. This speeds the fermentation up slightly.
  • In the really cold months it will usually take a couple of goes of doing this to produce a thick kefir. Make sure you give it a good stir before putting it back into warm water.
  • After doing this (once or twice) you should instantly see the kefir thicken up. If it hasn’t, you could either leave it on the counter for a bit longer or try putting it into more warm water.
  • The kefir will need more stirring in winter to ensure that the milk on the bottom is getting good contact with the grains and already fermented milk on top.

Resting your Grains

  • There are obviously times when you need to take a break but luckily you can refrigerate kefir grains for up to a couple of months without damaging them.
  • When you are ready to give your grains a break put them in a clean jar with fresh milk and refrigerate.
  • If you are going away for a longer amount of time then you might like to ask a friend to look after them for you.
  • I’ve also had success freezing the grains in some milk.

What to do with excess Grains

  • With excess milk grains you can try using them in different kinds of non-dairy milk such as coconut,  almond or soy.
  • You can also eat the grains to get a big hit of probiotics. Be careful not have more than about a teaspoon when you start and then build up to more.
  • Share your grains with friends.
  • You can just compost as they’re great for breaking down your compost. I’ve had great success with this!

Some Uses for Milk Kefir

  • Blend it with fruit in smoothies
  • Use it in ice-lollies (my kids favorite)
  • Use it as a starter to make sourdough bread
  • It makes a fabulous face mask! Just apply liberally and leave on for 10 – 15 minutes. The alpha-hydroxy acids will leave your skin soft and glowing!
  • You can also us the grains to make coconut milk kefir

Happy Fermenting!

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