Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kefir - A probiotic healing drink!

(Homemade plain Kefir - shaken a bit to show how it coats the bottle, papaya kefir!)

When I was just getting started into Kombucha (another post), I kept coming across something called Kefir (pronounced Keh-fear!). Not wanting to distract myself, I just briefly glanced through it and forgot about it. Soon came the diabetes, the Candida and the food intolerances - all pointing to something wrong with my gut. The tests that my Naturopath did on me showed I can eat Butter, Yogurt, Kefir, but not milk. The former three are cultured foods, whereas milk isn't. And yogurt and kefir were pro-biotic and would help with the digestive issues too. I started looking around and found kefir in the aisle where I pick up organic milk. I got some and tried it. It tasted very much like fresh homemade buttermilk. With the slightest hint of sourness but also more creamier than buttermilk.

The cultures' chemical changes make the milk much easier to digest, allowing the body to absorb more of the naturally present nutrients. The transformation of lactose to lactic acid allows people, even t hose with lactose intolerance, to digest kefir and get its full benefits.Kefir is high in calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins and folic acid. Kefir can play a vital role in the development of a healthy digestive tract in babies, as it protects against negative effects of radiation and helps improve the immune system. Kefir's friendly cultures also produce specific antibiotic substances which can control undesirable microorganisms and act as anti-carcinogenic factors. Kefir also helps to enhance bowel function and control candida - a condition where there is an excessive growth of yeast cells. In reference to Candida, Dr. Orla-Jenson, a noted Danish bacteriologist specializing in dairy research states that "Kefir digests yeast cells and has a beneficial effect on the intestinal flora".
From here.

I liked the drink and started reading about how I can make it at home. While it helped digestion, it also colonized the intestinal tract with good bacteria and helped Candida. Whatever I read, sounded very simple and easy! A glass jar, some kefir grains, milk was all I needed and I had to remember that the grains strictly not be in touch with metal containers or spoons. (Nicole says: The grains are pretty forgiving though!) The story how the kefir came from the Caucasian mountains to Russia was interesting as well. I looked around and found that Cultures for Health sells Kefir cultures, sourdough cultures and a wide variety of yogurt cultures. I have read Julie's (the owner of the above website) posts in one of the forums I hang around and was glad to find that she had just started shipping overseas. She was very helpful in answering my questions.

Julie shipped my package with 4 starters (kefir, 2 different yogurt starters and a sourdough starter and a book) to Canada, real quick. I started with the yogurt (another post! yes, it deserves a post on it own!) and then the kefir. The dried kefir culture looked like a tiny piece of asafetida, and had to be reincarnated... er... re-hydrated first. The package also had detailed instructions on how to go about it.

Rehydrating the grains
1. Take a mason jar or a glass container. It has to be glass. Remember the no-metal-rule? Pour about a cup of milk in it. The milk doesn't have to be at room temp. Straight from the fridge is what I used.
2. Put the kefir culture in it, shake it a bit, cover
with a thin cloth. I used a very thin handkerchief - 100% cotton and used a rubberband to hold it tight.
3. Put this in a cupboard and forget about it for 24 hrs.
4. Filter this using a nylon strainer or using your hand and carefully look for the culture. Mine was like the tiniest cauliflower floret.
5. Wash it in milk (about 1/2 tsp milk) and repeat the process of putting the grains in milk.

The first 2-3 days would just be re-hydrating the kefir grains. Don't use the milk on first few days..

Making Kefir
Slowly on the 4-5th day, the milk would start coagulating and getting slightly thicker. The drink is slightly sour and smells clean. Now you can start drinking the kefir. After a week or two, you can slowy increase the amount of milk upto a quart (about a litre).

When is the Kefir ready?
When you shake the container lightly, it should be almost firm like a jelly and not much moving.. then it is ready. When you shake it a lot more, then it has the consistency of thick buttermilk with very small curds floating in the liquid. The longer you ferment, the more sour the kefir would be.

My kefir is very good and we like drinking it every day. The size of the kefir grain has doubled or maybe tripled in size. It would grow in size and soon, look like a bigger cauliflower floret. Then I can separate it and use it in 2 or more containers to make more kefir and/or share it with friends.

If you are in drinking kefir for eliminating lactose intolerance, you will need to ferment close to 36H. However, never drink a kefir fermented over 48H, it provides a serious constipation! With 12H of fermenting, it works like a gentle laxative, 24H gives fully fermented balanced kefir. Overfermenting is not advisable, since kefir pH becomes too acidic and growth of grains slows. Normally, the grains tend to double in size about every 20 days. From here

Kefir can be drunk on it's own, or in smoothies, can be made into many types of icecreams, popsicles. It can also be used in cooking. I have used kefir to make pancakes and that resulted in really soft and fluffy pancakes. It works just like buttermilk in baking. It can also be used to make kefir cheese, etc. The kefir drink can be refrigerated for later use. 24 hrs is the ideal time to make kefir, but if you live in a hot area, then your milk might change into kefir much before the 24 hrs. Do NOT let the kefir grains sit in the same milk for more than 48 hrs. If you do, save the grains, discard the drink. Wash the grains in milk and start over again. If you want to take a break from making kefir, store in a glass of milk in the refrigerator. Change the milk once a week.

More reading material:
  1. Detailed information about Kefir can be found at Dom's Kefir in-site. It also has links to various Kefir communities - which are very helpful.
  2. Kefir on wiki
  4. Kefir manual
  5. Babushka's kefir
  6. How to second ferment Kefir and also flavor it


Indira said...

Thank you for introducing Kefir, Kay. I would like to try this healthy drink, and I will start with the store-bought kefir first and then venture into homemade.

Cilantro said...

Thank you for the info Kay, have bookmarked and will soon try. My husband recently has some digestion issues and none of the doctors have any solution. Probably he has lactose intolerance,the naturopath says so.

Subhie Arun said...

thx u for the info..will try soon..

Anonymous said...

wow!you have got kefir milk grains ?? lucky you!:) have you got the water kefir grains too kay?

Kay said...

Thanks y'all.

Indira, starting with store bought kefir is a good idea. That is how I went about it too.

Cilantro, My naturopath is a life saver for me. :) Can't thank her enough. There's a note in the post for lactose intolerant people - I think you have to ferment for 36 hrs.. check it out.

Subhie, let me know if you get to try it.

Paati! Luck has nothing to do with it. :D She ships overseas too and is very helpful. Check out her site. (I didn't get water kefir grains as of now, only dairy kefir. One by one, paati! baby steps. :)

Madhuram said...

Kefir is new to me too Kay. I'll also try the store bought ones.

Kay said...

Madhu, you can get it in loblaws, superstore in the organic aisle

Jyoti said...

Very informative ... Thanks for sharing ! I always saw it in the stores, and just passed by I will give it a try !

BDSN said...


Kay said...

Jyoti, Give it a try. You just might like it.

Bdsn, hey, good to see back! Let me call you! :)

delectableVictuals said...

Kudos to you Kay! Wonderful info, quite inspiring for DIY-types like me :) And, papaya flavor is just too tempting to pass up!

Cheers! Am getting steamed, boiled, baked, fried and roasted alive here in Madras, and I feel terrible for the kids... C'est la vie.

Kay said...

Sheela, you'd totally love it! Give it a try. The papaya kefir was wonderful!! We got some really sweet papayas recently and it has all been vanishing fast. I'm shocked to reminisce that papayas were the most hated fruit of my childhood! :D

Bong Mom said...

I just saw this today at Whole Foods !!!

Kay said...

Try it, Sandeepa... You just might like it! :)

Nicole said...

Great post. I wanted to mention that, in my experience, kefir grains are very forgiving. One of the links in your post warns users that if they squeeze grains, bring them in contact with chlorinated water or metal objects that they'll die (I actually think it was in red when I read it). Grains are living beings, and while they don't appreciate neglect, they are really forgiving. Dom's site (you linked to it) can dispel some of the rumors about killing your grains and put your mind to ease.

Love your grains and they'll love you back. Mine are only ever cultured in fresh raw milk and they double about ever 14 days. The love it!

Deepika said...

Dear Kay,

This is great info. I've blogged about the aspect of milk versus curds too. I certainly did not know about kefir. Although I don't think I'll be able to try this out in the near future at least, since I've never come across this grain anywhere here, I shall keep this in mind for later on.

Kay said...

Thanks Nicole!! Glad to know more about it and that the kefir grains are forgiving! Now, I can go on my long trip to India without worrying that my husband might kill my grains! :)

Deepika! Thanks for the msgs! I'll drop a msg at your blog.

Madhuram said...

I too wanted to call you Kay. We have also planned for a sudden trip to India. It's only Arjun and me, leaving next Tuesday and coming back in the last week of August. We booked the tickets only on Tuesday. Will call you tom or Sat.

bee said...

thank, kay. will order the kefir culture and start making it when i'm off my vegan diet.

Kay said...

You are welcome, Bee! I really like kefir and it is helping me already. :)

Ashleigh said...

Thanks for the info. I think I'll check this out. People are saying a lot of really good things about Kefir!

shelina said...

Hi Kay, interesting blog..
i have not made kefir for the last 3 years since my grains failed to revive after a long absence.. would you have any grains to spare? i am in the ossington neighbourhood.

Kay said...

Thanks Ashleigh and Shelina!

Shelina, I don't have grains to spare yet, It's still very small. Sorry! :(

shelina said...

no problem, Kay, i will look into ordering some grains.. have dived into more of your blog and would love to chat some time.. i usually make dosa subsituting half rice for quinoa.. will now try 100% quinoa dosa.. thanks for the idea.. also if you are able to share the name of your naturopath i am looking for a good one.. feel free to email me (remove spaces)

l o t u s l o o m @ y a h o o . c a

s said...

great info...very very useful

Kefir said...

glad to find another kefir lover. Keep up the great blog.

always great to introduce kefir to new people :)