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..
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.
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