Ok, so have we established here that kefir is pretty good stuff to be eating on a daily basis? Yes? Good.
Kefir's a living organism, so there are a few things to keep in mind before you get started —
- The starter for kefir is called "kefir grains." Not to worry — this "grain" has nothing to do with wheat…or any other glutinous substance. They're called grains because that's what the individual pieces apparently look like. To my eye, it looks more like cauliflower heads in a clump or in a chain.
- Keep your culturing kefir in glass or plastic. I prefer using a glass quart jar. For our family, it takes us about two days to work through about a quart of kefir.
- Use only plastic utensils when dealing with your kefir grains — the grains react with metal, and you could kill them.
- Either let the containers you're putting your grains in air dry, be dried in the dishwasher or use filtered water to rinse out your quart jar. Chlorine from tap water will damage your grains.
- Never, ever put honey in with your grains — the honey's antibacterial properties will KILL your grains.
- The warmer it is, the faster your kefir will culture. If it's culturing faster than you're using it, put it all in the fridge once it's cultured as long as you like. It will keep for a long time in the fridge. Just remember to add a bit of milk to it every few days or it will starve. Ack!
- There is a yeast that kefir produces, which is all well and good…unless you're making yogurt and you get some cross contamination. The yeast gets airborne and will culture in your yogurt. This makes for some unpleasant flavors in your yogurt. So how can you prevent this? Make sure that your culturing yogurt and culturing kefir are as far apart in your kitchen as possible!
- You can use cow's milk, goat's milk, or even canned coconut milk to culture kefir!
- (If you're interested in making your own carbonated beverage, you'll need to get some water grains. I haven't done that yet.)
- *Note* — Kefir grains feed on the natural sugars in the milk. Once they've cultured 48 hours, you need to transfer them to fresh milk or add some milk to their container so that they have more to feed on. (Granted, this is not hard and fast — I had some in the fridge for three weeks that I was sure had died because I hadn't added any milk, and they survived just fine!)
- If you can get kefir grains from a friend, that's great! If not, consider ordering from culturesforhealth.com.
Here's how you "do" kefir:
When you get your cultures, understand that it's going to take them a little while to get used to their new environment. If you've had to order them, you'll have to rehydrate them before they'll culture. (I got my grains from a friend, so I don't feel qualified to give you much info on rehydrating grains.) If they've been frozen, let them thaw in the fridge for an easier transition. Once they're thawed, add some milk and put them in their jar on the counter. I keep my jar covered with a paper towel secured by a rubber band. I've also used canning rings to secure the towel in place. It's super important not to seal the jar with a lid. Carbon dioxide is released during the culturing process, and if you've ever made your own ginger beer, you know that the pressure of carbon dioxide building can explode a glass jar!
Let your grains sit in the milk on your counter/refrigerator out of direct sunlight for 24-48 hours. You'll notice that the milk becomes a bright white. I have no idea what causes that, but it is so very cool to see!
You have a couple of choices at this point — you can either just add more milk and swirl the grains, cultured milk and fresh milk together or you can transfer the grains to a new container of milk all together. (When we were at a 9 week, off-grid crisis response training last fall, we cultured goat's milk in a gallon jar. Each day, we just added the fresh goat's milk to the gallon jar and used a plastic ladle to draw out whatever we wanted to use.)
To transfer your grains, get a second glass jar and fill it 3/4 full of milk. Using a plastic spoon of sorts, pull out your grains and put them into the fresh batch of milk. (When I first started out culturing kefir, I tried to pour the cultured kefir through a slotted spoon into a fresh jar. The slotted spoon would catch the grains, and then I would put them back into the original jar with fresh milk. This is probably an easier way to go if your grains are small. Mine are huge now, so they're pretty easy to fish out.)
Once you've transferred your curds & whey, cover your kefir with a jar lid that is NOT snugged down and place it in the fridge. Understand, it will continue to produce carbon dioxide…you really don't want this exploding in your refrigerator. What a mess! Cover your fresh milk and grains with your paper towel secured by a rubberband, and place it on your counter to sit for 24-48 hours.
The longer the kefir cultures, the more curds form and the whey separates. (The photo above was probably a 72 hour culture…with some of that time in the fridge.) This is OK. You can stir them back together again or pour off your whey to use in other recipes. There are so very many uses for kefir (& yogurt) whey! (That's a whole different post….)
Something to keep in mind — Kefir is magnificent stuff! Wonderful!!!! However, to the tummy that's not used to it, kefir can be quite startling, so…start out slow and easy, trying as little as a tablespoon twice a day for a few days. It's going to take a little bit for the kefir to set up house in your GI Tract!
Please, if you have any questions, please ask in the comments below, and I'll answer them to the best of my knowledge.