Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Milk Kefir

I’ve been meaning to do a post on milk kefir for quite some time now, but I always think, “what would I even write?”  Milk Kefir is the absolute easiest and best nutritional thing you can add to your family’s diet.

So what exactly is Kefir?  Have you seen it in your local health food store?  

Kefir is fermented by kefir grains that contain the bacteria and yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk protein) and complex sugars. The bacteria and yeast mixture can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match. Several of the strains of bacteria in the kefir culture are not found in yogurt. The yeast in kefir is able to deal effectively with pathogenic yeasts in the body. The bacteria/yeast team cleanses and fortifies the intestinal tract making it more efficient at resisting pathogens.
Because kefir is a balanced and nourishing food, it has been used to help patients suffering from AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, herpes, and cancer. It has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system and is beneficial for people with sleep disorders, depression and ADHD. Kefir promotes healthy bowel movements when used regularly, and helps reduce flatulence. It also helps reduce food cravings by allowing the body to feel more nourished and balanced.
Kefir has many other nutritive features in addition to bacteria and yeast. It is loaded with minerals and essential amino acids. Because its protein is partially digested in the fermentation process, it is easily utilized by the body, and can, in most circumstances be consumed by people with lactose intolerance. Kefir contains significant amounts of tryptophan, the amino acid that promotes relaxation and sleep, making it a good choice for a nightcap.  Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in kefir and other ruminant products that has been shown to possess anti-cancer activities in in-vivo animal models and in vitro cell culture systems. It is also rich in vitamin B-12, vitamin K and biotin.
So are you convinced yet?  Here's what you have to do to get started!  Find some kefir grains.  They can be adopted online or find a friend locally who has some extra.  All you need is milk (at least 2%), preferably from a caring local farmer you look in the eye and shake hands with on a regular basis.  Read here about the benefitsof raw milk and the dangers of homogenization.  If you need to find a reliable source for raw milk check this out.
Now, brace yourself this is complicated!  Put the grains in the milk and set the milk on the counter.  Wait.  And wait.  Depending on the temperature in your kitchen and the proportion of milk to the chunk of grains you start with it could be anywhere from 24-48 hours.  

Here's my current chunk of grains.  You need about half this much to get started.

Check your kefir periodically.  This will not hurt it.  Turn it on its side.  If it looks like milk, give it a good shake and leave it longer.  When it is done it will pull away from the side and look like yogurt.  These are the basic instructions I give people who adopt my little grains from me.  There is no “science” to it, so relax!!  When it’s all done try it in a smoothie, use it as buttermilk, or strain it to make some kefir cheese.


This is done!  See how it pulls away like yogurt.

I've had a lot of worrisome folks ask a lot of questions during the process of incorporating kefir into their family diet.  The hardest is knowing when it is "done" and also to get over the expectation of uniformity.  We have been so ingrained by the industrial food systems to expect that if a then b.  But in the home kitchen sometimes you do a and you get c...it just is.  Here are some pictures of different batches of my kefir to show the variance in the finished product.

This one has separation toward the bottom.

This one is separated right under the cream line.

This batch was really thick.

This one really thin.

And this one is somewhere in the middle.

All a little different, all good kefir.  After you make kefir for a while, you will probably find a rhythm to get a pretty consistent product.  Do remember that just a change in season can affect the fermentation process.  And again, remember it isn't science and have fun!!

Love and Butter, 

Mishelle


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19 comments:

  1. I love my kefir! I can have a smoothie in the morning and I am good till my piece of fruit! I have noticed a change in my energy level for the better. I have my routine down for making it. I like mine fairly thick, and I have some getting ready for me right now on the counter. Any ideas on a good combo for kids? I want my little one to have a smoothie, but she has said "yuck" to every combo so far! And for some reason, she does not like peanut butter,
    so omit that idea! LOL

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    1. How do you get yours to be thick?

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    2. I use whole raw milk. I think whole pasteurized milk would be the same. It will get thick first and then thin if you let it keep going. I always shake it before I make a smoothie, so then it is pour-able.

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  2. I'm concocting a post on ideas. The short answer is start with a little "tangy" and work you way up. She may need a good amount of honey in hers for a while, her taste buds will adjust over time. You have to admire her for speaking her mind! ;-)

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  3. I've found you can take the grains out and continue the ferment with out them.

    I will admit the first time I left milk on my counter for two days it took a lot of self convincing to consume it afterwards.

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  4. @Connie, I've been experimenting with a "second" ferment on my milk kefir. I've added a sliced orange and left it out an extra day. It gets very fizzy and the orange seems to mask some of the sour taste. My children really liked the smoothies I made with that.

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    1. I think orange is my favorite flavor so far. I also liked maple syrup with a little bit of vanilla.

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    2. Yum! I have some with dates and vanilla going now. We'll see how that turns out!

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  5. I've been making kefir for about 2 months now, having started with the partially dehydrated mail-order grains. My grains have grown exponentially to the point where I am now drowning in kefir. I probably have at least 3/4 of a cup of grains. Does that sound normal? Plus, I can't get my family past the tangy taste...which they believe is sour milk...and these are an adult (my husband) and teenagers who have been raised on our homemade yogurt so they presumably are used to that type of taste. I'm going to try your sliced orange suggestion. Do you have any other ideas????

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  6. @ Cheryl- Your grains will keep growing and they will turn your milk into kefir faster. I always try to maintain approx. a 1 heaping tbsp. sized clump of grains. I do so by waiting until it doubles in size and then I break it in half. I leave part in my kefir and put part in new milk. Then when I make smoothies, I just grind the grains right in and we get an extra dose of probiotic power that day!
    My best tip on serving kefir is in a smoothie. I occasionally eat it like yogurt, but even I have a little trouble with what I call "the funk" of it and I love plain yogurt. In a smoothie, I add really ripe bananas, frozen fruit, coconut oil, and enough raw local honey to make it all taste good. This morning was Strawberry-Banana-Mango. Banana-Blueberry is my kids all time favorite.

    I've just been trying the second ferment, but I've been so busy making pickles and other summer stuff that I haven't been keeping up with it. It is simple:
    1.)Ferment kefir like normal. 2.) Remove Grains. 3.) Add fruit- It can be fresh, frozen or dried. 4.) Allow to ferment 24 more hours.
    It gets fizzy and separates. It is thinner, and will take on the flavor of whatever you put in it.
    I think you just inspired a post! Good luck on those kids!

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  7. My daughter can't digest casien. Is it still present in keifer?
    Thanks so much~!

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    1. Pamela, I'm not sure why I never saw this comment. But the casien is pre-digested in the kefir. This is why it is legal on the GAPS and SCAD diets which do not allow casien or lactose.

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  8. The tang of kefir is so different to anything in the average diet... and it is hard to get used to (it's taken me several years of concerted effort!!). I've found that oranges blended into the kefir is just the counterpoint to the sourness. Honey and other sweeteners don't seem to take away the sour taste even when you've added quite a lot, but I've had the most success with oranges and pineapple works well, too. Throwing cashews and/or coconut butter into the smoothie dulls the tang somewhat, but substantially improves the texture.

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    1. Oooh! I am going to have to try pineapple. That sounds really good. There is a lot said in Nourishing Traditions about the sour taste that was very common in traditional cultures, but is almost non-existent in modern culture.

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  9. I have tried Kefir in the past, but was creeped out by little patches of white mold that would grow on top. Have you ever experienced this?

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    1. I'm not sure if I have ever seen anything like this. On white milk, how did you notice white mold? Maybe I've never looked close enough. Kefir does get slightly effervescent and sometimes the texture on the top is weird. Did you ferment it with a lid on it, or a cloth? When you ferment with a cloth, your ferment can pick up mold or yeasts from the air. I only ferment Kombucha and Sourdough like this, because in those cases I am trying to catch the wild yeasts.
      My short answer to any mold on a ferment though, is to scrape it off and then enjoy the ferment. This is also recommended in Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation.

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  10. What is the best way to remove the grains when the kefir is ready?

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    1. If they are floating on the top you can just scoop them off, just make sure it is a plastic spoon. If they have wandered away from the top, you can run your kefir through a non-reactive strainer (either stainless steel or plastic). This will thin you kefir, but it will still make a thick rich smoothie.

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    2. Thanks. Why plastic for the spoon?

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