Most folks are familiar with yogurt, but only a few have even heard of Kefir. In my opinion, Kefir is far superior to yogurt, and can be used in place of yogurt. It is easier to make, the culture never runs out as does yogurt, and it is more versatile.
When I first heard of Kefir grains, I thought it was some kind of grain seed from Eastern Europe. The phrase “Kefir grains” however, is actually a misnomer. It is actually a bio-matrix of the symbiotic micro-organisms which are used to culture Kefir. The great thing about these grains is that unlike yogurt culture, they never run out. After culturing yogurt for several generations, the culture becomes unbalanced and you must start over with new starter. In contrast, Kefir grains have been passed down for literally hundreds of years and the proper symbiotic balance between the organisms is maintained indefinitely.
Since making Kefir is a continuously repeated process, we have to start somewhere in the middle of a cycle. Let us assume you have received an active culture from a friend or other supplier. You begin by straining the grains out of the liquid. You need a fairly course strainer. A colander works. I use a jar sprout lid with fairly large holes. The liquid portion is the Kefir, the solid gelatenous mass is the “grains”.
If the culture has been not been used lately, it will be somewhat dormant. In that case the Kefir will be yeastier than usual and may not taste as good as it should. If you are just starting out, it may take up to a week to fully reactive your culture.
Now having strained out your grains, you are now ready to make a new batch. Nothing could be easier. Simply add milk to your grains and set on the shelf at room temperature. Your Kefir should be ready sometime the next day. You can tell it is ready when you begin to see some separation between the curds and whey. If you wait too long, the separation will be more profound, and it will be clumpier due to the solidification of the curds. If you don’t wait long enough, it may not be fully cultured and still somewhat sweet.
You repeat this process every day. If you want to take a break, just stick the jar into the fridge for a few days to slow things down. Each day, your quantity of “grains” will increase. You should increase the amount of milk you culture until you get to the volume desired. At that point, just remove some of the grains every few days to maintain the proper ratio. The ratio needn’t be exact. The basic rule of thumb is the culture time should be about 24 hours at room temp. If it is too fast or too slow, just adjust the ratio. Since the “grains” increase volume every day, you’ll need to monitor this ratio. Again it doesn’t have to be very exact, so don’t be concerned about getting it wrong. If you have too little, just let it sit a little longer, and if you have too much, just increase your milk next time or cut back on the grains.
Using Your Kefir
Kefir is very versatile, more-so than yogurt. Its most common use is as a refreshing beverage. I like to add raw honey (about 1 heaping tablespoon per cup) and a few strawberries, and puree in the blender. It has a delightful effervescent quality that I can’t describe. It is wonderful.
You can also use it in place of milk on granola for breakfast. You’ll never go back to using milk on your cereal again. There are many other uses that I have only begun to explore. You can try freezing the beverage for a frozen-yogurt type dessert. You can try cocoa powder instead of fruit. Let your imagination run wild.
For More Information
I have only given you a basic overview of making and using Kefir. There are many more uses, and you can store your excess grains for backup. To learn more, I recommend Dom’s Kefir In-Site. He documents Kefir’s history, care for your Kefir grains, and a myriad of other uses.
To obtain Kefir, you can get some from a friend, and there are many sources on the Internet as well. Stay away from any so-called “cultures”. These are not real Kefir grains. A laboratory culture of Kefir grains cannot be made. It must be passed down from person to person. We are now offering Kefir grains for sale for at our online store – WillowHillsNaturalFoods.com