I recently had someone ask me about Kefir and I thought the topic would make a lovely post.
One of my first experiences with true homemade Kefir, (pronounced “Keh-feer”) was at a neighbors house. They have a nice little Jersey cow that was producing milk. -And when you have a cow in milk you have a LOT of milk. They began making Kefir as a way to use some of it. They took the Kefir made with the very high butterfat milk of their Jersey cow and blended it with dark maple syrup created that spring from the maple trees on their property. It was blended until it was almost frothy. The Kefir was sweet, a little sour , slightly carbonated and very, very creamy. It was delicious. I took a little home to start my own batch of Kefir.
Kefir, like yogurt is a cultured milk drink, (unless you make water kefir…but that’s another post). It originated in the crossroads of Russia, Europe and Asia. According to Wikipedia it was first made in a skin bag and hung in a doorway so that it would be hit, (and thus mixed) every time someone entered or exited the door. Although it does have similarities to yogurt it is also quite different. Yogurt is made with a variety of milk-loving bacteria the most popular of which is Acidophilus. Other species can make appearances but as a rule yogurt is a big milk-loving friendly bacteria party.
Kefir. It’s a different kind of party. In a batch of Kefir you will find a variety of bacteria as well as yeasts. This lends the end product a different flavor and feel in the mouth. Because of the yeast you get yeast by-products. As the little yeasties eat the sugar naturally present in the milk they create a little alcohol. That’s right. Alcohol. Just a little bit. Made at home and fermented a little longer kefir is around 1-2% alcohol. Industrially, where the fermentation time is often shortened, it tends to be around 1%. Another by-product of yeast in the mix is carbon dioxide. This gives it an almost carbonated feel and is why Kefir is often referred to as the “champagne of milk”. This blend of bacteria and yeasts give your body even more health benefits than yogurt.
Also, Kefir is much easier to make at home than yogurt. Really, it’s easier! With yogurt you need an incubator or something to keep it warm for 4-10 hours. If you go over that 10 hours you have a really sour yogurt. If you keep it too warm you end up with cheese. If you keep it too cool the bacteria are not warm enough to culture the milk at all. Kefir, on the other hand, is a room temperature fermented milk product and in my experience is much more fool-proof. All you need is a container, (I like quart or 1/2 gallon glass canning jars), milk, (raw or pasteurized), Kefir grains and 12-24 hours. Kefir grains are little cauliflower-looking, jelly-like globs of bacteria and yeast. You place the Kefir grains in your room-temperature milk and set it somewhere dark and well…room temperature…for 1/2 to an entire day. Then, you use a strainer to strain the Kefir grains out, (who have now procreated and multiplied…some party!) and then drink your Kefir. Here is a more in-depth tutorial, (because why make one if it already exists?)
One last piece of information. You may be wondering where to get Kefir grains. Start by asking around. You may know someone already making Kefir. If you can’t find any locally then you will find a plethora of options with a simple Google search. After you start making Kefir you will not be lacking for grains again. They multiply like rabbits. You will be begging your friends to start making Kefir. You can also strain the grains out, rinse them in water and dry them for later use, freeze them for later use or just blend them up in the blender with the Kefir and eat them.
That’s about it! Enjoy your Kefir!