Confessions of an EVERYDAY ECOTARIAN

creative, conscious and conserving ideas, thoughts and solutions

Kefir: The other Yogurt July 19, 2009

Filed under: On Food — adm @ 7:17 pm
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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 Grains

Kefir Grains

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!

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On Food: Making Yogurt June 12, 2008

I’m on a food bent today.

Do you love really good, organic yogurt but feel like the budget is too tight to buy it? Perhaps you just feel wasteful buying disposable, (or recyclable) container(s) of yogurt every week.

You can make your own yogurt and it is EASY. Really. No laboratory needed, no big sterile environment is necessary. Just you, some milk, some culture and a warm place. Yogurt is one of those things that is as old as man and domesticated livestock. If they could do it, so can we. -and the best thing is you control what goes into it.

I use a 1-quart “Yogurt Maker” by Salton. I got it from Amazon for about $15. I now see that Amazon no longer carries it. However, they do have an individual cup yogurt maker for $29. I’ve often wished I had the options of individual cups so perhaps this is a better option anyway. You can make yogurt without a yogurt maker but I’ve found the incubator is inexpensive and makes the process much more predictable and the product more consistent.

Regardless, the process is the same. You buy milk -whatever milk you desire. I love using whole-milk for my yogurt. If you use homogenized milk your yogurt will be consistent throughout. If you use milk that has not been homogenized your yogurt will have a cream layer on top, (oh, how I love that cream layer!). You heat the milk to 200 degrees for 10 minutes. You let it cool until it is lukewarm. Some people add some dried milk powder at this point but I’ve found it isn’t necessary. Next, you take some live cultures and mix them into the milk. You can either use live culture that has been freeze-dried, (like Yogourmet) or just buy one cup of plain yogurt that has live and active cultures to mix into your milk. You then place the milk/culture mix in the incubator and let it rest for 4-10 hours -until it sets. If you like your yogurt more sour then let it go towards the 10 hour mark, mild let it go towards the 4 hour mark.

You will now have plain yogurt that you can add whatever you’d like into. Save about 4 ounces of this yogurt to start your next batch. You can re-culture your yogurt about 3-4 times with yogurt from the last batch. After this the cultures will be too weak and you will need a new set.

One more thing: The consistency of homemade yogurt is thinner than the kind you buy in stores.  You may find yourself asking, “How do I thicken my homemade yogurt?”  I have worked and worked to find a way to thicken it up, (my family prefers it thicker). After much trial and error I’ve stumbled upon a couple of solutions. The first is to add unflavored gelatin to it before you incubate it. I’m not sure I like its texture this way. It’s kind of like…well…Jello. The second -my preferred method- is to use a product called Instant Clear Jel. It is a pre-cooked corn starch. Therefore you can put it in something cold and it will thicken it almost instantly, (think instant pudding). I have found that you use about 2 TBS to 1 cup of yogurt. Sprinkle it over the top, whisk it in good and let it set in the fridge for a while. Then, go back to it and whisk it again until it’s creamy and thick. My family thinks it’s perfection!

Plain yogurt is also a great, healthy substitute for sour cream. You can also put the plain yogurt in a colander lined with cheesecloth and let the whey drain from it until you have yogurt cheese -which is a lot like cream cheese.

You can make a quart of yogurt for the cost of the milk plus your culture, (which can be simply one individual cup of plain yogurt). Healthy, delicious, nutritious and inexpensive!