Ever tried making milk kefir? It’s this fantastic, thick, and tangy fermented milk packed with gut-friendly probiotics. I’ve got some tips that make the whole process a breeze. Let’s explore what exactly kefir grains are, how to use them, storage tips, and more.
Understanding the basics: What is Kefir & A Quick History
I like to do a deep dive when attempting to bring anything new into our house and homestead. Never wanting to jump on a trend or fad based on “Because others in the health arena are doing it”. However, fermented foods always perk up my ears so back when I heard about Kefir, I was immediately intrigued.
Kefir is considered good for several reasons:
This is primarily due to its unique composition and the fermentation process. Here are some key reasons why kefir is often considered a beneficial addition to a healthy diet:
- Probiotics: Kefir is a rich source of probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria and yeast that support a healthy gut microbiome. These microorganisms play a crucial role in digestive health, immune function, and overall well-being.
- Improved Digestion: The probiotics in kefir can help balance the gut flora, aiding in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals with digestive issues or lactose intolerance.
- Nutrient Content: Kefir is a nutrient-dense food, containing essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin K2, vitamin B12, magnesium, and more. These nutrients contribute to overall health and wellness.
- Complete Protein: Kefir made from whole milk is a good source of complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids necessary for the body’s functions. This can be beneficial for those looking to increase their protein intake.
- Potential Immune Support: The probiotics in kefir may have immune-modulating effects, potentially contributing to better immune function and defense against infections.
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Some studies suggest that kefir may have anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial for individuals dealing with inflammatory conditions.
- Mood and Mental Health: There is emerging research on the gut-brain connection, and a healthy gut microbiome, supported by probiotics like those found in kefir, may play a role in mental health and mood regulation.
- Easy Digestibility: The fermentation process of kefir partially breaks down lactose and proteins, making it more digestible for individuals who may be sensitive to certain components in milk.
My first question after understanding the basics was, can I make kefir grains myself?
The answer: No.
They must come from other grains, and then can grow and multiply. I’ll link here to a more in depth article about the history of kefir. Its origins trace back to Russia, where the interaction between milk and animal skin, a prevalent method for holding drinks centuries ago, led to a reaction, giving rise to kefir. (That’s what most of the stories elude too anyhow, I couldn’t find a definite answer that 100% confirmed this.) Since cheese is routinely made with rennet, which is calf stomach, it makes sense that other products could also come to be with a similar combo.
What is a kefir grain?
One of the things that fascinate me most about these grains is their consistency. They have this unique, gelatinous texture that distinguishes them from other fermenting agents such as the Scooby in kombucha and the Mother in Apple Cider Vinegar. And as they grow they take on the look of a piece of cauliflower.
How does it work?
Kefir grains thrive on the lactose in milk, creating a blend of bacteria and yeast that turns ordinary milk into a powerhouse of nutrients. The process is simple, straightforward, and hard to mess up.
Where to get your kefir grains?
If you have a friend that’s already making kefir, ask them! Kefir grains grow quickly and most fermenting fanatics like myself are more than willing to share and get others onto the health train with us! However, if you don’t know anyone, don’t worry, that was me too. We had moved across the country and I knew no one so I simply grabbed mine off Amazon!
The exact grains I purchased (I ordered mine may 23′ and they’re still going strong!)
That’s it! All you need to go along with it is a glass quart jar, a plastic spin top lid, and a strainer!
Well that and milk of course.
How to start the grains
Now, let’s talk about caring for your kefir grains. Most places you purchase will give you detailed instructions. Depending on if you get them dehydrated or like the ones I purchased, which were alive and ready to go.
Day 1: Activating Kefir Grains. Place kefir grains in the glass jar and add about one cup of milk (preferably organic or raw). Cover with a coffee filter or cloth and secure with a rubber band.
Day 2: Fermentation Process Begins. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature (around 68-85°F or 20-30°C) for 24 hours.
Day 3: First Strain. After 24 hours, strain the kefir grains from the liquid using a non-metallic strainer into another jar. The liquid is your initial batch of kefir. It most likely will not be tangy and you can toss to your chickens or add it as fertilizer to your garden beds!
Day 4: Second Fermentation. Seal the jar with a plastic lid loosely and let it sit for another 24 hours. This is the second fermentation, which enhances the flavor and consistency.
Day 5: Final Strain and Refrigeration. Strain the kefir again to remove any remaining grains. Enjoy your first true batch of kefir milk! Transfer the strained kefir to a clean jar, add more milk, secure with a lid, and set out on the counter to keep the process going!
Monitor the aroma and taste of the kefir. Adjust fermentation time based on your preference for thickness and tanginess. We usually like the milk to ferment on the counter for 2 days. We like ours nice and tangy!
Tips on kefir grains:
- Regular Fermentation: Kefir grains love routine. Try to maintain a consistent fermentation schedule. I’ve found that fermenting them for about 24 hours produces the perfect balance of tanginess and creaminess.
- Quality Milk Matters: Opt for high-quality, preferably organic, whole milk. (I think raw is best, but that’s a preference.) Kefir grains thrive on the richness of whole milk, and it contributes to a creamier end product.
- Avoid Metal Contacts: When handling kefir grains, avoid using metal utensils or containers. Stick to glass, plastic, or wooden tools to prevent any adverse reactions.
- Room to Breathe: Allow your kefir grains some breathing space. Use a breathable cover like cheesecloth or a coffee filter secured with a rubber band to let them interact with the air.
Decoding the Storage Secrets: How Long Can Kefir Grains Last in the Fridge?
Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes we need to hit pause on our kefir-making adventures. The good news is that kefir grains are quite resilient.
Ideally, if life calls you away from your fermentation station, you can keep your kefir grains in the fridge with a bit of milk for up to three weeks. This slows down their metabolic activity, allowing them to take a little nap until you’re ready to revive them.
However, don’t leave them in hibernation for too long. Just like any living beings, they thrive on activity. Bring them back to room temperature and give them a refreshing bath in fresh milk before resuming your regular kefir-making routine.
The Protein Powerhouse: Unveiling the Nutritional Bounty in Every Cup
On average, a cup of kefir made with whole milk can contain anywhere from 8 to 11 grams of protein. This protein isn’t just any protein; it’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need. It’s a fantastic addition to our homesteading diet, especially for those looking to boost their protein intake naturally.
Beyond protein, kefir is a treasure trove of calcium, vitamins, and probiotics. It’s a wholesome beverage that nourishes our bodies from the inside out, aligning perfectly with the homesteader’s commitment to holistic well-being.
Ways to use Kefir Milk:
There are so many ways to incorporate this probiotic milk into your daily diet! Here are just a few, but get creative and come up with some new ones too!
- Smoothies: We love to use strawberries, a dash of vanilla and Redmond Real Salt, and some maple syrup with our kefir to make the most refreshing afternoon pick me up drink. Also great for a breakfast on the go!
- Salad Dressing: Use milk kefir as a base for homemade salad dressings. I do this when making our Homemade ranch dressing or dip!
- Marinades: Tenderize and flavor meats by using milk kefir as a marinade. The probiotics in kefir can help break down proteins and infuse flavor.
- Pancakes or Waffles: Substitute part or all of the liquid in your pancake or waffle batter with milk kefir for a fluffy and tangy breakfast treat.
- Ice Cream: Make a creamy and probiotic-rich ice cream by combining milk kefir with sweeteners and your favorite mix-ins before freezing.
- Soup Base: Add milk kefir to creamy soups to enhance the flavor and provide a probiotic boost. Stir it in just before serving.
- Baked Goods: Use milk kefir in place of buttermilk or yogurt in baking recipes like muffins, cakes, and bread for added moisture and a tangy flavor.
- Dips and Spreads: Mix milk kefir with herbs, spices, and other seasonings to create flavorful dips and spreads for crackers or vegetable sticks.
- Milk Kefir Cheese: Strain milk kefir to make a thick, tangy cheese. Use it as a spread or incorporate it into savory dishes.
- Overnight Oats: Combine milk kefir with oats, fruits, and sweeteners in a jar and let it sit overnight for a quick and nutritious breakfast.
These are just a few ideas to get you started, and you can explore and experiment with milk kefir in various recipes based on your preferences and creativity.
Happy Fermenting friend! xoxo, Eryn