Have you tried Kefir? The probiotic dairy beverage that is gaining popularity across America.
For years, it was only available at health food stores or if you made it at home. Now I see it popping up on shelves in stores like Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, Trader Joes and even in some larger supermarket chains. It is part of the food line of Beyond Organics, a company started by Jordan Rubin author of The Makers Diet. So what is Kefir?
Kefir (kə-FEAR) is a cultured or fermented milk product that is rich in enzymes, natural and friendly bacteria and yeasts that are very beneficial to our digestive systems, our immune systems and our overall health. This simple product is more nutritious and therapeutic than yogurt and supplies complete protein, necessary B vitamins and many essential minerals. It has a yeasty “bread” smell and is effervescent from the carbon dioxide by-product of the fermentation process.
An Ancient Milk Beverage
Kefir is an ancient fermented milk type beverage that can be traced to the shepherds of the North Caucasus region of European Russia which lies between the Caspian and Black Seas. This people discovered that if they carried fresh milk in leather skin bags that it would ferment into a thicker liquid that was slightly effervescent and had a mild sour taste. Marco Polo encountered kefir in his travels and wrote about it in his diaries.
Types of Milk Used
Kefir is made by inoculating milk with kefir grains. Traditionally it was made with the milk of goats but any milk can be used (cow, goat and sheep.) Dairy free milk such as rice, soy and coconut can also be used to make kefir.
Kefir grains are unusual looking gelatinous particles that are pale yellow or pearly white in color. They resemble cauliflower clumps and range in size from as small as a grain of rice to as large as a whole walnut. The grains are made up of casein (milk proteins), complex sugars, naturally occurring beneficial yeasts and bacteria (probiotics.)
Health Benefits of Kefir
In addition to beneficial bacteria and yeast, kefir contains minerals and essential amino acids that help the body with healing and maintenance functions. The complete proteins in kefir are already partially digested and therefore more easily utilized by the body. Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids abundant in kefir, is well known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Because kefir also offers an abundance of calcium and magnesium, which are important minerals for a healthy nervous system, kefir in the diet can have a profound calming effect on the nerves.
Kefir’s ample supply of phosphorus, the second most abundant mineral in our bodies, helps utilize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for cell growth, maintenance and energy.
Kefir is rich in Vitamin B12, B1, and Vitamin K. It is an excellent source of biotin, a B vitamin which aids the body’s assimilation of other B Vitamins, such as folic acid, pantothenic acid, and B12. The numerous benefits of maintaining an adequate B vitamin intake range from regulation of the kidneys, liver and nervous system to helping relieve skin disorders, boost energy and promote longevity.
Easily digested, it cleanses the intestines, provides beneficial bacteria and yeast, vitamins and minerals, and complete proteins. Because kefir is such a balanced and nourishing food, it contributes to a healthy immune system and has been used to help patients suffering from AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, herpes, and cancer. Its tranquilizing effect on the nervous system has benefited many who suffer from sleep disorders, depression, and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
The regular use of kefir can help relieve all intestinal disorders, promote bowel movement, reduce flatulence and create a healthier digestive system. In addition, its cleansing effect on the whole body helps to establish a balanced inner ecosystem for optimum health and longevity.
Kefir can also help eliminate unhealthy food cravings by making the body more nourished and balanced. Its excellent nutritional content offers healing and health-maintenance benefits to people in every type of condition.
Ingestion of kefir is especially important after taking a round of antibiotics because it helps replace and restore the natural flora of the intestinal tract and helps to control and inhibit the over-growth of detrimental yeasts such as Candida albicans. I have been told that most home made kefir will contain between 30 to 40 different types of beneficial organisms, compared with the two or three in commercial yogurt preparations.
This wonderful beverage is tremendously valuable in providing high quality nourishment for the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, those with a compromised immune system, picky or fussy eaters, or anyone who wants to enhance their nutritional level.
Kefir better than Yogurt?
Both kefir and yogurt are cultured milk products but they contain different types of beneficial bacteria. Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.
Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yogurt, Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.
It also contains beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir, which dominate, control and eliminate destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body. They do so by penetrating the mucosal lining where unhealthy yeast and bacteria reside, forming a virtual SWAT team that housecleans and strengthens the intestines. Hence, the body becomes more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites.
Kefir’s active yeast and bacteria provide more nutritive value than yogurt by helping digest the foods that you eat and by keeping the colon environment clean and healthy. Because the curd size of kefir is smaller than yogurt, it is also easier to digest, which makes it a particularly excellent, nutritious food for babies, the elderly and people experiencing chronic fatigue and digestive disorders.
What You Will Need to Make Kefir at Home
First you will need about 4 tablespoons of good quality kefir grains. These can be acquired through friends who have extra grains that are active or you can also purchase them online (see resource section for my personal recommendation of a supplier in the US.)
Next you need fresh milk. Any milk (raw or pasteurized) will work but cow, goat and sheep are best. As mentioned before, dairy free milk such as rice, soy and coconut can also be used to make kefir.
You will also need a few quart size canning jars, large plastic mixing spoon, a piece of clean fabric to cover the jar, a rubber band, a plastic strainer or colander, some plastic wrap or waxed paper and a jar funnel is helpful too.
How to Make Home-Made Kefir
Please read through the instructions and the notes before making your first batch of kefir.
As soon as possible after receiving your kefir grains, drain them from the milky liquid they are in. Then place them into a clean and dry glass canning jar. A wide mouth jar is the easiest to clean and work with.
Pour 2 cups of milk over the grains and stir with a plastic spoon only
Wipe and excess milk from the top of the jar with a paper towel. Place the fabric square on top of the jar and fasten it with a wide rubber band to keep dirt, debris or bugs out of the jar. This also allows the mixture to “breathe” which is necessary for a healthy culture to develop.
Set the jar on the kitchen counter out of direct sunlight and away from the oven or other heat sources for 24 hours. Kefir cultures best in temperatures from 68 to 78 degrees F, optimal temperature is 72 degrees. If it is cooler than that in the room, it will take longer to culture. During this time the grains do their work and culture the milk infusing it with the beneficial organisms and probiotics. If you forget and it goes 36 hours or more, no problem, it will just have a flavor that is little bit “tangier” or more sour.
The next day you will see that the milk will have thickened and you will see very small curds. Take your plastic spoon and gently and thoroughly stir the kefir. This will blend the curds and whey and make a creamy product. This stirring is important to produce nice kefir.
Strain the milk into a clean glass jar covered with waxed paper or plastic wrap, then fasten the jar lid. (No metal contact with the kefir)
Place fresh kefir in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days to mellow, before using.
Return the grains (you will still have some milk and curds sticking to them) to the same jar you poured them out of. Add 2 cups of milk and repeat the culturing process again.
You will need to make fresh kefir everyday to keep the grains healthy and active.
Re-use the same culturing jar without washing 2 to 3 times then use a clean jar and wash the other one for the next time.
The first few batches of kefir may take longer to thicken or to taste right because the grains may have slowed down during shipping etc.
DO NOT stir the grains or milk with a metal spoon or utensil. DO NOT use a metal strainer, metal can etc. Use only clean glass containers, and plastic utensils. Just remember – kefir and metal don’t mix! I’m sure some brief contact between your kefir and metal wouldn’t be fatal, it’s best to avoid using any metal containers or utensils when working with kefir.
Some people rinse their kefir grains with water once a week or so, others never rinse. Some people feel that it keeps the grains healthier, others say the opposite. I don’t rinse mine.
I have also read that it’s best not to let your kefir grains get too large – in other words, not too large of clumps, as this causes them to have less surface area and consequently less bacteria exposed to the milk during culturing. The clumps of grains should not be much larger than a pistachio nut. I don’t know how important this really is, but it’s just something I read. If your grains start growing too large, you can just cut them into smaller chunks with the edge of a plastic utensil.
Your grains will multiply! When you have more than 4 tablespoons per quart jar, share them with a friend or start a new jar to make even more kefir. Look on the internet for other recipes and ideas of what you can do with kefir. Give it to your chickens, dogs and cats in a bowl, or mix it with the chickens’ grains. Use it on your cereal or oatmeal instead of milk.
You can eat the grains if you have too many, they are a little chewy. Or you can feed the extras to your livestock, chickens love them.
Giving the Kefir Grains a Vacation
If you find that you are getting more kefir than your family can consume, or if you are going away for a few days, you can put the grains into a semi-dormant state by putting them into a clean jar, covering them with milk and a jar lid over waxed paper. Store them in the refrigerator until you are ready to make more kefir (only a few weeks.)
When you take them out to make another batch of kefir, they will probably be a little “slow” to culture, as the refrigeration has slowed them down. Strain them place in a clean jar with fresh milk and begin again.
It is actually preferable to keep the grains constantly culturing, as this way they are always being fed. You can also freeze the grains with enough kefir to cover, then just thaw and start over again when you are ready. (I have never tried freezing them, but it’s not supposed to harm the grains). It’s also possible to dry or dehydrate the grains but I have not tried this, yet.
A Wonderful Preparedness Item
Kefir grains that are properly cared for will keep indefinitely. One of the benefits of making kefir at home is that you will always have it available and can use it to replace sour cream, cottage cheese, ricotta, and cream cheese in recipes. You can also make delicious cheeses too.
This is a very useful item to keep going in your kitchen that can be considered among the preparedness items you may have. It is good to have just in case you run out of something you need in a recipe, during a storm where going to a store may be impossible, or for hard times.
Recipes and Ways to Use Kefir
We have put together a few recipes and ideas for how we use kefir in our kitchen. We are still learning new ways to prepare and eat it as well as ways to use it around the house. The recipes are our own and we hope that you will like them. Enjoy!
Kefir Sour Cream Replacement – a how to use kefir as a sour cream replacement
To purchase good quality Kefir grains in the USA contact Marilyn at:
Email: email@example.com Phone: 419-237-3095
Marilyn’s Yahoo Groop
Backyard Chickens Forum Thread about Kefir – lots of good information here too
If you have questions about making kefir or the recipes, please contact us through this website, we are happy to help.
 Nutritional Content of Kefir – http://www.kefir.net/nutrit.htm
 Kefir Benefits – http://www.kefir.net/benefits.htm
If you made kefir at your house, we’d love for you to share some of your tips, recipes and use ideas!