Kefir grains are a mixture of yeasts and bacteria that form a solid mass, they are not actually "grains" in terms of seeds, they are just a squishy translucent blob that grows in the milk. The composition of kefir grains varies naturally from one batch to another, but all contain a mixture of lactic-acid bacteria and various yeasts. To make kefir (or kefirred milk), the grains are placed in a container of fresh milk and allowed to stand at room temperature for at least a day, if not several days, the grains are then strained out and used to make more kefir.
|kefir fermenting in the middle|
Kefir tastes sour, slightly cheesy and is a little effervescent. I don’t like the taste by itself, but it adds a delicious sourness to my daily banana smoothie. The taste and texture of the kefir you make will depend on the ratio of grains to milk and the temperature of the room. In hot weather, a very strong brew will quickly form as the microbes consume the sugars in the milk.
Kefir has similar health benefits to yoghurt as it populates your gut with beneficial microbes. For me the real advantages of brewing kefir is having a constant source of microbes for starting fermentations, whereas yoghurt is only one or two bacteria, kefir contains a wide variety. I use kefir when I make bread, sauerkraut and fermented pickles, and fizzy drinks, and any other fermentation that needs whey. I also use a little kefir in water to soak rice or quinoa for several hours before cooking. The microbes in the kefir help to pre-digest some of the proteins and carbohydrates in the food so that the nutrients are more available when I eat the food, as well as providing another dose of beneficial microbes for your gut.
|kefir "grains" in the jar, and kefirred milk in the jug|
Sometimes I leave the jar with milk and kefir grains on the kitchen bench for a few days and then place it in the fridge, to make stronger kefir. If the weather is very hot, it stays in the fridge, if its cold, the jars can stay on the bench all week, this also depends if we want thick or thin kefir. If we are going to be away and won’t be able to refresh the kefir, it can last in the fridge for several weeks, particularly if there is extra milk for the amount of grains. We currently make two 750 mL jars of kefir each week, and this is enough to last the two of us.
We always make our kefir with fresh raw cow’s milk, but it can also be made with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. I know people who use pasteurised milk (shop milk) and other people who make up milk from milk powder. Coconut milk can also be used. Another variation of kefir is “water kefir”, the same grains can be used to ferment juices based on water instead of milk. I haven’t investigated this process, but I’ve heard that it produces a pleasant sour fizzy drink.
In warmer weather, the grains multiple quickly and you can give away the excess. I find this is a good form of insurance in case anything ever happens to your kefir, you should know someone who can give you back some kefir grains. This also means that if you need kefir to get started, all you need to do is find someone else who has kefir and wait for them to have excess grains to share with you. You can also buy them online from various sources.
It can seem strange at first to have milk going sour on your kitchen bench, but once you get used to it, kefir can be a lot of fun and very useful.