With fermented foods finally coming back into their own, after long years of neglect, it seems everyone wants to know how to make them at home.
The good news is – it’s easy and cheap. The bad news is – you have to DO it.
That said, it’s so worth the effort, because you’re going to be a whole lot healthier with all those fantastic bugs colonizing your body – from end to end.
Last year, 2016, BBC2 TV programme Trust Me, I’m a Doctor ran a trial to see if kefir, probiotic drinks and prebiotics did anything useful. Kefir won, hands down. Read the report here
We’ve got what?
Not only does the gut have its own ‘microbiome’ (the bug population needed to keep us healthy), but each part of us has its’ own particular species. In fact, it seems we have beneficial bacteria along for the ride, in every nook and cranny. Who knew?
What is Kefir?
So, to Kefir. (pronounced KEY-fa or ke-FEAR; they seem to be interchangeable).
Apparently it originates in Eastern and Central Europe, and dates to ‘way-back-when’. No-one seems too sure, but there are lots of great stories surrounding its genesis.
But whatever; we know when we add kefir ‘grains’ to milk, and also some other liquids, they ferment it, and, lucky us, we get Kefir. It’s delicious, with slight tartness and a bit of fizz.
There are two sorts of Kefir grains: those for Milk Kefir and those for Water Kefir. They are quite different grains, and NOT interchangeable. In this post, I’m only talking about Milk Grains.
What do they need?
The grains are alive, just like us, and we need to treat them with care and kindness so they’ll thrive. In return, they give us the goodies we crave….good health and wellbeing.
- Lactose. They love to eat Lactose which is milk sugar, and need it to grow. If you use milk other than dairy, coconut for instance as I do, you have to give them a regular bath in dairy milk or they’ll die
- Warmth. They also need gentle warmth, about 20°-25°; they will manage in the cold, but will be very slow to ferment. And they won’t reproduce easily, so the grains won’t increase in volume
How to make kefir
Very easy. Put the grains into a jar of milk, put the lid on, and you’re done. You need about 1 Tablespoon of grains to 1 cup of milk. More or less will work, but timing will change.
Click on the images to enlarge them
I’ve used small amounts and sizes in all these instructions, but you can adjust quantities to suit your household. Everything will scale up for your needs.
Use a straight-sided, wide-necked jar. The liquid can be quite thick, and getting it out of a fancy jar is a pain…..guess who used a fancy jar at the start! Also, milk protein can be really hard to wash off, particularly if you put the jar in hot water, or let it sit around before washing.
Because it’s fermented, Kefir will keep for a few days in the cupboard, or at least a couple of weeks in the fridge.
Making Dairy milk kefir
You need a clean jar with a lid, that holds about 3 cups or 750mls.
If the milk is straight from the fridge, stand it in some hot water for a few minutes, just to take the chill off, so you don’t shock the grains. Check carefully that it’s not hot or even warm.
Always pour the milk into the jar first, just on the off chance the jar is warm. Add the grains, give it a stir, and put the lid on. Leave it on the bench out of the direct sun. 12 – 24 hours depending on the temperature, and it will be tart, thick and just a bit fizzy.
Strain through a not too fine strainer (the milk is thick) using a spatula or wooden spoon to gently lift the grains away so the milk can go through into the bowl underneath. The strained kefir can be a little grainy, and I like to give it a quick blitz with my stick blender.
How to use milk kefir
- Refrigerate and drink whenever. Or leave it in the cupboard to become a little less tart and a bit more fizzy
- Strain through several layers of cheesecloth to separate curds and whey (where’s Miss Muffet?) The ‘curds’ turn into a gorgeous thick cream that is pure indulgence on breakfast fruit. Rather like the French ‘creme fraiche’
- Whey is an excellent protein source
- Use the whey in a smoothie, as a starter for fermented veggies or toss it
- Make cheese – rather like a Fetta
For variety of flavours, and to increase the probiotics, you can second ferment your kefir. There are some great ideas here on Donna Schwenk’s website. She also has a couple of good books which are available as Kindle ebooks here on Amazon.
Making Kefir cheese
Making your own soft cheese is really simple. It doesn’t have much flavour, so you have to remember to add some herbs and spices early in the process.
Strain the milk kefir through several layers of cheesecloth, allowing the whey to drain off. When the curds are starting to get really thick, scrape them into a bowl and season – I use salt and a little chilli powder.
Put the creamy mix into a close-weave cloth (or the cheesecloth), wrap firmly, place back on the strainer over a bowl, and put a light weight on top.
I found the dinky little basket you can see in the images above to set the cheese in. No idea what it’s for, but it makes a sort of square, flat cheese that I quite like.
Increase the weight over time until the cheese is the consistency you’d like. As you press more whey out, the cheese becomes more solid.
It tastes amazing spread on good bread with smoked salmon and a little sliced tomato. Enjoy!
Making Coconut milk kefir
You can buy or make Coconut milk, the latter being a much cheaper option. I buy bulk shredded coconut at about AU$10/kg.
1 cup (80g) makes about 2 cups milk, which works out to around.85c/2 cups (½ litre)
Making Coconut Milk
1 cup shredded coconut
2 cups hot water
Soak the coconut in the water until it cools – it needs to be cool enough for you to handle when the time comes to strain it. Put into the blender, and blend a few minutes on high, until thick and frothy.
Strain through a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth – I use four layers.
Gather the corners of the cheesecloth, and start to twist and wring, to extract all the liqud from the coconut. If it’s hot, you won’t be able to wring it properly. You’re left with something resembling a very dry coconut flour.
One problem with home made coconut milk is its’ tendency to separate, and thicken into a hard layer on top. This most often happens when the temperature is much below 20°. My answer has been to make it close to when I need it, and not to refrigerate it.
You can bring it back together by warming it just a little. I stand the bottle of milk in a jug of hot water, giving it a shake every couple of minutes. Quite quickly, and long before it actually heats up, it’ll become smooth again.
Use the same method as for dairy kefir. When you come to strain the grains out at the end, it’s much easier, because the milk doesn’t thicken like dairy milk. But that means you can’t make it into cream or cheese either.
Every few cycles, or at least once a week, use dairy milk for one batch. The coconut milk doesn’t provide the lactose the grains need, and without that they’ll die. When fermenting takes longer or the grains stop growing, you’ll know they’re starving and need their milk bath.
And that’s the gen on Kefir, so now you’ve got no excuse not to have the healthiest gut in the street!