I imagine most people by now have heard of kefir (or at least most people reading this blog). So I thought I’d do a short blog on what it is, why it’s so good for you, and if you feel so inclined, how to go about making it yourself.
So, kefir is a natural probiotic, containing multiple strains of living microflora, which form grains, or cultures. When the grains are added to milk they start a fermentation process, resulting in something similar to yoghurt. There are a number of reasons why it’s thought to be incredible for your gut health, and therefore your overall health. Here are a few of them:
• Contains friendly probiotic bacteria, including lactobacillus kefir, which can actually colonise in the gut and push out the “bad bacteria”. Balanced gut bacteria are essential in maintaining a strong immune system. Although there are lots of probiotics now in shops, some of them contain bacteria that don’t survive the acidic environment in the stomach, and so by the time they get to the gut, they are so far reduced in numbers, that they aren’t going to do much good at all.
• Contains beneficial yeasts such as saccharomyces delbruecki and saccharomyces cerevisiae, which also play a role in restoring healthy balance to our gut flora.
• Excellent source of protein and because the curd size is small and easy to digest it’s particularly beneficial for those with gut disorders. The protein is high in tryptophan which relaxes your nervous system and promotes healthy sleep patterns.
• Contains a polysaccharide called kefiran, which is unique to kefir and may play a role in immune health, particularly in relation to reducing allergies, intolerance and oversensitivity reactions.
• Good source of vitamin B1, B12, folate, vitamin K2, biotin, calcium and magnesium.
• Antifungal and antibacterial properties backed by research – it can even be used topically.
• Promotes healthy bowel movements.
• Shown to help improve lactose digestion for those with lactose intolerance.
• Regular use thought to be beneficial for those with IBS, candida overgrowth and other intestinal disorders, due to its role in restoring gut flora balance, gut lining health and immune health.
• It is inexpensive and you can even grow it at home (see below).
How to make your own kefir
There are two types of cultures available for making kefir. The traditional method is to use kefir “grains”. The second option is to use a powdered kefir starter culture. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both methods, and I have to be honest here, having tried both methods, the second options is definitely the most likely one to get you on board! The first option is a bit of a palava. However, the reason why some prefer the first options is that although both cultures contain live strains of yeast and bacteria, the grains provide a much greater number and variety. Also, kefir grains are reusable, and with proper care can be used to culture batch-after-batch, potentially lasting years. The powders are less reusable. They can be used to make 1-2 batches, but generally no more than this. However, the grains take a lot more tender loving care than the powder! Kefir grains can turn out a new batch every 18 to 48 hours, but to keep them healthy they must be tended to each day. Powdered kefir requires less input but every six weeks or so you need to buy a new starter pack (around £15), which may put some people off.
Using the Powder
Kefir starter packs can be bought online and from health food shops. They usually come in 6 separate sachets; each sachet is able to make 1-2 litres of kefir. Steps in making kefir:
1. Pour contents of one sachet into a glass jar. Add a dash or two of dairy or coconut milk (kokos rather than tinned coconut milk). Smooth the kefir powder, eliminating any lumps and adding more and more milk until you have 1 litre of kefir.
2. Place muslin cloth over the top, held in place with an elastic band.
3. Place in darkened cupboard at room temperature.
4. Leave in cupboard for 24 hours (you may need to reduce this in hot weather or increase in cold weather).
5. Remove from cupboard and place in fridge for a few hours before consuming.
6. If you wish to make more batches from the original starter then take 200ml of this freshly made kefir and place in second glass jar. Add a further 800ml to 1litre fresh milk and cover with muslin cloth again, placing in cupboard for a further 24 hours. This batch will tend to sour more quickly.
Using the Grains
Kefir starter grains can be bought online or obtain the grains from friends who are also making their own. They can also be used with dairy and coconut milk, as well as coconut water.
1. Once you have the grains they require 2-3 days to recover from their journey. Firstly place them in a jar of milk, covered with muslin cloth and elastic band and placed in cupboard for 24 hours.
2. Remove the following day and strain the grains from the milk using a sieve and wooden spoon (never metal). Add a fresh glass of milk and place in cupboard again for a further 24 hours, covered in muslin cloth as before. During this time the bacterial strains should stabilize and the kefir should start to smell clean and slightly sour.
3. Strain grains again and add to fresh milk. Use a ratio of around 1 tbsp of kefir grains to 1 cup of milk. Even though you can adjust this once you get the hang of it, this is a good guide for fermenting the grains in 24 hours. Cover the jar as before and place in cupboard. This time, check every 6-12 hours and stir or gently shake jar.
4. Once the milk has thickened (approx 24 hours later, but do keep checking) strain again, but this time keep the freshly made kefir and place in second jar and put straight into the fridge ready for consuming. Place the grains in the original jar with another fresh batch of milk and start the process again. Please note that using an airtight container results in fizzy kefir and can be fairly unpleasant to taste.
5. This process needs to be repeated every 18-24 hours, which can leave you with more kefir than you need, particularly as the number of grains will grow. If this occurs try using less milk with each batch, and give away some of your grains to a friend. Alternatively eat some of the grains, they are packed with nutrients.
6. The grains will change and grow, so you may find you need to add more milk. Also you may find that if the kefir is too thick it might have a yeasty smell which is not to your taste, so add more milk to each batch prior to fermentation.
7. Time and temperature are the two key variables, and it requires some trial and error until you find the kefir consistency and taste that appeals to you. The warmer it is and the longer you leave it out, the thicker it will become and the more yeasty it will taste. Especially for those starting out I would recommend leaving it out for less time and making sure you add a good deal of milk.
Kefir has a tart taste and creamy texture. The grains seem to produce a much stronger flavour, that personally I found difficult, but I know plenty of people who love it so don’t let me put you off!
Sources and Resources: www.cheeseslave.com/how-to-make-kefir/, www.culturesforhealth.coma