Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Kitchen, the Laboratory: Part 1- Kefir

A few weeks ago I had a revelation: most of the foods I spend the most money on are also the healthiest. But last time I checked, there aren't many coupons out there for things like kefir and kombucha- and many of the brands I prefer are small organizations, not the type to offer sales.

Still, I'm not willing to give those things up. I'd rather spend more money on food and know I'm giving my family, and myself, the best food possible. Luckily, I found another option- make them myself.

That's right- it turns out that three of my bigger "indulgences"- kefir, yogurt, and kombucha- are all pretty easily (and cheaply!) made at home. So my next few posts will explain how I've started on this journey of producing more of our food at home.

I started with kefir. For those of you who are unfamiliar, kefir is defined by Wikipedia as, "A fermented milk drink that originated with shepherds of the North Caucasus region, who discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent beverage." Kefir can be flavored or unflavored, sweetened or unsweetened, and the amount of time it ferments for influences how sour it is. Think of it as a stronger, more sour version of yogurt.

What's cool about kefir is that you can only make it with kefir grains- a mix of bacteria and yeast that combine with lots of other scientific-sounding things to create colonies that look sort of like califlower. So, essentially, you can't just manufacture it- you have to obtain the grains from somewhere first. Some of the grains still used today have been around for hundreds of years, passed hand-to-hand around the world. Cool, right?

My kefir grains.

Anyway, the kefir you buy in the store is a far cry from the real stuff. And it's expensive- about $4 for a 32-oz bottle. Because the demand isn't very high, it's processed to give it a longer shelf life. You know what that means- a lot of the bacteria and other organisms that make kefir so great for you die off. Lucky for me, I have friends who make their own kefir and were willing to share. Please keep in mind that there are many different approaches to making kefir- the following description is simply how we make kefir at our house.

1. Start with whole, organic, unhomogenized, and preferably raw milk. You'll also need a clean quart jar with lid, kefir grains, something to strain the kefir with, and any additions you want to make- we add fruit.

2. Pour milk into the jar. Make sure you don't fill it more than 2/3 of the way full.

3. Add kefir grains. The recommendation from my copy of Wild Fermentation says 1 tablespoon per 3 cups of milk, but I say just eyeball it.

4. Put the lid on the jar, shake it around, put it on your countertop, and wait approx. 24 hours. How long you let it ferment is a matter of taste. The longer it ferments, the more sour it will be. Make sure to shake it a couple times throughout the day.

Jar of kefir- notice the cream on top.

5. At this point, strain out the kefir grains. They can be store in fresh milk in a container in the fridge until you're ready to use them again.

6. Put the lid back on the jar and stow it in the fridge. You can enjoy as is, or like we do (below).

7. When it's good and cold, pour it into a blender. Throw in some fruit (we use frozen mixed berries) and whiz.

Finished product- doesn't it look delicious?

8. Enjoy! We tasted our first "homebrew" tonight, and it knocks the socks off the store-bought stuff. Ahhh...saving money tastes *extra* good.

9. Store leftovers in fridge.


Tamika said...

Kefir is one thing we've not tried yet! We live very rural, so there isn't a lot of things like this in our local grocer. I do make our own yogourt though and adore it.

Where can you get kefir grains, do you know? I know of no one who has them.

Emily said...

Tamika- Glad to here you're enjoying your homemade yogurt as well. Here's a good source for kefir grains:

I'd also be happy to send you some grains for just the cost of shipping. I've already shipped some grains this week- I just double-bag them in ziplock bags with a little fresh milk, put the bags in a cushioned mailer, and ship them priority. If you'd like, send me some info and I'll help you out: emarzka (at) hotmail (dot) com.

Danmark said...

Seller talks about growing kefir is like art, but the kefir that i got from him was flat. After readind on "DOM'S KEFIR" site i believe the grain was squeezed by the "Seller" ouch !