(This week I have chopped up an excerpt from my book, Off-Off Grid Dairy, for you. This book is still in post production, but why not post teasers? I hope you enjoy. -T)
Milk kefir (pronounced kee-fir or keh-fir) is a cultured, fermented milk beverage that originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. The original definition of the word kefir was- “good feeling”, probably because milk kefir makes you feel just plain good.
Kefir is a microbial-rich drink that works by restoring the inner ecology of your system. Strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast work together to make kefir a shot of antibiotics to your gut. Kefir will not usually bother those that are lactose-intolerant. It will sometimes be thick and mucous-like, but this consistency is exactly what makes kefir good for you, because this mucous covers the lining of your digestive tract and will cling there, creating a “nest” where the beneficial bacteria and microbial enzymes can grow and disperse into your system. Some studies show that kefir whey neutralizes most pathogenic bacteria within 24 hours.
Kefir is tangier than yogurt but sweeter than buttermilk, and is well described as the “champagne of milk”. It is bubbly and sometimes has a small amount of alcohol due to the fermenting action of the kefir grains. Kefir grains are small, white or yellowish tapioca-like blobs that swell and grow with each batch of kefir you make.
Dehydrated Kefir Grains- Kefir grains are generally sold dehydrated. You must revive and feed them in milk before you can begin your kefir-making process. Kefir grains contain no actual grain, they are merely called that because of their grainy appearance and because of the fact that there can be so many of them. (They are also called “jewels”, less commonly.) The grains are made of yeast and bacteria clumped together with milk protein (caseins) and complex sugars in a symbiotic relationship. They sometimes resemble small clumps of cauliflower or coral. Once your grains have done their job in a jar of milk, you strain them out and put them into another jar, repeating this process indefinitely. Kefir grains must be cared for at least every 24 hours, by straining out the previous milk (now kefir) and supplying them with fresh milk. Since they are alive, they require care and attention.
Kefir Starter- If you don’t want to continue taking care of kefir grains every day, kefir starter culture is sold for those with less time. This starter is added to milk and incubated in much the same way as yogurt or buttermilk. Kefir starter is kept in packets in the freezer or refrigerator and when you want to make kefir, you simply pull out a packet of culture and do so. Some people argue that “real” kefir can only be made from grains, though. That is left to personal opinion. Specific instructions for making your milk kefir from powdered starter should be included with your purchase of them.
Using Milk Kefir in Your Kitchen
If you choose to purchase grains to make kefir, you may start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of kefir you are producing, feeding those grains every day. But kefir is very versatile and is by no means confined to the beverage category. Kefir, having much the same acidity as buttermilk, sour cream and yogurt, can be used in baking with fluffy, tangy and yummy results. It can be used in dressings and dips, sauces and spreads, and can be used in lieu of fresh milk in some cooking.
Culturing with Milk Kefir
Some say that kefir is the one and only culture you need in your kitchen – meaning that it can always be used in place of buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream, or can be used to make these products. It can even be used as bread yeast in some recipes. Both hard and soft cheeses can be made from milk kefir culturing.
You can use kefir as a base for every breakfast: in yogurt and smoothies, pancakes and scones, and biscuits and muffins. It can be used to soak grains for bread, to culture cream for butter, in bases for soups, and to make dressing for salads.
You can effectively use kefir in every meal, and it is delicious and so very nutritious, so why wouldn’t you?
Want to learn more about milk kefir or buy grains to start your kefir adventure? Click here!
Any tips, suggestions or recipes involving milk kefir? Share them in the comments!
Until Next Time,