Kefir and yogurt

October 19, 2015
Consumer-friendly sustainable

Meet kefir. Kefir is a probiotic, fermented milk product, just like yogurt, but it differs in quite a few notable ways.

1) Kefir is a bit more runny than yogurt.

2) Kefir making is much easier than yogurt making in certain ways, but harder in other ways.

3) Kefir has a slightly different taste than yogurt- more tangy and yeasty at the same time.

5) Yogurt can be made via "chain yogurting", using one bit of yogurt to start the next batch, which you then use to start the next batch, but they get less potent each time, and eventually it'll stop working, and you'll need to start over. Kefir, on the other hand, must be made via "chain kefiring". Similar to kombucha, kefir is made by adding a SCOBY- a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast- to milk, and letting the probiotics in the SCOBY digest the milk. This SCOBY is called kefir grains (they look nothing like grains, more like clear gummy cauliflower florets); you reuse those grains again and again and again, forever and ever, and not only do they not die, they actually grow and reproduce.

6) Yogurt takes 7-10 hours to be ready; kefir takes 24-48 hours to be ready.

7) Kefir is more digestible than yogurt. Yogurt gives me stomach problems, but I can handle small amounts of kefir.

8) Kefir has a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge amount of health benefits, many more than yogurt. Its been used to treat so many different health issues, among them healing all sorts of stomach/digestive issues and illnesses, skin issues like acne, eczema, psoriasis and sunburns, is a natural antibiotic, helps heal certain cancers, lowers LDL cholesterol and helps with heart disease in other ways, strengthens the immune system and helps with many autoimmune diseases, helps with certain neurological issues, helps with certain age related illnesses and issues, among many other things! (See here for a full list.)

So, how do you make kefir?

1) First, acquire some kefir grains. You can either get from someone who makes kefir already (as kefir grows, your grains will grow and proliferate, so kefir makers often have extra grains to give away) or look online for kefir grain "swap" sites (there are sites where people offer to mail/give away their extra kefir grains to people who contact them through the site- this is one example) or purchase from people who sell kefir grains. Don't buy kefir in the store for this, as store bought kefir doesn't contain the kefir grains.

2) Put milk into a glass jar and add your kefir grains. You want approximately 1 tablespoon of kefir grains per cup of milk. Don't use reconstituted powdered milk for this- I tried and it doesn't really work well... The milk can either be cold from the fridge or room temperature, but doesn't need to be warmed like for yogurt.

3) Cover your jar either with its cover, but close it loosely if you do that. Otherwise, cover it with a piece of cloth and secure it with a rubber band.

4) Leave your jar on the counter for 12-48 hours, depending on the temperature in the room. In warmer temperatures, the kefir gets ready faster. Check it every 12 hours or so to see if it has thickened. Once it has thickened, move on to the next step; if you let it sit on the counter too long, it'll separate into curds and whey, not to mention becoming too sour.

5) Take a plastic mesh strainer and put it over a new container.

6. Pour the ready kefir into the strainer.

7. Shake the strainer so the kefir goes through the holes and the kefir grains remain behind in the strainer.

8. Take the kefir grains and put them into more milk. If you put them back into the unwashed jar and add new milk, the next batch of kefir will be ready sooner.

9. Take your strained kefir and use it as you would yogurt.

Either drink it plain, serve it with granola, make it into a smoothie, strain it to make kefir cheese, or use it in recipes in place of yogurt. You can also use the whey (the liquid at the bottom when they ferment too long and separate) to aid in making pickles or other fermented vegetables or fruit, to soak grains or nuts or seeds, or even as a sourdough starter for breads or pancakes.
Kefir strawberry date and flax seed smoothie.
If you don't want to use the kefir straightaway, you can stick it in the fridge where it'll keep for a long, long time.

Kefir Notes and Troubleshooting

  • Don't use metal utensils or equipment when making kefir as the kefir grains can react negatively with the metal. Use glass, wood, or plastic.
  • If your kefir separates because you left it too long, don't strain it right away. Instead, put the cover tightly on the jar, and shake it up as well as you can so the solids separate and mix with the liquid whey at the bottom, and then strain. You'll still end up with clumps of kefir in the strainer, but not as many as you would if you didn't shake it up. Carefully remove the kefir grains from the clumps and use for your next batch.
  • Some people rinse their grains in water between batches. Its best not to.
  • If you want to take a break from making kefir, put fresh milk with the kefir grains and refrigerate for up to two weeks. When you take it out of the fridge for a new batch, it'll take longer for this new batch to be ready, until the kefir grains "warm up" again. After making a few batches, your kefir grains should be back to normal.
  • You can make "water kefir" from these kefir grains. (Real water kefir is something else, but you can make kefir with water with milk kefir grains.) Make some sugar water and add the kefir grains to them, then leave them for a day or two. It should make a yummy sweet and sour drink. Don't do this for too many times in a row though, as these kefir grains need milk to stay healthy and proliferate. If you only make them in sugar water, they'll eventually die.
  • Make sure you're using clean, uncontaminated equipment. Yes, you can reuse the kefir jar without washing it, but make sure that other things that touch the kefir aren't dirty or you might be introducing bad bacteria that'll make it spoil.
  • You can make kefir with raw milk or pasteurized milk, cow's milk, goat's milk, or sheep's milk. (Hrmmm, I wonder if you can make kefir with mama's milk... lol.)
  • Different kefir grains produce kefir that taste slightly different. If your kefir is too sour or sweet or not how you want it to be, try getting your grains from a different source- there's a good chance that that kefir will have a different taste.

Enjoy, and have fun on your kefir making experience!

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