Kefir – What It Is, How To Make It and What To Do With It
Kefir has been such an integral part of our lives for so many years now, that I’m always a little taken aback when people either don’t know what it is or have never tried it. So I thought I’d knock up a post for the benefit of those not in the know on what kefir is, how to make it and what to do with it.
Kefir is a cultured milk drink originating in the Caucasus and dates back to at least 1000 AD. The name is derived from the Turkish word for “feeling good” keyif. It’s a symbiotic mix of a whole host of micro organisms, including bacteria and yeasts, which ferment the sugars in the milk. It’s an excellent probiotic and is thus good for general digestion and gut health. It also contains healthy amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B12, riboflavin, magnesium and vitamin D. There are two types of kefir, milk kefir and water kefir, otherwise known as tibi. When made correctly, Tibi can be delicious and flavoured with lemon, ginger or both it makes for a refreshing and fizzy thirst quencher. Although very similar, there are slight differences. Here I am writing about traditional milk kefir.
I drank my first glass of kefir as a teenager on a school trip to Moscow. I really liked it then and I really like it now. When Kefir is at its best, it tastes a bit like mild creamy yoghurt, but with a bit of a fizz to it. It’s runnier than yoghurt and is best sipped from a glass rather than eaten with a spoon. We always use organic milk. When we had a ready supply of raw milk, we used that. Not only did the raw milk increase its beneficial properties, but it tasted better too. Sadly, we lost our supply so we make do with pasteurised now. We like to use whole milk, but you can use skimmed or semi skimmed if you really want to.
CT is the kefir king in our household. He was making it before ever I met him, twenty years ago – eek, how time flies. The culture (or grains as they are termed) are gelatinous in texture and look a bit like cauliflower florets – and they grow. CT has kept our current grains for about eighteen years. From time to time they’ve become a little neglected and at one point they were rejuvenated by adding some kefir grains that had been grown by Carl Legge. Turns out Carl’s grains came from CT back along, so the grains were happily reunited. Looked after correctly, they should go on forever.
CT used to make up a batch once a week and we’d have a small glass before breakfast most days. It keeps perfectly well in the fridge and just gets slightly fizzier and slightly more nutritious. These days I’m really into smoothies and when we have them, they constitute our breakfast, so we have our kefir in larger quantities than we used to. I add all sorts to our smoothies: mango and carrot, various greens, beetroot, berries, baobab, turmeric, cacao, the list goes on. I also use it a lot in baking; where you might use buttermilk, I use kefir. It makes fantastic pancakes, scones and soda bread, sometimes I add it to yeasted bread too. It also works well in cakes as you can see from the triple chocolate cake I made recently.
We also make a simple cream cheese from our kefir. We strain it through a fine muslin cloth and leave it for 12 to 24 hours depending on the temperature and time of year. It’s nice just as it is, but won’t keep very long without salt being added. You can see some of the plain cheese I made in this plum and rose cheesecake bake. For the more adventurous among you, kefir can also be used to make a hard cheese. CT reported favourably on the sample he tried at Carl’s last year.
- 4 tbsp kefir grains
- 1 litre milk
- Place kefir grains in a wide necked glass jar (with close fitting top)
- Pour in the milk and stir.
- Leave at room temperature, stirring occasionally for 24 hours or until the milk thickens.
- Strain through a plastic sieve into a suitable container.
- Return the grains to a clean jar and start the process again.
- Under most circumstances washing the grains is not recommended.
- This makes enough for 8 x 125ml glasses, or 4 x 250 ml glasses or if you're really hungry 2 x 500ml glasses.
- It will ferment in cooler temperatures, but will take longer.
- Kefir is a living culture and needs regular feeding and attention.
- If reviving from dormancy, it may take longer to ferment and you may need to make one or two batches to restore quality.
- Over time the grains will increase in size and number. The surplus will need to be removed - share with your friends.
And if you like the idea of whizzing up a kefir smoothie, you might like to enter my giveaway for a high speed power blender.