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Kefir – What It Is, How To Make It and What To Do With It

Kefir Collage

Breakfast, Drinks | 23rd February 2016 | By

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.

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.

Kefir Grains

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.

Kefir
Yields 8
A tasty fermented yoghurt type drink that is both nutritious and easy to make. It makes fabulous smoothies and can be used in place of buttermilk for all sorts of recipes.
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Ingredients
  1. 4 tbsp kefir grains
  2. 1 litre milk
Instructions
  1. Place kefir grains in a wide necked glass jar (with close fitting top)
  2. Pour in the milk and stir.
  3. Leave at room temperature, stirring occasionally for 24 hours or until the milk thickens.
  4. Strain through a plastic sieve into a suitable container.
  5. Return the grains to a clean jar and start the process again.
  6. Under most circumstances washing the grains is not recommended.
Notes
  1. This makes enough for 8 x 125ml glasses, or 4 x 250 ml glasses or if you're really hungry 2 x 500ml glasses.
  2. It will ferment in cooler temperatures, but will take longer.
  3. Kefir is a living culture and needs regular feeding and attention.
  4. If reviving from dormancy, it may take longer to ferment and you may need to make one or two batches to restore quality.
  5. Over time the grains will increase in size and number. The surplus will need to be removed - share with your friends.
Tin and Thyme http://tinandthyme.uk/
For more information, you can do no better than head to Dom’s Kefir insite – he knows pretty much everything there is to know about kefir.

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.

Comments

  1. Leave a Reply

    Jenny Davies
    23rd February 2016

    I’ve included Kefir in my daily breakfast routine for years now, too. I usually just stir my daily ration of cherry juice into it. Yum. Even our Saluki dog, Jonty, has a breakfast of Kefir and oat bran. The bran gives him increased fibre in his diet and the Kefir has settled his extremely tender tummy. He is so much more comfortable now he is on the Kefir daily. I use whole goat milk for ours – and I recommend it as being a whole lot easier to digest than cow’s milk. Gorgeous.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      23rd February 2016

      Oh I didn’t know that Jenny, good to hear it’s not just us šŸ˜‰ How interesting that it’s working for your dog too. Luckily neither of us has a problem with cow’s milk, but I know goat’s milk is good if you find cow’s milk bad. Raw milk is more digestible still, but we can’t get hold of it any more šŸ™

  2. Leave a Reply

    Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours
    23rd February 2016

    I am loving getting to grips with the kefir that you sent, it is going into my smoothies most mornings now. We are looking forward to finding more uses for it.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      23rd February 2016

      So glad the kefir is working for you Helen, it’s brilliant stuff and hard to kill. As CT said, when we were talking about, “its ‘s tough as old boots”.

  3. Leave a Reply

    shaheen
    23rd February 2016

    I am so glad you have written this blog post. I had been given some kefir a while back and made Irish Soda Bread with it, sadly I managed to destroy the defirt šŸ™ should I be given some more, I will try some of your recipes. I tried to make a cheese from it too, but it didn’t quite work out sadly.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      23rd February 2016

      Oh bother Shaheen. It can take a while to get going, but once it does it’s fairly hard to kill. Tibi is a lot more delicate and CT’s managed to destroy quite a few lots of these grains.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      23rd February 2016

      Thank you. You can buy bottles of it now in health food shops (or so I’m told), so maybe it’s time to try some.

  4. Leave a Reply

    Kate | The Veg Space
    23rd February 2016

    Thanks for this Choclette – I’ve heard of Kefir but never tried it so this was really informative. Definitely giving it a try, I’ll let you know how I get on!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      23rd February 2016

      Thanks Kate. Would be delighted to find out how you get on. I think it’s available to buy in bottled form now in some health food shops, which might be a good way to see if you like it.

    • Leave a Reply

      Jenny Davies
      25th February 2016

      Not just health food shops – but we have seen several different types in our local Polish delicatessen, too!

      • Leave a Reply

        Choclette
        25th February 2016

        Ooh, good idea Jenny, I hadn’t thought about that. Although our local one is probably twenty miles away.

  5. Leave a Reply

    Heidi Roberts
    23rd February 2016

    I had never heard of Kefir until you spoke of it – sounds like a big part of your life!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      24th February 2016

      It’s certainly become one of the routines in our life Heidi and it’s hard to imagine not having it most days.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      24th February 2016

      Hi Kate, it might be worth trying a bottle of it first to see what you think of it. I’ll see if CT know where to get kefir grains from. We’ve just given away some of ours and it will take time to grow it back, or I’d send you some of ours.

        • Leave a Reply

          Choclette
          25th February 2016

          I’ve never bought it Kate, but its popularity is on the rise and I know you can get it. I’d be surprised if a good health food shop didn’t stock it. Interestingly, when we were up in Bangor last year, we came across a little kefir shop at the edge of town. The owner made it and sold it herself and her clients ranged from the local workmen to the usual suspects. She had a tiny cafe as part of the shop and we watched a surprising number of people come and go as we supped our tea.

  6. Leave a Reply

    Helen at Casa Costello
    24th February 2016

    I’ll admit I’ve never tried Kefir – I’ve heard of milk kefir but not water. I’m very intrigued and must get trying some. I love how we find new (to us) food products through blogging.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      24th February 2016

      Yes, I’ve learnt heaps since I started blogging Helen, it’s all part of what makes it fun. As I’ve never tried hunting it down, I’m not quite sure how easily available kefir is to buy, but I know it’s on sale in some health food shops.

  7. Leave a Reply

    Jenny Habbal-Goodsir
    24th February 2016

    As you probably know, I have been making my own kefir since last summer. As well as the adult members of our household, I have now started to give it to our nine-month old grandson…he loves it and doesn’t seem to have had any bad effects. I agree about the tibi being more delicate. I have lost a batch and even when it is healthy, it never seems to be as robust as the milk kefir. I always feel a bit sorry for it and have decided at the moment only to make it in the warmer months. The good thing is, I have a plentiful supply of grains to convert to water, using the excess grains, which are otherwise just jucked out! Thanks for the post, Choclette!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      24th February 2016

      Oh, not sure I did know that Jenny. Really pleased to hear it. Good to hear that Patrick is doing well on it too, although I can’t see any reason why he wouldn’t. We only ever try to do tibi in the summer. It works fine, but putting it to sleep and reviving it has proven to be very tricky. We’ve not actually tried using the milk kefir grains, you’re ahead of CT in that respect šŸ˜‰

  8. Leave a Reply

    Gloria @ Homemade & Yummy
    24th February 2016

    I have never made kefir but I do purchase it at the store. I love using it in baking and smoothies. It is so healthy…I will have to try making it a home now.

  9. Leave a Reply

    maria @ closetohome
    24th February 2016

    I used to buy kefir and drink it when I was taking antibiotics. Had not idea it was so versatile.

  10. Leave a Reply

    Debi at Life Currents
    24th February 2016

    A great post. I’ve seen it all over and had a basic understanding of it, but now I have a good grasp on it, and think I might give it a go! Thanks!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      25th February 2016

      Yay Debi, glad to have helped. It’s the sort of thing, once you start, you find your own way of working with it.

  11. Leave a Reply

    Charlotte @charlottekdiary
    25th February 2016

    Great to read this post, Choclette! I loved testing and trying all manner of ferments when writing my book. I make water kefir and kombucha most often, as I prefer them to milk kefir, but milk kefir is the most nutritious ferment of them all. Just adding a little to your diet every day is one of the very best things we can do for our health. Charlotte

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      25th February 2016

      Thanks Charlotte. Years ago, we used to make kombucha and I really liked it. When you get it right it tastes like fizzy apple juice. Sadly, the house we are living in now is just too cold to make it. Luckily, milk kefir is far more forgiving, though water kefir is a little tricksy.

  12. Leave a Reply

    Chris @thinlyspread
    25th February 2016

    I’ve been intrigued by this since we chatted about it a few weeks ago and now I have this fabulous post to work with, thank you!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      25th February 2016

      Hope it helps Chris. I can’t promise, but if the grains have grown enough in time for the Dorset trip I could bring you some up – if you’re interested?

  13. Leave a Reply

    kate @veggie desserts
    25th February 2016

    What a great look at kefir! It’s something that has intrigued me, but I didn’t know much about. Thanks for the post!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      25th February 2016

      Hope it helped Kate and has got you interested enough to give it a go.

  14. Leave a Reply

    Patricia @ Grab a Plate
    25th February 2016

    Thanks for the info. I’ve only had kefir a few times and it was ages ago, not sure why? I think it would be fab in smoothies, so may have to give that a try!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      25th February 2016

      It really is fab in smoothies Patricia. It’s funny how we go in and out of different food stuffs depending on circumstances and whim šŸ˜‰

  15. Leave a Reply

    Alida @My Little Italian Kitchen
    26th February 2016

    Interesting! I used to make kefir for a while in my teens too and I used to make it regularly then I got bored with it but that was long time ago. I use to love the taste and it is certainly very good for your gut and wellbeing. I enjoyed reading this article and why not I would like to start taking kefir again!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      26th February 2016

      Oh how interesting Alida. I hadn’t really thought of kefir as a teenage obsession – sounds like a good one šŸ™‚

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      26th February 2016

      Well here’s your introduction Cathy, welcome to the kefir camp.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      27th February 2016

      It’s sort of tastes like a cross between yoghurt and buttermilk – creamy and slightly tangy, although you can make it to be really sour if desired.

  16. Leave a Reply

    Kacie
    28th February 2016

    Kefir sounds delicious, I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      28th February 2016

      I think it’s one of those foods that might start trending soon Kacie šŸ˜‰

  17. Leave a Reply

    Jacqueline Meldrum
    28th February 2016

    My in-laws drink this in Cyprus, but I just couldn’t get used to the salty taste. I can see it would be good added to baking and bread though.

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      28th February 2016

      Hmmm, no salty taste to ours Jac. We don’t add salt unless we’re making cheese. It’s just milk.

  18. Leave a Reply

    Angela / Only Crumbs Remain
    28th February 2016

    Such an interesting post, it’s fabulous to learn new things šŸ™‚ I’ll certainly be asking for it in our two local health food shop as recommended by your other commenters, fingers crossed one of them will stock it! It sounds so versatile too.
    Angela x

  19. Leave a Reply

    Janie
    29th February 2016

    What an interesting read! Sadly not one for me, but interesting all the same šŸ™‚
    Janie x

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th February 2016

      Ah, but you’d be fine with the water kefir Janie and apparently you can use non dairy milks too.

  20. Leave a Reply

    ManjiriK
    29th February 2016

    I love buttermilk and would like to try kefir grains to make some at home, I heard of it a few years back and was so kicked to know that a distant cousin – sort of- of buttermilk exists! I am going to hunt for some in stores now and will dance a jig if I find the grains!

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th February 2016

      Good luck Manjiri. I hope you find some and it would be great to know what you think. You might want to try some first before you go hunting for the grains – just in case!

  21. Leave a Reply

    Nadia
    1st March 2016

    I LOVE kefir, and not only because it’s so good for the digestive system. I love its sour taste. Never tried making it myself, which I really should have by now! I like how you incorporate it in so many of your recipes! šŸ˜€

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      2nd March 2016

      Thanks Nadia. I’ve never actually tried anything other than our homemade one, but one of the great things about it is that you can make it as sour as you like or barely at all if sourness isn’t your thing.

  22. Leave a Reply

    Sharon
    23rd August 2016

    I’ve just been given Kefir grains, so have rinsed and drained in goats milk. Now in a jar topped up to cover grains. What now? Tomorrow what do I do? And how do I partake? Just thinking simple to start!! Thanks

    • Leave a Reply

      Choclette
      29th August 2016

      Hi Sharon. Apologies for the delay in replying. I’ve been away for the past week. Hope you managed to find out what to do. I’ve never tried goat’s milk kefir, so that’s interesting. When starting kefir it can take a few tries before you get something palatable, so it’s best to throw away the first couple of batches – unless it tastes OK of course. Then it’s just a case of pouring the kefir through a sieve and drinking it. Put the grains back (unwashed) and top up with milk again.

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