Kefir

To make kefir, all one needs to do is place kefir grains in fresh milk and wait.  After a day of fermenting at room temperature, the kefir grains will thicken the milk into kefir.  The grains can then be taken out of the kefir, and placed anew in fresh milk.

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Kefir grains are a fascinating entity.  they are a collective of bacteria and yeasts that have distinct, touchable form. Unlike yogourt cultures, whose bacteria are mixed throughout the yogourt curd, you can see the culture of kefir!

Kefir culture forms what are commonly called kefir grains;  the grains are not grains like wheat and barley, but rather grains, like grains of sand – something small.  These grains are made up of over thirty species of bacteria and yeast that live together and support one another symbiotically.  All that kefir grains need to survive is milk.

Kefir grains consume the lactose sugars in milk, fermenting them into lactic acid.  The diverse bacterial and yeast strains all ferment the sugars differently.  The yeasts in kefir, for example, convert simple milk sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which make kefir delightfully effervescent and mildly alcoholic.  As the cultured milk becomes more and more sour due to the increase of lactic acid, the milk sets into kefir.

As kefir grains feed on milk and transform it into kefir, they grow:  the cauliflower-like shape of kefir grains is due to their slow, branching growth habit.  When fed regularly, kefir grains will double in size every two weeks.  Soon you’ll have more grains than you know what to do with…I have been keeping kefir for over six years; with my excess, I have shared kefir babies with folks all across North America.

Kefir is one of the most effective probiotic cultures.  Unlike laboratory raised cultures found in yogourts or pro-biotic pills that are raised in sterile conditions, kefir is a wild culture whose perseverance is astounding.  With its diverse strains of bacteria that aid digestion, when you drink kefir, you’re nourishing and strengthening your digestive tract flora.

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Kefir grains cannot be synthesized out of thin milk.  Kefir grains beget kefir grains: the only way to get them is to convince someone else that has them to share.   But where did the first ones come from?

Kefir grains are an organism whose origins are unknown.  They are thought to have originated thousands of years ago in the central asian steppes. Early nomadic shepherds discovered that the mysterious grains preserved their goats milk and made it frothy. The grains were passed on from generation to generation for their many benefits, and the culture of kefir became the culture of nomadism.

Legend in many parts of the world tells that kefir was gifted to Mohammed, peace be upon him (who ate nothing but dates and milk-probably in the form of kefir), by Allah.  Perhaps kefir grains originated in the udder of a goat long before they were discovered by us…they may have conferred probiotic bacteria to help suckling young kids to develop healthy intestinal tract flora.  They certainly will have the same benefits for you.

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Aside from all their health benefits, I keep kefir because it is incomparably useful to cheesemaking:  it is a live, active, diverse starter culture that is easy to keep and nearly impossible to contaminate; it is the very best culture to use as a starter to make rennet cheeses; it can turn milk to yogourt that can be hung to make dream cheese; and it can transform cream into creme fraiche.

Here’s the basic recipe for culturing kefir:

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First: Add kefir grains to milk

Fill a clean jar with a cup or two of milk.  Add a grain or two of kefir.  Place a lid on the jar.

Second: Wait

Leave the kefir out at room temperature in your kitchen;  no heating or temperature control required.  Wait around twenty-four hours.  Taste and observe the milk during this time.  It will become more and more sour, until, suddenly, it thickens. The kefir is ready to drink as soon as it thickens, but some people like to let it ferment longer to develop its flavour and carbonation.

Third: Remove kefir grains from kefir (which used to be milk)

Kefir grains rise to the surface of the milk as it ripens.  You will notice that the surface of the kefir is broken in several places; probe around with a fork and you’ll find your kefir grains there.  Lift them out of the milk with the fork, and place them into a new jar filled with fresh milk.

If you cannot find your kefir grains on top, pass the whole jar of kefir through a fine strainer into a bowl.  Lightly coax the kefir though the seive with a spoon and your kefir will remain behind.  If you’re having trouble separating the grains from the curd, add a little bit of milk to help the curd flow through the seive.

If you do not wish to continue culturing your kefir grains, you can leave the grains in fresh milk in the refrigerator for several months.  The kefir grains will come back to life when you take them out of the fridge and feed them again.

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Interested in ordering kefir grains?  Visit my Kefir website, gotkefir.wordpress.com.

On the website you’ll find grains of wisdom on how to care for kefir grains, how to make kefir, kefir sodas and kefir cheese, as well as information on how to order your very own kefir grains.

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