Kefir is a delicious, easy-to-make, probiotic-filled beverage. It's a very old culture, and each new batch is made with "grains" that look sort of like cauliflower florets. The grains are soft, and feel a bit like jello.
Kefir is similar to yogurt, but it is much easier to make for two reasons: first is that making yogurt is a much more involved and complicated process; second is that yogurt is much more temperature-sensitive... the milk has to be heated to a certain temperature, cooled to a certain temperature, and held at that warm temperature for about 24 hours while the milk cultures.
Making yogurt is certainly do-able, but kefir is so much easier to make and with only a couple minutes of hands-on time.
The other great thing about kefir is that it contains a much broader spectrum of beneficial bacteria and yeasts compared to yogurt.
Here is a brief outline for making kefir:
1. Rinse the grains in a plastic sieve under running water
2. Fill a jar with milk (or cream) and add the grains
3. Cap the jar tightly and put in a dark spot at room temperature
4. Check the jar after 12 - 24 hours; when the liquid has thickened, it is finished. Put it in the refrigerator, or use it right away.
Here is some additional info, plus a few tips:
a) it may take up to 48 hours for the kefir to culture... it will take longer when it's culturing at a cooler temperature; it will also take longer if there are fewer grains (compared to the volume of milk) in the jar. It is best to have at least a Tablespoon of grains in a 1 Litre jar, but you could add up to 1/2 a cup of grains
b) the higher the fat percentage of the milk / cream, the thicker the kefir will be. 35% cream makes excellent thick cultured cream (very similar to sour cream)
c) the grains will usually float to the top of the liquid early in the culturing process; therefore, they're easy to scoop off the top to start a new batch
d) it's better to make the kefir in amounts that you will use within a day or two. That way, the grains are always in new milk and will perform better.
e) if you want to stop making new kefir for a couple / few days, simply put the grains in new milk (at least enough to cover the grains) and put them in the fridge
f) the grains will perform better with additive-free milk. Some smaller dairies sell milk that has only "milk" (or "cream") for ingredients. Organic milk is an excellent option.
g) if you have your own cow / goat / sheep, the kefir grains usually multiply like crazy in fresh milk
h) when you accumulate more grains than you need, you can share the surplus, eat them, feed them to your pets, feed them to your compost pile....
i) some sources say to never touch or handle the grains with anything metal. Hence, to rinse them in a plastic strainer and use wooden or plastic utensils for moving them in and out of jars. This may or may not be an issue, as some people do use metal and their kefir grains continue to culture dairy just fine. However, it's good to know about, and you may prefer to avoid metal when possible.
Ways to Use Kefir
1) Drink it! When it's made with milk, it's at the perfect consistency for drinking it (if you've never had it before, start with small amounts - don't start with guzzling 2 litres of it! It may take a few days for your system to adjust to the intake of live probiotics)
2) Use it in baking. It makes pancakes, cakes, muffins, etc more tender, fluffy and tasty.
3) Use it in creamy salad dressings (using kefir made with either milk or cream, depending on the type of dressing)
4) Use the cultured cream any way you would use sour cream... in dips, in soup, with meats, with chili, on desserts... many possibilities
5) Top cultured cream with your favourite combo of nuts / seeds / dried fruit / dark chocolate / honey for a delicious dessert or snack
6) The kefir or cultured cream can be strained through cheesecloth; the whey will drip out, and the kefir solids make a type of soft cheese. The solids from the cream is excellent with / in desserts.
7) Dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, ducks, etc all love kefir, and benefit from the probiotics too!
What other ways do you enjoy using kefir?
(Photos will be added to this post in the near future)