How to make dairy kefir

What's kefir? And why would you want to make it at home?

Kefir is very similar to plain yogurt because they have similar tastes. Kefir is slightly tangy and effervescent. It is nutritionally superior to yogurt, however. While yogurt contains beneficial bacteria, kefir contains both beneficial bacteria and yeast. Kefir contains almost five times more beneficial organisms than yogurt, including many strains of yeast and bacteria which are not present at all in yogurt. These organisms help with digestion and keep the colon clean. Kefir actually lines the colon with mucous which creates a place for beneficial organisms to colonize; yogurt only supplies food for the beneficial organisms that are already present. These beneficial yeasts are powerful in aiding the body to resist pathogens and parasites. After all, almost 80% of the body's immune system is found in the intestinal tract. That is why it is so important to keep your gut nice and healthy, populated with beneficial bacteria and good yeast. 

Dairy kefir is made by introducing dairy kefir grains (the culture) into milk, even non-dairy milk like coconut milk. The grain, which is a colony of bacteria and yeast, feasts on the lactose/milk sugar. As a result, the milk becomes thickened. It is now low in lactose, while rich with beneficial bacteria and yeast, as well as containing high levels of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes - which are key to healthy digestion.

Learn more about kefir

here

.

So, here's how you make it.

First, you need to obtain milk kefir grains. These multiply freely, so if you know someone who cultures kefir consistently, you can ask to have some. You can also purchase them online, at places like

Cultures for Health

.

*Stay tuned for a giveaway!

Next, you place your grains into a jar. As I have made kefir consistently over the past year, I have found a routine that works for me. Your routine may vary, depending on the health of your grains, the temperature of your house, etc. My preferred ratio is 1 tablespoon milk kefir grains to 4 cups milk. I use Organic Whole Milk, but you can use any milk. The more fat the milk contains, the creamier and thicker the kefir will be.

*Make sure that the milk you're using is not

ultra-pasteurized

 - it will not have enough bacteria to culture properly (a lot of Organic milk will be ultra-pasteurized, so check the carton carefully).

After you place the grains in your jar and pour the appropriate amount of milk on top of them, give them a gentle stir with a wooden spoon. Cover loosely with a lid or cloth and let the jar sit on the counter for 12-48 hours depending on the temperature. In very warm temperatures, it will be done in 12 hours. At cooler temperatures, it may take up to 48 hours. Stir the kefir every 6-12 hours if desired, which will result in a smoother consistency. The kefir is done when it is thickened and smells slightly sour. The longer the kefir cultures, the more sour it will become. It will separate into curds and whey after a time. It is not ruined - you will just have a more sour kefir. In this case, I'd use it in baking rather than drinking (but if you like a sour kefir, then definitely drink it!). 

After your kefir is done culturing, pour it into a fine mesh strainer placed on top of a bowl. You can use plastic or non-reactive metal (some say not to use metal, but I have been using it for a year and it has not affected the performance of my grains). 

Stir the kefir to help push it through the strainer. 

You will be left with only kefir grains in the strainer. 

Take these kefir grains and put them in another jar (or use the same one you cultured in previously), pour milk on top, and begin the process again. Pour the cultured strained kefir from the bowl into a clean jar, cover with a lid, and place in the refrigerator to be consumed. 

If you find that you are culturing the kefir too often and have a surplus of kefir, you can take a break. Each time I culture kefir, when it is done, I simply place a lid on it and put it directly in the refrigerator (without straining). When I'm ready to use it (my already strained kefir has run out), I pull that jar of kefir with the grains still in it out of the refrigerator and strain it, then start a new batch by adding milk to the grains again. I place the cultured kefir in a new jar, put a lid on it and put it in the refrigerator to be used. Thus, I always have a constant supply of kefir without culturing every single day. The kefir grains can sit in the cultured milk in the refrigerator for around 3 weeks, so if you need to take a long break you can. Cultured, strained kefir will last in the fridge for at least two weeks but I'd venture to say up to a month or more.

The best thing about making kefir at home is that it is so much more cost effective. If I culture one gallon of Organic milk that cost me $5.99, that means I get one gallon of Organic kefir for $5.99. If you buy

kefir in the store

, you'll pay over $3 for just 32 oz. At my grocery store, the only options available are low fat, which I'm not interested in or flavored, which contain added sugar. It is so easy to make at home and you can control what goes in it. Plus, it will be fresher which means that it will contain more beneficial bacteria than if it has been sitting on the shelf. However, just because it is more expensive in the stores, that does not mean you shouldn't buy it! If you don't have access to milk kefir grains, by all means, buy it in the store because kefir is beneficial for you in so many ways.

Milk kefir can be used for so many things! It can be used any time a recipe calls for sour cream or buttermilk. You can even make kefir cheese! We love to drink it as a smoothie. Here are few links to kefir recipes:

Strawberry Banana Kefir Smoothie

Soaked Blender Pancakes

7 Yummy Ways to Eat Kefir

*And don't forget, our favorite kefir smoothie recipe: 

White Smoothie

.