Monday, June 6, 2011

Recipe: Culturing kéfir from kéfir grains!

Culture: the cry of men in face of their destiny. – Albert Camus 

Kéfir can be blended with fruit, vegetables, etc., to make "smoothies."
Believe it or not, this one's red cabbage sauerkraut. Not my cup of tea...
Photo: Ibán, Flickr ccl
So this is exciting. I’ve just finished making kéfir (pronounced kuh-fear) from grains I purchased at the farmers’ market from Ran-Cher Acres. Randy and Cheryl Hiltz own a goat farm in Aylesford, Nova Scotia, as well as Randy being a minister in the area. They make cheeses, yogurt and kéfir from their herd’s output. Busy folk, indeed.

I have been interested in homemade kéfir since my twice now successful forays into the world of yogurt, several cheese successes and a purchase of a (very expensive) container of flavoured kéfir at a local grocery.

Always interested in squeezing a penny when I can, it was only natural that I found out more about it. The taste is fantastic and Kéfir is quickly becoming a favourite beverage.

My newly purchased kéfir grains (in a little milk).
The glass carafe came from Walmart for $3 with a
cover. It's perfect.
What is kéfir?
Kéfir is a cultured, creamy (milk) product with amazing health attributes. Kéfir’s tart and refreshing flavor is similar to a drinking-style yogurt, but it contains beneficial yeast as well as friendly ‘probiotic’ bacteria found in yogurt. 

The naturally occurring bacteria and yeast in kéfir combine symbiotically to give superior health benefits when consumed regularly. It is loaded with valuable vitamins and minerals and contains easily digestible complete proteins.

For the lactose intolerant, kefir’s abundance of beneficial yeast and bacteria provide lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process.

It is important to note that kéfir has probiotic healthful bacteria like yogurt. Unlike yogurt, kéfir bacteria will colonize your digestive tract and aid in digesting food and the control of harmful bateria. In doing so it helps in strengthening the immune system. 

Yogurt is beneficial in this regard as well, but it does not colonize. You must consume yogurt every day to gain its full benefits. Kéfir's regimen is a little less stringent and the quantity is lower, only being about 2 tbsp (per day) to reap the benefits. Or so I have read.

It is said the kéfir originated in the Caucasus mountains of Asia. If you're of a certain age you will remember news stories of the supposed very long life span (often in excess of 100 years) of the residents in the area. The residents first really started to become noticed by the West in the 1970s during the post-hippie "back to the land"  movement and the rise in the interest in healthier food. Kéfir is common in their diet.

Where does my “expertise” come from?
First, I’m no expert. I’m a converted newbie. Almost all that I know about culturing kéfir has come from a very informative (one may say hardcore) kéfir site by Dominic (Dom) Anfiteatro.

If you’re interested in learning more about this wonderful beverage than I have outlined here I strongly recommend you visit his site. It is at

One note from his site worth attention: It is unsafe to use brass, aluminium, copper, sliver, zinc, or iron containers for either culturing kéfir, storing kéfir grains or liquid-kéfir intended for consumption. Neither is it safe to use strainers that are made from any of those reactive metals to strain kéfir.

This is due to the reactive properties of these metals. In making kéfir you are making an acidic culture. Those materials will react with the acidity in the kéfir. Stainless steel is just fine, and recommended, as is glass.

Kéfir grains. Weird, eh? Photo Wiki creative commons
What are kéfir grains?
The following is from Wikipedia:
Kefir grains are a combination of bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix forms "grains" that resemble cauliflower. For this reason, a complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can be found in these grains.

Kefir grains contain a water soluble polysaccharide known as kefiran, which that imparts a rope-like texture and feeling in the mouth, appear in hues ranging from white to yellow, and usually grow to the size of walnuts (although rice-grain-sized grains have been known to develop).

Straining the grains from the cultured kéfir after fermentation.
Photo:, Flickr ccl
So how do you make it?
Well there’s two ways, actually. You can purchase freeze dried kefir starter culture in the health food section of grocery or health food stores. In Nova Scotia I know it is sold in the Atlantic Superstore. Simply follow the directions on the box. Easy as pie. Quite good, too.

For the more adventurous, you can get your hands on kéfir grains. They’re even available on eBay.

Here’s the basic method for culturing with grains:
1-2 tbsp live kéfir grains
1 L milk (goat, sheep, cow*)

To make the kéfir, simply place the grains in a sterile container big enough to hold more than 1 L of milk. Cover it, with the lid ajar. You then allow it to incubate at room temperature for 12-24 hours. 

At he end of the incubation, the liquid will have thickened slightly and the grains will have floated to the top.

If you continue to ferment past the recommended time it continues to sour. Some enjoy kéfir on the more sour side; others do not. It is entirely your own preference.

My grains after my first culture. They're bigger!!! Compare
this to the second photo above.
Strain the kéfir grains from the liquid, place in a container and refrigerate.

You will see that the grains have actually grown larger (yes, larger) in the process. So you end up with more than you started with. Amazing.

You can then store the grains in the refrigerator with a little milk in with them, or begin the process all over again.

* It is best to culture the grains in the same animal's milk in which they originally were cultured. You can switch, but it is slightly detrimental to the grains initially. There’s much more info on the topic at Dom’s site.

I probably will be switching from goat to cows milk in the near future. My grains have already nearly doubled in volume and I'm making a second batch now so I'll probably have them to risk. I think I may have slightly over-aged the kéfir on my first attempt. It’s still good but more sour than I would like. It may partly be due to the goat milk base which is more sour as well.

Dom recommends long-term storage of some grains as a back up. Just in case of contamination or accident. His site is a wealth of information on how to, how long, etc.

So I’m (hopefully) on the way to a healthier digestive tract. It will be an adventure. That’s for certain.


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