Why Kefir?

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We are really enjoying kefir. I love it! It brings back many memories for me that reminisce on the Middle Eastern flavors that were part of my growing up. Its fresh and a little sour taste reminds me of plain yogurt, which is a staple in ME cooking. A side benefit (that I didn’t expect) of having cultured foods around — foods that satisfy me and replace my cravings for sweeteners. Kefir fits the bill!

I got fresh milk kefir grains from Cultures for Health. They came in a little baggie with some organic milk. By the time I used them, the milk had cultured and separated into curds and whey. That is fine. There is an expiration date on the package. So be aware, if you order fresh grains (as opposed to dehydrated), you must be prepared to use them almost right away, but perhaps up to a week or two.

Those grains I stirred in with 1 cup of my raw goat milk. After 24 hours, the kefir had gone beyond thickened and created curds. That’s okay. It tasted a little more sour and was not smooth for drinking, but nothing was ruined. The point of this initial culturing was to get the kefir grains acclimated to our milk.

Kefir Grains v. Kefir Curds

I strained out the kefir grains, and right away, got the education I needed to tell what was the kefir grains and what was the curds.

kefir-grain

In the above picture, on the left you can see the kefir grains clump. It is rubbery, somewhat translucent whitish/yellowish, and shaped like a cauliflower. It is only about 1 or 2 centimeters, at this point. According to Donna Gates of The Body Ecology Diet (quoted in Nourishing Traditions on page 86), the kefir grain clumps range in size from a grain of wheat to a hazelnut.

Donna Gates also writes, “Kefir is made from gelatinous white or yellow particles called “grains.” The grains contain the bacteria/yeast mixture clumped together with casein (milk proteins) and polysaccharides (complex sugars). ”

On the right are the kefir curds, which as you can see, don’t hang together like the rubbery kefir grains. Kefir is considered “done” when the grains spread their friendly organisms through milk, culturing it and thickening it. Ideally, it should be a thickened milk with the consistency of a thin, drinkable yogurt. If it cultures longer, it will separate into curds and whey, and also will develop a more sour flavor. This is okay, but perhaps not as fun to drink.

I repeated the process of acclimating the grains to our raw goat milk about 2 more times. The kefir thickened nicely and tasted great!

My Kefir Routine

I’ve developed a nice routine for having fresh kefir available every day. Kefir takes about 24 hours to develop the tart flavor and thick, smooth consistency — at current summer/warm temperatures. (In the winter, I brew it for 48 hours.) I start a new batch each morning with one quart of fresh, warm, raw goat’s milk from that AM’s milking. I put the warm milk it in a quart size jar and mix in the kefir grains. I cover the jar with a thin towel and secure it to the jar with a rubber band. I leave that on the counter in the kitchen, several feet away from Kombucha or yogurt or any other culturing food.

Update: I now begin kefir each morning with a half gallon of raw cow’s milk from the morning milking. :)

By the next morning, a taste test and a gentle rocking of the jar will tell me if the kefir is done. I am looking for thick milk (thicker than buttermilk but thinner than yogurt) and a fresh, slightly sour flavor. I strain out the kefir grains, and put the finished kefir in the fridge to chill until dinnertime. Then I use another quart of fresh milk (from the AM milking) and repeat the process with the kefir grains just strained out of the finished batch.

So far, Jeff and I have a larger serving than the kids. They are adjusting to the taste. For anything like this that takes an adjustment, I will serve the kids just a bit of it for many days. In most cases, they end up liking the food. When they start drinking more of the kefir (we are almost there), I think I will make one and a half quarts of kefir each day. But, maybe more — then we can use it for other things.

Update: We go through a lot of kefir now — and the kids love it as much as Jeff and I do! We each have significant servings with fruit or veggies before most meals.

Keeping reading to the benefits below… and you will see why I think it is important for each of us to consume kefir often.

What’s So Great About Kefir?

Quoting again from Donna Gates,

Kefir is a cultured an microbial-rich food that helps restore the inner ecology. It contains strains of beneficial yeast and beneficial bacteria (in a symbiotic relationship) that give kefir antibiotic properties. A natural antibiotic – and it is made from milk! The finished product is not unlike that of a drink-style yogurt, but kefir has a more tart, refreshing taste and contains completely different micro-organisms… kefir does not feed yeast, and it usually doesn’t even bother people who are lactose intolerant. That’s because the friendly bacteria and the beneficial yeast growing in the kefir consume most of the lactose and provide very efficient enzymes (lactase) for consuming whatever lactose is still left after the culturing process… kefir is mucous-forming, but… the slightly mucous-forming quality is exactly what makes kefir work for us. The mucous has “clean” quality to is that coats the lining of the digestive tract, creating a sort of nest where beneficial bacteria can settle and colonize…

Awesome! So, to sum up those benefits, kefir:

  • is a natural antibiotic
  • does not feed yeast
  • doesn’t bother those who are lactose intolerant, because the beneficial microorganisms consume most of the lactose
  • provides enzyme lactase, to digest remaining lactose
  • coats the lining of the digestive tract, creating a nest for beneficial bacteria to colonize

Kefir’s Other Uses?

Blog Post: 8 Yummy Ways to Eat Kefir!

Do you make kefir? Why? How do you eat it?

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Comments

  1. says

    You can freeze any leftover kefir smoothie to make popsicles – freezing does not destroy the friendly bacteria. My little guy drank some of his caterpillar soup that he made with liquid from the bird bath and many live green caterpillars and has been unable to keep dairy down.

    BUT I made him some healthy smoothie from kefir and froze it – he’s been keeping those down no problem! Which is great because it was the only thing he would put in his mouth (aside from the caterpillar soup, that is.)

    He is doing better now but I was so happy to have kefir around to help nourish his body back to health.

    • says

      Sustainable Eats – Oh, my! I read your comment five times before I got it! I was like… caterpillar soup? What an interesting recipe – what does it stand for? Then I realized it really was CATERPILLAR SOUP! Poor kid. I love your suggestion to make the popsicles with kefir-smoothies! I’m really glad that the kefir has helped your little guy so much. What a story! What an adventure!

  2. says

    Wardee,
    The kefir sounds great! I have had it before and it is good, refreshing comes to mind. I don’t have any excuse as to why I have never made any myself. I guess I need to!

    This is totally un-related but I have a question. I recently bought some evaporated cane juice crystals from Azure and was VERY disappointed when I recieved it. It looks like slightly tinted sugar. In the past I have always purchased rapadura. Which is very brown and granule looking. Do you know if there is a nutritional difference? I looked it up on-line but didn’t really get any GOOD answers. Just thought you might know.
    Thanks in advance.
    love,
    Tiffany

    • says

      Sustainable Eats – Oh, that was too funny (and a little gross)! What a great post! Your poor husband. It is good you can write and laugh about it!

  3. says

    Thank you so much for the chart!!! I knew that the stuff I recieved was not as good as rapadura, just by looking at it!!
    Love,
    tiffany

  4. says

    You may know kefir by the name lebni or labneh. It is one of my favorite ME side dishes! The way I prepare it for my family is with a spice mix called zaatar (mixture of thyme, oregano, roasted sesame seeds, sumac, salt) sprinkled all over the top of the kefir and then olive oil poured over that. We have a particular kind of flatbread that we dip in it. I like to make it with saffron rice, and a lovely stew called Murag that is made with meat, okra, green beans, tomato and a spice mix called baharat.

    Now I am getting hungry! Thanks for sharing this helpful post. I think I might try my hand at making my own kefir soon! And eating lots of it! :)

    • says

      Kimbrah – I love zaatar! The way you serve kefir sounds sooo amazing. But I did not know kefir was known as lebani, because the way my family has always made lebani is from yogurt (leban) which is put in a bag so the whey can drip out, at which point it becomes lebani. And the leban is a yogurt from a Greek-style yogurt culture, while the kefir is cultured via kefir grains. Are we talking about the same thing? Your spelling is a little different, but I would say the words the same way. Regardless, you’re making me hungry, too! Is your Murag recipe online somewhere – it sounds so much like a green bean stew (name is escaping me) that we make. But we don’t add a spice mix called baharat. Would you tell me more about that, please? And do you mix up your zaatar yourself? I would love to see a recipe for that, too (my zataar comes ready-made from my mom picking it up at a market). Oh, the fun in talking about ME dishes – I don’t get them enough – and wish I’d paid more attention when I was growing up.

  5. says

    Wardee-

    I have a recipe blog that I have kind of abandoned (its kind of embarrassing actually. I had such great plans for that blog!) I plan on moving some of the recipes over to our new family blog eventually, but here’s the link for the Murag- http://felicitasrecipes.lifewithchrist.org/permalink/24574.html and the baharat recipe is linked within that post. I also have a great cookbook called The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos. It has recipes organized by region. Very thorough and it even includes desserts like baklava! :)

    We lived in an area in San Diego that had a large Kurdish and a large Chaldean population. Luckily, a few of them took me under their wings and taught me how to cook. :) We also have friends that moved to the Middle East a few years ago and they keep me supplied with REAL saffron when they visit. Unfortunately, I cannot find a middle eastern market here in the town we live in now (lots of Indian markets, but its just not the same) so when we go down to San Diego to visit I always stop by my favorite market there and stock up on zaatar, tea, and other things I can’t find here. I have even been known to hit up friends to send me stuff when I run out and can’t manage a visit. :)

    I think you are right that kefir is different and that what I am thinking of is more of a Greek style yogurt. Hmmm. But it seems like it would still be good to eat like lebni. I had always heard that kefir and lebni were the same thing. I guess I stand corrected. :)

    I just enjoy finding someone else besides my immediate family that enjoys Middle Eastern food! Too bad we don’t live closer or you could borrow my cookbook! :)

    • says

      Kimbrah – It is so fun to talk about this with you – I’ll keep an eye out for that cookbook. I have one that was compiled by a group of Arabic women – it is called “Sahtein”. You are blessed to have such good friends to teach you and keep you in supply.

      The other reason I know that kefir is different from lebani is that kefir is drinkable (thinner than yogurt) and lebani is yogurt cheese, very thick. (Leban would have a similar consistency though, just a bit thicker.) Then there is the difference in culturing. But the funny thing is, they taste so similar to me! ;) So perhaps that is why people told you they were the same.

      Thank you for the link to the recipe (by the way, love your recipe site!). It is similar to the recipe of which it reminds me, except for using tomato paste instead of (your) tomatoes and then the inclusion of baharat. I’ve got to ask my mom if she ever uses that.

      Great talking to you about this! Thanks.

  6. says

    HI Wardee,
    I looked up kefir grains on your site because I’m trying to figure out where to get my next batch. The farm I bought my last batch from is an hour away and I am having a hard time finding time to go.

    I also realized reading your post that I was using a metal strainer so maybe this is something that contributed to them dying?
    Also, do the curds go into the batch of kefir or do you strain them with the grains?

    Can’t wait to get back to making it!
    Sarah
    .-= Sarah Schatz – menu planners for limited diets´s last blog post… A week at the beach, our gluten-free and dairy-free menu plan and some kid-friendly tips =-.

    • says

      Sarah – I hope you find time to go to that farm! :)

      It is possible that using a metal strainer contributed to their demise. What metal was it? I am not convinced that 100% stainless steel harms the grains. But other metals certainly should be avoided. All could be avoided to stay on the safe side.

      What curds do you mean? The curds that come with the first batch of grains or subsequent batches? In any case, when I strain my grains each morning from a finished batch of kefir, I am not that careful to get all the curds off. Some go into the next batch. I *think* it gives the next batch a stronger starter – which we like because we end up with yogurt-thickness. I think it is flexible and you should play around with it to get your desired consistency.

      Have fun!

  7. says

    Wardee, are the kefir grains made originally from pasturized cow’s milk? What would happen if you didn’t acclimate the kefir grains to your raw goats milk? You mentioned the strainer should not be metal, what is yours made of?
    Thanks!
    .-= Marg´s last blog post… More winter prep =-.

    • says

      Marg, I think the biggest danger is that your grain could die. I don’t know how likely that is to happen, but to be safe, you start acclimating with a small batch. My first grain was grown on organic cow’s milk (probably pasteurized, but I’m not sure). It acclimated within one batch to goat’s milk. I am not convinced that stainless steel will harm the grains, but I take that risk myself – so most of the time I use a stainless steel fork to retrieve my grains. I was using a locally-handmade wooden fork, but it started growing something right away – got all these dark stains on it. So I’m not using that anymore, for the kefir. I don’t mind using it for cooking, but if it has some other bacteria on it, I don’t want to introduce it to the kefir. I also have a little plastic strainer – the kind that is meant to strain tuna out of the can (it is the same size). Sometimes I use a plastic or wooden spoon, retrieve the grains, and then place them in this strainer. That’s if I want to drain them more fully – but usually I just transfer them with everything that come with into the new jar of milk. Hope this helps you!

  8. says

    Wardee, I was interested to read that in the winter your kefir is more thick. I have had just the opposite experience. As soon as colder weather comes, my liquid kefir gets thin and grainy for a few weeks. It’s not a problem, but I do miss the consistency of the thicker kefir.

    After reading what you have posted here, I wonder if mine would do better if I did not strain it as thoroughly. I have a plastic strainer that I use, and some of the little grains sneak through and end up in the jar of kefir I keep on the counter. I have quit refrigerating my kefir. Once every 24 hours I strain out the grains, put them back in the jar and cover with raw goat milk (maybe the warm milk would help too. I’ve been using cold from the fridge) and I put the strained out kefir into a 1/2 gallon jar that I keep covered with a coffee filter and rubber band. I just add more every day and when we want to drink some, I stir the contents of the jar and then pour out what we need. If the jar gets too full, I then can make kefir cheese or else just drink more kefir!

    I have used liquid kefir to make whole wheat bread, like a sourdough, and it was very nice. I also use it instead of buttermilk in baking. I used to use it in pancakes, but now that I have a lovely sourdough going, I make sourdough pancakes. Oh, they are to die for!

    I think it’s really fun that moms sneak the kefir into smoothies and no one notices. :)

  9. Eve says

    Hi Wardee! I’ve recently discovered your site and it’s just fascinating! Quick question about straining kefir. I’ve been making ours for 5 months now and have been loving the results, however I do use a metal strainer. I force it through with a wooden spoon, and within seconds I’m done. Do you really think that brief contact with metal adversely affects them? I really hope not…but I want to keep enjoying the benefits of kefir and don’t know if I’m actually slowly killing my grains! Any insight would be much appreciated!. ~God Bless

    • says

      Eve — It is fine to have minimal contact with metal. We can’t be too rigid, and sometimes have to work around what we’ve got. You’re fine!

      • Michelle says

        I wasn’t sure where to comment, I made my first batch of Kefir with 2% reduced fat Kosher certified milk from King Soopers. I fermented for 24 hours and refrigerated for 8 hours. I strained my Kefir and I couldn’t find any grains. Did I do anything wrong? I thought for sure I would have grains for my next batch. Should I ferment longer than 24 hours? By the way I added bananas & strawberries and a little stevia, it was really good. Any guidance would be much appreciated. How can I find Kefir grains that are used to make with water? I’ve seen the yogurt and kefir grains, but not for water. Thanks in advance.
        Michelle

  10. says

    Awesome post! :) I have yet to work with kefir of any sort but am hoping I will be able to really soon! I have a question you might not be able to answer but I thought I would try!

    I got a packet of kefir grains from our local farmer that we get everything from. But my husband picked it up and I have no idea if it is dairy or water kefir… Do they look different or would I not be able to tell which it is?

    I also have no idea if it is the dehydrated variety and I am really hoping it is because it has been sitting out on the counter…. How would I be able to tell about that?

    I can’t see what it looks like as it came in a sealed silver packet. I hope I can figure out what it is and use it because I haven’t been able to get anything else yet… If not i will just have to wait till we see our farmer next time.

    Thanks!

    • says

      Sally –

      Water kefir grains are like little somewhat translucent pointy pebbles. When dehydrated they’re dry, when activated, they’re wet. They’ll be brownish when dehydrated and when activated they’ll either be clear (from using refined sugar) or brownish/reddish from using unrefined sugar.

      Dairy kefir grains are clumps of spongy, somewhat clear, cauliflower like balls. When dehydrated they’re usually yellow (here’s a picture). When activated and wet, they’re whitish (here’s a picture).

      Have fun! The other thing your packet might be is a powdered dairy kefir starter. Which will look like a powder. :)

  11. Jean says

    My sister eats quinoa for breakfast with blueberries, kefir and apple juice. She says it tastes like cream of wheat.

  12. Salina says

    I have a few questions about kefir. I was sent live grains (that had been frozen) through the mail. It arrived being about 2 tablespoons of flattened, grainy white liquid. I put it it raw cows milk as her instructions suggested to “wake it up” for 24 hours on the counter, strained, then another 24 hours. Each time I’ve strained it, it is more like cottage cheese in liquid (or curds) with no big pieces of grain. It tastes good in smoothies with fruit and greens and smells fresh, but I have yet to get the cauliflower look. I’m not sure if I am doing something wrong or maybe it just takes a while to get the grains to look like cauliflower. A few more questions:
    1- Do you wash your jar out each time you start a new batch or just add back the grains with new milk?
    2- What do you do with the excess curds? The last 2 weeks I’ve been doing this, the curds seem to be growing and growing. Should I seperate them or allow the growth to continue?

    • says

      Salina –

      1. My milk is always in a fresh, clean jar, and I add the grain to that.

      2. When they get to be too much for the jar (about 1 T per quart), I split off and share or start new jars.

      What you described as your kefir doesn’t sound like grains to me. Or at least, they’re very young. If you think they are growing and growing into bigger grains, then keep on. Otherwise, you may just be adding curdled milk to fresh milk each time. If your grains are like cottage cheese and mush up like cottage cheese, instead of sort of rubbery and springy, then I doubt whether they’re grains at all.

      However, I would have to see to be sure. So take this with a “grain” of salt. :)

      • Alix says

        Selina, I had the same experience with my grains from posted to Canada from Cultured health. They were like squashy grainy whiteish blobs. Some of them turned into what looked like semi translucent sacks of squish. I originally got them to just try them out, I already had kefir grains growing and after regnerating them as per the instructions I added them to my healthy cauliflower like grains and used them as normal. After almost 2 months I could still see the squishy sacks in amongst the healthy grains. It seems like they never regenerated properly or something. It was weird. I picked them out and threw them away as they didn’t compare at all to my healthy ones. This probably isn’t very helpful but thought I’d share anyway :)

    • Michelle says

      This sounds just like what I just described in my previous post.
      I used 2% Kosher certified milk from King Soopers. I used Yo’gourmet freeze dried Kefir starter from Whole Foods. My starter packet was white powder looking, you use 1 5g packet per quart of milk, bring to 180 degrees and cool til 73-77F, sit for 24 hours and refrigerate for 8. I strained mine after 24 hours and I had no grains with substance, it all strained through as watered down yogurt. Should I use a different milk?Any guidance appreciated.

      • says

        Hi Michelle,

        If you are using the freeze dried (powdered) kefir it is going to be quite different from using kefir grains. The powdered kefir doesn’t produce grains. It does make kefir and I understand that you can save back some of the made kefir to reuse as a starter for a future batch (or maybe two) but it isn’t designed to for continual use and to multiply. To get that you need to have the actual grains. You can order those from Cultures for Health or possibly get grains from a friend. Hope that helps. :)

        Millie
        GNOWFGLINS Support Team

  13. Cynthia Ladnier says

    I came across your blog about kefir. Where I live, the only milk I can get is from the grocery store in the jugs. I just know that it has been processed to death :( I don’t live anywhere close to a whole foods market or anywhere I can get good milk. I want to order a milk kefir starter to make my own kefir milk. Will it work with store bought milk from a regular grocery store? Please help!

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