The Weston A. Price Way

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Culturing Your Own Milk Kefir

Ready-made milk kefir is found in many grocers somewhere between the milk and the yogurt. It is fairly expensive and more of a treat than a daily affair, especially for growing families. With it being exponentially greater in probiotic strength than yogurt, it would certainly be a good investment.

But I never, ever buy it because in moments, I can make my own.

In less than 10 minutes, you can start the process of culturing your own, too. If you have the grains now, you can be sitting right where you are tomorrow, sipping a delightful 'probi-smoothie'.. with another batch for the following day culturing on a shelf. Once the grains are purchased or received from a friend, they can live indefinitely, provided they are given proper, and quite simple, care.

The grains will cost under twenty dollars and the honest truth is, you could still be using them...or their offspring, twenty years from now. Cultures for Health is a great resource for the grains, but there are other easily 'Googled' sources as well. So far, I have been blessed not to have to buy any of my culturing products because like-minded friends have always come through with what I've needed.

In THIS post, I provided a 'how-to' dairy kefir video from Cultures for Health, but today, I will share some pictures I took the last time I cultured kefir along with explanations:
These are kefir grains. This is a well-rounded 2 Tbs. It is best not to rinse them between uses.The white you are seeing on them is actually kefir. Without this thin coating, they are a very light beige color. The texture is that of a thick, bumpy, (like cauliflower), gelatin. The grains are kept in a jelly jar, just covered with raw milk. I pour the grains out into a plastic (important) strainer. I throw away the milk in which they were stored.

  Below are the basic supplies needed. I forgot to include the coffee filter, which is not a necessity. However, you will need a cloth or paper product to place over the opening of the jar during the culturing time. This is a precaution to keep out ants or bugs that may be attracted to the kefir. While my favorite covering has come to be upside-down coffee filters adhered with a rubber band, you may choose to use a cloth table napkin, paper towel, hankie, scrap fabric or clean kitchen towel...totally your call.
 I use the plastic fork for gently stirring the grains upon the strainer, getting the majority of the milk to strain off into the cup on the bottom. To the right of the fork is the container where I keep the grains in between culturing. The measuring spoon is a 2 Tbs. measure...I use one of these for every quart of kefir. And of course, sitting behind the straining kefir grains is a quart of (raw) milk.

I am keeping this photo larger because I want you to be able to get a better look a the grains. These are now put directly into the quart of milk. Remember, it's a 2 Tbs. measure.

The grains will eventually float toward the top. When the culturing time is over, you can fish them out with a plastic or wooden spoon, or I have found it easier to just strain the quart over a plastic colander or strainer. My grains have become huge, but they weren't in the beginning.At that time, my colander's holes would have allowed some of the grains to pass through. If this happens, don't despair...It can be re-strained, or if it's swallowed, it is harmless. I happen to have both the lid strainer and the colander, but if I had to go out to buy new, I would opt for the plastic strainer as seen in the Cultures for Health video.

Once the grains are added, gently stir. Remember the gentle part. These are living organisms and you are disrupting their peace, so do it nicely. Secure the covering of your choice over the jar with a rubber band. A convenience of using the coffee filters, (I found an entire sleeve that we won't use because we no longer have that type of coffee pot), or other paper product, is the ability to label the date. But if you are conserving paper, a marker does just as well directly on the jar...or use a calendar. Some of you won't need anything at all, but I have found that the more cultures I have going at once, the easier it is to get confused. So I label.

Now, set it in a warm spot...between 70 and 80 degrees. If the room is a cooler 68 degrees or so, try placing the culture on the top of your refrigerator or a high shelf. The lower the temperature, the longer it takes to culture, but at the same time, we want to culture slowly, so don't try to 'help' your culture by putting it in a warm oven...That's too warm!
Consider this: What results do you want? Normally, the thickness is like a runny yogurt. I like mine a little thicker, so let it go a little over 24 hours. But I have also mistakenly allowed my kefir to over-culture. When this happens, you get Little Miss Muffet's meal of curds and whey. But it's still good, even if it doesn't look so good in the jar.

There are two ways to remedy curds and whey that I have used. (Yes, I've over-cultured more than once.) One way is to use my immersion blender to quickly blend it all back together before I use it. If you're using it for a smoothie, it doesn't really matter because it will all be blended back together anyway. Know that if you use this method, it will separate again when left alone for a period of time. The second way, with more satisfactory results, (to me), is a slower method. With this, strain the kefir as if it's yogurt being made into cheese as I instructed in "Easy Cheesy, Weezy!". It takes longer, (certainly not as long as if making cheese), but it nets a thicker kefir that you may find you like even better.

Assuming there has been no over-culturing, the kefir will thicken to the point of a runny yogurt. The texture will be a little more coarse than yogurt, with small 'bumps' barely seen within it's thickness.

It's ready.

Fish out or strain the grains. Use them immediately to start a fresh quart of kefir or put them back into the (cleaned) jar from which you took them. Cover again with milk and place back into the refrigerator, (greatly slows growth), until the next time. If not using, change out the milk at least once a week. (Some say every day, but I feel this is a waste and  my grains have shown no signs of suffering from a weekly change of milk.)

Also, I just want to share that once I thought the milk kefir was 'too old'. I planned to throw it out and make a new batch, but when I opened it, there was a slight, "pffft" sound and absolutely no sour smell. I took a sip. The kefir had developed a tangier taste with better effervescence and was absolutely marvelous! So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, I'd like to encourage you to smell, and if okay there, taste, before you throw it out!

Just one example of how kefir can be used.
I have used the kefir just like yogurt, with nuts, fruit and muesli in a bowl. More often, I have used it to make banana smoothies. Kefir, kefir and milk or kefir and coconut milk all make wonderful smoothies. Try adding carob powder, maple syrup, coconut sugar, honey, a variety of fruits or juices...even a little homemade fruit jam. The possibilities are as endless as your creativity.

Non-homogenized milk:
Remember that raw whole cow's milk and whole coconut milk, are not homogenized, so the gorgeous cream floats to the top. This works the same with kefir when it's made with these milks. To keep the texture more consistent throughout the finished product, gently stir with a wood spoon every 4-6 hours during the culturing time...If 'stirring time' falls while you're in bed, don't set an alarm, just stir it as soon as you can the next morning. And please do remember, easy-does-it on the wrist motion. If your kefir separates once stored in the fridge, just shake it up before use.

Milk Types:

I do realize that I covered types of milk in yesterday's post, but maybe you weren't here then. If you have some time, I recommend that you read that post, but just in case you don't:

Use any animal milk or coconut milk...and no, it doesn't have to be raw. They are best, however, if whole because the fat creates a creamier texture. The fat and enzymes inherent in each milk type are especially designed to help the body assimilate the nutrients within that milk, a fact that will forever amaze me! Therefore, milk is best consumed along with it's fat and enzymes. However, even though I strongly discourage it, low-fat may be used. Nonfat would not be a good option for either nutrient density or final texture.

Pasteurization kills enzymes. Ultra-pasteurization kills all enzymes. While you can ignore my nudging and make your kefir from lowfat milks, and even pasteurized milks, you will not get satisfactory results using ultra-pasteurized, non-fat milk. The results from whole, raw milk will be the best because none of its fat or enzymes have been destroyed, the natural product has not become denatured, and now you're adding even more great 'gut creatures' via the multiplication power of kefir grains. (Dairy kefir has about nine times the probiotic power of yogurt!) Although I must admit that those miraculous little grains can transform even nearly dead pasteurized milk into something with life, everything I've studied indicates there isn't much hope for resurrecting ultra-pasteurized milk...and I really wouldn't want you to waste your time, health or precious, life-filled kefir grains with trying.

Now as promised, here is the link to the video from Cultures for Health:

~Happy 'Kefir-ing!'

Next Post: Links to Milk Kefir recipes

Make Your Own! Monday Link-Up

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