Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Celebrating Sour Milk: About Kefir

I've read that our modern, pasteurized, homogenized milk does not sour; it spoils.  Spoiled milk is of no value and is not good to consume.

Soured milk, on the other hand, is good for us.  Also called "cultured" or "clabbered," it introduces beneficial yeasts and bacteria into our digestive systems. You sour milk by introducing the right kinds of bacteria to it. This is how we get buttermilk, yogurt, cheeses, and kefir.

I have tried the make-your-own yogurt thing.  Like all soured milk products, you need a starter culture.  But with yogurt, you need to renew your starter fairly frequently by buying  more. New starter can be high quality store-bought yogurt.  But if I have to buy store-bought yogurt to make homemade yogurt, I don't really see the point.

Kefir is different.  Kefir starter continues to grow as you make more kefir.  It is like the mythical wine cup that refills itself.  It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Kefir is made from "grains," which you can buy online or get from someone else who makes kefir.  I got mine from a friend who got hers from a friend who got hers from a friend.  She gave me a tablespoon about two weeks ago.  Now I have about two tablespoons.

my kefir starter
My kefir grains look like cottage cheese. Some say theirs look like cauliflower.  They are not really grains; they are clusters of yeasts and bacteria that culture (lactoferment) milk or other liquids.

William Lee, author of The Friendly Bacteriasays that kefir grains are called "'grains of the Prophet Mohammed,' the Prophet having been credited with their introduction."  Other sources say that kefir originates from Russia.

To make kefir, you put the grains into a clean glass jar.  You pour milk over the grains and cap the jar. Then you let it sit, shaking occasionally, unrefrigerated, for about a day.  If you refrigerate, it takes a lot longer to produce kefir, so if you want a slower process, pop it in the cold storage.

When you want to use the kefir, strain it through a sieve. The tart, slightly thick liquid that comes out is your usable kefir.  The solids in the sieve are your starter.  Yo can refrigerate your strained kefir until you are ready to use it.

You need to feed your starter (by pouring fresh milk on it) once you have strained the kefir off it.  This keeps it alive.  If you aren't going to use your kefir, you still need to strain it and give it new milk.

The Internet is full of mixed advice about whether or not to rinse your grains and your glass jar.  Rinsing slows the growth of the starter and produces a more mild kefir.  Unrinsed grains produce a more robust starter and a stronger tasting product.  I do not rinse my grains.  (I want ALL that beneficial bacteria!).

Sally Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, says that you can freeze the starter grains for several months if you are not using them, but if you freeze too long, they will lose their ability to culture.

Since the starter grows, you will be able to share your starter with others fairly quickly.  You can also use grains to make other fermented things.  Full Moon Feast, by Jessica Prentice, has recipes for low-alcohol herbal ales made with kefir grains.  I haven't tried those yet, but they are on my list!

kefir shake, coming up!
What do I do with my kefir?  I make a breakfast shake, using

a small handful of almonds
1/4 cup hemp protein powder
a piece of fruit (I especially like fresh mango)
a cap-full of flax seed oil

It is tart and satisfying, and I know I am getting a pretty good dose of probiotics!

Update: just found some very delicious-sounding recipes for more smoothies.  Must try!

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