Supplies for Making Kefir:
1. Kefir Culture. Buy the grain, not the powdered starter. A kefir grain is alive and will multiply over time. The powdered versions are expensive and they have a limited number of times that they will reproduce.
Avoid contact with metal and chlorinated water. (Although I have to confess, I have used both and I have not killed the grains yet…shhh, don’t tell!)
To acquire your grain, check with the local health food store to see if they know of anyone in the area that makes kefir and would be willing to share. You may also check online for local groups, such as Yahoo, that share grains. Or, you can also buy them from individuals selling on eBay. Hopefully, you will not have to pay for one. But if you do, the price should be under $10 (including shipping). Then, once you have a grain that multiplies, be willing to share with other enthusiast.
2. 1 Gallon Glass Container
3. Milk. Do not use ultra-pasteurized. (Many of the organic brands of milk are ultra-pasteurized.)
4. Strainer. It should not be metal. Make sure that it can rest on the top of the glass container. If you do not have a stainer that will fit, you can also add the grains directly to the milk. After the milk is set, strain the grains out using a non-metal colander. Then you will proceed to add these grains, unwashed, to the next milk batch.
To Make Kefir:
1. Place the grains in the strainer and place the strainer over the glass container. Pour the milk over the grains till they are covered. Leave about an 1 inch space between the top of the jar and the milk for expansion.
2. Cover the top with a large tea towel, being careful not to get it wet in the milk.
3. Set aside undisturbed for about 24 hours or until set (Sometimes up to 48). For a mild taste, you will see very small bubbles adhere to the bottom of the glass jar. For a sour taste, you will see whey (clearish liquid) settle on the bottom and the top will begin to expand.
4. Remove the strainer, set aside. Pour 1/2 of it into the Vita-Mix and mix on a low setting (3 or4) to make it even more smooth. Then store in a glass container in the fridge to drink when desired. Continue with the second half in the same way.
5. Return the strainer to the jar and repeat the process. If you do not wash the jar for 1-2 times, it makes the kefir set faster. Use a damp cloth to wash any kefir that will not be covered by milk. Or, when you wash the jar, you can add a few tablespoons of kefir to the jar to assist inoculation. Also, be sure to use the smallest amount of non-antibacterial soap when washing, since kefir is a bacteria. Then, be sure not to leave any residual soap on the jar, as it will affect the taste of the finished product.
6. Drink plain, or as we prefer, with a sweetener such as stevia, agave nectar, pure maple syrup (our favorite), or fruit. You can use raw honey, too, but I have found it very inconvenient to mix into the kefir smoothly. You may also wish to use extracts such as vanilla, strawberry, or raspberry. For kefir that looks “store bought” I add maple syrup, pure raspberry extract, and beet powder and blend it in the Vita-Mix. Most children (and adults) like the taste better if it is colored red : >) For smoothies, I use frozen strawberries, frozen bananas, orange juice, kefir, and spirulina powder. Of course any variety of fruit will work! Also, you can add some fruit juice, such as orange juice, to kefir. (Just be sure not to leave it mixed for longer than an hour or so, as the juice will begin to ferment too).
Kefir is a live culture, and as such, the results will vary depending on temperature, duration of fermentation, and strength of the live active cultures. Here are some common problems I have had:
Milk becomes very carbonated, but not firm.
This is usually because the culture has been in the fridge too long without fresh milk. Or, as in the case when we’re traveling, the culture has been out too long without fresh milk. If I know this ahead of time, rather than waiting a day of so to find out, I simply discard the liquid and gently rinse the grains in non-chlorinated water. Then, I add the grains to fresh milk.
If, when the kefir sets, it seems stringy or gel-like, your kitchen is probably too hot. I experienced this once in the summer time when my kitchen was about 85 degrees. It is not necessary to discard the grains, just try again.
Small white spores on the top of the fermented milk
This in not a problem, it just means that the kefir has been done. It may impart a slightly acidic taste to the milk, but it will not harm you.
Whey and milk curds has separated
This is a natural part of fermenting milk. Your kefir will be slightly more “effervescent” than if you strained it earlier, but it is still good.
Caring for the Grains:
Making kefir can become a rhythm. I always have a batch on my counter top. Then, by the time the next batch is set, we are ready to drink the new kefir. However, there are times when I cannot make it. In that case, all you need to do is put the rinsed grains in a small glass container with some milk (about 1 or 2 cups), seal, and leave it in the fridge. When you see that the milk is getting thick, strain the grains, discard the liquid, and repeat with fresh milk. There are also ways to freeze and dry the grains, but I have not tried it.
If you want to bring them with you when you travel, you may rinse a few (I suggest that you leave some at home in case you forget them somewhere) and put them in a plastic bag. They will be fine for about 24 hours or more depending on the temperature. Or, if you are going to be in a car for a few days, put them in a sealed mason jar with milk and refresh with new milk as necessary. Kefir, by nature, doesn’t ever need to be refrigerated if it is drunk just after it is fermented. Since about 80% of illnesses begin in the G.I. track, it makes good sense to drink a probiotic beverage, such as kefir, when you are traveling and are more susceptible to illness.
Easy Summary: Put grains in milk. Wait. Strain grains. Drink milk. Repeat. Got it?
Great! Here’s to your health!!!