Disclaimer: Take everything in this mini-guide with a grain of salt. This collection of information is gathered through my personal experiences with food fermentation and may not reflect everyone's experience and results.
What is Kefir?
Simply put, kefir is a liquid that has undergone anaerobic (without oxygen) bacterial fermentation. Kefir is often times synonymous with "milk kefir," although kefir also refers to the kefir grains themselves which can be used to make a variety of "kefir" drinks. These "kefirs" include liquids such as milk kefir, goat milk kefir, coconut milk kefir, coconut water kefir, fruit juice kefir and kombucha (fermented tea.)
Kefir is a fermented food, but not all fermented food is called kefir. There are two primary types of kefir grains - dairy kefir grains and water kefir grains. The primary difference between these two is that dairy kefir grains are made up of a different matrix (colony) of bacteria than water kefir grains. Read on to get a bit more info as to the benefits of using either strain of grain.
You can probably purchase kefir grains from local dairy farmers in your area, but otherwise you can purchase them online. You can even use some probiotic supplements but these are less effective than getting high-quality kefir grains.
Fermenting foods is useful for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it has the ability to increase the bioavailability of nutrients (the amount of nutrients that you're able to actually absorb and utilize.)
This can turn an already healthy food into something with an added kick of nutritional value. Foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut are relatively healthy in their non-fermented forms, but fermenting makes it even better!
When you ferment a food, whether it's kefir or anything else, you are also lower the pH of a food by producing lactic acid (and sometimes acetic acid) thus making the drink more acidic and forming carbon dioxide. You will find that with kefir in particular, the drink will be slightly fizzy (like a soda) after it is fermented. This is not something to worry about - it means that the fermentation process is working properly. When the acidity of a food is lowered, the proteins contained within that food become easier to digest (the same process occurs when you marinate meat in vinegar, wine, lemon or lime.) In addition, alcohol (ethanol) is also created but the amount is extremely small and you don't have to worry about getting drunk off it (unless you want to in which case ferment it for a week and you'll get really cheap mock wine. )
Fermentation reduces several less-than-redeeming traits of an otherwise healthy food. Primarily, fermenting food greatly decreases the amount of sugar in a food (natural or otherwise.) This is a benefit for obvious reasons, but a benefit that acne sufferers should pay particular attention to.
There is also some body of evidence that fermentation is capable of reducing phytates/phytic acid content in food. These nasty little things are found in bind to minerals in our food and bodies and make them unavailable for absorption. This is one of the reasons why whole grain bread is nutritionally useless - it has a high phytic acid which makes the vitamins and minerals contained within pass right through us during digestion. Fermentation can reduce phytates in food and thus lets us absorb more of the minerals within said food. This doesn't just include dairy products, but grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables as well.
Finally, fermented food of any kind is a potent source of probiotics - however, your probiotic boost will only be as good as your kefir grains. Ideally, you want grains that contain MULTIPLE strains of bacteria, because there are many sellers out there that sell grains with only one or two species of bacteria. Less is not more in this case, you want variety. Different strains of bacteria occupy different areas of your intestinal tract and these beneficial bacteria are responsible for nutrition absorption, assimilation and producing many anti-inflammatory compounds.
Dairy Grains vs. Water Grains
-Thrive on lactose (sugar found in dairy.)
-Are also able to utilize sucrose, glucose and fructose as food.
-Different bacterial species than water kefir grains (although some strains overlap)
-Ferments best at room temperature.
-Sometimes called tibi or tibiscos, or simply water kefir grains.
-Thrive on sucrose and fructose.
-Ferments best at slightly above room temperature.
-Are also able to utilize glucose and lactose as food.
-Different bacterial species than dairy grains (although some strains overlap)
As you can see, it doesn't particularly matter which type of kefir grain you use because I guarantee you it will work either way but if you're looking to get the most bang for your buck, it may be better to get a specific strain.
You can use fruit juice or coconut water with dairy kefir grains or milk with water kefir grains and it will work, albeit not as effectively.
You want to avoid using pasteurized milk if you're going to use that as your liquid medium to make kefir. In addition, it's better to use raw goat's milk rather than cow's milk. If you can't find unpasteurized raw milk where you are, you're probably better off just making coconut water or coconut milk kefir.
Kefir Fermenting Methods:
Materials you will need:
-Large jar with a lid, ideally you want it to be glass and not plastic and you want the lid to be glass as well. As long as it's not metal, you can use it but glass is ideal.
-Non-metal strainer (many people find that metal from spoons or strainers can negatively affect the kefir grains. I use a plastic strainer) or cheesecloth. [Optional but makes life much easier] If you don't have a cheesecloth or strainer, cut up an old t-shirt into 12 inch by 12 inch pieces.
-STERILIZE ALL EQUIPMENT. Rinse the jar and then place it in boiling water for a minute or so.
-Wooden spoon to stir.
Now, onto the actual kefir making process.
1.) Take your liquid medium and place it in the jar.
2.) Add your kefir grains/probiotic. I like to use about 5 half-inch size grains per 1 cup of liquid. You can add more or less to alter the taste and rate of fermentation. The more you add, the quicker fermentation will occur and the more tangy and sour the final product will be.
3.) Stir in the grains well. Make sure they're spread out within the liquid rather than just sitting on the top or sinking to the bottom.
4.) This is optional, but you may add in a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar. This creates a better "atmosphere" for the bacteria in which to live and prosper. I take this extra step with my grains and they seem to do quite well.
5.) Cover the jar with the lid tightly. Some people leave their kefir lightly covered or not covered at all, which I would not recommend because it's been my experience that kefir grains prefer anaerobic fermentation in an oxygen-lacking environment rather than an open system. It should work either way but it will be faster if you close the jar.
6.) Place it in a dark, but slightly warm area. You can even place it outside under a box or something. Cupboards/pantries which are being hit by sunlight are good spots as well.
7.) Allow 24-48 hours for fermentation to occur. You may leave it in even longer if you wish but by this time most of the sugar will have been digested and fermented by the bacteria.
8.) Strain the kefir grains through the plastic strainer. The slightly syrupy liquid that runs through is the kefir and will contain some of the kefir bacteria as well.
9.) Store the remaining kefir grains and allow them to multiply so you can reuse them.
10.) Drink up!
Another method is the "Drip Method." It's also called the Straw Method sometimes. This method is slightly more complicated but can sometimes ensure a higher quality product if you do it right. The benefit of this method is that you can be sure the product is about as completely fermented as it's going to get.
The only difference with the drip method is that you need a straw or tube of some sort and that this method will only work with a plastic jar.
Instead of adding in the probiotics/grains before you close the jar, in the drip method what you do is:
1.) Fill the plastic jar with the liquid which you will make into kefir.
2.) Close the jar.
3.) Cut a small hole in the top of the plastic jar and stick a straw through to form an airtight seal around the hole. Make sure the straw not touching the very bottom of the jar but is hovering about 2cm from the bottom. Angle the straw on a slight diagonal.
4.) Squeeze your kefir grains into the straw. As many as will fit.
5.) Plug the top of the straw with a piece of paper towel or tissue and go about your business. Make sure the straw is resting diagonally.
6.) Every 6 or so hours, wiggle the straw around a bit. Keep the straw diagonal.
7.) After 24-48 hours, all of the kefir grains should have traveled INTO the liquid and there should not be any remaining in the straw. If there are still any remaining, you should leave it for another couple of hours until it's gone.
8.) Once all the kefir grains are inside the liquid, stir the kefir with the straw still inside and plug it back up once again. Wait another hour or so before removing the lid and straining the kefir grains out.
Is Fermenting Dangerous?
Not unless you introduce some sort of external pathogen into the mix (which is another benefit of keeping your kefir in a closed system such as a sterilized jar, which reduces the risk of contamination with anything unwanted.) You'll know your kefir is done fermenting when it tastes right. It should taste slightly tangy, slightly sour and a bit bubbly. Almost like really weak champagne, although if you start to get an alcohol buzz from it, you probably let it ferment too long.
In addition, if you don't want to save your kefir grains and let them multiply for whatever reason (waste of money in my opinion, but they're your grains) yes, you can eat the grains themselves as well. They taste sort of like very soft, soggy and sour spaghetti.
Storing the Grains
When you're done fermenting, store the grains in the refrigerator if you're not going to be fermenting for extended periods of time (more than 1 week.) Otherwise, leaving them in a dark cupboard or pantry in a jar will suffice. The cold will usually deactivate the bacteria and they will go into a hibernation of sorts, but when you use them again, they wake right up and work the same with no visible damage to their effectiveness.
I would also recommend that if you're planning to leave them alone, you add some fruit juice or any other sugar-containing solution just so they have something to feed off of in the meanwhile. (If you're not using dairy kefir grains, I would recommend just using sugar+water.) It's better to keep them slightly damp, even if that means just adding a small amount of water to them. Bacteria in general tend to thrive in moist environments rather than dry environments.
If you follow these steps, you will be able to use you kefir grains until the day you die.
Hopefully this helps some of you who have been asking questions or wondering how to make kefir and encourages those of you who have been playing around with the idea.
Easy Recipes and Things to Ferment
Ferment everything. When I first received my grains, I thought I'd spend all day cleaning countless jars of kefir but in reality I was having trouble finding interesting things to ferment that provided variety.
-1 medium size apple.
-1 tablespoon of cinnamon.
-1 12-16 oz glass jar. (I'd recommend a tall thin glass jar rather than a mason jar. You can even use a tall glass.)
1. Remove the apple core and dice the apple into small chunks or put it in a food processor/blender.
2. Once you have your apples sauced, stir in the cinnamon.
3. Add a few kefir grains into the bottom of the glass jar.
4. Add about 1/3 (~4 oz) of the applesauce.
5. Add more kefir grains in the "middle" of the jar at about the 1/3rd mark.
6. Add another 1/3 of applesauce.
7. A few kefir grains on top. Push them slightly into the applesauce.
8. Ferment for at least 72 hours.
-4 medium tomatoes.
-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper/paprika
-1 teaspoon ginger
-1 teaspoon sea salt.
-12oz glass jar.
1. Cut open your tomatoes and remove the seeds. Blend the tomatoes along with the spices and salt or use a food processor to puree it.
2. Strain the gooey tomato liquid and toss it out or use it to cook something else.
3. Using the same 1/3rd method as in the applesauce, mix your kefir grains and tomatoes in the jar.
4. Ferment for at least 48 hours.
Supposedly this makes digesting nightshades easier but I think it also tastes better than regular ketchup.
Green Tea Kombucha
-2 green tea teabags.
-16 oz. glass jar.
-2 Tablespoon honey or
-1 cup of fresh fruit juice. Strain the pulp out or use a juicer or
- 1 cup of coconut water.
-1 teaspoon rosemary
-Kombucha-specific grains are best, but you can use dairy or water kefir grains as well.
1. Heat 3/4 cups of water in your glass jar and seep the tea bags in it. Leave the tea in there.
2. Add sugar and kefir grains.
3. Ferment for 48 hours.
-Whole pineapple slices in water/pineapple juice.
-1 teaspoon Oregano
-Any size glass jar.
Ferment for 48 hours.
Yes, you can use canned pineapples. Just try to find one without any unnecessary stuff added to it.
Coconut Milkshake Kefir
-Coconut milk, although you could use coconut water too.
-Tablespoon of whey.
-Glass jar with a lid
-Optional: Tablespoon of raw chocolate cacao powder.
Stir well and ferment for 24 hours.
After a few hours, be sure to stir or shake the kefir as you will find that the fat in the coconut milk fat and water will separate. The fat will float to the top and the kefir grains will be left at the bottom. You want to ensure even fermentation so stir it if it settles.
Add 2 drops liquid stevia or half a teaspoon of stevia powder. You can even put this in the fridge until it becomes slightly solid and have an ice-cream like treat.
You can make your own whey at home or purchase lactose-free whey protein from grass-fed cows.
I wouldn't really recommend using whey protein powders for this but I've done it and it worked fine.
Whey concentrate > whey isolate > whey hydrolysate/hydrolyzed whey
"One-Step Kefir Drinks"
These require no particular special preparation apart from the kefir grains and a glass jar stored in an appropriate place. You leave it alone for 24 hours and you're pretty much done. As always, go by taste and not numbers. If you've fermented it for a day and it still tastes normal, ferment for another 12 hours.
-Sugar + water
-Coconut water kefir
Things I wouldn't recommend fermenting:
-Anything with high fructose corn syrup, fructose syrup, glucose syrup, agave nectar or xylitol as an added ingredient. I put a few kefir grains in agave just to see what would happen. They all died overnight. ,
-Anything that's already tangy, sour or astringent such as grape juice, blackcurrant juice, etc. It makes the kefir taste bad.
Edited by chunkylard, 28 March 2012 - 06:38 AM.