Kefir is a fermented milk drink.
It is made from kefir “grains”.
Kefir grains are “a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars” in a “symbiotic matrix” according to wikipedia.
This video above shows the process of making the fermented milk drink.
The first obstacle to making kefir the drink is where do you get it from? I didn’t know anyone who made kefir so I had to resort to the internet. I found a supplier on Amazon and duly ordered.
Ordering bacteria through the post! Hmmm, I was little nervous, and unsure of the health and safety aspects.
The grains arrived by post.
How fresh would they be? I ordered them in winter, which I was quite glad about as they felt cold when they arrived. I imagine the post office sorting centres are quite cold too, at least I was hoping so!
The grains were contained in a folded plastic bag with a handwritten use by date on them. I had four days to use them.
Also enclosed in the envelope was a sheet of instructions on what to do with them.
The first thing I did was to put the kefir grains into a plastic sieve and rinse them with some spring water.
The rinsed grains looked like little cauliflowers.
The next step was to put the grains into some milk.
I had a 250ml jar that I sterilized by putting into the oven at 200℃ for 10 minutes.
I used semi-skimmed organic milk. The instructions suggested that you use non-homogenized milk. Homogenized is something to do with a process that stops the milk separating, so I think that means stopping the cream rising to the top. As my milk was semi-skimmed I presumed there was no need to homogenize it. There wasn’t any mention of homogenization on the container.
The instructions also suggest that you don’t use metal implements when dealing with the grains, so I enticed my rinsed kefir grains into the jar using a wooden chopstick.
I put a lid with an air-lock on but I don’t think that that was entirely necessary as I don’t think the process gives off much gas as making sauerkraut for example.
I added the milk to the grains and then left the jar on a shelf at room temperature for just under two days. I left it that long as the room had been quite cold (it being winter) and nothing seemed to be happening at first.
On the second day I saw some changes with some of the grains floating to the top and seeming to have enlarged.
I was time to open up the jar!
The first thing to do was to give the kefir a sniff. It smelt OK! I had braced myself to expect the smell of off milk. But it didn’t smell unpleasant. I’m not sure how to describe the smell but it wasn’t one that put me off trying the kefir.
I sieved the contents, using my plastic sieve. The quantity of kefir grains had increased, which I was expecting. The various components feed off the milk and multiply.
The taste test
So what did it taste like? Like sour milk but not unpleasant, yoghurty but not yoghurty! I wasn’t put off but I didn’t think mmm that’s delicious. It was a new taste to me and a new drink so I wasn’t sure where to place it. I thought it may be an acquired taste but one that I could acquire.
What to do with kefir
So what did I do with it?
I tried it as a drink and in cooking.
As a drink I didn’t find it unpleasant but it wasn’t something that I wanted to drink. I would have been drinking it for the supposed health benefits rather than because I enjoyed it. I don’t want to do that, I want to eat food because I like the taste and it is healthy.
I tried it in cooking. I added it to mashed potatoes. It went sort of stringy and the next day I had a bit of an upset stomach, I don’t know if the two were linked. Does heating kefir spoil it in some way? I will need to try some more experiments.
The biggest success I had was just having it on muesli. I love muesli and I make my own, it is rally simple: porridge oats, sunflower seeds, raisins, currents and sultanas. Having it with kefir instead of milk worked really well, it was delicious. The sourness of the kefir contrasted really well with the sweetness of the muesli.
Looking after kefir grains
The biggest challenge for me was maintaining the grains. I think you need to get into some sort of routine feeding the grains. I didn’t quite manage this and unfortunately ended up leaving them a little too long and the milk going off. The kefir grains may have been OK themselves but I think I am a little risk averse and decided to throw them out.
I have ordered some more and this time I will endevour to keep them alive and keep them healthy. I think it might be possible to freeze them and revive them, we shall see when I get my next batch.
Anyway I’m looking forward to some more adventures with kefir.