When my dad’s girlfriend, Kathy, started talking to me very excitedly about the magical properties of homemade kefir last year, I have to admit — I was skeptical.
Sure, I’d heard about kefir before, and had bought some flavored varieties a few times from Whole Foods. It was kind of pricey, but pretty tasty. It was supposed to be better for you than yogurt. Lots of good bacteria and all of that stuff. Blah, blah, blah. I totally get it.
But who has time to make their own kefir at home??
Doesn’t she know that I have two very tiny
tyrants kids at home? I mean, what’s next? Churn my own butter?
I listened very patiently, and about an hour later (I’m not exaggerating, she talked about kefir and its many benefits for an HOUR) we got off the phone and I proceeded to (tried to) forget all about it.
Several weeks later they flew in from Seattle for their semi-annual 2-week visit, and she brought a dedicated carry-on full of kefir making equipment and a jar of precious, live kefir grains for my sisters, Kate and Mia, and me.
So…. I guessed I was going to learn how to make kefir. Whether I wanted to or not. Sigh.
Fast forward a year later, and you know what? I’ve been making it almost weekly since that day that Kathy forced me into home kefir production, and it turns out that it’s not that hard. And not all that time consuming. It’s actually surprisingly easy and quick.
And our tummies are pretty happy. Because, you know, ALL the probiotics.
There are over 40 beneficial strains of probiotic bacteria in homemade kefir versus the 4-5 found in yogurt, and you can have 40 billion or more per 1/2 cup serving of these amazing little critters . And since kefir can actually colonize in your digestive tract instead of just passing through it (as yogurt does), they make themselves at home and do a lot of good. Like help with glamorous things like flatulence, IBS or other fun gastro issues.
And because most of the lactose is broken down in the fermentation process, lactose intolerant folks can generally tolerate kefir. WHUT?
Additional benefits include immunity support, AHAs for glowy skin, and tryptophan (I know, this was surprising for me, too). All of which makes you feel pretty darn good. So this is why it’s called the feel-good probiotic drink.
For those of us counting calories and other nutritional info, according to WebMD, “a cup of low-fat plain kefir has 110 calories, a whopping 11 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates and just two grams of fat.”
I make my kefir with whole milk, but if you’re counting calories and fat in your diet, you can make yours with low fat milk.
AND, if you’re still not convinced and want a pretty long list of additional stats and vitamins that kefir touts including b12, k2, phosphorus, and folate — you can find an exhaustive and impressive list in this wikipedia post.
I hate it when Kathy’s right. But not really. Because she’s an amazing partner to my dad, a loving grandmother to my kids, and has basically become my mother. And because she smuggled live kefir grains 3,000 miles for me.
Ok, but what does it taste like, you ask? The best way to describe it, in my humble opinion: a tangier, watery version of yogurt, that is slightly effervescent. Not like champagne or anything, but it just has the slightest hint of fizz.
Did I just say ‘champagne’ in a kefir post?? (it is my all-time favorite alcoholic drink, so I’m not surprised. I’m actually surprised champagne doesn’t come up more in all of my posts). Flutes of kefir, anyone? A kefir mimosa, perhaps?? Barf.
In our house, we mainly drink kefir in smoothies, though my kids have been known to enjoy it straight up. They’ve also developed an odd liking to the kefir grains, which resemble cottage cheese or riced cauliflower, and have a slight rubbery texture that isn’t unpleasant. When they’re around while I’m making kefir, they beg me for some of the grains as a treat. Weirdos.
Side note: dogs also go absolutely crazy for kefir grains and it’s good for them, too (in moderation). Kathy’s and Kate’s dogs both basically do somersaults for them.
Other uses include: substitute for buttermilk in pancake recipes, sub for milk in baking, sub for yogurt in kids’ popsicle recipes — you get the picture.
Ok, now that I’ve completely sold you, on to the instructional part! FINALLY!
- 1-2 teaspoons active, live milk kefir grains (you can find them online here, in a health food store, or, if you’re in Atlanta, I will give you some for free! Seriously!)
- Organic, pasteurized, whole milk (do NOT use ultra-pasteurized milk, or you will not get the desired results). You could also use raw milk, and sub 2% milk for whole.
- Glass jar(s) – I use quart sized Weck jars
- Non-metal stirring utensil (I prefer silicone)
- Plastic strainer (no metal, please)
- Coffee filters (or you can use cheesecloth or paper towels)
- Rubber bands
- Glass storage container (I use a tall glass pitcher with a lid – see last pic in this post)
Method: (don’t be intimidated. All of this takes a handful of minutes, tops!)
- Place a couple of teaspoons of kefir grains in a quart sized glass jar
- For me, since I had kefir grains “parked” in the refrigerator while we drank the rest of our prior batch of kefir, I had to drain the milk first to get the grains clean and ready (do NOT rinse, just remove the milk from the grains by stirring the grains around in the strainer). You can store drained kefir grains in a small amount of milk in the fridge and let the grains “sleep” for weeks. This is called parking.
- Pour milk into the jar, leaving a couple of inches at the top for any fermentation related bubbling (ew), and stir
- Cover with coffee filter & secure with a rubber band
- Place jars in room temperature (my house is 72 degrees year round) for about 24 hours. I also cover them with a tea towel so they’re extra cozy.
- After 24 hours, you’ll see that the milk has separated and is curdled looking. Success! Now, you can stir it, drain the grains out of it (and either store the grains in a small amount of milk in the fridge or start another batch), and enjoy the kefir after this first fermentation.
- BUT WAIT. A second fermentation after the grains are removed increases the probiotic potency and vitamin content of the kefir, and reduces the lactose even further. (If you want to add any fruit to the second fermentation phase, you can do it now, but I haven’t tried this yet). I always ferment a second time.
- For the second fermentation: simply cover the jars with a lid (I use the glass tops that came with the Weck jars) and put the jar(s) of kefir back in the spot they were before for 6-24 hours (the timing is totally up to you). The longer they hang out all warm and cozy in room temperature, the more fermentation/separation you’ll get.
- I like my kefir to be less separated and smooth, so I use a handheld blender to blend it into a nice smooth consistency.
- Now you’re really done! Enjoy it straight up (it definitely tastes better chilled), or make a yummy smoothie. You can also just add a couple of frozen fruit chunks (pineapple is particularly good) directly to the jar/glass, whiz it with the handheld blender and have yourself a fruity kefir drink. Your tummy will thank you!
This seems like a lot of steps because I’ve tried to make the steps as clear as possible, but it’s not! Once you make it a couple of times, the active part of making kefir is literally a handful of minutes. I can make a fresh batch of kefir (including draining the grains from their parked state), in about 7 minutes. Put grains in jar, pour in milk, stir, cover, and wait!
TIP: if this is your first time drinking kefir, start with a small amount, like maybe a 1/4 cup and increase your intake slowly. The first time I drank kefir I was overzealous and drank an entire cup. Let’s just say my tummy was a little too happy 😉
What other fun ways have you used kefir? Do you make your own or buy it? Please leave a comment below!
– Julie xo