I’ve become completely entranced by- and infatuated with kefir.
Having been raised on hippy vegetarian food, I was familiar with kefir from early on. Always Alta-Dena brand, preferably strawberry, although my Dad favored the boysenberry. It’s basically like yogurt with a consistency like a thin milkshake. Tasty. Apparently it’s an acquired taste though. My wife Vikki can’t stand the stuff. She says if it tastes like yogurt is shouldn’t be drinkable. Just wrong.
Anyway, I’ve always been a fan. And lately I’ve been reading the odd article on the wonders of “probiotic” foods, a.k.a. those foods that contain live bacteria that are supposed to be living in our guts. “Intestinal flora” as they say. These can be wiped out by antibiotics and all the preservative-heavy food in the modern American diet, which leads to all kinds of problems. So now you can buy “probiotic” yogurt and kefir, presumably with extra bacteria. Or you can take “probiotic” bills that contain dried bacteria. It’s all good.
So back to kefir. I’d always assumed that kefir was just yogurt that had been mixed up with stuff until it was runny. And for many commercial brands that may in fact be the case. But “traditional” kefir is made quite differently from yogurt. It comes from the Northern Caucasus originally, and has been known historically around that region. The word “kefir” itself comes from Turkish apparently. The secret is what are called “kefir grains”. These are actually little colonies of a bunch of lacto-bacteria with some yeasts that form little balls (the “grains”). These balls grow and divide naturally until they look kind of like a cauliflower. The kefir making process is quite simple. You acquire a set of grains from somewhere, and stick them in a jar of milk at room temperature for around 24 hours. They you pour your newly cultured kefir through a strainer to recover the grains for the next batch. Very cool.
I had to try it, so I got some starter grains on eBay and started production. It looks like there are several suppliers who sell on eBay, or you can try G.E.M. Cultures (www.gemcultures.com). There are also kefir-grain-sharing networks that you can find on the internet. The grains grow quite quickly, so pretty soon you have more than you can handle, which is a good time to give some to a friend (or apparently to sell them on eBay). I’ve only had my grains for a week, and with one batch a day, the grains have more than doubled in size.
The taste is not nearly as sour as I would have guessed. Fresh from the 24 hour culturing cycle the flavor is very mildly yogurt-ish, with a very slight taste of yeast. It makes great smoothies, and is good on cereal. If you like that kind of thing. You can “cure” it further if you want it more sour, but I haven’t tried that yet. You can also get it to carbonate, which sounds pretty fun. I’ll have to try that soon. Also, supposedly the little critters are just as happy in soy or even coconut milk, which could be interesting.
For more information on kefir than most people could possibly absorb, check out Dom’s Kefir in-site. Highly informative, with lots of tips and tricks, and recipes.