Before we get into the ins and outs of it we need to deal with pronunciation. Originally I pronounced it “keffer”. This caused hubby all sorts of issues as we both know that is vulgar slang for a black South African and therefore not the sort of thing we want the kids to say in public. Research told him that it is actually pronounced “ke-fear”. So now there is no need to worry about offending anyone when you are talking about your funky brew.
For the uninitiated, kefir is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (a “scoby”), or probiotics. Yes! You can make these yourself. No! You don’t have to pay a fortune for them at the health food shop. They are easy and essentially last forever. Not only that, but they grow! Soon enough you’ll be giving away probiotic goodness to anyone who’ll take them.
- Brewing this gets you all sorts of beneficial bacteria (a plethora of lactic acid bacteria), yeasts and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, D, K2 and folic acid.
- It is cheap. The costs incurred after initial start up with jars are only things like the milk (milk kefir) and sugar and desired fruit (water kefir). It is very cost effective for a lifetime supply of probiotics.
- It’s easy. No really, it is. The grains are quite hardy and although you may panic at first it is unlikely that you will kill them.
Where to start?
First you need kefir grains. There are two types: water and milk. Both are different beasts and are suited to their title. There are loads of places to get them. You will find them online because anyone who uses them will often have an abundance. When they are happy, those babies multiply! A lot of people are willing to share them for the price of postage. Any food healing related group on facebook is likely to have someone wanting to get rid of their excess. I do it frequently. Just ask around. Really.
Next you need some good glass jars. A lot of people use Fido ones or that kind of style; the seal is good, so you get fizz for your water, but they let excess gases escape so your jars don’t explode.
For water kefir you want a 1.5L jar with about four tablespoons of water kefir grains to 1L of water (boiled and cooled tap water does the job, but in the long term they prefer filtered or bottle water). About 4Tbsp sugar (white, brown, raw, whatever – just not honey), a teaspoon of molasses, pinch of bicarb, slice of lemon and a piece of unsulphured dried fruit (optional, but the more food it has the more it grows). It doesn’t have to be exact. If you don’t have one of the things or even more it is fine, but the sugar is necessary. An occasional pinch of crushed sterilised egg shell is good too.
Leave at room temp for 48hrs (ish) in that. It can be sealed with the lid (or just covered with a clean tea towel and rubber band) and then strain and redo the grains in the same thing again. The strained liquid can go into another jar with fruit. The more fruit the more flavour (and expense) or you can just use it as is. Leave it for about 24hrs in this sealed jar and then strain and put it in a well sealed bottle (to maintain fizz) in the fridge. Ta-da! Kefir.
Milk kefir just needs to be covered with milk in a sealed jar at room temp for 12-24hrs. I always do 24 – it’s easier to remember. I’m not sure what ratio of milk to grains is best. We don’t consume much dairy, so I’m only using enough milk to cover them. Strain them and then store it in the fridge.
What if I have too much kefir?
If you are producing more kefir than you can possibly use, your grains will be happy to have time out in the fridge. I just make sure they are covered in their preferred liquid and put them in the fridge. I have only done this for a few weeks at a time. Once they are back out at room temp it often takes a few batches before your grains are fermenting the way they should. You can always taste test to see if they are ready.
Can I kill them?
They really are hardy little beasts and withstand quite a thumping. They last for days in the post without food. They can deal with being left longer than is ideal. They deal with extended time in the fridge – heck, you can even freeze the grains. One thing they dislike is high temps. If it gets over 40°C, it’s going to die. In summer try to keep it in a cool spot (maybe inside a cupboard). In low temps the fermentation slows, so in winter I tend to leave them for a bit longer, but if you are in a particularly cold area you may need to move them to a warmer part of the house.
What else should I know?
- One of the by-products of this fermentation is alcohol. As a general rule it is fairly low (usually less than 1% – Yes, one smart blogger tested it), but it does depend on how you brew it. Keep this in mind before you give the kiddies too much of it.
- Probiotics kill unwanted bacteria and yeast. When these things die they produce toxins. They can and will make you feel like garbage. This is known as the “die off” effect. It is real. If you suspect any sort of gastrointestinal shenanigans, take it slowly. It is not unreasonable to start with a teaspoon of kefir and build up from there.
- Don’t panic. When your grains arrive in the mail and you suddenly go “Oh my God, what do I do with them?” – breathe. They will survive with minimal care, although they will thrive once you are on top of it. If you don’t have your jars yet just cover them with fresh sugar water or milk and pop them in the fridge until you are ready.
Can I Use Other Liquids?
Yes! As a general rule use milk grains for other milks (coconut, soy, rice, nut) and water grains for other things (coconut water, juice). I have used water kefir grains in rice milk and due to the reasonable sugar content. Milk kefir grains do need to go back into actual milk (cow, goat, sheep) regularly or they die. Putting water kefir grains directly in juice is quite likely to yield a much higher alcohol content.
There are literally tons of recipes for kefir online and it can all be a bit overwhelming to a beginner, but once you have it under control, go searching for other things you can do with it. The guy who runs this site http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html is pretty much Australia’s kefir guru and you will find so much more information there. It is a bit messy, so you do have to wade through it to find the gems amongst the kefir art and songs.
So ask around and get some grains and add a bit of culture to your life.