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How To Make Your Own Kefir

June 10, 2014

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I’m sure you’ve heard of the benefits of eating yogurt, but did you know kefir, a cultured milk beverage, is also an excellent way to keep your gut healthy?  Like yogurt, kefir is full of good bacteria called probiotics that help keep your digestive system healthy and well-balanced. In fact, kefir could be an even healthier choice than yogurt when it comes to digestive health.

The key differences between yogurt and kefir

It’s easy to assume that all cultured milk products are created equally, but there are many key differences between yogurt and kefir. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the taste and consistency. Yogurt has a more familiar thick texture and a mildly tart taste. Kefir is a pourable liquid and is very sour and tart.

Yogurt is made either using a mesophilic culture or a thermophilic culture.  Mesophilic means the yogurt is made at room temperature, and thermophilic implies that the cultures are heated to 110 degrees during production. Kefir is always made at room temperature using a mesophilic starter culture.

Once cultured, yogurt can be used as a starter to create a new batch of yogurt without adding more cultures. Kefir, on the other hand, is created using kefir grains. Don’t be fooled by the name – kefir grains are not the type of grain you’re used to! They are actually a gelatinous mass made up of bacteria and yeast.  While kefir itself cannot product a new batch of kefir, the milk kefir grains, which are strained from the kefir before serving, can be used several times before new grains are needed.

Perhaps the most important difference between yogurt and kefir is the bacteria itself, which offers the health benefits. Yogurt contains fewer cultures known as transient bacteria. This means they pass through your digestive tract, cleaning and providing food for healthy bacteria as they go.

Kefir, on the other hand, contains a wider variety of bacteria as well as yeast. The bacteria and yeast make their way into your digestive tract and colonize. Kefir increases the number of healthy bacteria that live in your gut instead of just feeding the bacteria that is already there. Kefir is also virtually lactose free. While yogurt also has a very low level of lactose, people with a serious lactose allergy may want to choose kefir.

How to make milk kefir

Do I have you convinced that you should give kefir a try yet? Of course you can always head to the store and pick up some kefir, but like many yogurt brands, it may have added sugar that could lessen the benefits of the probiotics. The good news is, with a little patience, you can make kefir at home! All you need to make your own kefir is kefir grains and organic whole milk. You should be able to find kefir grains at your local health food store, but if you’re not having any luck they can also be purchased online.

Once you have your ingredients, add 2 tablespoons of kefir grains to a large mason jar, and then add 3 cups of milk. Cover with a piece of fabric and secure with a rubber band. It’s important not to use the mason jar lid, because the kefir needs to breathe while it ferments. The fermentation process will eliminate all lactose from the milk, but if you are vegan, kefir can also be made using soy or coconut milk.

Leave the jar on your kitchen counter for at least 24 hours. Once the process is completed, your kefir will be separated into curds and whey. If it doesn’t appear to be completely separated after 24 hours, let it sit for another 12 to 24 hours. Once ready, stir it well, then strain the mixture into a new jar. The curds that stay in the strainer should be added to a fresh jar of milk to create another batch of kefir.

Kefir can have a very strong flavor, so I like to add in some fresh berry puree to sweeten it. To do this, just put one cup of berries (I like to use blackberries) in a food processor and puree until berries are liquid. Stir all of the puree into the kefir before drinking. Alternatively, you could pour the berry puree through a sieve to eliminate the seeds for a smoother texture. If you don’t drink your flavored kefir right away, it will separate in the fridge, so just stir it back together when you are ready to enjoy it. 

Making your own kefir is an easy and cheap alternative to buying kefir or yogurt. Have you tried it? Do you have any tips or tricks for making kefir?