Kefir is a kind of cultured milk, akin to yogurt. It is tart and effervescent, and, in my opinion, best enjoyed with a liberal drizzle of honey. Perhaps the most interesting thing about kefir is that, unlike yogurt, where the live cultures are completely integrated into the end product, the culture that creates kefir forms little grains that are strained off before consumption. Also, since kefir culture includes some yeast in addition to bacterial cultures, the process creates a small amount of alcohol. In order to make kefir, you simply add the grains to some milk and let it sit at room temperature until the flavor is to your taste, usually 24 hours. There are a number of more detailed instructions available online.

In my childhood, we used to buy quarts of sweetened and flavored kefir, a thick, tartly cloying, and faintly bubbly concoction that I absolutely loved. Rice crispies with creamy strawberry kefir was practically puddingy, a sweet breakfast treat. I recently tried to buy commercial fruit kefir at Trader Joes, only to be heartbroken by the limp sugar-yogurt water, nothing like my childhood memory.

So when I heard that a few patrons of my local dairy were sharing kefir grains, I was immediately intrigued. I got ahold of some grains (as you make kefir, more grains are produced, so they encourage generosity) and have now been making kefir at home for a few weeks. I've been experimenting with different fermenting times and temperatures, and in general, the kefir I've produced is thinner than that of my memory, but tart, delicious and fizzy. I'm still playing around with my system to perfect it—Greg is not a fan, and since kefir grains need to be fed pretty regularly, it is hard to find the right balance of grains to milk to produce only enough kefir for one person. Kefir is a bit brass about declaring its fermented origins, which means some people will find kefir a little... funky. If you don't like plain yogurt, you definitely won't like this.


Practical Considerations

  • How much space does it need?
    Just the container you make it in.
  • How much time does it take?
    A few minutes to mix the grains and milk, and then occasional shaking or stirring. Fermentation takes about a day on the counter or a week in the fridge, but will vary based on your taste.
  • Does it smell?
    No.
  • Does it look grody?
    No.
  • Does it need special equipment?
    You do need to find someone in your area who has spare grains to give you, or order them. Check the internet, local dairy buying clubs and the like.
  • Is it worth it to do this by hand?
    Since the stuff in the store is swill, it's a must if you like kefir.

This sounds fantastic. I happen to have some thick, creamy Kefir in my office fridge and see that it has 10 (!) active cultures, including L. acidophilus. Maybe a little yogurt culture would thicken up a home made batch? This might be a temperature problem though because the yogurt would need warmth and it sounds like the kefir prefers room temperature. At any rate, I am delighted to read all this. I love kefir, too!

Have you tried Nancy's Kefir from Springfield Creamery in Eugene, Oregon? I think it's organic... comes in different flavors, and I know they don't use cows with RgBht.

Kefir culture has many different kinds of bacteria, including lactobacillus species like acidophilus, as well as multiple kinds of yeast. Lactobacilli ARE yogurt cultures, so that is part of what happens in kefir fermentation. I'm not sure what bacteria are present in my particular kefir grains - I believe the only ones that must be present are L. Kefir or L Kefiranofaciens, as these are the bacteria that produce kefiran.

Temperature is certainly the primary issue, although the particular mix of microflora in the kefir grains and the milk are also variables. Kefir does prefer room temperatures, and higher temperatures mean faster fermentation. This probably also influences which parts of the kefir culture are most active, as you suggested. Since I am trying to make a very small amount of kefir for only my own consumption, it is difficult to balance the speed and volume of the reaction. I tried a low and slow fermentation in the fridge, which turned out to be too slow - and my grains didn't seem to like it much either, producing a thin kefir and growing very slowly. But with room temperature fermentation, the milk needs to be changed every 12-48 hours, which could result in making a lot more kefir than I'll drink. So, I am still experimenting with batch sizes and timing.

Thanks for the recommendation, Ellen - I haven't seen that brand around here, but I'll keep my eyes open.

I LOVE KEFIR!
Have you tried Labneh? It is an amazing Lebanese spread made from thick strained Kefir (like yogurt cheese but tangy-er). Better than Hummous...and it can even be made with non-fat milk and retain all the awesome flavor of the full-fat variety. Not that there is anything wrong with fat...

Ohh, I HAVE had labneh, but I didn't realize it was made from kefir - Maybe if I can get my kefir thick enough, I'll try making it!

hi erica,just to add some more info you could also make cheese from kefir. I think the labneh you are talking about is made by simply straining most of the whey out of the kefir using a cheesecloth. The result is something similar to cottage cheese which you can add herbs to further flavor it to your liking.

-cushman (www.yourkefirsource.com)

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