Thursday, July 9, 2015

Milk and Non-Dairy Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk beverage often described as a drinkable yogurt.  It is similar to yogurt, although kefir has more of the beneficial live organisms that many people hope to receive from yogurt to improve their health.  By consuming fermented and cultured foods, it helps to reduce inflammation which is a hallmark of T2 diabetes, and balance your gut microbiome.  It's extremely easy to make, requiring only milk or non-dairy milk (I use 100% coconut milk) and a culture starter known as kefir grains (not really a grain like wheat, but that's what they're called).  Kefir grains are a colony of the beneficial bacteria that will turn ordinary milk into kefir.  Lately. I've been having a wonderful time making batch after batch of delicious coconut milk kefir and flavoring it with chocolate, strawberries and, as pictured here, fresh cherries!  I am feeding my microbiome and seeing the positive results on my blood glucose monitor!  I highly encourage you to start making your own kefir and experimenting with different flavorings.  Below is the basic plain recipe, which can be made with any dairy milk from cow to goat, or full-fat coconut milk for non-dairy kefir.  Enjoy!

Milk or Non-Dairy Plain Milk Kefir
Makes 6-8 servings (1/2 cup)

3-4 cups milk of choice (If using coconut milk, choose full-fat and not coconut milk beverage)
2 tablespoons kefir grains (or use one packet of powdered starter)*

Place the milk and kefir grains (or powdered starter) into a clean, glass quart-size Mason jar.  Cover with cheese cloth and secure with a rubber band or cover loosely with the jar lid.  As the milk ferments the organisms will release gas, so it needs a way to escape.  Place at room temperature on your kitchen counter for 8-24 hours until it is slightly sour and tangy to your liking.  It's difficult to tell you an exact amount of time because fermentation happens at different rates depending on the vitality of the kefir grains, the temperature in your kitchen and your personal taste.  Check after 8 hours by tasting and continue checking at regular intervals until it reaches the level of tang that you like.  The longer it ferments, the more sour and tangy it will become.  It should taste similar to yogurt.

Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove the lumpy kefir grains and store the strained kefir in the refrigerator.  (Do not refrigerate with grains still in the kefir; you must strain them out and save them to start your next batch.  If using powdered starter, strain and keep any small lumpy grains for your next batch.  If using powdered starter, you'll also need to hold back about 1/4-1/2 cup of the plain cultured kefir to add to your next batch.)  Kefir will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, although it may continue to thicken and ferment, becoming more tangy with time.  If it becomes too thick, either eat it with a spoon or add more milk and blend to reach desired consistency.

You can immediately start a new batch with your kefir grains or add them to 1-2 cups of milk and store them in the refrigerator for a few days before making more kefir.  When making non-dairy kefir, it's advisable to store your kefir grains between batches in dairy milk to keep them alive and in good condition.  The preferred food for kefir grains is lactose (milk sugar), so you'll need to revitalize them every few batches by storing them in milk.  Before making another batch of non-dairy kefir, strain and rinse the kefir grains in cool water, which will remove nearly all of the dairy residue.  If you are extremely sensitive to dairy, your best choice would be to use the powdered starter (instead of grains).  Body Ecology brand powdered kefir starter will make about 7 batches before you need to begin again with a new packet of powdered starter.

*Resources: The website Cultures for Health ( sells both kefir grains and Body Ecology brand powdered kefir starter.  Also, the website offers many step-by-step, how-to videos for making a wide variety of cultured foods.  I highly recommend you check them out!

How to flavor your kefir:

Strawberry or Cherry Kefir:  Take 3/4 to 1 cup of fresh, sliced strawberries or cherries and gently heat them in a saucepan to release their juices.  Allow the heated fruit to come to room temperature.  Add the cooled fruit and 3 cups strained, plain kefir to a blender and blend until smooth.  Add 5-10 drops of liquid stevia to taste.  You might also wish to add vanilla extract.  If kefir becomes too thick after refrigeration, simply add additional milk and blend until desired consistency.  Try this variation with other berries!

Chocolate Kefir:  Heat 1/2 cup milk, 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/2 teaspoon stevia powder in a saucepan.  Stir constantly until cocoa powder dissolves and no lumps remain.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Stir again and add this mixture and 3 cups plain kefir to a blender.  Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and blend until smooth.  Taste and add additional sweetening as desired.  Store in the refrigerator.

Other uses for kefir:  Create your own flavored kefir by trying different fruits!  Use kefir in your smoothies or to make kefir ice cream (see my Pumpkin Pecan Kefir Ice Cream recipe here).  You can make kefir cheese (similar to cream cheese) from thick, dairy kefir by allowing the whey to drain from the kefir overnight through a fine-mesh strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth.  Note: Non-dairy kefir usually isn't as thick as dairy kefir and may not work for making kefir cheese.

Cherry Chocolate Chip Kefir Ice Cream
 Nutritional Information per 1/2 cup serving will vary depending on type of milk used and other flavor additions.  Plain kefir will have approximately the same nutritional information as the milk used to make it.  Check the packaging label on the milk carton.

Recipe by Kathy Sheehan, copyright 2015.

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