If you’ve never heard of Kefir, then don’t worry, because neither had I until it was recommended to me. To sum it up, it’s a kind of yogurt, with high levels of good bacteria, which is great for those who need to boost their immune system or for those who suffer from digestive problems. It’s also useful, because you make it yourself and can choose which kind of milk to use, so if you suffer from intolerance, you can use an alternative milk (it can be made with soya, any dairy or coconut milk). Another benefit is that you can keep re-making it for months from one single packet (I know someone who is still re-growing their original sachet, years later!).
Now I have to point out that kefir has a different consistency to commercial yogurt so it may take some getting used to. I’d describe it like French yogurt that’s a little watery and breaks into lumps rather than the smooth creamy texture of the ‘natural’ yogurt you’re used to. It also has a different taste, but I’ve only ever made it with unsweetened soya milk, so it may change depending on what you make it with. Made with soya milk, it’s got a slightly sourish taste (only slight), and is really quite bland/ doesn’t taste of anything. However, if you add berries or some sweetener, it can be a really tasty snack. I’ve also made smoothies with it, which is great as it thickens it, but doesn’t change the taste.
So, if you’re looking for a yogurt substitute that’s good for you, whether it’s due to allergy and intolerance, following a Paleo diet or just to try something different, then try kefir and see what you think. (Please note, that on a paleo diet, you are not allowed soya, so you may want to try making it with coconut milk. I chose to make mine with soya as it was recommended by my specialist)
Now, when I first tried to grow kefir, to put it simply, I cocked it up completely! I ended up wasting 2 whole sachets before I got to grips with it. So, before you start the process (below you will find the instructions from the packet) take a look at my ‘Useful tips’ section, which I learnt the hard way (through trial and error!).
- I purchased a kefir starter cultures pack from the kefir company which contains 3 sealed sachets of cultures. The packet has the following instructions:-
- Dissolve the content of one sachet of kefir cultures in 1 litre of milk which is not refrigerated (preferably in a glass with a lid). Stir well. Leave this mixture for 48 hours at room temperature
- After 48 hours take out 3 tablespoons from the mixture. Do not refrigerate or add any flavouring before you have done this. The remaining kefir is ready for consumption.
- Now you can prepare the next batch of kefir using the 3 tablespoons of kefir you took from the bottle at “Step 2 above” – you can add as much milk to this batch as you are going to consume, up to a maximum of a litre. Stir and leave it at room temperature for 24 hours.
- Please note that all further batches from this original sachet only need 24 hours to culture. For each fresh batch, remove 3 tablespoons as above and repeat process. After 4 to 5 weeks, when the kefir is beginning to get thin and watery, use a new sachet of kefir and restart the cycle. Prepared kefir should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within 48 hours.
Whatever milk you decide to use, make sure you check the ingredients list FIRST! Now this may sound daft but my husband purchased an organic unsweetened soya milk which I used to regrow my first kefir, but it didn’t work. So retracing my steps to see what I did wrong, I checked the ingredients and found a number of additives (sometimes added vitamins, sugars, salt etc). These will impair your kefir and stop it from growing (leaving it watery). Now I religiously use the same milk, so that I know it will work.
I always warm my milk a little before pouring it into the jar. You can do this by gently heating it in a sauce pan, or in the microwave. I do it in the microwave, but only until it is very warm (you can place a finger in it without it burning!!). I believe it gives the cultures a helping hand, but you are welcome to skip this bit, however, DO NOT use milk that has been in the fridge.
Where to place your Kefir?
This is probably the bane of my life and will probably be yours! You’ll need to find a good spot to keep your kefir when growing it, that stays warm consistently. When the weather was colder and the heating was on, I was able to place my jar next to the radiator, wrapped up and it grew brilliantly. Now the weathers warmer we don’t always have the heating on Ive found the kefir struggles to grow. Kefir needs to be kept somewhere warm to help the cultures grow (after all they are like bacteria and need warmth to help multiply). Luckily we have a cupboard with a small heater in, and I’ve taken to using that as my ‘kefir cupboard’. I do have to monitor the temperature (turing the little heater on for a while then off for longer periods), as it can get really warm and if its too warm, the kefir ends up smelling (and tasting) like yeast/ fermented milk (yuck).
What container to use?
When I’m growing a litre of kefir I use a Kilner (square clip) jar. I also use one of these to keep my made Kefir in the fridge because it has a handy clip to seal the lid shut. When I’m making smaller batches, I just use recycled glass jars such as an old jam jar. Just be aware that whatever you use, when you’re growing your cultures, don’t seal the lid on tightly, the cultures can create gas and the jar can break!
When you take out your 3 tablespoons of kefir, you can choose to regrow another batch straight away or keep it in the fridge until you need it. Again, I use an old recycled jar to keep it in. In the past I’ve had my ‘3 spoons’ in the fridge for about 3 weeks before I’ve used it to grow another batch and Ive had no problems.
How to Regrow Kefir – My method
- Place 3 tablespoons of kefir in your jar and top up with half a litre of warmed milk.
- wrap the jar in a towel, and place somewhere warm. (I place it in the linen cupboard, surrounded by all the bedsheets/ towels)
- Leave for 24 hours
- after 24 hours, you will tell if the kefir has set as it will appear ‘solid’ until you move the jar and you’ll see it slide about.
- Take out 3 tablespoons and store for future batches (or repeat process)
- Place made kefir in the fridge**.
When regrowing kefir, I tend to have a system. I like to grow it in small batches in jam jars, then transfer it to my ‘main’ jar (once removing 3 tablespoons). This (main) jar is what I call my Kefir pot. I do this because I know that once it reaches a certain level, I’ll need to regrow some more. You don’t have to do this bit, you can store your own kefir in as many jars as you like, as long as you keep it refrigerated once its done. I just want you to be aware that you don’t have to worry about mixing up different batches.
You may not like the taste of kefir when you first try it and thats probably because you’re expecting it to taste like yogurt. If thats the case, then don’t be put off, because kefir can be mixed up and sweetened.
Remember to only add sweetener/ flavours to it once you have made your kefir (any sweeteners etc added at the growing point, will impair the growing process). I personally only add sweeteners etc, on the day I dish it up. I have to admit, that I only eat kefir with berries/ in smoothies as I don’t like it on its own, but it will depend on your palette.
Ways to eat kefir
When a recipe calls for yogurt, use kefir instead. I use it in a lot of curries, such as madras and those which only call for a few tablespoons of yogurt.
Smoothies – blended with (frozen) fruit, ice, a tablespoon of agave nectar or honey and you wont know your eating it!
As a ‘yogurt’- I add a handful of raspberries, blueberries, a squirt of agave nectar, sprinkle some seeds on top and have that before bed.
Baking – I used to cook a lot with low-fat yogurt, so I imagine you could make muffins with kefir, but I haven’t actually tried it. The Kefir company suggests a pancake recipe, so it must be possible!