Kefir is a refreshing fermented milk drink somewhat similar to yogurt. It originated in the Caucasus Mountains in Eurasia, where it is considered an “elixir of health” and a “gift from the gods.” With its light natural sweetness tinged with tartness and mild effervescence, Kefir lives up to its name which means ‘pleasure-giving’ in Turkish.
Why you should make your own Kefir
In this age of processed foods, being able to make a food of your own is power. Once you start making Kefir at home, you need not depend on supermarkets or cafés for a healthy and delicious probiotic drink, ever. It is super easy, and does not require special equipment or involve tiresome procedures.
Kefir can be made at home, but first you need to get hold of some kefir grains. You can buy a commercial kefir starter or, better still, get some grains from someone who is already making it. Most people would be glad to share not only grains but their own tips, too.
These white- to yellow-colored grains resemble pieces of cauliflower, but they have a slimy texture. Unlike most yogurt starters, Kefir grains are not monocultures; they contain several types of bacteria and yeast inseparably linked together in a matrix of milk proteins and sugars. Therefore, it is not possible to identify all the beneficial organisms in kefir grains. The grains grow in size as they ferment the milk, multiplying your stock. They can be stored in the refrigerator and used repeatedly to make batch after batch of Kefir.
Best milk for making Kefir
Kefir  grains can thrive in the milk of cow, goat or sheep. The nutrient content of the resulting Kefir may vary depending on the medium used, but the probiotic benefit remains. Originally, Kefir was made with raw milk kept in goatskin bags. These were hung in the doorways so that they would get disturbed every now and then, which helped the fermentation process.
Kefir can be made from organic soy milk and coconut milk, too, by adding the grains in the usual way, but the grains may stop growing in them as they may not meet all their cultural requirements.
Ingredients for making Kefir:
- Milk you normally use
- Kefir grains
- Put 1 tablespoon of Kefir grains in a clean glass jar of 500ml capacity.
- Add milk to fill 2/3 of the glass jar.
- Keep the jar covered with muslin cloth.
- Let it stand for 24 hours at room temperature.
After the fermentation time is over:
- Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon.
- Strain the liquid portion into glasses.
The solids left in the strainer can be transferred to another clean glass jar to start the next batch. Or it can be stored in the refrigerator with some milk. To avoid contamination by undesirable microorganisms, cleanliness should be maintained. Avoid metal utensils, too.
How to adjust the taste and consistency of Kefir
The more the time of fermentation , the thicker the resulting drink would be. The temperature at which fermentation takes place also affects its rate, as well as the taste of the end product.
- 12-Hour fermentation. This type of fermentation will give you sweet-tasting Kefir. The texture will be thinner too. This would be ideal for introducing Kefir to the uninitiated, but may not be suitable for lactose intolerant people as the amount of undigested lactose in the Kefir will be higher.
- 48- Hour fermentation: The doubling of the fermentation time results in thicker, tangier Kefir. If a tight-fitting lid is used on the jar, the gases of fermentation can build up inside. Ensure the lid has a pressure release mechanism.
- Slow fermentation: Low temperatures slow down the growth of microbes. To get thick Kefir with a milder taste, the mixture is kept inside the refrigerator. It may take up to 5 days for the mixture to reach the desired consistency.
- Secondary fermentation: Another way to slow down the process outside the fridge is to remove the Kefir grains from the mixture after the first 12 hours. The milk is left to ferment further for a day or two, until the right taste and consistency is reached.
- Continuous stream fermentation: Traditionally, Kefir grains are kept in a large jar into which milk is added to prepare each batch. The required quantity of Kefir is taken out of the jar, and the remaining is left to ferment further. The drink will naturally develop a very sharp taste.
So why should you make your own kefir? Here are a few reasons:
- It’s one of the best probiotic foods around. Probiotic  foods are known for their immunity-boosting power. While yogurt is made with lactobacillus strains, the starter of kefir is a complex mixture of various bacteria and yeast, multiplying its probiotic status manifold.
- It modifies the intestinal flora. If yogurt introduces lactobacillus bacteria into the gut and creates an environment conducive to the growth of beneficial organisms, Kefir goes further. The multiple organisms and the symbiotic relationship between them completely change the profile of the intestinal population. They flush out the bad guys and establish themselves. Some people may initially have stomach upsets or mild rashes when they start on Kefir because of these changes.
- It’s a great source of vitamins and minerals. Kefir is rich in calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, all minerals our body needs in large quantities. The microbial activity produces Vitamin K and many B-group vitamins, including biotin which is vital for the absorption of other vitamins. The partially digested proteins in Kefir make the absorption of the resultant amino acids easier. Tryptophan, an amino acid that relaxes the nervous system, is responsible for the calming effect of Kefir. Kefiran is a long-chain polysaccharide unique to Kefir; it may contribute to the beneficial effects of this drink that promotes health and longevity.
- Lactose intolerant people can benefit from Kefir. Lack of the enzyme lactase and the consequent inability to digest lactose sugar makes some people intolerant to milk and milk products. Since most of the lactose sugar in the milk is already digested, Kefir can be safely consumed by them. Any remaining lactose is taken care of in the stomach by lactase produced by the microbes in the culture.
- You know what goes into it. No more reading tables and comparing charts. You know exactly what you are using to make the drink. Most people come to love the natural sweet-tart taste and soda-like feel of Kefir. You can always add some raw stevia if you prefer yours sweeter. Natural flavors can also be added to cater to the personal preferences of family members. But whatever you do, you know what goes into it, unlike what you buy from the supermarket.
- You control the taste and texture of your drink. By tweaking the fermentation time and the temperature, you can adjust the sweetness, tartness and thickness of the Kefir you make at home.
- It is easy, convenient and cheap. As we have seen above, making Kefir is very easy, and once a routine is established, it can continue like clockwork. It is definitely cheaper than ready-made drinks. One you have the grains, all it takes is the milk you normally use.
- You will be part of a legacy. Wouldn’t it feel great to be part of a legacy that has been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years? The origin of Kefir is still a mystery; its culture was once a well-guarded secret. Now that you know about it, you have something worthwhile to share with your friends and family.