The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trying Kefir

Until recently I had only heard of kefir. I thought it was a type of cheese, which it can be, but it is more than that. The history of kefir is very interesting. It can be traced back to the times of Marco Polo and appears to have originated in the Caucasus, depending upon which source you read.

Kefir is a probiotic made from a powdered culture form that has to be replinished to continue producing it, or from 'grains' that will continually grow and reproduce if 'fed' correctly, kind of like a sourdough starter. The grains are a symbiotic combination of yeasts and bacteria, in that symbiotic means a "prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member."

In our search to be more self-sufficient and healthier, we have tried to find ways to grow, make and consume things that can be reproduced without buying anything new to support them, such as heirloom or non-hybrid seeds. We have long known and used
yogurt for digestive health, but after a period of time, the yogurt culture has to be replaced with fresh new culture because it just kind of wears out. I found some information on kefir over at 5 Acres and a Dream and started reading more about it. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Leigh, from 5 Acres, was generous enough to answer many questions by email and sent me to Dom's where I found more answers to my questions. By the way, Leigh has just published a new book about her adventures on their homestead.

Not all of my cheese making books list information about kefir, but a couple of them do. The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsley gives a very good introductory description of kefir. "Kefir is a fermented milk drink that originated in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, where it's still a daily food staple. It's tangier than yogurt but sweeter than buttermilk. You can buy packaged kefir culture, but true aficinados use kefir grains - little white kernels about the size of tapioca that swell and initiate fermentation. A good kefir contains many different types of friendly bacteria as well as some yeasts, and it packs one of the strongest health punches of all the cultured dairy foods." (page 21)  

200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes
says, (page 333) "Some of the health benefits attributed to kefir are: 
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Balances intestinal flora and the digestive system
  • Supports healthy internal-organ function
  • Reduces inflammation, due to its antibiotic properties
  • Promotes healthy skin and fights signs of aging
  • Helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • Heals lactose intolerance"

This is just some of the research we did before we began 'fixing' kefir and drinking it everyday. wikiHow has a good pictorial on how to maintain kefir. All of the directions we read said to put the grains in about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of milk in a jar without a metal lid. The grains do not respond well to metal, so we use glass jars with plastic lids and a plastic strainer.

Our new kefir grains we received in the mail.
We thought the holes in our strainer were too big so we tried cheesecloth. It didn't work.
The holes are a little large, but this was the only plastic strainer we had to start with.
Here are our new grains. They look funny. They're squishy but firm.
We ordered this new strainer which works better.
The kefir is thick enough that I have to shake the strainer for it to go through.
I was surprised how quickly the grains grew.

I kept a log of our initial 11 days of making and drinking kefir to share with you, just so you would have an idea of how it went in the beginning. 
  • Day 1 - received the grains in the mail; drained off the milk
    they were in; placed in a quart jar with about 2 1/2 cups of store bought whole milk; left sitting out on the cabinet for 27 hours; initial reaction = too tangy and too thick; added some sugar and didn't drink it all; gave the leftovers to the dog
  • Day 2 - put grains in cold milk; set out for 16 hours; still a little thick; mixed in some peach butter and a little sugar; we drank it all, so each of us are drinking about 1 to 1 1/4 cups daily
  • Day 3 - put grains in cold milk and put in the frig; set out next morning at 10:00 am, then strained it at 6:00 pm; so it set out for 8 hours after being refrigerated; mixed with peach butter; thin but tangy
  • Day 4 - put grains into cold milk at 6:00 pm; left out overnight until about noon the next day; much slower to thicken after being refrigerated
  • Day 5 - put new batch out to ferment in 2 cups cold milk at about 1:00 pm; strained at 7:00 am the next morning; pretty thick
  • Day 6 - Started at 7:00 am in cold milk; left sitting out; strained at 9:15 pm; thinner
  • Day 7 - put grains in cold milk; put in the frig; set out the next morning; pretty thin
  • Day 8 - left in the frig all day; set out at 9:30 pm; next afternoon it was very thick; added chocolate syrup; it goes very well
  • Day 9 - strained into cold milk; left out at room temperature until 4:30 pm, about 24 hours; good consistency; we have found we like it thicker; kind of like a milkshake; added 4 tsp. maple syrup; this is good
  • Day 10 - now we have goat milk and wanted to gradually change the grains over from store bought milk to goat milk; strained the grains into a mixture of 1/4 goat milk and 3/4 store bought; left out at room temp; have found we really like the maple syrup for sweetener
  • Day 11 - changed the ratio of milk to half goat and half store bought; we are starting to enjoy the flavor more, well, most of the time anyway

The first day we tried  the kefir, it was pretty thick and we didn't like it. But now I prefer it that way. Frank has a hard time with some new textures and new tastes. At first it was a little bit questionable whether kefir was going to survive at our house. It just takes Frank longer to get used to some new things like this. You can see how we gradually changed the process and sweetener to find something we like. We continued to change the ratio of goat milk and store bought milk until we now only use our raw, skimmed goat milk.

The grains will grow over time. The original grains we received have already doubled in size so we divided them. We are storing half of them in 2 cups of milk in the frig. From the information we have read, you can store them for up to two weeks, then strain off the milk they are in and feed them with new milk. My plan is to feed the grains new milk each Saturday and see how they do.

Isn't he funny?

This is just the beginning of our adventure with kefir. The more I go back and read the information we initially read when we were researching, the more I want to make sure we include it as part of our everyday nutrition. There are so many things that impact our health, that we want to reduce or eliminate all we can from our bodies that are not natural and healthy. The added benefit of being a self-sustaining culture means we will be able to continue making and consuming this for years to come, as long as we continue to keep caring for the grains properly.

This is just a review of our experience as we introduce this new food into our diet. The long term benefits we have yet to see. We will let you know how it goes.

Until next time - Fern


  1. Hello Fern. Thank you for all this information. I do have a question about the seeds. Are you using the same seeds with each batch or new ones? When you say that you put a new batch out, does that mean new seeds? How long do the seeds last? This all sounds so beneficial; certainly worth looking into. We do some fermenting but none with milk. Also, we want to thank you for all you and Frank do to share with your readers. You have fast become one of our favorite folks to follow. Praying this New Year will be a very good one for you both. Marilyn in SW Missouri

    1. Hi Marilyn,

      Thank you for the questions. We use the same kefir grains with each daily batch. The only time we have separated the grains was after they had doubled in the amount of grains. They don't grow in size, just multiply. From all of my research, if the grains are fed and cared for properly, they will continue to multiply and live indefinitely.

      We are grateful you find something of use here. Blessings to you and yours.


  2. Ralph and I have experimented with Kefir and now you have explained why ours did not do well! The metal...sigh..Thank you that will help our next attempts. We have been Buying commercial Kefir from Lifeway. It is quite good but we have noticed it can be thicker in some batches than others. It is our "special" treat!

    We enjoyed your Christmas blog and wish you the very best in 2014. Oh by the way the Unknown Kefir maker made us smile! He looks a bit like A Sci Fi warrior of some kind!

  3. Where did you get your grains?

    1. I'll get back to you on this question.


    2. I'm sorry it took me a few days to get back to you. I got my grains from a friend that has requested to remain anonymous and it took me a few days to get the information from her.

      I have read about several companies that have them for sale, but I cannot recommend any of them for this product since I have never bought any.

      Good luck.