“???What is milk kefir?” you may be asking…
Well, before we even get into that, I’d like to tell you a little story about my guts. Don’t worry. It’s not too gross. It’s actually quite tame when it comes to ‘gut’ stories. And I promise this story will be short, and yes it will tie into milk kefir. 😉
So one day, after a long, tiring, adult-y day, Andrew and I decided to eat our stress(don’t judge) and indulged in a Burger Barron run that harkened back to our young and carefree teen days. As I sat there in my shame, cursing that tricksy lying bastard, Nostalgia, eating that greasy “chicken” (you all know why that is in parenthesis) burger, I thought: “this isn’t going to end well…”
3 hours later I woke with the stabbiest, gut wrenching pain I had ever experienced…. within 10 minutes it was clear I needed to be rushed to the hospital. After a long day of tests and LOTS of morphine, it was determined that I had a bowel obstruction and was wheeled into the operating room.
I woke up full of drains and tubes, quite shaken, swollen and sore. Shortly afterward the surgeon came by my room with a team of people behind him. Before he entered, I could hear him excitedly explaining my case in ‘Dr talk’ to his colleagues. He led the pack in, practically hopping. I was intrigued, something must have gone down on that operating table.?
Apparently, I have a rare birth defect in which my umbilical cord didn’t recede back into the lining of the intestine, and I have a large pocket where there should be a smooth wall.
It’s called a Meckle’s Diverticulum. It’s found in 2% of the population, and for those with Meckle’s, only 2% ever become symptomatic. If there are problems, it normally only happens to babies(mostly boys) under the age of 2, thus the astonishment of my surgeons.
Now pause if you will, and think back to your basic plumbing knowledge and what tends to happen when hair gets caught in the drain.
I think you know where I am going with this.
This little pocket inside of my intestines accumulated a lifetime of unintentionally swallowed hair (grooooosssssss….. but swallowing hair happens, people), and when that fateful “chicken” burger came along and dislodged the hairball(omg… I almost died from a hairball?), it caused a massive obstruction.
Instead of cutting into the intestine to remove it, the surgeons pulled my guts out of my body and massaged the obstruction through the entire length, shoving them back in as they went.
Ok. So it waaas kind of gross. And, hopefully, you stuck with me through that. I don’t preach anything but authenticity so there’s some realness for you.
And very grateful for modern technology. I’m very grateful that my intestines didn’t have to be cut apart(that can cause a world of problems) to get the blockage out, but because they were partially removed from my body and stuffed back in, they’ve never been the same since.
In fact, I’ve had such intense intestinal issues(say that 5x fast) I was diagnosed at one point as having Crohn’s Disease! After many, we’ll call them ‘procedures’, and even a biopsy, it was determined that I have a severely spastic gut, aka severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Typical, healthy intestines are an intrinsically well-coordinated muscle that works in a ripple effect, much like a centipede’s legs. When my guts were repositioned, they lost that organic coordination. Now as soon as food enters my digestive system, every inch of my guts starts jerking to the rhythm of a BeeJee song, just trying to push the food through it. As you can imagine it is painful.
Anytime I eat, I have to think about it. Will it cause me pain? Is it worth it? A lot of times it’s not. I can’t eat: red or fatty meat, anything acidic, fiber/roughage, strong spices, most fruits or vegetables(some are ok if they’ve been peeled and thoroughly cooked).
And I can’t drink wine.
Harder still, I’ve struggled with maintaining nutritional requirements which has led to immunodeficiencies.
Over the last 4 years, as you can imagine, I’ve started researching the gut and ways to maintain optimal intestinal health.
So why am I telling you this?
#1. I don’t want you to take your guts for granted.
Some of you might have decent health, and some of you might not. I know our poop shoots aren’t that glamorous but we need to realize:
#2. The intestines are one of the most important organs in the body.
Multiple studies have been done linking the gut microbiome directly to how we think and feel including the direct correlation to depression and anxiety. (which I have suffered from for most of my life.)
#3. We need to treat our intestines with respect.
Trying to consume the least amount of processed food possible, is one of the first lines of defense that we can take.
I’m the first to admit, this is harder than it sounds. So I’m not even going to go there today. (she says as she tips back the last of the family sized bag of Miss Vickie’s Salt’N Vinegar, the crumbs of which, proceed to fall into her nostrils, and burn like a mofo)
One of the next tangible steps is to consume as many natural probiotics as possible. That’s where my friend milk kefir comes into play.
Here’s what you need to know about milk kefir:
What is milk kefir?
Kefir, is a fermented drink, traditionally using milk. You can buy bottled kefir in some grocery stores but its like 6 bucks for a quart!!!!
Or read on, and I’ll tell you how to make it for pennies. 🙂
The actual milk kefir grains(the cultures needed to make the kefir) are not actually “grains” but made from cultures of yeast and bacteria that looks like a spongy cauliflower.
You can buy them, or get some from free from a friend(hit me up if you live in Edmonton!). The nature of the milk kefir grains is that the more you use them, the faster they grow and multiply, thus they are the perfect probiotic present to share with your friends!
Basically, you add the cultures to milk, and after a period of time, the microorganisms in the grains ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. After, you strain the grains out and add more milk for the next batch.
The liquid that was strained from the grains resembles a YOP(yogurt beverage) consistency and has a slight effervescence. It is slightly sour. I personally don’t drink it straight and like to mix it with something- but I’ll get to that later!
I’ve been drinking kefir for almost a year now, and when I am able to consume it on a consistent basis, I notice a remarkable difference in my gut health.
So, now that you know why I love milk kefir, and why I think everyone should love it, I’ll finally get to the tutorial 🙂
Milk Kefir Tutorial
There are 3 elements to be aware of when making kefir:
The kefir grains work best at room temperature. The warmer it is, the faster they grow, the cooler it is the slower they grow.
Don’t worry- it isn’t as technical as it sounds. The more kefir grains you have, the larger volume of milk you will need. Because the kefir essentially eats through the lactose and that takes time, the ratio will also affect how long the process takes.
I wish I could give an exact measurement of grains to milk. But I can’t. I can give you an estimate to start with though. 🙂 The reason is because the grains grow (changing the measurements) at whatever rate they are in optimal conditions (temp and ratio), and that is a variable only you determine.
Once you start culturing regularly, you will get an idea of how much milk to put in the jar, and you’ll be able to pull out a few grains when too many cultures have multiplied. You’ll know there are too many grains when the time it takes to culture, is only a few hours, as opposed to the optimal 24-48 hours.
For the health of the kefir grains, it’s important that they not come into contact with metal. Some people have had success with stainless steel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The only utensils that should be handling the grains are wood, plastic or glass.
I prefer to do all my culturing in pint or quart canning jars. While I use plastic to strain the grains, I would not recommend culturing or storing in plastic containers as scratches in the surface could harbor bacteria, and even some chemicals leached from food grade plastic can harm the kefir grains. While the grains culture, they need access to air, so I cover the jar with a coffee filter, screwed on with a jar ring lid.
- hydrated MILK kefir grains
- milk- homogenized, my favorite, gives the creamiest results
- glass canning jar
- canning jar ring lid
- coffee filter
- wooden spoon
- plastic salad spinner(without drainage holes in the bottom)
There are different ways to source kefir grains. You can get them from a friend, but if you don’t know anybody, you can buy them dehydrated(follow instructions for hydrating) at some health food stores OR online.
- Place 1-2 teaspoons of hydrated kefir into a pint size canning jar. (As your grains grow, you will want to move to a quart size jar, but not bigger as kefir is best made in small batches)
- Add up to 4 cups of milk. Make sure you leave a few inches of head space as the volume will grow.
- Wait about 24 hours. The liquid will appear slightly gelatinous and have a sweet, yeasty smell.
- Dump out contents of jar into a salad spinner(make sure there are no drainage holes in the outer container). Swish the grains vigorously until the grains are free from the kefir which sometimes likes to stick to it.
- Lift basket strainer and dump the grains back into the jar you just used. Reusing the same jar can give the new batch of kefir a bit of a kick start. I use the same jar for 3 batches, before grabbing a clean one.
- Fill with milk to about the 1/2 or 2/3 mark and start the process again!
- Use the resulting kefir immediately OR pour into a jar with a sealed lid and store in the fridge.
How I use my kefir:
Plain kefir taste like a cross between yogurt and sour cream or a buttermilk type flavor. If you like it like that, you’ve got some badass taste buds! Kudo’s! 🙂
Here are my favorite ways to consume kefir:
- ripe bananas
- chia seed
- frozen fruit
- either a dash of maple syrup or pitted medjool dates for sweetness
I use a 30-year-old Vitamix (still purrs like a kitten) my bestie bought me off kijiji- it’s amazing for completely liquefying(only way I can eat uncooked fruit) anything it comes across and I would highly recommend trying to find one!
I make an extra big batch of kefir smoothie and if there are leftovers, I make popsicles, which the kids LOVE for after school snack!
The other way I like to consume kefir is an amazingly delicious yogurt drink with just kefir and my home-made sour cherry syrup! I let the syrup sit in the kefir for a few hours as this will reduce any traces of sourness and meld the flavours beautifully.
My dear neighbour, Diane was the one who shared her kefir grains with me and gave me a small tutorial over home-grown tea. I was so grateful to finally have the opportunity to consume this incredibly beneficial beverage! I set up my culture but I wasn’t quite sure what the finished result was supposed to look like, so I left in on the counter for a week. oops.
Left on the counter too long
Your grains will probably be ok! (as long as you didn’t leave it out for weeks!)
If this happens the kefir will completely separate, resulting in the kefir culture floating to the top and a clear whey on the bottom. It will also have a very strong yeast smell.
Don’t fear! It is not wasted! You can still use it with the same instructions above for seperating the kefir grains out. You may have to agitate the strainer a bit harder, as the solidified kefir likes to cling to the grains. The resulting kefir will be a bit lumpier as well as have a stronger sour flavour.
You can get really resourceful and do what culturesforhealth.com does:
- make cheese!
- add it to animal feed(not too much though!)
- use it as a skin or hair toner
- reconstitute fruit juice to add nutritional value
- make whey lemonade
- add to smoothies
- use as a cooking liquid for starches
- drink it straight
- make lacto-fermented drinks such as ginger ale and limeades
- add to the compost pile as a booster
- keep it in the fridge for several months until its used up!
Pausing the process
Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not really super great on consistent follow through, and before I started the kefir game, I wasn’t even sure if I could maintain it. But the great thing about kefir is that as soon as you put it in the fridge, it puts the process on hold.
So while I have been pretty successful at maintaining my daily routine, every so often, life gets the better of me, and I’ll stick the culture jar filled with grains and milk into the fridge until I can get back to it.
Remember, these are living organisms, and even in the fridge where they are almost inert, they will still need to be fed with small amounts of lactose from time to time. If I’m unable to process the kefir, or if I have to go away, I will add a couple tablespoons of milk 1 or 2 a week.
The longest I’ve left grains in the fridge was 5 weeks! If you do leave them in the fridge for a while, remember that they will need a bit of extra time to come back to room temperature and that may affect how long the culturing process takes.
How to tell if your kefir grains have gone bad
Trust your nose. It is supposed to smell yeasty with a slight tartness. The longer it cultures the stronger these notes will smell. If you’re just not sure though- rinse with filtered water(not chlorinated) and start again!
What to do with the extra kefir grains you grow
Well, I would definitely try to pass them along(if you do- make sure they stay in milk) to a friend, but if you can’t find anybody to share with, dont throw them out! You can either eat them(if you can get past the weird texture, they’re super good for you) or you can dehydrate them for storage(or so you can send in the mail!):
- Rinse grains thoroughly with filtered water.
- Lay them on a piece of unbleached parchment paper in a safe location.
- Dry at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, depending on humidity and room temperature. …
- Place dried milk kefir grains in an air-tight bag; add a small amount of powdered milk.
I hope this milk kefir tutorial helped to encourage you to make the probiotic leap!
p.s. Right now, I’m learning how to make water kefir using converted milk kefir grains! I will update with another post when I’ve fully tested the process!