Kefir: What is It, Why Drink It, and How Do I Make It?

milk

It used to be, those that talked about healthy bacteria and probiotics were the health nuts who lived on granola and fruits and vegetables. Now, even the main stream food manufacturers are picking up the concept and incorporating it into their foods. Yogurts like Yo-plus by Yoplait and Activa by Dannon have hit our store shelves in the past few years, touting claims that they contain acidophilus, which is great for the digestive system.


While we hear of acidophilus, we rarely hear of the other healthy bacteria our bodies need, bacteria that can be found in a yogurt-like drink called Kefir. Kefir is similar to yogurt, and while it does not contain acidophilus, it does contain lactic acid bacteria, Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lb delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lb helveticus, Lb casei subsp. pseudoplantarum, and Lb brevis; a variety of yeasts, such as Kluyveromyces, Torulopsis, and Saccharomyces; and acetic acid bacteria, among others.

That looks like a jumble of words and it can all be translated to mean, “It contains really healthy stuff for your body, especially the digestive tract.” As far as the yeasts go, they are all healthy yeasts which help combat the not-so-helpful yeasts in our bodies, so no worries there!

When I first heard about kefir, my initial thought was, “No way, no how, will I ever drink that!” It’s a fermented milk drink, after all. Who wants fermented milk? In a twist of irony, however, a week after hearing about my friend’s kefir habit, as I liked to call it, I was in the health store buying organic yogurt and I saw a jug of kefir put out. The packaging was attractive so I thought maybe I would try it. After all, it’s not something I had let sit out on my own counter for 24 hours.

It was love at first drink! It was a bit more “tangy” than yogurt, but other than that, quite similar. Once I started drinking it, it was almost as if my body craved it. Trouble is, it was pretty expensive for my budget, so I did what I swore I wouldn’t do — I looked into making my own.

At the time I did not know about kefir grains. I could only find google results on kefir starter powder, which I had to purchase over the Internet. I set about making my first batch the same day it arrived in the mail box.  I have to say, I was leery of doing this, but I’m all about learning new things, so I followed the directions carefully:

Heat up 4 cups of milk to one packet of kefir starter. Heat to “skin” temperature. Add powder. Stir well. Put in glass jar and set in a warm place. Let sit for 24 hours or until milk has thickened.

Twenty four hours later, there it was — my first jar of kefir. It smelled like something between sour cream and yogurt and was much tangier and more sour than the Lifeway kefir. I kept smelling it and tasting it and couldn’t get beyond the mental thought that this was milk that had just sat out for 24 hours next to my heater. Like everyone else, I hate throwing up, and I had visions of drinking it and getting sick with food poisoning within a few short hours.

Call me stupid or brave (or maybe both) but I doctored it up some and went for it. I had two ounces that first day, wrinkling my nose the whole time. I don’t think it tasted that bad, it was just the thought of what I was actually consuming. I didn’t get sick. The next day, it was almost calling me to it. My body seemed to be craving it again. That day I had 4 ounces. The day after that, it was 8 ounces.

My one-year-old caught on quickly that this was a yummy drink, and now as soon as she hears the blender going she comes at a fast pace, pulling at my pants until I share my smoothie with her. Ask her if she wants a kefir smoothie and she’ll shake her head “yes” vigorously!

I’m not one to talk about my bathroom habits, but for sake of this article, I’ll divulge a little bit here, hopefully without too much information. I was anorexic for 10 1/2 years with occasional lapses into bulimia as well. I rarely threw up during the bulimia episodes but I did abuse laxatives — up to 30 per purge in fact!  Needless to say this did serious damage to my intestinal tract and I was told I would be dependent on laxatives for the rest of my life.

Well, I never have used laxatives since then, because frankly, having them in the house is like an alcoholic in recovery keeping beer in the house. The pain and irrgularity I have lived with as a result had simply become a way of life. Oh, I was given a $200 a month medication, also used for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, but who can pay $200 out of pocket each month? Not me! So I’ve lived with the “issues”.

I have been drinking kefir for two months now and every single intestinal tract issue I ever struggled with is completely gone! The pain is gone, the bloating, the need for constant fiber — gone. 100% gone! It’s nothing short of a miracle. I’ve been so excited about this I’ve been telling friend’s with IBS, Chrohn’s disease, and ulcers about this stuff. I think it’s the magic drink.

And it doesn’t taste too bad either if you doctor it up some. More on that in a minute.

Once I realized that kefir was something I wanted to drink regularly I read more on making it. That’s when I learned about the grains. With the powder I was getting a dehydrated form of kefir that was lacking a bit in all the probiotic benefits (though it still had many) and it was something I had to repurchase on a regular basis to keep making my kefir.

Kefir grains, on the other hand, multiply by themselves once you purchase them. Feeding them milk every day causes them to stay active and grow. They also, according to most kefir sites, contain more probiotics than the dehydrated powder starters.

I am now the proud owner of kefir grains, and though they make the kefir even stronger in tartness, I like using them much better. The only way I know how to describe the grains would be to liken them to cottage cheese curds, only much hardier. It takes 4 tablespoons to make one quart (4 cups) of kefir if you’re using cow’s milk. We use raw goat’s milk in our house, and that usually requires only three cups of milk.

It’s easy to make. I simply drain my jar of kefir and kefir grains into a strainer and glass bowl and then put my grains into a clean mason jar. I then fill it with three cups of milk, let it sit in a warm place in the house for 12 hours, and repeat the process.

The kefir I drain off each day, I put in a jar in the fridge. It can last in the fridge for several days, though it may ferment a little bit more, causing more tartness.

Some people like to drink kefir straight. I will never be one of those people. Instead, I help mine out in the taste department by adding fruit and protein mix. The following are my two favorite smoothie combinations:

8 ounces of kefir

Pour 1 oz (of your 8 oz) into a blender, baby food processor, or magic bullet. Add four to six strawberries and one scoop of protein mix (I use a whey-based protein mix). Blend until smooth. (I also open and add the powder from one capsule of acidophilus to the mix for added benefit).

Add to remaining 7 ounces of kefir and enjoy.

Recipe two ( the family favorite):

8 ounces of kefir, 1 oz of which goes into your blender.

Add 8-10 black raspberries, 1/2 banana, acidophilus powder, and a scoop of protein mix. Blend until smooth. Add to remaining kefir.

The banana helps thicken it up and sweeten it.

If kefir is something you want to try for the health benefits but just don’t think you can stomach it, try buying the Lifeway kefir in the store. It’s really no different than the yogurt and takes a bit less work. You know what they say, you can’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

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