Guestpost: Kefir for dummies

So I have this friend.  Yes.  I have friends in real life.  Not just blogger friends ;)  That's her on the left!

We met when we were 19 and working as waitresses in a Brew Pub.  How that meeting evolved into a long-lasting friendship I still don't understand!  I was self-absorbed, partying and wild.  BUT, here we are, over 10 years later and we still have this great friendship!

Let me tell you a little about Jennie.  Jennie is a entrepreneur and has seemingly endless energy.  She recently started a food blog: Pure Homemaking.  If you are interested in cooking with traditional foods, or you are looking to learn more, please check out her blog.  And, in order to properly introduce you to Jennie, I'm going to show you an outline:

2002 - She is married and expecting their first child.  After a terrifying hospital experience and a C-section that she didn't understand, she set out to figure it all out.  I didn't pay much attention - I'm still partying hard in 2002.

2007 - A few years later, we are both pregnant and she invites me to a private screening of a birth film.  All about *snicker snicker* drug-free births.  I'm thinking she has completely lost it.  But I like hanging out with her so I decide to go anyway.  I walk out of The Business of Being Born a changed woman.  I went on to take Bradley Childbirth classes and have a completely drug-free birth in the hospital.  Leo was even sunny-side up too!  And Jennie?  Well, aside from becoming a major advocate for intervention-free births, she took it a step further and went on to become a certified Doula!
2008 - Jennie explains to me that I need a baby carrier.  She found out about them years ago and when she did, she decided she like them so much she would start a business.  (She has since sold the business.)  She sold Ring Slings, Mei Tai's and other baby carriers.

She starts to research all the healthy ways to mother and nourish children.  She begins to use cloth diapers and I am able to check them out when I come to her house.  Not only does she use them, but she has also added them to her business! 

I can't believe that's Leo...I'm having a moment...

2009 - I move to a house right around the corner from Jennie.  I introduce her to a local farmer we can get our produce from during the year.  A few months later, I show up to pick up my veggies, and there is Jennie: Her 3 small children running around the farm with the animals and she is head-down in the dirt working the soil with our farmer.  This girl doesn't do anything half-way!!

2010 - I'm driving down the road and Jennie calls to chat.  We start talking about wheat flour and I mention how expensive it is.  (Remember, I only JUST started cooking last year.  I'm slowly graduating from meals in a homecooking.  At this point, I still thought that if something wasn't sold by the store, it couldn't be eaten - like noodles, or bread, or cereal, yogurt, cheese, etc.) 
Jennie says, "Yeah, that's why I'm looking into getting a grain mill."

Me: *Silence......................* "HAAAAAAHAHAAAHAHAAAA!!!!

Jennie: "What is so funny about that?"

Me: *Cough* "Oh - I'm sorry.  Wait, are you serious?  People really grind their own flour?  Why?  Why would you do that??"

And now here we are.  I'm staring at 20 lbs of wheat berries sitting patiently on my kitchen table ready to be ground into flour and all I can think about is the time I burst out laughing at Jennie. 

But, in the end, Jennie always gets the last laugh when I call her knee-deep in food I can't pronouce begging her to explain just one-more-time how I'm supposed to do it again?????

Anyway, that was a super-long introduction but she's going to answer a few of my questions (and your questions if you have them!).  Last week, she gave me this little jar of kefir ('ke-FEAR):

And it's a good start...but I have no idea what to do now!!!  So I sent her a few questions and asked if she could answer them in writing.  This way I don't have to call her every day to ask her again how to pronouce it ;)

Kefir for Dummies

1) What IS kefir???

Kefir is a probiotic dairy beverage that is made using dairy kefir grains. The grains are actually scoby’s which stands for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast’. When the grains come into contact with the milk they begin to ferment the milk into a drinkable probiotic packed beverage. Kefir has a much higher concentration of probiotics then yogurt and is also much easier to make. Probiotics are extremely beneficial to our gut as they help to kill off the bad bacteria while allowing the beneficial bacteria to flourish. This helps our immune system tremendously and is especially helpful after a round of anti-biotics.

Kefir grains

2) How do I use it?

Kefir can be used a variety of ways. My personal favorite way to use it is to make smoothies! My family loves them and I know that we are getting our daily dose of probiotics when I give it to them. Another great way to use kefir other than drinking it is to soak your own grain in it to expedite the breakdown of phytic acid. By soaking your grains with an acid solution such as kefir, your body is able to break down the nutrients that are locked inside the grain and make them more digestible to your body.

You can also make milk kefir cheese by fermenting the kefir grains in cream and then allowing it to drain for a few hours in a cheese cloth. Kefir is very versatile and making your own is a very frugal alternative then purchasing it at the health food store for about $4 per QUART! You can also use kefir instead of buttermilk or even yogurt in any recipe that calls for it.

3) Can I put the tiny jar of kefir in regular milk or does it have to be raw?

The milk does not have to be raw however it is preferred as raw milk does not go bad the way regular pasteurized milk does. Raw milk will only sour but it is still very edible. In fact, you can make a wonderful version of sour cream by simply putting a little bit of buttermilk in some cream and allowing it to sit at room temperature for about a day. If you are using pastured milk, than I would suggest only allowing it to sit out for about 12 hours to prevent the milk from going bad. Alternately you can use coconut milk. I have never personally tried this but it is on my list as I have heard that it’s wonderful!

Jar of kefir with the grains on top

4) Here is the timeline: Kefir grains get put in the jar and I pour milk over top. Close the lid and wait 12-18 hours for it to ferment properly. Now it is ready to use. So the question is: Do I take the kefir grains out right away? Or do I wait until the jar of kefir milk is gone and then put the grain in the little jar to store until next time. (I usually pull the grains out after the fermentation period on my countertop.)

Making Kefir is very forgiving. Provided that you don’t let the grains hang out in a metal dish (which would weaken the grains) you have a lot of flexibility. Once you are done fermenting the kefir you can do what’s called a continuous ferment where you simply strain the grains from the newly made batch of kefir and place them in another quart of fresh milk to begin the process over again. You can also just take your batch of kefir that you just allowed to ferment and place it in the fridge until you are ready to use it. Just be sure to strain your grains out before you use the kefir so you can make another batch. You can also take a “rest” from making kefir by simply putting the grains in enough kefir to cover them and placing them in the fridge. You should also rinse the grains every few batches with FILTERED water. It’s important to use filtered water because the chlorine in tap water can kill the grains. Remember that kefir grains are a living food! They contain healthy bacteria and yeast and need to be well cared for.

5) Does kefir go bad? Or can I keep skimming from the milk to keep the kefir alive? At what point are those grains "bad" or do they last a long time? Like a month? A year? When will I need to purchase a new scoby or kefir grain?

Kefir grains do not go bad under normal circumstances. Healthy grains will multiply over time in which case you can share them with a friend, keep a back up in the fridge if you happen to kill your grains, or even put some of the grains in your smoothie for an added boost of pro-biotics. The grains may weaken over time but will not go bad unless you have mistreated them by exposing them to metal for long periods of time, or excessive heat. Your kefir grains should last indefinitely, remember they multiply!

These are the only tools needed to make kefir!!

6) How do I eat it? Is it the same as milk? Or will we notice the difference in flavor?

As I mentioned before there are several ways to consume kefir. It is not the same as milk but depending on how long you allowed it to ferment it will be thin, making in similar in consistency to milk. The flavor will be tart but refreshing. It does take a while to get used to the taste of freshly made kefir and a great way to start is to use it in smoothies! Here is a great recipe to start with:

Kefir Smoothie
2 cups kefir
1-2 cups frozen berries
1 banana
1 tbls. coconut cream concentrate or coconut oil

Blend well and enjoy!

Next Blogpost: How to Make Kefir

Please check out Jennie's blog: Pure Homemaking for lots of other healthy eating information!!  And please like her on Facebook!!  My new favorite post from her is "Ever wonder what was really in a McDonald's Chicken Nugget?"
(Jennie and her 3 beautiful children!)

And please, feel free to post any questions below and she'll be happy to answer!!!

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