Despite its relative obscurity in the 21st century, kefir has been consumed for hundreds of years. In fact, a legend exists among the people of the Caucasian Mountains that Mohammed first gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to use those grains to make kefir.
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According to the legend, if the secret of the sacred kefir grains was released to the world, the grains would lose all their power. As a result, the grains were kept within families and passed from one generation to the next. For many years, rumors abounded that the kefir drink had magical abilities. Supposedly, it could even cure diseases like tuberculosis.
Of course, if it were still a secret, we wouldn’t be talking about it! The grains eventually found their way to the All Russian Physician’s Society. The first bottles of kefir were sold in Moscow in 1908, with commercial production beginning in the 1930s.
What is kefir?
So what exactly is this magical drink? Kefir grains aren’t actually grains. They are small, gelatinous particles formed from milk cultures containing bacteria and yeast, mixed with milk proteins and complex sugars.
Kefir is a yogurt-like fermented milk drink made by adding kefir grains to milk (be it cow, goat, almond, coconut, soy, etc.). The mixture sits for about 24 hours, and during this time the kefir grains ferment the milk. The result is a healthy beverage full of bioactive compounds, organic acids, and vitamins.
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Kefir grains contain nearly 30 different types of beneficial yeasts and bacteria. It’s recognized as a more powerful probiotic than yogurt! Probiotics serve to balance the good and bad types of bacteria within the body. While they can improve skin conditions, oral health, immune system health, and more, they are especially important for maintaining a healthy digestive system.
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Additionally, the probiotics in kefir are believed to also slow or stop tumor growth by reducing carcinogenic compounds. This suggests that it may help protect against cancer. Kefir is also an excellent source of calcium, which can help prevent osteoporosis and aid in overall bone health.
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Making kefir at home
Thanks to its numerous health benefits, fermenting and drinking kefir has gained popularity in the holistic world. The kefir drinks sold in health stores throughout the country, however, are often not fermented long enough. Thus, commercial kefir doesn’t contain as many probiotic microbes as it could. Luckily, the process of creating this nutritious drink at home is extremely simple and requires minimal supplies, time, and effort.
The first step in fermenting your own kefir is obtaining kefir grains, as you cannot prepare them on your own. These grains are not difficult to obtain and are available for purchase online. You can also find kefir grains at your local health food store.
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Once you have obtained the grains, you need a container in which to ferment your kefir. A glass container such as a canning jar is the best option. Mason jars are durable and don’t contain the chemicals often found in plastic. A ceramic or porcelain jar will also suffice.
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The next steps are incredibly simple: add your choice of milk to the jar, add your kefir grains, and cover the jar with a coffee filter, burlap, cheesecloth, or other light cloth and secure with a rubber band. Then place the jar in a warm spot and allow the mixture to ferment for about 24 hours, or until it is slightly thickened.
Did you know that mason jars are great for juicing and smoothies?
Straining the kefir grains
When the kefir has finished fermenting, the next step is to separate the kefir from the kefir grains, which you want to remove and save for future use. As with a sourdough starter, the grains can be reused. The best way to remove the grains is by pouring the milk through a strainer.
Avoid using a metal strainer. The best option, undoubtedly, is a fine mesh plastic or nylon strainer. While a plastic strainer is a preferred method, rubber (or even wooden) strainers are suitable for straining your grains. Just be sure to wash the strainer well between uses. Kefir grains are fairly durable and sufficient in size, so a strainer with about a 1/8” hole size will work well. For a reference point, this is about the size of the average pasta strainer.
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Once you have finished straining your grains, you can save them for future use. Simply add them to 2–4 cups of fresh milk and store this combination in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The grains should last for up to 3 weeks and can be continually reused.
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What is the best strainer for kefir grains?
You can buy strainers online made specifically for straining kefir. However, nearly any standard strainer will be sufficient.
The HIC Nylon Mesh Strainer features unique handles on sides of strainer that hook on the side of a pot or bowl to hold the strainer in place. This is perfect for kefir, as you need to stir the fermented mix while straining. Additionally, the handle features an eyelet for creative storage solutions.
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Culina also makes an excellent nylon mesh strainer. This strainer is dense and sturdy, and the nylon mesh will ensure that your kefir seeds are undamaged and untainted by a metal mesh. As nylon is non-reactive and does not permeate food, this strainer will not leave an unpleasant taste in your kefir or cause unwanted chemical reactions. The strainer is also dishwasher-safe, making for easy cleanup after straining.
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A toast to your health!
With a very small investment of your time and money, you can be drinking your own freshly-fermented kefir milk within as little as 24 hours. Begin fermenting and straining today, start enjoying the health benefits, and learn for yourself just why these grains have been considered magical for hundreds of years!
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Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: David N. and tarikgore.