My dear cousin gave me some of her kefir grains about 7 years ago and I have shared and shared them with friends and beyond. She got them from one of her seminary students who had smuggled them in the country from Bulgaria which had been in his family for generations. She was taught to pronounce it Keh-fear. I had always pronounced it Key-fur, with a Texas twang of course, and when I tried out the new pronunciation, I always got “the look.” Now I hear people also pronouncing it Keh-fur, which I also sometimes do, and still get “the look.” So the most uncomfortable thing about Kefir is saying the name out loud amongst friends. 🙂
Kefir grains are like a pet, you must feed and care for them, and they will multiply and thrive, or rest (in the refrigerator) until you are ready to play with them again. I must admit, I have almost killed them at times, but for the most part they have stuck with me, even during famine times of having to use pasteurized, grocery store milk. A google is a terrible thing to waste. I am not going to go into long explanations of why kefir is so good for you and all it’s properties… that subject is exhaustive and if you are going to the trouble of making kefir, you probably know most of that anyway, and if you don’t, no amount of convincing from me is going to make you do the research until you are ready. Kefir is even life saving for animals as shown by this great post from Cultured Food Life.
You will find many conflicting instructions and as with anything, you must find your own way, what works best for you. Here is what works best for me.
First you start with kefir grains which look like little pieces of cauliflower or can be in long ribbon shapes if you let your kefir go too long and is more acidic. I mentioned that after keeping my grains for years and sharing the multitudes, I almost killed them last year by leaving them too long. Most of them turned a shade of yellowish orange and became hard and stopped multiplying. I wanted to refresh my grains with new ones, so I ordered some grains from The Kefir Lady and was so pleased with her grains. I also ordered her water kefir grains and Adya Clarity but that is another subject. So the first thing you do is familiarize yourself with the entire kefir process and the very, very best person to learn from is a man from Australia named Dom. He is most wonderful but if you do not have a sense of humor, a love for peace and giving people freedom to be themselves, then you probably won’t like him, and that is a pity. But in any case, he is the best there is and The Authority on the subject, imho, and if you like him you can toss him some green for all his expertise.
This list of questions and answers on kefir is also excellent.
I use these wonderful glass containers from The Container Store. You should always make and store kefir in glass. The tall ones I use to store the finished kefir in the refrigerator and the larger squatty ones I use to make kefir in with the grains. This way there is no confusion in a house that has anything and everything in glass mason jars, so there is no guessing as to what is in those containers, and certainly to leave the one which is on the counter alone, which contains the precious kefir grains and milk. It is important to have a tight fitting lid, like these containers do, which facilitate a nice fizz in your kefir and will keep out contaminants from the outside. Conflicting info #1 – “cover your fermenting kefir grains and milk with a breathable cloth, just like you do when you make kombucha.” Well, I do not do this. I make kombucha and kefir with lids so nothing can get in to contaminate it. (I do leave the lid loose on kombucha for the first fermentation though.) When studying and making my sourdough starter years ago, I learned that the way you capture native yeasts to inhabit your sourdough is to cover the flour and water mixture with a cloth to capture the yeasts from the air. I did this outside for the sourdough, but shudder to think of what I would capture inside, so I like lids for my kefir and kombucha.
In this first picture I have first poured off the fresh kefir whey into a jar and then poured everything into this large holed strainer. Taking a spatula and straining the kefir off into the bowl below, you are left with your kefir grains. Conflicting information #2: “do not ever let kefir touch metal…” search Dom’s answers on this, but you will not kill your kefir grains if they briefly touch metal strainer or spoon, but do make and store kefir in glass. When you are beginning and do not have many grains, it is good to use a metal screen strainer, or something with a tight weave or small holed colander so as not to lose even the smallest kefir grains.
Now you have your whey, and your thick kefir in jars and you place your strained kefir grains in a clean glass jar and add your milk. You will learn what proportions to use. The more grains you have the quicker the kefir will make. Remember to swirl or stir the milk and grains during the fermenting process, a couple of times a day if you can. Keep the grains and milk at room temperature either on your counter or in a cupboard.
The many wonderful uses for kefir are for another post, but some of the main ones are:
incredible kefir and coconut oil smoothies
making kefir cheese
making living probiotic whey for fermenting vegetables
making kefir ice cream
making fluffy pancakes
making sourdough bread…
making bircher muesli (basically raw oats soaked in kefir and fruit…)
making scones or biscuits using baking soda as leavening…