Well. Just what is that? It looks like cottage cheese. Or…cauliflower? But it’s not.
That, my friends, or rather, those, are kefir grains. By now, I think a lot of Americans have become familiar with kefir—it’s that stuff that started appearing in bottles in the refrigerated section a few years back, next to the yogurt. Some people call it liquid yogurt, but it’s not quite that.
For one thing, kefir is far easier to make than yogurt, and that’s saying something, because making yogurt isn’t hard. But all I had to do to have fresh kefir for my smoothie today was pour milk into the jar you see there, put a lid on it, stick it on top of my fridge, and wait. Voila. Today, beautiful, creamy, sweet-sour kefir.
Kefir trounces yogurt when it comes to probiotic content. It contains several potent strains of beneficial bacteria that can implant themselves in your intestinal lining and balance your flora, improving your digestion and increasing the efficiency of your immune responses. Kefir also contains beneficial yeasts that will help overtake the bad yeasts (Candida albicans! Dun dun dun!) If you have digestive problems or are coming off a round of antibiotics, kefir is the drink for you.
The origins of kefir are shrouded in mystery. You can’t make kefir grains from scratch, you can only grow them from other kefir grains. They replicate themselves. How did they come to be in the first place? No one knows exactly. All we know is that they originate in the Caucasus Mountains in Russia. Legend has it that they were a magical gift given to pious Muslims by Mohammed. Who can say?
Wherever they came from, they are beautiful and strange. They have an extremely pungent odor, so much so that when I first took off the lid of the jar and was hit by the smell I thought Gross! but quickly realized that it’s just the sour, fermenty smell of yogurt times ten. The grains glisten. They seem alive, and they are.
The kefir I woke up to this morning tastes better than any store-bought kefir or yogurt I’ve ever had, and for just the price of milk—which, if you’re familiar with the cost of various dairy products, you know is far less than the price of anything made out of milk. If you can get your hands on some grains, you really have no excuse not to make your own kefir. It’s too economical, too easy, too delicious, and too healthy. Scope out Craigslist, buy a couple of mason jars and a bottle of milk, and ferment yourself away.
A few tablespoons kefir grains
A quart of milk
About 24 hours
You can use any kind of milk you like for this project: I use raw cow’s milk, but you can use pasteurized milk, or goat’s milk, or even soy milk or almond milk or rice milk or coconut milk. Some people say that kefir grains won’t reproduce in non-mammalian milk, but they will still make your milk into kefir.
Plop the kefir grains into the bottom of a quart-sized glass jar. Fill the jar with milk. Cover with something. Cloth, waxed paper, glass, or non-reactive metal are all fine.
Put your jar somewhere out of the way. Wait. Stir the milk and the grains up together occasionally, if you think of it.
After about 24 hours, strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a strainer. Put the kefir grains back in the jar, top it off with milk, and repeat the process. Store your finished kefir in the refrigerator. Or drink it right away. It’s tasty with honey, or in a smoothie.
After a while, you’ll notice you had more kefir grains than you used to. Give some away, so that others can experience the wonder of kefir. Or feed them to your pet. Or fertilize your plants with them.