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Monday, March 7, 2011

What is Kefir?

It's a probiotic gem (smiley face).

Kefir is a cultured milk product, similar to yogurt, that has been around for centuries, and is still in everyday use in parts of Europe and Asia (and making headway in America!).  Kefir "grains" (which look kind of like cottage cheese) originate when milk (usually from cows, sheep, goats--even mares, in the case of the Mongols) is left to ferment and, over time, develops into a polysaccharide (a chain of carbohydrates joined together by glycogen, or sugars).

The reason kefir is a probiotic gem is because it is rich with probiotics--little microorganisms that are good for you.  Probiotics are found in other fermented food with added live cultures, like yogurt, but are more abundant in kefir (click this link for yogurt vs. kefir).  In kefir, you have a blend of complete proteins, "friendly" bacteria, and lots of valuable B vitamins.  For practical health purposes, kefir stimulates digestion (it has helped a lot of people with intestinal and digestive problems).  It restores "good" bacteria to your body after a round of antibiotics. It even helps lower your cholesterol (click on the health purposes link above for more information about healthy benefits of kefir).

But all of those things are just bonuses.  The reason I love kefir is because it's cheap and delicious, and the perfect culinary substitute for yogurt, heavy cream, sour cream, and buttermilk: things which I do not always have on hand, which are expensive, and which are less healthy.  I make my own kefir at home by adding milk from the grocery store to my kefir grains (given and introduced to me by my wonderful dad, who ordered his kefir grains online originally).  The grains slowly multiply as you use them, so it's fun to share your kefir with friends.  {In fact, if you know me and live in my town--I can give you your own.}

There are a bunch of videos on You Tube that show you how to use your kefir grains, but I've just made a picture tutorial.  All you need to enjoy kefir every day is your grains, a glass jar, a fine-mesh strainer, and any kind of milk.  A lot of studies suggest it's healthier to use "fresh" milk (straight from the cow or goat), but I just use milk from the grocery store.  You can even use soy milk!

Then you put the grains back in the jar (I wash my jar out about once a week) and start all over again.  I use my kefir every day.  On weekdays, I make kefir smoothies for my husband and I first thing in the morning; we both save them for a mid-morning snack.  On Saturday morning, I make pancakes with my kefir, and on Sunday, I'll usually use it for a cake or biscuits

Below are some pictures with kefir tips.  If you leave the kefir out longer than overnight at room temperature, don't throw it away!  It will still thicken and it is still good.  If you want to stop the kefir from thickening, just put it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

As your kefir grains slowly multiply, you can store extra grains safely in your freezer for six months.  Just pour enough milk over the grains to barely cover them (you need to keep them moist) and freeze.  I always have some in my smallest (half-cup) Tupperware container in the freezer.  When you're ready to use it, just let it thaw at room temperature, strain the grains out, and start brewing with step 1.  About once a week, I will just throw a tablespoon of the grains into my smoothie along with the kefir.

The more grains you have, the faster your kefir will thicken, so there's nothing wrong with just letting your grains multiply.  Several times, I have used kefir twice in a day--the second batch is usually a little thinner, but still chock-full of healthy probiotics.

Speaking of probiotics--you are killing them when you use the kefir in baking, but it's still doing the job that buttermilk or sour cream would do: making your pancakes and muffins and cakes extra moist, fluffy, and delicious, without all the fat of buttermilk and sour cream.

My favorite recipes with kefir?  Best Buttermilk Pancakes, Huckleberry Cream Muffins, and Buttermilk Baking Powder Biscuits.  I always use kefir in place of yogurt when I am making a curry sauce, and my friend Cori uses it in place of the sour cream in Cafe Rio dressing . . . more like Kefir Rio!

I will probably add to this post as I think of more amazing things about kefir.  But now you'll know, when you're browsing through my recipes, why kefir is included in the ingredients whenever possible.


  1. A big, fat shout-out for the joys and blessings of kefir! I have a testimony of this post. Way to be a spreader of the glorious kefir news, Beck!

  2. This sounds great, I am excited to try it myself. A couple of questions though...So, how much milk do you pour over the kefir grains when you first start? And how do you store the grains after you've made one batch and maybe you don't need another batch until next week? Should you freeze them, or leave them out on the counter or something?

  3. You pour over however much kefir you want. I like to have two cups per day so I pour over a little more than half of a quart jar--I don't measure it.

    If you want to save some for next week, you let it brew overnight, then just stick it in the fridge (still loosely covered). It will hardly thicken at all at a cold temperature.

  4. My kids love kefir too, but up til now, I've just been BUYING it. No more! I want to buy some of those grains too. Very very cool. I'm going to share with my family ASAP.

  5. I'm so doing this!! And what a great food storage replacement for those perishable items! TFS!

  6. Great post! I like the idea of putting it in a smoothie. I wonder if can buy these kefir grains at ONF?

  7. My mom's visiting and taking some of my extra Kefir home with her! She's so excited--thanks for introducing it to me!


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