Valerie O’Connor conjures up some gut-loving ferments with Kefir grains, which when mixed with milk, creates a yoghurt-like drink.
Milk kefir (pronounced kef-heer) dervied from the Turkish words for ‘feeling good’ is another probiotic food in the wonderful world of ferments and is easy to make and maintain at home.
Kefir has numerous health benefits from aiding digestion to helping you get a good night’s sleep.
Kefir is made from particles called grains that look a lot like popcorn and feel like jelly.
The origins of kefir is surrounded in mystery but its believed to have started in the Caucasus almost one hundred years ago and since then, Irina Sakharova has been formally recognised by the Soviet Ministry for Health for bringing kefir to the Russian people.
The grains contain yeasts and bacteria with milk proteins and complex sugars. Kefir is made by pouring milk onto the grains, preferably raw milk as it still contains all of its powerful bacteria, or raw goats milk.
If you can’t get raw milk then use organic milk if you can.
The milk converts the grains into a yogurt-like drink over a number of days or, sometimes, overnight depending on the milk and the conditions in your kitchen.
Due to the lactic acid in the milk, the lacto-fermentation process happens at high speed and you can get the benefits of milk kefir with a fermantation period as short as one day.
The milk will turn, jelly-like into kefir around the grains. The kefir is then simply strained and the grains rinsed.
The process can be repeated indefinitely. The grains will multiply and can be divided and frozen or given to a friend.
If you care for your kefir it will keep on living for years.
Kefir is a powerful aid to restoring your good gut flora and it acts as a natural probiotic as well as an antibiotic.
The process of fermentation converts the caseins in the milk making it easy for those who are even lactose intolerant, to digest.
Kefir has many uses from drinking it straight, to putting it in smoothies, adding it to your sourdough breads, nut breads and muffin mixtures or pouring over some honey or cordial and enjoying it as a refreshing drink.
For anyone trying to give up sugar and sweets, kefir is a must, its unique tart taste alters your taste buds so that you find, quite quickly, the things you once enjoyed like a sugary, chocolatey sweet, now taste waxy and unappealing.
Kefir grains can be procured from a fermenting enthusiast or you can order them online from kefir.ie
Making and caring for your kefir
You will need a clean glass jar
Kefir Grains — one tablespoon is enough
Milk or organic tinned coconut milk for a fully dairy-free version
Pour 100ml milk, at room temperature onto your kefir grains in a jar, cover and leave in your kitchen. You can add to this jar for up to five days, or you can strain and use the kefir after one day, the choice is yours.
Strain the grains though a plastic strainer as contact with metal will kill them. Rinse the grains using filtered or bottled water, as chlorine will not help your kefir to grow.
If you don’t need your grains immediately the best place to store them is in the freezer, just rinse them and pop them in a small jar or a freezer bag and freeze until you need them or somebody wants to start their own kefir colony.
You only need about a tablespoon of grains, so when the colony grows, it’s better to split it and keep the grains in small quantities in the freezer to give to people who want them, or keep some for yourself in case you kill your own. It’s quite hard to kill them though, they are very resilient.
Yoghurt is bursting with beneficial bacteria that are great for your gut. It’s so easy to make and all you need is to buy a tub to get you started. Commercial yoghurt is often heated or pasteurised to a point where all of the good bacteria are killed off, leaving you with little or no active probiotic.
Home-made yogurt will have a different texture to commercial varieties, but if you find it’s too runny for your liking you can simply strain it through muslin overnight to make a thicker yoghurt, reserving the whey which drains from the yoghurt as this is an important tool for making other ferments.
Old McDonalds Natural Yogurt is widely available is perfect to start off. Using raw milk instead of commercial will give you a much sweeter result. If you want to retain as much of the milk’s good bacteria then make your yoghurt like this. It’s worth investing in a milk thermometer for accuracy.
1 litre goats or cows milk 50g/2oz live probiotic natural yogurt/ standard natural yogurt works well too just be sure it isn’t a thickened variety Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
Heat the milk in a clean pan until just below 180Fdegrees, use a thermometer for this. Remove the pan from the heat and sit it into a basin of cold water and allow it to cool to about 110F - or if you stick your finger in it should feel like body temperature.
Stir in the 2 tblsp yogurt and cover the pan with a clean tea towel.
Turn off the oven and place the pot into it, leave it overnight, or put the lid on the pot and wrap it in towel and put it in the hotpress overnight.
In the morning, or at least eight hours later you will have deliciously smooth and creamy yoghurt.
Alternatively, pour the mixture into a clean thermos flask that you have just heated up with some boiling water and leave it overnight.
You might want to keep a thermos just for this purpose. Sometimes it takes longer than a day to set, so if it doesn’t happen right away just leave it for another day.
Once the yogurt is set, keep it in clean jars or a tub in the fridge and use within the week.
This yogurt can be used in lots of other recipes and of course, is the perfect starter for your next batch.
You can easily make delicious coconut yogurt at home using organic, tinned coconut milk with the highest fat content you can find, this will give a richer result.
Once again, thanks to the Happy Pear twins for the inspiration here.
1 x tin coconut milk
1 tsp maple syrup
2 tblsp shop bought organic yogurt or the contents of 2 capsules of probiotic cultures - I use BioKult
Whisk the yogurt to get an even consistency and heat it in a glass bowl over simmering water until it is 37C, use your yogurt thermometer for this, but it is pretty much body temperature.
Whisk in the maple syrup and cultures and transfer to sterilised jars or a flask as above.
Once you store it in the fridge it will become thicker. Use it up within a week.
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