Kefir FAQ

 

Water Grains on the Left, Milk Grains on the Right
Water Grains on the Left, Milk Grains on the Right

 

Most cultures have some kind of fermented food in their food history. Most cultures still include a fermented food/drink within their daily meals. Kefir, Kombucha, sauerkraut, pickling (see here and here for recipes) and making yoghurt has become very popular again. It is not a coincidence that there is also an increased interest in using natural methods to help combat the increase in digestive weakness and immunity issues coming up in our own health and that of our children. Fermenting is a key way to help re-balance and re-build the body’s strength and health. Here is an insight to my journey, using fermentation to heal.

Bacteria is not something to be feared. It is natural and all forms (even Candida and Helicobacter Pylori) are essential to health and for optimum performance for the body. As we will see, with any ferment- the ingredients (what the bacteria feeds on) and the environment (ph, temperature and contact with oxygen) are very important to get fermenting right. Our bodies now more than ever are becoming more acidic with our diets containing more processed, sugar laden and dead (pasteurised and containing non natural ingredients) foods. These two factors will contribute the imbalance of our gut bacteria alone without adding in overuse of anti-bio tics and over sterilisation of our environments with chemical cleaning products.

However we are turning around from it in a big way and wanting to become food producers and using natural methods more and more. Every small step will have a big impact; Kefir is a little step that is relatively easy to take.

When I first got my Water and Milk grains off of someone I had no idea what to do. All the instructions I could find (and there are a lot of internet sites out there!) were different. It seemed very confusing and a little over my head. Until one day I thought- oh well let’s just try it and see what happens. I now teach courses on how to make it (and Kombucha- that is a whole other FAQ!) and I strive to make it accessible and exciting to get others to build communities in order to share and learn together. In that way I decided to put together a FAQ to try and encourage others to take that first step! These are a list of all the questions I am commonly asked and my answers.

 

Q. What is Kefir?

A.  Kefir is a blend of yeast in bacteria living harmoniously. It is a natural pro-biotic. Kefir grains, whether water or milk, are essentially cultured beneficial bacteria and at the essence the same.

 

Q. So why is one called Milk Kefir and the other Water Kefir?

A. When the liquid is fermented, the grain will take on some of the liquid and will also change colour and consistency. So while the bacterial properties of the milk and water kefir are the same they potentially look different. However I have used water kefir grains to produce milk Kefir and vice versa. It sometimes takes a couple of batches and maybe a little rinsing to get the product back to tasting exactly the same as before- what I end up with is still Kefir.

 

Q. What do I need to make Kefir?

 

Basic Tools
Basic Tools

 

A. You need the grains, a liquid to ferment (any milk or water, juice or sweet liquid), vessel to ferment in (normally glass jars or jugs) a cloth to cover the top (to keep out dust and bugs) a plastic strainer and spoons. Metal and Kefir do not mix well so everything should be plastic or glass that comes in contact with the kefir.

 

Q. Why are my grains not multiplying like everyone elses?

A. Kefir is alive and every grain is different. I have used the same grains (albeit passed on many times) for over a year now and no two batches of Kefir have turned out the same. I have used different milks, ratios of liquid to grains and even tried to change them from milk to water and vice versa. Every time I get kefir, sometimes I get a lot of grains other times I don’t! You just have to remember that the grains need food (sugar), temperature (body temp) and they like agitation (so stirring them can also have an effect). Try using a UHT if you are normally using fresh or vice versa. Try adding some sugar or changing the time you ferment for to see if any of that has an effect. If you have a few grains then start with a smaller amount of liquid to let them grow, then add the amount as the grains multiply. I started with 1tsp grains:1 cup liquid. Failing that get some grains off someone in the community!

Q. My water Kefir grains are not working as well and my kefir is thick like syrup, is it ok to drink?

A. I find it can help by using a combination of switching environments, adding acidity (sometimes ie lemon juice) rinsing and resting. If you have alkaline water lemon juice works well as does adding egg shells. If you have distilled water or a filter which may take away minerals an egg shell or a pince of salt can sometimes revive grains. I have been using a mix of sugars- coconut sugar, molasses, maple syrup or dates. I sometimes use a combination of all of the above. Sometimes adding a bit of ready made water Kefir to the mix works nicely too when they are a bit tired. Lastly rinsing the grains in plain water overnight can also help, simple strain and add to sugar water in the morning.

Use your senses to decide whether it is safe to drink. Smell, taste as well as sight are very important in anything to decide what is right for you and your body. Then when you have tasted some, what is your gut instinct, act on that it is more reliable than what I can tell you from here!

Q My milk grains seem to have disappeared or are reducing in number?

A I have found that in this temperature the grains seem to be producing a thicker kefir quicker but straining them is becoming difficult. I am now keeping more of a yoghurt starter to make my kefir. When the temperature cools down the grains will be easier to detect and will look more like a cottage cheese. See above also to get your grains to multiply.

 

Q How do you know if it has gone off?

A Kefir in milk has a slightly cheesy scent (like off milk) and a sour taste. It is down to preference. If there is visible green or black mould then normally I would say to dump the kefir and start again- or scrape off the mould and use the remaining kefir in the bath. The water will taste fizzy and a little sour. It will have a vague sulfur-y smell. If it smells really sulfur-y then either leave with the lid off for a while and taste it, otherwise pour it down the sink and re-populate our environment with some good bacteria!

 

Q My milk kefir has separated is it off?

A. Not necessarily, just stir it up it is fine to use as long as it doesn’t smell like rotten eggs etc as above. It is really up to you what you consume. Cheese is mouldy and relies on bacteria so the worst that will happen is it becomes like a blue cheese! Start to use your power of smell and taste agin and rely on instinct. Ferment to taste and take it further and further each time. The worst that can happen is diarrhoea.

 

Q I really don’t like the taste. What can I do?

A. Either mix in a little with other things for example mix a little into a smoothie or dilute with some coconut water or other real fruit juice. Add some fizzy water or play with second ferments. Add fruit or herbal teas, flavourings and a little extra sugar to try and educate your palate again. 2 weeks of tasting things can change your taste buds.

 

Q. How do I get my kids to drink it

 

How do I get my Kids to drink Kefir?
How do I get my Kids to drink Kefir?

 

A. Same as above- however kids are more likely to want what you are having- so lead my example and don’t ask a child to try and eat anything you are not willing to try or have yourself! (actually same goes for wanting kids to stop eating things too!)

 

Q. What is the difference between Kefir and probiotics as I am happy taking my capsules?

A. They are cheaper to use then bottled probiotics. They are also alive and not freeze dried like in the capsules so are ready to inhabit and balance the bacteria in your digestive system. Safe for everyone Kefir can be taken while pregnant and is great for babies (not the milk kefir before the age of one) Capsules will help promote good bacteria but will not take up residence like Kefir does (source) Also Kefir has 35 strains of alive bacteria working together in symbiosis. How many strains are listed on the back of your probiotic capsules? Check out this report

 

Q If it is so simple why would I take a course to learn how to do it?

A My course is designed to help give you confidence. To learn how to make Kefir and to taste all the different types to find one type that you and your family will like. To understand what to do with it, how to do a second ferment and to leave with ideas motivation and a group of people you can share recipes, disasters, triumphs and brainstorm with. It is to return to fermenting roots, rituals and to use food as a community builder.

 

Hope this helps and get in touch if there are any other questions you have or want to find out where to get some grains to get going with. Or you can buy the book here;

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DO you have any favourite Kefir Recipes?

 

5 Reasons to Make Kefir

 

Grains in the picture are water grains I ferment with Coconut Sugar and Filtered Water  or Coconut Water (hence the colour!)
Grains in the picture are water grains I ferment with Coconut Sugar and Filtered Water or Coconut Water (hence the colour!)

 

Fermentation is the “transformation of food by various bacteria, fungi and enzymes they produce” (The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz- awesome book. The transformation is enormous.

Fermenting is a natural phenomenon. Very little is actually understood about the make-up of the starters and how they grow, transform and multiply. Some do it spontaneously and some are seemingly indestructible. The trans-formative power of fermentation can produce alcohol, preserve our foods and make them more digestible, less toxic and more delicious.

1. Vibrant is how I tend to describe fermented foods especially Kefir. We would not exist without our bacterial partners. Our digestive systems need them and this system is vital for the procurement, absorption and assimilation of nutrients used to power every other body system. Our immune system depends on it and we could not use or store energy without them. The product is amazing! When using a UHT milk you will get a superior product with more nutrients ready to be absorbed. If you go up the scale and ferment a Raw Milk (sadly impossible for us here in HK) you are getting a true super food. The same goes for your water Kefir- if you use white refined sugar you are getting the bacterial benefit, if you are using a coconut sugar or maple syrup there will be so many more nutrients available within the water

2. Kefir is a natural pro-biotic. Kefir grains, whether water or milk, are essentially cultured beneficial bacteria. It is what they then go onto culture that makes them one or the other (milk or water). However with time and patience they can be used to culture both. If someone gives you ‘milk kefir’ grains you may be able to use them to culture any milk (cows, goats, sheep’s, soy, rice, any nut/seed or coconut). ‘Water Kefir’ grains may be used to culture Water (sugared water, juice or coconut water). This means that grains can produce different results based on where they are from and what they have been used and no two batches will be the same. They feed on the lactose in the milk and the sugar in the water (coconut or juice). 

3. They are cheaper to use then bottled probiotics. They are also alive and not freeze dried like in the capsules so are ready to inhabit and balance the bacteria in your digestive system. Safe for everyone Kefir can be taken while pregnant and is great for babies (not the milk kefir before the age of one) Capsules will help promote good bacteria but will not take up residence like Kefir does (source) Also Kefir has 35 strains of alive bacteria working together in symbiosis. How many strains are listed on the back of your probiotic capsules?

4. Kefir is so easy to make. Liquid (containing sugar), warm environment (room temperature) and grains. Leave for between 12-24 hours strain and go. Other forms of fermenting can take longer and be a bit more tempermental! The Grains are virtually indestructible and can be stored easily in the fridgeThe Kefir community is inclusive and open to all so you should be able to find grains from someone in your area. (The grains are meant to be free but some people may charge postage or a nominal fee- my grains are free to come and collect!) 

5. What to use it in. I add it to a smoothie every morning. However you can also make yoghurt from it, use it as a sourdough starter, pancakes, ice cream, chiaporridge, cereal, raw cookies, green drinks;the possibilities are endless. Use them on your skin and is great for Eczema (in the bath, grains as a face/body mask, in a spray bottle for after swimming and my favourite way is as an alternative to shampoo; the water and coconut water are amazing on hair and the milk kefir is great as a hair mask- try mixing it with a little coconut oil) Come and find my Fermenting Inspiration board on my Pinterest where I also share other great ideas). This post is just addressing the first ferment– with an additional second ferment the possibilities for goodness, nutritional content and taste are virtually endless!

 

If you are in Hong Kong come on one of my Fermenting Workshops to taste and learn Kefir, Kombucha and Coconut Yoghurt within a community! See my events board on my facebook page or subscribe to my newsletter to be kept up to date with all recipes and tips! Learn more buy buying my book;

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