The road to health is paved with good intestines!
Sherry A. Rogers
You’ve heard of the benefits of pro-biotic drinks like milk kefir, but to really appreciate the benefits, you need to consume them regularly, even daily. So, what if you could make these amazing drinks at home and take control of your health and well-being?
What is milk kefir?
Milk kefir is an ancient fermented dairy drink that literally means ‘feel good’ in Turkish. It’s a drinking yoghurt loaded with microbial goodness for your digestive system. It uses a culture, referred to as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeasts), to ferment the lactose in milk into lactase which is much easier to digest. The culture is also known as milk kefir grains but these have nothing to do with gluten and they look like small gel-like cauliflower florets when they are strained from the milk. Milk kefir is frequently made using cow’s milk but other simple dairy forms include goat, buffalo or camel milk which work just as well if you have access to them!
Milk kefir is a microbially complex probiotic drink that should be consumed regularly in small amounts to re-inoculate your gut with beneficial bugs. When drinking it remember to think microbially, you don’t need to drink much to consume a diverse range and millions of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. It includes more than 35 different strains of bacteria and yeasts…….some say more than 50!
It really is amazing and of all my ferments it’s one that I’ve come to really care about - because of how I feel now, what I can make with it, and even the look of the culture!
If the thought of consuming fermented milk does not immediately appeal, it’s still worth giving it a try, because the benefits are too numerous to ignore and it tastes like tart milk not off milk. There is a difference! It can also be fermented to be sweeter or more tart as well as flat or fizzy! Yes fizzy kefir!
Milk kefir is such a tasty drink and is so easy to make at home, plus it has loads of creative potential with what its abundance can be used to create. At home we are playing with smoothies, labna, dips, ‘cheesecakes’ and dressings for salads. As the weather warms up we’ll start kefir ice-cream, dehydrated kefir lollies much like rollups, cultured cream and cultured butter! It’s become a nerdy adventure of what more can we make.
What are the benefits of milk kefir?
When you regularly consume something like milk kefir, which contains so many beneficial bugs, you are re-inoculating your gut with probiotics which will crowd out the available space for pathogenic or bad bacteria. As 70-80% of the immune function comes from the gut this will improve your immune function as you tip the balance in favour of the good guys. Modern lifestyles, stress, antibiotics and the toxic chemical load that you are exposed to daily will impact the diversity of gut flora you have and milk kefir, among other things, is one of many ferments that can remedy this imbalance.
Re-establishing a balanced, diverse gut flora will then impact mood, sleep and even your skin health. I think life just becomes sweeter as your digestive health improves. I’ve yet to fully understand why but re-establishing a healthy gut flora not only connects you to your health but also connects you to people and community. It’s interesting.
How do you make milk kefir?
Making milk kefir is as simple as adding dairy milk in a glass jar to some milk kefir grains, loosely securing the lid and leaving them to ferment for a short while before straining off the grains, consuming and starting again. Each time you ferment the grains will grow and multiply, so excess fermented kefir should be stored in the fridge where it will continue to ferment but more slowly as the culture has been removed and the temperature is cooler. You can even freeze the excess grains if you get too many.
To make milk kefir at home consistently the way you like it means you have to understand the factors that impact it! So, the proportion of kefir grains to the amount of milk is important because the more grains proportionally to the amount of milk means it will ferment faster. Conversely, if you have added extra milk proportionally it will take longer to ferment. Also, if the temperature is warmer, it will ferment faster and if the temperature drops it will take longer to achieve the same flavour and consistency.
These tips are handy to remember as your milk kefir grains will multiply with each batch and they are responsive to the seasonal temperature changes so you have to observe and adjust as well!
If you over ferment a batch, your grains will be happy but you’ll probably see your creamy drinking yoghurt separate to curds at the top and whey at the bottom. All is not lost or ruined! The batch will just be less sweet and tarter than if it were a creamier consistency. Just shake the jar vigorously which will mix them back together, then strain to collect your grains for the new batch.
Once strained you can still consume it as plain milk kefir or add flavours and a sweetener like honey in a smoothie or strain it to make a yoghurt cheese like labna. I am enjoying it each day in smoothies when there is enough time or just plain if I’m in a hurry. I strain the excess fermented kefir into a labna for dips which extends the life of the kefir even further….and the dips taste great!!
Where to get milk kefir grains?
So, can you create the milk kefir grains from scratch? No, and that’s part of the beautiful mystery surrounding them but you can be given them from a friend or find some from a share list of others who are making milk kefir. Or you can buy them. I have them available in my workshops for students.
One of the lovely things about milk kefir grains is that the individual grains grow with each batch and new ones start. I love seeing them bounce around in the strainer as I separate them from the fermented milk and often marvel at how they’ve grown. It’s a lovely feedback loop that lets me know they are happy! The grains feel rubbery and a bit sticky to the touch which is how to distinguish them from the dairy curds that may also get caught in the strainer.
How often should I ferment milk kefir?
Ideally, ferment just enough milk kefir for you to consume in one to three days even though it will last up to a week. As you get more comfortable with the process you can make more to share with friends, or to use for second ferments.
It’s a nice challenge to find the balance and rhythm in your milk kefir making but it’s worth it. In the scheme of life, balance is something that we need to reconnect with so, even if that balance only starts with a simple ferment culture called milk kefir, it’s a start!