Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Fermented foods, part 2: Kefir

The last post addressed the dearth of information on this blog on my yogurt making habit, which has been going on pretty much continuously for the last eight years. This one talks about my first steps with kefir.

I can't recall how I started getting interested in kefir. Most of the web sites that turn up in a google search turn up vendors. Here is one site that is just useful information.

Kefir is fermented milk (usually) product. I say usually, since the cultures are used to ferment other food liquids, such as sugar water or coconut milk. Unlike yogurt, where I can just inoculate the milk with the culture from a previous batch, I need to use kefir grains, a symbiotic colony of various yeasts and bacteria, to culture the milk.

After a brief search, I could not locate kefir grains, live, dehydrated, or otherwise, in any of the local health food stores. Only premade, flavored kefir beverages. So I was forced to order my grains online. I finally settled on buying from someone in Idaho on eBay.

I order on Friday, they arrived on Monday, pretty sweet. They came in a plastic ziplock baggie, with some milk, inside of another ziplog bag, in a bubble wrap envelope, with instructions, a round coffee filter, and a rubber band.

Now, you might be concerned that milk traveling by snail mail, without any sort of cooling, would be pretty funky on arrival. That was not the case. There was pretty much no odor at all.

As soon as I got home with it, I immediately drained the milk with a strainer, and put the approximately 3 tbs of kefir grains in a 2 cup glass jar with milk from the fridge, covered with the coffee filter, set it on the counter.

The next morning, I lift the coffee filter to check it out. I was warned it would probably take a couple of cycles before I started getting good kefir, so my expectations for drinking anything were low. But what really amazed me is that there were no off-odors when I lifted the lid. If I had left uncultured milk on the counter, it would be pretty nasty by then. (As a side note, I don't know why, but my sense of smell has gotten rather inconveniently sensitive of late.)

Since it looked pretty good, rather than discard the milk and start the next batch (which are typical instructions for reviving kefir grains), I moved it to a larger jar, and added another couple of cups of milk. Since my kitchen is a little cooler than optimal for fermenting kefir, I left it for another 24 hours.

This morning, I was ready to strain out the kefir grains, and sample the kefir. Some writers warn to uses a very fine, non-metalic strainer. This is to avoid losing the very small kefir grains. I used a fine stainless steel strainer, and found that nothing really got through, so I switched to a coarser stainless steel strainer, and still had to shake the mixture about a bit in the strainer to get out the liquid. With that, I started up a new batch of kefir in a clean glass jar. My one concern is that it appears I have to give considerably more attention to care and feeding of kefir than I do for yogurt.

I sampled my first kefir this morning. A half cup, to make sure that any digestive surprises it gave me were minimized. ;-) It was a bit sour, as expected. I added a little bit of sweetener, and found it crossed the line into too sweet very quickly, so I will have to watch for that in the future. It was also slightly gritty, as predicted by Dom above, considering I fermented at about 66 deg F. I'm hoping for a creamier product when it gets warmer. And there was that tail of fizzy flavor that I recall from commercial kefir and kombucha.

The other notable from the experiences is that after drinking the kefir, all hunger vanished, and it was another three hours before hunger distracted me again.

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