MILK kefir did not appeal to me when I was first introduced to it by a Canadian friend. I thought it stank, resembled rotten milk and was disgusting on the palate. Despite that, I made it a point to include it in my daily diet. I prepared batches from the first grains gifted to me by that friend, and kept a routine. Somewhere down the line though, I got distracted and left it dormant in the fridge. Months passed, and every time I peeked into the fridge, I saw that jar of coagulated milk and squirmed, telling myself that I’d take it out on some other time. I procrastinated till I felt guilty by just looking at the fridge. So, that’s when I just took it out, strained the grains from the old milk, gave them a quick wash in filtered water and brewed a new batch; this time, with renewed enthusiasm and admiration for this extremely resilient and healthful fermented food.
What is milk kefir?
It is fermented milk drink, much like yoghurt, inoculated with kefir grains. It is believed to have originated from the north Caucasus Mountains, and some believe that they are the actual ‘manna’ form heaven given to the Israelites during their 40-year wandering in the desert.
The ‘grains’ are not actual grains. They are only referred to as such for its grainy appearance and gelatinous texture. Typically, they look like an overgrowth of cauliflower, in the same milk cream shade. Kefir grains are a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts so they’re very healthful for the immune system with gut-healing properties. While the beneficial bacteria found in yoghurt help to keep the digestive tract clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria in the gut, they pass through the digestive system. Meanwhile, bacteria in milk kefir actually colonize the intestinal tract, and there are at least 30 strains of bacteria and yeasts in kefir as compared to yoghurt.
How to care for kefir grains?
While being a natural probiotic on its own, kefir grains are very easy to care for and sustainable. They live forever, as long as you handle them with filtered water or mineral water (if or when you wash the grains) and use non-metal appliances.
How to make your own milk kefir?
To make some milk kefir, all you need is a jar of full cream milk (best with raw, organic milk) with a spoonful of grains, and leave it on the kitchen counter for 8 hours, more or less. Fermentation happens faster in a warmer environment, so if your home is cool in the lower 20s, extend fermentation time by an hour or two. When it is fermented correctly, milk kefir looks like a thick yoghurt with a deeper tartness than yoghurt and a slight carbonated flavour. Strain it, keep the grains and repeat the process. Otherwise, just store in the fridge with some milk. It’s really all that simple!
How to take it?
Milk kefir can be taken on its own. Start slow with half a cup and progress to a cup. I like mine chilled with a dash of salt in it as it’s refreshing. To make it more palatable and interesting, milk kefir can be blended into your favourite smoothies by adding fresh fruits like mangoes and berries with some honey as per your preference. It can also be made into exciting popsicles to feed the kids.
Spread the goodness
With each round of fermentation, the grains grow and reproduce and these can be given away to friends and people in the community to keep it going. As it was given to me by someone, I have kept the tradition by giving it away to those who could use some whenever there’s extra. It is also a way to keep the grains alive and going; you may never when you’d be needing some again! Otherwise, you can buy the starter grains online from trusted stores and pay it forward.
Jay Jayaraj is a freelance journalist/ writer and embroidery artist who is passionate about health, fitness, food, craft, culture and travel. She loves everything homemade and handmade, and currently lives in Kuala Lumpur with her husband.