USING KEFIR FOR EXCELLENT DIGESTIVE HEALTH AND IMMUNE FUNCTION
Did you know most of your immune system is in your gut? One of the most important health habits, practiced by traditional cultures all over the globe for centuries, is eating fermented or “cultured,” probiotic-rich, living foods.
My entire family stopped getting sick, and never again got a flu or bacterial infection, when we made it a daily habit to eat homemade cultured foods. Many modern health problems are related to a lack of healthy organisms in the digestive tract. And these billions of teeming flora are our main protection against viruses and bacteria. People who have taken antibiotics have severely depleted healthy flora, which leads to getting sick over and over, inflammation in the gut causing many modern diseases, and an inability to digest foods and utilize nutrition.
Step 8 of my 12 Steps to Whole Foods is about how to culture foods.
The easiest, least-expensive way to get live, fermented (or “cultured”) foods into your diet is to make homemade kefir. It tastes much like yogurt, but has even higher numbers and a broader range of beneficial microorganisms than yogurt does. And it doesn’t require any cooking—it’s simpler to make.
You can drink kefir plain. I make a smoothie for my children with milk kefir every morning, blended with bananas and berries. I use coconut-water kefir every morning as the base of my Hot Pink Breakfast Smoothie (see Ch. 11 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods). You can use it to ferment grains for sourdough bread or any baking recipe, breaking down wheat or other grains and making them far easier to digest. Use it as part of the liquid called for in your recipe. An extra step that is beneficial for your health is to soak the water/kefir (about 5:1 ratio) in flour or grains, 8 to 24 hours in advance of making the recipe.
Sometimes, especially in hot weather, a clear yellow liquid separates from the milk solids in your kefir, which is called whey. Do not throw this mineral-rich, nutritious liquid away. You can drink it plain or in a smoothie. It can be used – 2 Tbsp. in a cup of water – to ferment a quart of raw cabbage to make sauerkraut that will last 2+ years, covered, with no boiling-water-bath or pressurized canning. It can also be diluted with 5 parts water as a tree or plant/shrub fertilizer!
To purchase water kefir grains, click here. For milk kefir grains, click here.
How To Make Milk Kefir
Put 2-4 Tbsp. kefir grains in a clean glass jar. Pour 2 cups fresh milk over them (at room temperature, not cold from the fridge, which shocks the grains). Stir gently. It’s best to use raw, whole milk, that has not been treated with hormones. Cover with a lid or tea cloth and let sit at room temperature for 24-36 hours. Shake or stir it once a day. The kefir will smell tangy and the mixture will be thick when it is done. You can let it ferment a shorter or longer time according to your tastes.
Pour cultured milk through a fine-mesh strainer. The kefir grains will remain in the strainer. Scoop them into your next batch of fresh milk to begin again. Do not rinse the grains; it’s okay if some of the kefir goes into the next batch. Scraping and rinsing your live kefir grains traumatizes them.
How To Make Water Kefir
Put 2-4 Tbsp. kefir grains in a clean glass jar. Pour 3 cups coconut liquid in the jar, or 3 cups of filtered water. If you are using water, add ¼ cup honey, organic Sucanat or coconut sugar, or raw, organic agave. Optionally, add 1 tsp. molasses or a piece of an organic eggshell. (Your grains will thrive on minerals, and the eggshell or molasses is mineral-rich.) Stir gently, then cover with a lid and let sit at room temperature for 3-5 days.
Taste it, and if it is very sweet, it needs to ferment longer. (Fermentation consumes the sugars.) Water kefir can ferment for many days, even two weeks. Kefir made from coconut liquid should be refrigerated after about 2 days, as it ferments quickly.
I recommend keeping a quart jar of water grains in sugar-water on the counter, and if you are making coconut-liquid kefir, throw the grains out (or eat them) after 4-5 uses, because they become limp and soggy. Just take a few spoonfuls out of your water kefir once a week, to use in your coconut liquid. This method lets you constantly grow your water grains, so you can share with others and help them improve their health, and you can use new grains when old ones get mushy in coconut liquid over time.
Water grains proliferate like rabbits and guppies, much faster than milk grains! Consume your extra (in a smoothie) or give it away.
Q: What if my kefir is very thick and separates into curds and whey?
A: Remove some of the grains, and add more milk to your batches. You can eat kefir grains for the probiotics when you have too many, or give them away as they proliferate.
Q: What if I have to leave town for a week? Can I put them in the fridge?
A: If I leave town for 2-4 days, I put twice as much milk as normal in a half-gallon jar and just leave it on the counter. If you refrigerate your kefir grains, they become dormant. They will still make kefir when you return, although your first couple of batches may take an extra day. But they may never grow, thrive, and multiply/ reproduce again. Therefore, when I leave town for more than 4 days, I have a friend babysit my kefir grains and give them fresh milk every 2 days.
Q: What do I do with so many kefir grains, after they have grown for a while?
A: Give them away, or eat them for the wonderful probiotic benefits (you can blend them into a smoothie). You can use any extra kefir you have in your bath water, in the water you wash your face with, or on your garden or house plants diluted in 5 parts water. All living things can benefit from probiotics and minerals.
Q: My friend wants some of my kefir grains. But my kefir grains aren’t multiplying. How can I make them increase?
A: Keeping kefir grains in the fridge or a cold place makes them stop multiplying. Leaving your grains at room temperature for a length of time, and adding only room temperature milk, may help them become more active. Also, don’t squeeze or wash your grains, which traumatizes them. Avoid using too many grains in too-small an amount of milk. Two tablespoons of grains in 2-3 cups of milk each 1-2 days is a good average amount. Also, use raw, whole milk.