For the past six months I have been playing with kefir. I read an article about making ginger ale in a Grass Roots magazine (GR211) and decided this could be fun. The article suggested that the ale could be made with kefir powder or grains. Since it appeared that grains were only available online, I decided to search for the powder.
When I visited my local health food store, I was offered a kefir milk culture. I hesitated as I have always considered myself lactose intolerant, but then curiosity got the better of me. So I walked away with the culture along with a packet of kefir powder sachets.
The kefir milk culture is amazing as it provides an easy way to make yoghurt. If a friend offers a kefir culture, I recommend accepting it. Put the culture into a glass bottle and pour in a litre of milk. Loosely cap the bottle and after 24 hours store the bottle in the fridge, still loosely capped. Start a new batch by placing ½ cup of the remaining kefir into a clean bottle and repeat the steps.
I let the first batch sit on the counter for a few days. By this time, the mix had separated into curds and whey. It was an early lesson on what not to do with kefir, and now the mix is always placed in the fridge around the 24 hour mark. However, it is helpful to know how to make a serious amount of whey if needed for a recipe.
The mix continues fermenting while sitting in the fridge so it is important to loosely cap the bottle. I have two jars with lids that easily pop up if the pressure mounts which means that the lid is often loose when I take the kefir bottle out of the fridge. Just about every article or blog I read about kefir mentions the possibility of closed jars exploding so I avoid any activity that could lead to this.
When to start the next batch depends on how quickly the current batch is consumed. Since it can take me up to three weeks to get through all of the kefir, I wait until I have just over ½ cup remaining in the bottle which allows enough to start the next batch along with a small amount to use on my meals over the next 24 hours.
Over time, my technique has evolved. I strain out any whey from the kefir starter through muslin before adding the milk, and now ensure that I use fresh milk. I believe that both of these steps guard against the resulting mix separating into curds and whey.
Google has been a helpful resource as I test out different methods for making the kefir. Some people recommend using raw milk while others succeed with any type of milk including long life and nut milks. It appears that just about anything can work which is good for those adventurous souls who like to try out new ideas.
I have a small bunch of what could be kefir grains that I look out for when starting the next batch. Fortunately their weight holds them at the bottom of the bottle so I just ensure that I scoop them up when I collect the kefir starter. It surprises me that my bunch of grains (if they are that) hasn’t grown in size. In fact, their size has diminished. I put this down to it being such a long time between making new batches.
I am somewhat chuffed that I have kept the culture alive for so many months. I have played with cultures in the past including sourdough bread and Amish Friendship Cake, and soon caved because it took so much time. I seem to have done a complete turnaround as I am enjoying the process along with my experiments making ginger ale which I’ll talk about next time.