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21 Mar 2011

An Easy Elixir: Dairy Kefir

Recipe by Thistlemoon

We are 100% addicted to kefir in this household. If we miss drinking it for some reason, the whole rest of the day feels “off.” Dairy or milk kefir is a delicious probiotic, a cultured milk drink that has over 2,000 years of history. The story of Kefir takes us back to the Caucasus Mountains, located between Europe and Asia. Shepherds there noticed that milk carried for long periods of time in leather pouches or animal hides would sometimes ferment to create an effervescent beverage.

We have been making and drinking kefir everyday for about a year.

We have noticed some remarkable changes since using it regularly – everything from clearing up chronic skin problems, to easier digestion and better immunity. We refer to it as an elixir because it is good for so many things. When you start to read and understand the inner workings of this amazing drink, you understand why its effects are so over-arching.

The catalyst that creates kefir are the “kefir grains,” which are not actually grains but a colony of microorganisms which exist in a complex symbiotic relationship, in balance. The grains are formed during the process of making kefir and only from pre-existing grains.

What sets kefir apart from other cultured dairy is the number of various organisms, both bacteria and yeast, present, as opposed to just one microorganism like most other dairy cultures.

Due to the variety of microorganisms, kefir is extremely beneficial to our health. Even for those who are lactose intolerant! Kefir’s abundance of beneficial yeast and bacteria provide lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process.

Kefir is an immune booster, and contains a high amount of calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins, Vitamin K, and folic acid. Due to all of the chemical reactions that occur when it is cultured, it is easy to digest allowing the body to absorb all of the nutrients. Kefir is an amazing probiotic, as it helps to regulate and balance intestinal flora, controlling the overgrowth of yeast. All of these friendly cultures also make kefir an excellent remedy for digestive issues of all kinds, and a great elixir for people overcoming serious illness, especially if they have
been treated with antibiotics. Studies have even shown that kefir stimulates peristalsis and digestive juices in the intestinal tract. This was discovered by Elie Metchnikoff back in 1908!

The best news is that kefir is extremely easy to make at home. Here is what you need:
* Milk – any variety will do, but ultra-pasteurized milk is not recommended. I recommend raw milk (if available) or full fat un-homogenized milk aka “creamline.”
* Kefir grains
* Small unbleached muslin bag
* Clean glass jar (I use a pint size)
* Non-metal strainer
* Pourable glass jar

To Make Kefir:
Place kefir grains in the muslin bag and drop into the glass jar. Pour milk into jar until it fills the jar. Place a cloth over the mouth of the jar and allow it to sit out on the counter for 24-48 hours. The first few times you use your grains, it may not culture properly. So I recommend only using a cup of milk at a time in the
beginning, and changing the milk every 24 hours. Around the 3rd attempt, it should culture properly. I have noticed that in the spring and summer, my kefir cultures in about 24 hours. But in the winter it can take up to 48 hours.

Once the kefir has cultured, using a non-metal strainer, pour the kefir into a pourable glass jar. You can store the kefir in this container, or pour it into a different glass container for storage. Then rinse the muslin bag and squeeze it to make sure that if any milk has cultured in the bag it comes out. Then you are ready to start the process all over again.

Kefir will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. But you need to make your kefir regularly. As soon as one batch has cultured, clean your tools and start a new batch. If you are going away and can’t make your kefir as soon as the next batch is finished culturing, you can store your grains, in the muslin bag in about a cup of
milk in the fridge. When you want to make kefir again, just discard that milk and start again as you normally would.

I highly recommend getting your kefir grains from Cultures for Health. You can also get cheese and yogurt cultures there, as well as a variety of other products to make fermented foods like sourdough, sauerkraut, and kombucha. They are a fantastic small company with very good customer service. So if you have questions, they can help. Cultures for Health: http://culturesforhealth.com/Kefir-Grains-c37/

Frozen Kefir Pops
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups kefir
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (I like to mix raspberries, blueberries and currants)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of cinnamon
Pinch of dried or fresh lavender

Method:
Mix all ingredients together in a blender and pour into popsicle molds.
Enjoy!

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