A Complete Guide On Kefir For The Newbies

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Kefir Grains

Introduction To Kefir | History And Definition

Healthy Milk Kefir Drink from CushFood.com

A Delicious Glass Of Kefir Drink

Kefir grains are what make Kefir or Bulgaros (in Spanish), the healthiest probiotic beverage. The health benefits of kefir are endless, and it’s easily one of the most affordable drinks there is. All you need are some live grains and some milk or water-sugar placed in a glass jar and you’re good to go!

The best way to have kefir is to make it at home with real live grains. Not those commercial kefir starters or cultures, but with Real Certified Live Kefir Grains. There is just no comparison to having the real deal.

Kefir grains are a strain of complex structures of bacteria and yeasts with proteins, lipids and sugars. At first glance, the grains look a lot like cauliflower. Inside these grains are countless beneficial bacteria that are good for the body. To take care of your grains, you have to place it in milk or a sugary solution so the grains have “food” to eat and grow. More about this later.

All real kefir grains are said to have originated from the Caucasus mountain area where kefir is believed to have been discovered. Kefir was first enjoyed by shepherds in the region of Caucasus (between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea) who kept raw goat milk in leather bags. By doing so, this accidentally fermented the milk and, lo and behold, they discovered kefir. And since the grains, when taken care of, last forever and actually grow and become more, you only need to buy one or get a single batch of these grains to make all the kefir you will ever want. Some say they were from Prophet Mohammad, while some believe it was first mentioned as “manna” in the Old Testament.

History Of Kefir here in CushFood.com

A map where Kefir was first discovered

For thousands of years, shepherds and townspeople in the countries within the Caucasus region benefited from kefir. They did not have any medical know-how or technical understanding about how it worked, but they just knew that they felt healthier, were freed from debilitating diseases, and lived longer lives.

The first official investigations on kefir were made by the Russians, and the first proven medical benefit was that it was a cure for tuberculosis. Soon, word of this wonder beverage caught on, and in the following years after that marvelous discovery, it was found out that it can treat more than one disease.

Kefir grains come in two varieties: the white creamy cauliflower-like type that makes milk kefir, and the yellowish crystal type that makes water kefir. Both kinds can do a lot for your health, body and life as a whole. You don’t even need to be sick before trying it out, since kefir drinks are both preventive and curative. If you want to know more about the benefits you get from milk or water kefir, go to this section of the site.

More information about milk kefir and water kefir on the next posts.

Kefir Culture | A Quick How-To In Making Your Kefir Drink

Here are two quick and simple ways on how to make kefir at home. And after that, see if you can make dairy out of water kefir grains and water kefir from milk kefir grains.

Milk Kefir Drink

Make milk kefir by getting 2 tablespoons of milk kefir grains, 2 cups of milk (raw milk if possible), a clean glass jar with a lid for fermenting, bottles to catch the liquid kefir after fermenting, and a non-metallic strainer and spoon.

Next, put your grains and milk in the jar. It shouldn’t fill up more than 3/4 of the jar. Stir gently with a wooden or plastic spoon and then place the lid to cover. Allow a little air to escape. Place at room temperature and let it stand for about 24 hours—allowing your kefir to ferment longer than that will result to a sour kefir with more curds and whey. Do not place the jar under the sun.

After the kefir is fermented, separate the liquid kefir from the grains by using a non-metallic strainer. It has been observed that metal substances can damage the grains, so make sure to use plastic or nylon when straining.

Wash your fermenting jar since you will perform this process a second time. Reuse the kefir grains for your next batch of drink.

Now your bottles of milk kefir are ready for drinking, but you can also store them in your fridge for some time to serve chilled later on. You can also let the bottles sit at room temperature to “ripen” the drink a bit. For those who love to experiment, milk kefir may be turned into a smoothie or ice cream.

Water Kefir Drink

Now it’s time to make water kefir. While milk kefir grains feed on lactose (milk sugar), water kefir grains eat sugar, and so the first step to making the drink is to sweeten your water base with sugar.

First, make sugar water by dissolving sugar; any type of sugar is fine. Put 1/3 cup of sugar in a cup of water in a pot. Heat the mixture, but don’t let it boil. Add 3 more cups of water after cooling, place in a bigger jar, and add 1 1/2 more cups of water.

Some use 1/4 cup sugar in one quart of water. Make sure to let the sugar completely dissolve first.

Second, put your water kefir into the jar of sugar water. Use about 1/3 cup of water kefir grains or a couple of teaspoons. Some people like to put half of an egg shell in the water. Apparently the grains love it.

Third, cover with a coffee filter or tea towel. Just as you did with your milk kefir, allow to sit for 24 hours in room temperature. Many water kefir users, however, allow a much longer fermentation time of up to 72 hours. Since the grains eat the sugar, the more you allow them to ferment in the liquid, the less sugary your drink becomes.

Fourth, strain out the grains to make another batch while enjoying your first drink of fizzy, bubbly water kefir.

Some allow the drink to sit for a few more days, while others prefer to drink the kefir after 24 hours and use lemon, ginger, fruits, raisins or vanilla to add flavor to the beverage. Water kefir grains are clear and translucent. Like water, they take on the color of the sugar (if brown sugar was used) or fruit flavor.

Milk To Water And Water To Milk

Both milk and water kefir drinks are easy to prepare especially after you have gotten used to making them for some time. The question most kefir users ask, however, is whether milk kefir may be used in sugar water to make water kefir and whether water kefir could thrive in milk to produce dairy kefir.

Milk kefir grains could grow in sugar water and create water kefir following the usual procedure. The lactose-hungry grains can feed on the sugar for some time since lactose is basically sugar. They won’t grow as healthy, though, so it would be better to put them back in milk. On the other hand, water kefir might find it difficult to survive in milk. They work better in coconut water or fruit juices if you wish to experiment on your liquid base.

Milk kefir and water kefir grains are two different substances, although they promise the same health benefits and produce the same kefiran sugar byproduct. If you wish to experiment by switching their liquid bases, make sure to save and store a few kefir grains just in case something bad happens with your experiment.

Once you have your grains, and have gotten used to making it, make sure to try all the other kefir recipes like making smoothies, soups and even cheese. All in all, the sky’s the limit when it comes to making use of your kefir.

Kefir And Sugar | How Much Is Enough?

Sugar to feed kefir grains

How much sugar is enough?

How much sugar is okay to put into my kefir drink? Is it possible to overfeed the grains and damage them in the process? Is it true that too much sugar in the kefir may cause a burning sensation when one urinates?

When consuming milk kefir, you don’t need to put any sugar at all, unless you want to sweeten it. Most milk kefir drinkers prefer it sour and tart-tasting, but adding a little sugar and fruit flavoring is also a good idea.

Milk kefir grains and water kefir grains are completely different substances, although both are packed with millions of helpful bacterial strains and both produce a sugar-based byproduct known as kefiran. While milk kefir grains feed on lactose, water kefir grains munch on sugar, which is why the most common base for water kefir is sweetened water. Coconut water and juice are the next options since they both contain sugar.

When making your own water kefir at home, adding too little sugar is a bigger concern than putting too much. Believe it or not, not putting enough sugar may, in fact, end up having too much sugar in your end product since the grains have not fully activated and therefore have not consumed the sugar content in your sweetened water.

According to most kefir users, the best sugar-to-water ratio when preparing your sugar water is 1/2 sugar to 2 quarts of water or 1/4 cup of sugar in a quart of water (both amount to 6% sugar solution). I always keep this ratio in mind and so far it’s been perfect. A sugar level less than this could damage the grains. With just enough sugar for the probiotics to feed on, this ratio is perfect for people with diabetes or candidiasis (yeast infection).

From this much sugar, the probiotics will eat up about most of the sugar and leave just 20%, which is mostly fructose, a mono-saccharide. Fructose is a single sugar, which is much easier to digest than regular sugar (sucrose).

It is also important not to put too much sugar than the recommended ratio. Water kefir grains are commonly referred to as sugary kefir grains or SKG because they are naturally rich in sugar. Too much sugar is never good, and so it is best to put just a reasonable amount of sugar in your kefir; although there is no proof that it will cause pain in urination.

Your end product should be a barely sweetened kefir drink. It should definitely be less sweet than the sugar-water base you started with. Having a fairly sweet water kefir drink means the probiotics have eaten up just the right amount of sugar and have left a few fructose behind.

Another important consideration other than the amount and ratio to water is the quality of sugar used. I use and recommend organic sugar, and this is not difficult to find. Going organic is always good, so I suggest that you use organic sugar in your coffee and other drinks or foods as well.

Non-organic commercial sugars have chemicals that could harm your grains. In some cases it could work, but it is best to stick with unrefined sugar.

I think it’s also important to mention the quality of water that you’ll use to make your kefir drink. To make the best sugar water, use mineral water and never chlorinated water. Do not use tap water, unless you boil it first then allow it to cool. Some boil the water with an egg shell, while others put a tiny pinch of baking soda to make the water purer.

Water And Milk Kefir | Differences And Similarities

The kefir drink comes in two varieties – milk kefir and water kefir. These two are hardly all that different since both are extremely beneficial and helpful in promoting good health and well-being. The differences are just in the grains, physical features and taste.

Let’s begin with the grains. Looking into a microscope, you will discover that these grains are actually alive and made up of yeasts and bacteria. Both milk and water kefir grains are cultures of yeast and bacteria that symbiotically exist in a matrix of sugars and proteins.

Milk kefir grains are white, creamy and fluffy, and look like miniature cauliflower heads. The symbiotic relationship of yeasts and bacteria produces these white, squishy and rubbery substances. As you ferment your milk with these grains, they will get plump and form curds. They thrive in milk, which is why you will end up with more grains after the fermentation process than how much you had before.

Water kefir grains are like grains of salt, only bigger. They are white, translucent and crystal-like. The bacterial strains in water kefir grains do not need dairy products to thrive, and so they may be used in water. Instead of lactose, they love to feed on sugar.

On the other hand, milk kefir grains and water kefir grains have three similarities: (1) both are called “kefir” because both produce a polysaccharide gel called “kefiran” during the fermentation process, (2) both are very beneficial to your health, and (3) both may be stored for a long time and reused several times.

Now let’s take a look at the drinks these grains produce and tell how differently they look in appearance. The two are not difficult to tell apart because, quite simply, milk kefir is milk and water kefir is water.

Milk kefir looks exactly how you would expect a milk to look like – white and creamy. But since this is fermented milk we are talking about, it is much thicker than regular milk and more like yogurt.  Right after the fermentation process, a jar of milk kefir will have curds and whey. These are removed as you take away the grains and begin to mix or swirl it around.

Aside from its health benefits, there are two things that I really like about kefir milk: (1) I can create smoothies and ice cream with it, and (2) it doesn’t spoil easily.

Meanwhile, water kefir is bubbly and fizzy, exactly how you would imagine carbonated water. Like milk kefir, you can add fruit flavors or fruit juices to your water kefir, and the color of the fruit juice will determine the color of your carbonated drink. There is one thing, though, that you can transform your water kefir into that you cannot do with your milk kefir—beer. With the right amount of fermentation time, you can create ginger ale kefir beer by simply adding ginger to your kefir.

Finally, how different does one kefir drink taste from the other? Milk kefir and water kefir have very distinctive tastes. While milk kefir is sour and tart-tasting, water kefir is sweet since the grains are kept in sugar water. The more you ferment your milk kefir, the more sour it gets; the more you ferment your water kefir, the less sweet it becomes. Their original tastes, however, don’t often matter since you will most likely add flavor and turn them into either a smoothie or beer.

Spicing It Up | Kefir Flavors And Kefir Recipes

Below are just a few suggestions on how to put some life into your kefir.

Make your own kefir smoothie

Make Your Own Delicious Kefir Smoothie

The easiest way to make any drink more appetizing is to sweeten it. You can add sugar to your milk kefir if you wish; honey or brown sugar is best. When preparing water kefir, however, honey is not recommended since it has been observed to damage or kill water kefir grains. You can enjoy your water kefir for a longer period of time by not using honey.

If you have a sweet tooth and wouldn’t like your health drink any other way, you can consider adding jam or jelly to kefir as well.

Here’s how to flavor your kefir and make it taste better. The simplest way to make apple juice kefir, for instance, is to simply buy your favorite apple juice from the grocery and mix it with your health drink. Follow a 1:1 ratio. You can make it even more interesting by putting in chunks and slices of apple. This applies with other fruits and fruit flavors as well. I know a number of people who love banana milk kefir.  Other popular fruits are lemon, kiwi and berries. Why not try this unique and yummy kefir drink.

Here’s one that kids will surely love—fruit-flavored milk kefir smoothie or ice cream. After you’ve sweetened or added a fruit flavor, you can blend or freeze your kefir to make it more attractive to children. Here’s a delicious kefir ice cream recipe.

While milk, smoothies and ice cream are enjoyed best by kids, adults appreciate a soda or beer every now and then. The most interesting way to spice up your water kefir drink is to create a soda or ginger ale beer from it. Water kefir grains carbonize pure water, and so water kefir naturally creates a healthy soda pop alternative. Add mashed or juiced ginger and you produce a healthy ginger ale beer. This is the reason why more and more people have converted from milk kefir to water kefir.

You can also create coconut water kefir by using coconut water instead of pure water.

A number of kefir lovers have become really creative by using kefir to transform any kind of food into a healthy dish. This is another similarity with yogurt. People have used yogurt to make delicious and healthy meals, and now they can use milk kefir as an even healthier substitute. It works well as cream soup, salad dressing or vegetable dip. Check out this kefir cheese cake recipe! You can also use kefir as substitute for coconut milk or yeast when making bread.

Heating or cooking milk kefir will kill most of the bacteria (the healthy ones). People who decide to include kefir in their meals would have to settle for kefir’s other contents, which are yeast, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

So there you go; five exciting ways to put some life into your kefir, so that it can give more life to you.

General Questions And Inquiries About Kefir

Here are some common questions about kefir that people are asking about.

Q: How is kefir different from yogurt?

A: Kefir is more nutritious than regular yogurt. It is also easier to prepare and less expensive. While yogurt has one or two beneficial probiotic strains that cleanse your gut, kefir has ten; that’s 500% more! Also, the probiotics in kefir repopulate in your digestive tract. This means they keep growing, cleaning and protecting you from the inside.

Q: What’s the difference or similarities between milk kefir and water kefir?

A: While there are general benefits of taking this wonder beverage, there are health benefits that are specific to the two types of kefir: milk kefir and water kefir.

For instance, milk kefir is an excellent source of protein and calcium. Water kefir may have higher sugar content, but basically the same vitamins. Both milk kefir and water kefir are rich in vitamins A, B2, B12, K and D, as well as phosphorous and magnesium.

The main difference between the two is in the grains used to produce them. The regular white, slimy, cottage-cheese-like grains produce milk kefir, while water kefir grains are more like crystals. Milk kefir grains are rubbery and slushy, while water kefir grains are tiny and translucent crystalline specks.

Milk kefir grains are made up of yeasts and bacteria that feed on milk while water kefir grains have fewer bacteria and feed on water and sugar.

Water kefir has three specific advantages: one, it is tastier, two, it is less expensive in the long run since you only need water to prepare it, and three, you don’t have to take dairy if you are on a vegan diet.

Q: Are there any other liquids I can use aside from milk and water-sugar solution?

A: You can actually use several liquid bases other than the two most common ones — milk and sugar water. One option is coconut water. Coconut water is highly nutritious.

Your second non-dairy option is apple juice. (Any sweet fruit juices apply here, really.) Simply place your kefir grains and apple juice in a clean glass container and let it sit for a day or two to ferment. The longer you let it stay, the less sweet it becomes. And surprise, surprise, it turns into an alcoholic drink!

Q: How can I get a smooth and non-bitter-tasting kefir?

A: There are three possible reasons why you are producing bitter kefir. The most probable one is that your grains are old. Avoid using your mother culture more than twice.

Another reason is the milk. It is common knowledge among many kefir drinkers that kefir tastes best and at its smoothest with goat milk.

And the third probable reason is that your grains may not be ready yet. If you have just purchased them or received them from the mail, culture them in a jar of milk for 3-4 days. Many kefir users observe that the most tasty kefir drinks are those that have been prepared over a 2-week period. They have more consistency and the sourness is just right. Shortening the soaking time of the kefir grains could cause the bitter taste.

Q: What can I do to my grains if I don’t want to ferment at the time?

A: When I am not fermenting, I keep my grains inside the fridge with milk and sometimes with water and ice. I put in more milk after 24 hours.

Q: What’s a good grains to milk ratio?

A: When making milk kefir, I observe this ratio: 2 tablespoons of grains with 2 cups of milk.

Q: How do I keep my water kefir grains healthy and growing?

A: Store them in sugar water so that they will continue to feed. Make sure to change your sugar solution every day though, so that they have new sugar to feed on. If you live in a warm area, expect them to be more active, and so you would need to change the solution quicker and more often. Do not use honey to sweeten your water; use less-refined sugar instead. It is also good to store them in the fridge so that they slow down a bit, which allows you to have a “kefir break” (which is a break from culturing, not from consuming kefir).

Q: What if I want to freeze my water kefir grains?

A: You can keep them in a freezer for up to 4 months. Just remember, though, that it won’t be easy waking them up from hibernation. It might take a few weeks before they start growing and tasting the way they used to again. They might seem dead after a month in deep freeze, but believe me, it takes more than a freezer to kill kefir grains.

Q: How long does kefir milk last?

A: While the grains last forever if fed and stored well, the milk itself can outlast the regular milk I bought from the grocery. I keep my milk kefir in the fridge for a couple of weeks to a month.

Q: Which container is best to use? Glass or plastic?

A: I definitely prefer glass. Glass jars are toxin-free and can be cleaned or sterilized much more easily. I can heat them up or use warm water to sterilize, which is something I can’t do with plastic.

Q: I have been reading a lot about the good benefits kefir has. It seems that this is too good to be true. Aren’t there any bad bacteria found in kefir?

A: Scientists who studied kefir grains were surprised to discover that there is not a single trace of bad bacteria in the grains. They even injected a pathogen, the E. Coli bacteria, but these were mercilessly killed by the probiotics. It seems pathogenic organisms cannot exist anywhere near kefir. Other studies proved that the probiotics in kefir also annihilate H. pyloru infections and fight other infections such as salmonella and cancer.

Q: I got some milk kefir grains a few days ago and was told to put some milk in them. I did just that and place the jar in the fridge. After a week, nothing seems to be happening. Am I doing something wrong? Have I killed my grains?

A: One of our readers had the same problem and did this instead. She drained the grains and put new milk, and left the jar in the counter for a day. She repeated this process for another day, leaving the container in the counter. She was able to have a delicious milk kefir after that, experimenting on other kinds of milk as well. Doing this will make sure that your grains will continue to thrive.

Q: How do I get that stringy effect back in my milk kefir?

A: Use whole milk for about two weeks. You can also use goat’s milk. This will make it stringy and slimy.

Q: Can I use soy/soya milk to make my milk kefir?

A: I haven’t tried using soy milk to make milk kefir because according to my good friend MP, from whom I got my first grains, research shows that 90-99% of soy is GMO or genetically modified.

It may not be a good idea to put all your grains in soy milk. You can experiment, of course, but make sure that you still leave a few of your grains growing in raw milk.

Q: I completely forgot to drink my kefir. It has been strained and left on the counter for 10 hours now. It has separated completely. Is it still safe to drink or consume?

A: It is still safe to drink. Your kefir drink will have become too sour, though, so if you can’t take the taste, you can toss it out and make a new batch. :)

Q: Can I heat up my milk kefir? I want to top my pasta dishes with some milk kefir by warming them up in a bowl over hot water.

A: Yes, you can heat up your kefir. Heating them up will not completely destroy all the good bacteria.

I love all things healthy! I try to live a well balanced life, not only with the food I eat, but also with my lifestyle choices. I find discovering new healthy food (my first is Your Kefir Source) that help nourish my body fun and interesting, and I'd love to share them with you. So, follow me on Twitter or G+, or both. You can also like my Facebook page!

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