Kefir is an easily made, fermented yoghurt type drink that has huge health benefits, one of which is building up the immune system. It is made from kefir grains, which are composed of friendly bacteria and yeasts that happily coexist, unlike most other fermented milk starters.
It is said to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains, but everyone seems to have been laying claim to it for centuries.
Kefir grains look a little like cauliflower and its microbes break down the lactose in milk, which makes it suitable for the lactose intolerant. It can be made with cows milk, goats milk and even coconut milk. It tastes much like yoghurt but is not quite as thick and slightly more tart.
It is used widely all over the world, and many countries have different names for it. It’s a pity its use is not a bit more widespread in this country.
Reading about all the benefits over the past while, I have found that it contains high amounts of calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, it helps with protein absorbtion, it may also help lower cholestrol, and is wonderful for the immune and digestive systems.
Apart from its medicinal properties, what I love about kefir is that it cannot be manufactured. Beware of buying it online as there have been many reports of dud grains for sale. There are also versions from health food shops that produce about three or so batches, but do not live past that.
The only real way to get started (pardon the pun) is to find a giving kefir lover.
Most kefir costodians are only too delighted to share their grains. As the kefir grows it requires more and more milk to feed it, and therefore if it’s not being shared the extra is usually dumped before it eats you out of house and home.
It can however be frozen, or the grains can be eaten for extra proboitics.
I have been most interested in it from the children’s perspective. Keeping a healthy immune system is half the battle for us all, but particularly when kids pick up so many bugs in schools and crèches.
The flavour can take a little getting used to so I have been experimenting with ways to introduce it to my children’s diet.
Be sure to start out slowly. The body needs to get used to it and I found that taking too much in the beginning can make you queasy. Start with a tablespoon for the first few days and build from there.
Making Kefir: Most people say the kefir reacts badly with metal, but the degrees of this reaction vary depending on different reports. I use a plastic strainer, spoon and a glass jar to be on the safe side.
Instructions adapted from www.kefirlady.com, and there is much more information to be had there about its many different uses.
Put the grains (starter) in a clean glass jar.
Pour over two to three cups of milk.
Stir gently and cover with a muslin cloth. The starter needs to breathe. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Pour the cultured kefir milk through a plastic strainer over a palstic/glass bowl and gently stir with a wooden/plastic spoon until most of the kefir falls into the bowl below. Leave some kefir clinging to the curds – this helps start off the next batch.
Next scoop out the grains and place in a clean glass jar.
Taste the kefir to determine if they need more or less milk than before. If it’s too sour or has seperated into curds they need more milk.
Cover the grains with milk again and repeat the process.
Refrigerate the fresh kefir and drink the next day. It is more palatable when chilled.
(Each day you drink the previous day’s kefir from the fridge).
If you do not want so much kefir then remove some grains. Cover the grains you are using with milk and repeat the process.
Kefir and Rhubarb Ice Cream Pops
Makes about 6 depending on the size of your ice pop molds
The amount of honey in this recipe will depend on how tart your kefir is. I have added two tablespoons but its best to do it to taste.
2-3 sweet geranium leaves
2 tbsp honey
½ vanilla pod
Method: Chop the rhubarb up into quarter inch pieces and place in a pot on the heat.
Add the sugar and and stir until dissolved.
Add the sweet geranium leaves.
Cover and cook, checking and stiring occasionally until the rhubarb is almost broken down with a few pieces remaining. This should take about three to five minutes.
Remove to a bowl to cool, then place in the fridge until completely chilled.
Remove the sweet geranium leaves.
Add the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod to the kefir and mix through along with the honey.
Fill some ice pop holders with a spoon of kefir, then some rhubarb mixture, then more kefir, more rhubarb and continue until full.
Put the pop sticks in the freezer.
When frozen, run the ice pop holders upside down under a little warm water so the pops can be removed easily.
Banana, Pineapple and Kefir smoothie (serves 2)
200g pineapple, peeled and tough core removed
200mls kefir milk
1tbsp kefir grains
A small amount of water to loosen
Method: Blend the banana, pineapple and kefir in a liquidiser and add a little water to loosen.
Raspberry, Kefir and Granola pots (makes 6 small glasses)
120g fresh or frozen raspberries
Method: Put the raspberries in a pot on the heat.
Add the sugar and stir until disolved.
Cook for one minute and remove from the heat to cool completely.
Divide the raspberry mixture between six small glasses.
Gently pour in kefir so it does not mix with the raspberry compote.
This can be made ahead and refrigerated.
Before serving, sprinkle a tablespoon of granola on top (optional).
Thank you to my kefir friends in Clifden who started me with my grains and gave me all the information to go with it!