Kefir is like buttermilk. That is to say, it tastes like buttermilk. It also has the consistency of buttermilk although the batch I made recently was a little thicker than ordinary cultured buttermilk you find in the grocery store. If you like buttermilk, you will love kefir!
The early beginnings of milk kefir are a bit of a mystery. Most all research points to kefir originating in the Northern area of the Caucasus Mountains, between Russia and Georgia. It was there that a tribe of people first figured out how to use kefir grains to ferment milk in simple leather bags. It's hard to say what these highlanders did with kefir or how they first came by it. Unfortunately, there were no written records, only a story passed down.
We do know that kefir grains were regarded as part of the family's wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. The kefir was made from cows or goat's milk in sacks made from the hides of animals. Occasionally it was also made in clay pots, wooden buckets, or oak vats. In some areas sheep milk was also used. Usually the kefir sacks were hung out in the sun during the day and brought back into the house at night, where they were hung near the door. Everyone who entered or left the house was expected to prod the sack to mix the contents. As kefir was removed more fresh milk was added, making the fermentation process continuous. For many centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone. Strange tales spread of the unusual beverage which was said to have 'magical' properties. Marco Polo even mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East.
However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis and intestinal diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, kefir was difficult to obtain and commercial production was not possible. Traditional home-style method always produces the best kefir. And luckily for us, kefir grains are not hard to find. I found mine at the Chico California Natural Foods Store. If you look around you will find some, too.
Kefir is really good for you! I started looking into naturally fermented products when I heard that pro-biotic supplements could be contaminated and actually make you sick. And since I am a "natural is best" kind of gal I started the research into alternative sources. It is said that lacto-intolerant people who drink kefir will notice an improvement in their digestion. After a lifetime of taking antibiotics at one time of another I developed an inability to eat certain foods that I used to enjoy immensely. Beans, for example. However, I can now say that I am back to enjoying beans and everyone else is happy as well.
Here's how to make kefir:
No special equipment is needed. All you need is good quality milk and your kefir grains. I used St. Benoit (of course!) whole Jersey cow milk. You can also use 2-percent milk. It can be raw or pasteurized.
Heat 1 quart milk to 180 degrees. I used a candy thermometer on the side of the pan. Take it from the heat once the temperature is reached and set it on the counter to cool. Cool until it reaches room temperature. The ideal temperature is about 75 degrees. Dissolve 5 grams (5 grams of grains to 1 quart milk) of culture in a small amount of the cooled milk in a cup. Pour the mixture back into the quart of milk and put into a clean container.
I just pour the milk back into the glass milk bottle that the milk came in. Why not? It just has to be a clean container. I figured the remaining milk in the jar would mix with the other milk and I was right. Mix well.
Cover the container and let stand at room temperature until curds form. That is about 24 hours. My curd formed at about 20 hours. Then refrigerate about 8 hours to stop the fermentation process. Stir to liquefy and enjoy! After that, store your kefir in the refrigerator. You can add strawberries or blueberries or whatever fruit you like and blend.
Research came from Yemoos Nourishing Cultures.