New little kitchen buddies: Kefir

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up cooking with and drinking a lot of (cultured) buttermilk, and people just don’t use that much here. (Greater London;  eating and drinking clabber in general is apparently traditionally more one of those offputting Gaelic habits brought to Southern Appalachia. 😉 ) You can buy little cups of it like cream for cooking in stores here, but that’s it.

300mL container, slightly more than a cup

A few years ago, I got a good vigorous culture going, a jar of which left in the fridge even made it through a 6-month trip back to the US after some coddling and coaxing to revive it once I got home! Unfortunately, it’s not around anymore, because I went off dairy for about a year to see if that would help my allergy symptoms.

No such luck; the “milk allergy” I was diagnosed with as a toddler just seems to be lactose intolerance, probably from the Native side of things. That was the ’70s, when it frequently got called an allergy. Getting rid of most of the lactose through fermentation is a good bonus there, too. Mr. Sweden is still hesitant to eat or drink anything like that now, since he became part of the 2% there who can’t handle lactose after stopping drinking much milk for a while in his early 20s! He got really sick off commercial filmjölk, and doesn’t trust any of it now without cooking it first.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to get another culture going with exactly the storebought buttermilk in the picture. It must have been a pretty weak culture coming from the store, though, since the first batch was great but then the milk just went nastily sour. 😦 After that, I considered either buying a culture of filmjölk, or just getting  Mr. Sweden to pick up a carton to try as a starter from Totally Swedish. (He refers to it as buttermilk in English–and after drinking it when we were in Stockholm, I can see why.) I may actually still try that, at some point.

A liter carton--getting closer! 😉

Given my luck with storebought stuff as a starter recently, I thought I might as well just look at commercial starters–a small investment for a better chance of success! Looking at different cultures available, I was reminded of kefir, which I hadn’t actually tried but had found intriguing before.

There are a lot of overblown-sounding health claims out there, but what I found particularly appealing was the idea of a very stable culture that works at room temperature, without the need to sterilize jars and scald the milk. (Similar with fil and similar Nordic cultures, actually–good things in a colder climate!) I’ve had trouble keeping warmth-loving yogurt cultures going for any length of time because of the hassle and coddling required, actually.

The offputting bit? The kefir grains themselves. I know it makes very little sense, but I found the look and described texture of them unpleasant enough that I decided not to try it when I first looked into kefir a few years ago.

But, I finally figured it was worth trying, and got some starter grains off eBay about a week ago (for about £2 postage and packing, from an individual finding new homes for extras–my grains have already at least doubled in volume!).

I still haven’t brought myself to touch them with my fingers, but they’re actually not that bad to look at. Kind of like cooked cauliflower.

After straining a batch this morning. That's a US-size teaspoon; I got a tablespoon of grains, and have a lot more already! It turned out looking more yellowish against the very white colander.

So far, it has been really easy to deal with, even with the added step of straining out the grains and putting them back in the brewing jar. That takes a few minutes once a day, and a good hot water rinse is good enough for the colander and funnel.

I’ve been scalding the milk even though it’s not totally necessary, to give the culture a better chance until it gets well established. That seems to be happening, so I may just pour in a fresh bottle of milk for the new batch in the morning, as is. We started getting (super-fresh) milk delivered* in returnable glass British pint (20 oz./568 mL) bottles a few months ago, and one of those is just perfect for the size batch the amount of grains now will easily make in a liter jar. That’s also easy enough to drink up; I may scale up some to have more for cooking, before too long.

Since I moved up to a liter pickle jar (soaked with baking soda to get rid of the residual sour dilly smell!) from the initial 500 mL/bit more than a US pint mayonnaise jar, I’ve just been wiping some of the residue off with a paper towel above the milk line, and reusing the same jar. When it gets too curded-up, I’ll switch to a clean jar; as it is, the residue of the last batch should help it culture more quickly.

Before the grains and new milk went back in this morning.

Just put the grains back in, add milk, swirl it around a little, and leave it sitting on the counter for the wee beasties to do their magic. A swirl now and then during the day will help bring new nutrient-rich milk to the grains. It’s kind of interesting seeing the clabber form around the grains, which for me have been floating at the top of the new batch and gradually sinking to the bottom.

For more on making kefir, see the How-To page on Dom’s kefir site. A bit eccentric, but more info on kefir and things to do with it than I have managed to read through yet. 🙂 From Tammy’s Recipes, there is also a very good pictorial with lots of discussion (including troubleshooting) in the comments,Photos and instructions for making homemade kefir.

I’ve been straining the finished kefir clabber into a bottle to keep in the fridge, and just topping it up with new batches. (When it gets too curded-up, again, I’ll pitch it and use a new bottle. Trying to wash it out for recycling would be more trouble than it’s worth, from experience with other cultures.)  So far, I’ve been drinking it moderately sour, but would like to try aging it a little more at room temperature after straining.

Please ignore the counter clutter. My kitchen is a wreck, like the rest of the house right now. Now eating the elephant one bite at a time, as I'm able... 😉

The first couple of small batches after the grains arrived turned out kind of vinegary-smelling and yeasty, and I was glad I’d seen discussion of this at Tammy’s in particular. It often takes the grains’ organisms a little while to get back in balance after shipping or other stress, but they pretty quickly straightened out into something very pleasant-tasting, a lot like cultured buttermilk but with some extra tones I’ve been enjoying. It does have a nice bit of sparkle on the tongue, a lot like some buttermilk cultures will take on after a while.

Some of the bubbles are just about visible here.

I wasn’t even about to try drinking the first couple of batches–not because they would hurt you in any way, but just because that just didn’t smell tasty at all!–but ended up using the obviously very yeasty first batch in a “sourdough” starter I’m planning to post about next. Considering it was less than a cup of milk a go to begin with, pouring it down the sink is not much of a loss!

Now, after only about a week of letting the culture get acclimated, it’s tasting great. And I’m looking forward to seeing how the flavor develops, as the grains continue to get settled in.

A nice cup of just-shaken kefir. Well, a tea-stained one, so easy to get with the liquid chalk that passes for London water. *sigh*

Right now, I’m just pleased to get a good substitute for buttermilk or yogurt in cooking and for drinking. But, the more fantastic health claims aside, I’m hoping that the regular cups of stuff fairly jumping with multiple strains of probiotics will also do me some good.  Like a lot of other people with celiac/gluten intolerance, apparently, I have continued to have some problems with irritable bowel.

Come to find out, a vitamin D deficiency (which often results from celiac, yes) will cause IBS symptoms because it seriously messes with your immune system:

The relationship with vitamin D and IBS is cyclic. Autoimmune disorders are associated with vitamin D deficiency, but then can also cause vitamin D deficiency. The malabsorption caused by IBS results in deficiency of vitamins absorbed in the intestines, which includes vitamin D.

I am actually wondering if this is part of the reason I started reacting so strongly to gluten in the first place, with the increased gut permeability from that. It all looks very interconnected. But, whatever the sequence that got things rolling, with any luck regular homebrewed probiotics alongside correcting the deficiencies will help the lingering IBS symptoms!

But, yummy is enough. 🙂

_____________

* BTW, I still get tickled at still being able to get milk deliveries here; they stopped doing that before I was born, back in Virginia. I had seen/heard the electric milk floats going past in the wee hours–there was a smallish dairy depot just down the street until a few years ago, so we had a lot of them coming and going!–but was glad to find out how to sign up for delivery, when they started advertising for milkandmore.co.uk.  We can get unhomogenized organic milk for £0.79 a glass pint, fresh on the doorstep–not a bad deal at all! I hadn’t used anything but homogenized before, either, but am liking this.

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5 responses to “New little kitchen buddies: Kefir

  1. yay! I’ve been making kefir for about 6 months now. I’ve also been working on healing a leaky gut. I’ve been able to add in many food that I was reacting too prior to working on healing the gut.

    I’m not adding grains back in because it seems there are many good reasons to avoid most of them, but someday I may not have to be so hypervigilant about them as well…(I do eat quinoa and amaranth these days…soaked and sprouted before cooking!)

    I’m on a diet that blends GAPS and Body Ecology (my own blending) and it’s helping quite a lot. I’ve written a bit about it if you are interested let me know.

    Good to see you here again.

    • Glad to hear from you! Before my little hiatus, I remember you were posting about starting into a GAPS-based plan, and so glad that it’s been going well. I’d definitely be interested in reading more about what’s been working for you.

      Yeah, I’m slowly coming around to the idea that trying to help the gut heal up is a very good idea. Lots of things out of balance there, over the longer term. Glad you’re seeing results with that!

      Not sure I’m quite ready to go off grains entirely, though I haven’t been eating nearly as much of them as I used to, using the way my blood sugar reacts as a guide. Have definitely been trying to get rid of some of the phytate, etc. through soaking, and not eating as much pasta–quick and easy as it is! Interesting, I haven’t tried getting the sprouting process going with quinoa or amaranth–definitely worth a try. I love them both. 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for linking to my site! Very glad to see you are getting into kefir! I’m on the SCD / GAPS diet myself. I do have to say though, I don’t think it is fair that you say my health claims about kefir are over-blown.

    In my own personal experience and struggle against being infested with an obscure New Zealand mold and then getting typhoid in Burma, kefir has helped to heal my gut and my husbands asthma and allergies nearly completely. I would say the health claims for kefir are actually understated.

    I like your site though!

    hellaD

    • Thanks for stopping by. 🙂 I really didn’t mean to single your post out at all, and hope it didn’t come across that way. (More skimming random Google results, actually.) Being pretty new to some ideas, I guess I’m tending toward some skepticism. Supporting your body to let it heal makes a lot of sense, but I’m not sure how far that can go. Willing to try and see, though!

      Glad the kefir has helped you and your husband. And interesting about the allergies and asthma, since that is one thing I’m hoping that getting my immune system straightened out (partly with the probiotics) will help.

      Will definitely be dropping back by to read more. 🙂

  3. hi again…I’ve not written on the diet recently and actually I’m very sick again…but I’m very sick in quite not as severe a way so the improvement remains. My illness is complicated so I still feel confident the diet is working very well.

    These are the two pieces I wrote on it
    http://bipolarblast.wordpress.com/foodmedicine/
    http://bipolarblast.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/twomdssameconclusion/

    At this point I’ve married Body Ecology and GAPS…so I don’t have to eat so much damn meat…It was grossing me out and I’m not even a vegetarian…GAPS is simply excessively meat oriented and if you read Body Ecology you can learn a lot of healthy ways to move out of that rut.

    Also, the really amazing shift into improvement, like I said has shifted back, but my baseline is much higher than it was before the diet, but I’m mostly homebound again…I was able to leave the house daily for about 3 weeks…that is no longer.

    I’ve found a doctor who says the healing process can be like that with severe and chronic illness…it goes back to a sicker homeostasis after getting a lift…

    anyway…the recovery continues, even if at a snails pace.

    I hope you too find ways to feel better. It’s so hard being ill…one doesn’t seem to ever get used to it!

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