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More wild cultures

August 5, 2011

Can you guess what my latest crazy culture growing is all about? Kefir – milk and water versions. This will confirm to certain visitors to our house that I am quite mad. Ten years ago when we first got chickens in our backyard we were seen as being quite ‘out there’ in our very conservative neighbourhood. Our local council did not even have any by-laws that related to backyard poultry. Now it is quite common and lots of people we know have chickens. Two years ago we started on sourdough thanks to Celia and that caused its own stir, resulting in quite a few little jars of sourdough being passed around and taken as far afield as Melbourne and Brisbane. A year ago we got bees. Very much a novelty. I am sure in a few years time I will have the same people who have been giving me odd looks telling me about the virtues of bee keeping. But this latest episode of culture growing I might just avoid mentioning to visitors to our house. They haven’t gotten over the bees as yet and this will be really too strange for them.

I digress. Let me tell you a little about kefir. Kefir is thought to have originated with the shepherds of the Caucasus region. Marco Polo mentions it in his travels! It is basically a cultured or fermented probiotic drink made traditionally with milk. I had vaguely heard of it before and I think bought a bottle of kefir drink from a middle eastern grocery shop once many years ago. It was sour and disgusting and I never thought about it again. Then I came across a reference to water kefir a few months ago and was intrigued enough to track down someone in Victoria who sold me some of her water kefir grains. While I was buying some I decided to get some of the milk grains as well even though I was less interested in them since I avoid dairy. My plan was for Sam (who adores milk) to have the milk kefir as a replacement to the yakult we sometimes buy. And I thought that I would give the water kefir a try myself. Didn’t think my kids would touch it. The woman I bought it from gave me lots of helpful information and told how kefir has more than ten times the amount and variety of good bacteria than yakult.

The kefir grains duly arrived in the post a week before I left for Copenhagen. I had to get eight year old Tara to promise to feed them while I was away – I decided that she would be the most responsible person in the house to take on the feeding of all my crazy jars of cultures! She did a great job of it too.

The results? Sam won’t touch the milk kefir. I had forgotten how sensitive he is at detecting milk that is about to go on the turn. Too sour and disgusting for him. I am convinced that I will win him over though so I keep feeding it. He loves natural yogurt so I am sure there is just a mental stumbling block I have to overcome here before I get him hooked. I gave the jar to my mum but it came back after a week as they could not stand it either. I have been using it in bread and cakes, a bit like a buttermilk replacement. The other day I put it into a blender with a heap of frozen raspberries and sold it to my kids as a bit of raspberry gelato. Big success.

To me it tastes a lot like yogurt. The flavour changes depending on how long you leave it to brew, getting more acidic each day. In the first photo you will see that the water has separated out from the milk solids – this is a sign that it is ready. You stir it through and then strain out the grain. Pop them back in the bottle and top up the jar with milk. I use milk straight from the fridge and leave the jar of kefir out on the bench. This will have to change in summer ofcourse. Here is what the grains look like (and they have grown in quantity since I first got them):

The water kefir is surprisingly nice. Tara loves it and happily pours and drinks a glass of it every day. I usually don’t get much of a chance to have any! Along with mineral water we put a date, a wedge of lemon and a teaspoon of sugar in the jar to feed the grains. The result is a slightly sour, slightly sweet, lemony drink. “Quite like lemonade” according to Tara. One time I put some raspberries in a glass of kefir after straining it out of the jar (can’t put them in with the grains or it will kill them) and left it for a day. I ended up with a really delicious pink raspberry flavoured drink. I plan to make it again if I ever get a chance to have some of it.

I think Tara recognises that it helps her tummy and digestion and goes and gets herself some if she has a sore tummy. She is also the child who knew instinctively as a baby to avoid food that she was allergic to. I can still picture her turning her face away when people tried to feed her cake or yogurt or similar. It took us months to catch up to what she already knew but could not communicate. I find that drinking some of the kefir after I have had some dairy or gluten (which I should be avoiding) immediately settles my tummy. Once this culture grows some more I hope to drink some every day and see what sort of effect it has on me. Unfortunately the water kefir grains grow much slower than the milk kefir so I will have to wait a few more weeks before I can do that. It has been a fun experiment though and I certainly plan to keep it going.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2011 5:28 PM

    That IS all very interesting. So glad to hear you’ve found something that helps with the milk and dairy intolerances. Looking forward to hearing more.. 🙂

  2. August 6, 2011 1:09 AM

    Kefir is great, and it’s really exploding onto the scene. Good for you to be out in front of the health changes coming in probiotics!

  3. August 6, 2011 5:35 AM

    I read and read and read on a big kefir site about this last year and I got soo confused and decided that it was one fermenting jar too many to have on the go in a two person household, but I have heard so many good things about it that I still really want to have a go. I remember looking to see who would supply it and came across this thing that kefir grains aren’t supposed to be sold but given/passed on. Is that part of the kefir culture in Australia too or is it just here? I am particularly curious about the water kefit and you have reignited my curiousity with this post 🙂 I have a book called Wild Fermentation, which has all sorts of home fermentation projects to try, most of which sound a bit scary…

  4. August 6, 2011 12:04 PM

    I’ve never heard of the water kefir before, I’ll have to look it up but it sounds interesting. Mu daughter love yakult too, but I hadn’t thought of kefir as a substitute.

  5. August 6, 2011 7:54 PM

    How interesting. I’ve read bits and pieces about it, but I don’t think much has sunk in as I still don’t have a grasp of what it really is and why… can you buy it in a health food store?
    I’m intrigued though and if Tara is enjoying it and actively seeking it, it must be good!

  6. August 11, 2011 10:18 AM

    So interesting. Your a modern scientist. I’m impressed. Thanks for sharing, it really is an area, I never would think to get involved in.

  7. August 12, 2011 10:14 PM

    It’s really interesting to hear how your children have taken to it and that you feel it helps settle your stomach. We call the water kefir “tibi” and when it works well it fizzes and is like fizzy lemonade. We managed to keep ours going for a year as a delicious, slightly sweet fizzy drink, but ended up losing it. We must try again. As for kefir, it doesn’t have to be sour. We’ve been having it every morning for breakfast for the last 14 years now and CT has it off to a fine art. I won’t touch the grains as the look of them makes me squeamish, but I’m very happy to drink the result.

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