Ever since I got a yogurt-making machine as a wedding gift, I've become increasingly obsessed with fermenting things. I ordered a sample pack of different yogurt-starter bacteria and was surprised and intrigued by the different yogurt flavors and textures the same batch of milk produced, and how much tastier each of the strains were than the store-bought stuff. Being a Greek & all, my favorite form of yogurt has always been plain thick Greek yogurt with honey swirled in (especially when some of that honey stays in a lump on the spoon, and I get a little bit of it with every bite. HEAVEN.) Having the yogurt-machine was a nice introduction to dairy-based cultures, and right around the time I started feeling confidant about it, the lovely Julia Mueller of The Roasted Root reached out to me about reviewing her new cookbook, Delicious Probiotic Drinks.
I'd had store-bought kefir before and enjoyed it, since the fruity ones I'd purchased reminded me a lot of lassi-type beverages (basically a fruit and yogurt smoothie), and had always been really curious about the difference between kefir and yogurt. The curiosity was further sparked when I saw there were juice-based kefirs at the store, too. So, what does this term "kefir" mean? Kefir is basically a blend of different bacteria, including yeast, that reproduce in liquid to create a large amount of pro-digestive bacteria that keep the stomach healthy and help it break down food. There are two types of kefir, water-based and dairy-based. Water-based kefir is made from water, juice, and sugar, and the bacteria consume the sugar and reproduce. Dairy-based kefir is made from animal or coconut milk, and the bacteria break down the lactose, along with any other sugars present, and reproduce. The amount and variety of bacteria depends on the type of kefir starter you use.
I made milk-based kefir, and with that type of kefir you have two starter options, fresh kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter. Kefir grains are small, lumpy, opaque clumps that look kind of like off-white pieces of cottage cheese. They have more than 50 different strains of bacteria in them that promote digestion and overall gastrointestinal health. You can also use kefir grains to make kefir indefinitely, as long as they are adequately cared for (i.e. no cross contamination and never allowing the milk the grains are in to spoil). Meanwhile, powdered kefir starter usually only has about 7-9 strains of bacteria in it and does have a limited life span. With powdered kefir starter, you would use a little of the last batch of kefir and put it in milk to make a new batch. Whereas with the kefir grains, you just sift the grains out of the kefir and use only those in fresh milk to make a new batch. Kefir grains are only a little bit more expensive than the powdered kefir base, and they last longer and have a larger array of bacteria, so I went with the fresh kefir grains.
Like most of the products I own, I ordered the grains on amazon. They came with instructions on how to revitalize them, (which I go over in the recipe below), and once I read the through the cookbook's directions, I was pretty surprised by how easy kefir was to make. The steps basically go like this: put the kefir grains in milk. Let the milk sit for 12-48 hours depending on how warm your house is. Remove the grains from the newly made kefir. Place the grains in fresh milk. Drink the kefir the grains were in. Repeat every day forever. Of course, you can put the fresh kefir in the fridge to chill it before consuming, and you can mix it with fruit, too. Julia goes over a ton of different ways to flavor your kefir in her cookbook, and I chose to try out her honey-roasted banana kefir smoothie. Yes, it was as delicious and magical as it sounds. The sugars inside the banana caramelize when you roast it in the oven and creates this crazy banana-creme brûlée flavor, and then when you blend that together with a rich, creamy homemade kefir base, you end up with an incredibly healthy and ridiculously tasty way to start the day.
And homemade kefir is just the tip of the probiotic iceberg with this cookbook, there are recipes for kombucha, jun, rejuvelac and kvass; a traditional Russian pro-biotic beverage made from beet juice. Mmmm sweet sweet beet juice. I feel like my eyes have been opened to a whole new world of tangy, sweet, and sour beverage creations. Instinctively, I want to try making cocktails with the wide array of probiotic juice beverages, but I think that the alcohol would kill the beneficial bacteria, so I'll probably have to keep enjoying those two separately. In any case, this cookbook was a wonderful introduction to the world of making probiotic beverages at home, and I am so very happy that Julia is giving away a copy here for one of you to take home with you and fill your abode with probiotic goodness. To enter, use the rafflecopter widget below, the entry period ends April 17th at 11:59 pm Pacific Standard Time. Good luck, everyone!!!
1 tablespoon fresh kefir grains
3 cups warm organic milk (animal or coconut, must be organic because remnants from antibiotics in non-organic milk can kill the bacteria cultures in the kefir grains)
+ Kefir Smoothie
2 bananas, ripe but firm
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon raw sugar
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
First, make sure everything that touches the kefir and kefir grains is clean, as you do not want to introduce harmful bacteria into the fermentation environment. To revitalize your new kefir grains, place them in a clean container with 1 cup of the milk. Cover with a breathable fabric or cheesecloth and use a rubber band to make it taught and sealed. Let it sit for 24-48 hours, gently shaking it side-to-side a bit about 3 times a day.
Once the milk has thickened, use a clean mesh strainer to filter out the kefir grains. Keep the grains, and discard the first batch of milk. Place the kefir grains in another clean container and add 1 cup of fresh milk. This will be your first batch of kefir. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 12-48 hours, or until it thickens and the texture is like thin yogurt. The warmer your home is, the less time it will take, and vice versa. Strain out the kefir grains again, place them in a clean container with another cup of milk, cover with breathable fabric and repeat. The kefir you strained from this batch is ready for drinking! You can drink it at room temperature, or refrigerate it to chill it a bit. Feel free to blend it with various fruits, spices, or extracts to add some flavor. The next time you make your kefir, feel free to add 2 or 3 cups of milk instead of 1. It might take a bit longer to ferment, though, so keep an eye on the texture.
If you ever notice any spots of mold of any kind on your kefir, throw it all away, including the grains. This only happens if the materials that came in contact with the kefir were not clean, or if it was left to ferment for waaaaay too long. But if it does happen, it is not worth the risk of using contaminated grains to start another batch, so toss those little guys and order some new ones.
To make the smoothie, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel the bananas and cut them in half length-wise. Coat them in the honey and place them on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Sprinkle with the raw cane sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool completely. Once cooled, place the bananas in a blender or food processor with the kefir and cinnamon. Blend until smooth and serve immediately.