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Kefir is a fermented milk drink originating in the Caucasus. It is liquid, thicker than milk, sour, and a little yeasty. It can have small amounts of alcohol, but typically much less than ½% by volume. It is traditionally fermented using kefir grains, a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria passed down from generation to generation.

Care of kefir grains

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Kefir grains

When kefir grains are not in use they may be stored wet or dry. They can be stored wet up to 8 to 10 days in water at 4°C. Alternatively they may be wrapped in cheese cloth and allowed to dry for 36 to 48 hours at room temperature, and these dried grains may be stored at room temperature in an envelope for 12 to 18 months. Dried kefir grains may be reactivated by several successive growth cycles in milk. The grains are ready for kefir production when the kefir they produce looks and smells like the original (wet) form. This re-growth stage is required to re-establish the correct bacterial balance within the culture.

Kefir grains may become contaminated with undesirable bacteria such as coliforms and other spoilage bacteria that shorten the kefir shelf-life. To guard against this, kefir-making containers should be washed and sanitized prior to making kefir. Suitable containers include glass jars such as jam jars or pickle jars, but any suitably sized glass container will work. When necessary to wash kefir grains they should be also washed in pre-boiled and chilled water or fresh milk. Use of chloraminated tap water should be avoided, but if necessary it should be de-chloraminated.

Leavening agent

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Kefir can be used as a leavening agent when baking bread, because it contains active yeasts and bacteria. It can be used directly in a recipe, by replacing the yeast and half the water with kefir. Recipes that specify buttermilk or yoghurt can be made just as well (or better!) with kefir.

Alternatively, kefir can be used to create a sourdough starter. Add ½ teaspoonful of kefir to ½ cup flour and ½ cup water, mix well, and set aside to ferment for 12 - 24 hours.


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Kefir is delicious when consumed on its own, but it also makes a brilliant base for flavored milkshake or lassi-like drinks.