Although this fermented dairy product has only recently hit the scene as a trendy health staple, milk kefir has been around for over hundreds of years. Believed to have originated in the Caucasus Mountain region, the process for making milk kefir wasn’t shared with the rest of the world until the early twentieth century.
Originally referred to as the “Grains of the Prophet” by the people of the Caucasus Mountains, kefir grains are white, grain-like colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria resembling cottage cheese or cauliflower. After being mixed with milk, (traditionally whole-fat animal milk such as cow, sheep, or goat), these cultures begin the fermentation process. While the milk mixture sits at room temperature for 24 hours and ferments, the lactic acid bacteria converts the lactose into lactic acid, ultimately resulting in a low lactose dairy beverage. After fermenting, the kefir grains are strained out and the milk kefir is ready to drink. When stored properly, the kefir grains can be reused indefinitely. Another variation of kefir is referred to as water kefir which is made by mixing water, sugar, and more cloudy and yellowish colored kefir grains.
Flavor & Uses
Milk kefir has a tangy yet mild flavor similar to greek yogurt and smells reminiscent of buttermilk. The texture is smooth and creamy, like heavy cream or thinned out yogurt. And while this drink is delicious on its own, milk kefir also makes for a clever and useful dairy option when cooking and baking in the kitchen. Using kefir in cakes, quick breads, and muffins will increase the moisture and tenderness of the bake due to the increased acid in the kefir which helps to break down the gluten strands. Kefir can also round out the sweetness of smoothies and add some creaminess to salad dressings, coleslaws, and dips. Sourdough starters can even be made with kefir or skip the starter altogether and use the live cultures in kefir to bake a sourdough from scratch in a day.
Feature Image: Flickr user stone-soup (CC BY 2.0)