For Christmas, my sister-in-law, Miriam, gave me some Dairy Kefir (or Milk Kefir) grains.
What the bazookie are Dairy Kefir Grains?
Well, Kefir Grains aren't really grain at all. They're live yeast and bacteria existing in a symbiotic relationship, used to ferment milk into a slightly sour fizzy pro-biotic drink (about the consistency of buttermilk, or a little thicker).
Purported Health Benefits of Dairy Kefir
Dairy Kefir can aid with digestion, limit the growth of pathogens in your body, boost your immune system, and help prevent cancer.
In addition, it's loaded with folic acid (a must for all women of gestating age),Vitamin K, phosphorous and biotin. (For more information, and footnotes to these claims, read more about it at Nourished Kitchen).
Is Dairy Kefir hard to make?
No! Unlike other cultured dairy products (uum... like yogurt) which require raising and lowering of temperatures, sustained incubating times, caution from yeast floating in the air, etc. etc., Dairy Kefir is practically fool proof and only takes 24-48 hours to culture, depending on the temperature in the room. Literally all you have to do is dump some activated grains into some milk, cover with a coffee filter and rubber band (to keep pests out), and strain before using (so you don't swallow the cultures).
How does Dairy Kefir taste?
Straight up, it's rather like watery plain yogurt. Not exactly "Yuuum!!" but not exactly "blech" either. Add some frozen fruit to make it a smoothie and it's delicious!
So smoothies are the only way to slurp it down?
No. There are tons of recipes online using dairy kefir. It can be the base of a homemade salad dressing, used in place of buttermilk in pancakes or waffles, used to lacto-ferment vegetables, used for ice cream or frozen dairy pops, over granola, in place of sour cream or yogurt in recipes (especially dips), as a soft cheese (like cream cheese) etc. It's just particularly easy as a smoothie.
What if I'm lactose intolerant?
Actually, the way the culture survives is by eating up the lactose in the milk (the part you're allergic to). So while I won't say lactose intolerant people should run out and slurp this up, many lactose intolerant people have reported zero problems drinking dairy kefir. So it might be worth trying, even if you've had reactions to lactose in the past (with caution, of course, depending upon how allergic you are).
Also, this can easily be made dairy-free by using coconut milk, rice milk, or soy milk (though I wouldn't recommend the latter for other reasons).
Alright, so how does it work and where do I find Kefir Grains?
I've seen Dairy Kefir grains on E-Bay, on Craigslist, and from health stores online. I did not, however, find them in my local health food store (though I don't live in a booming metropolis, so maybe you'd have better luck). If you order Dairy Kefir Grains from a company like Cultures for Health, they come dehydrated (dormant) in milk powder. There's a rehydration period of typically about 5 days, but up to two weeks, where you put the grains into a cup of milk, let it go to town for 24 hours, and then drain and repeat. When the milk starts to sour and thicken, your grains are rehydrated and you can begin using them.
If you have any friends who are crunchy granola, they might already have some dairy kefir grains. Because they're live, they grow and proliferate. So your friend will most likely love to share her extra grains with you, in which case you can get started right away.
I'm starting to rehydrate my grains today. Here's a quick easy video from Cultures for Health to show you how to rehydrate Dairy Kefir Grains.
Additional Links and Resources:
Local Places to get Dairy Kefir Grains (I don't know how often this is updated)
Some Health Benefits of Dairy Kefir
Seven Yummy Ways to Eat Kefir
This post is linked to: Monday Mania, Real Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday, and Fight Back Friday.
Full disclosure: I get a tiny kickback if you decide to order anything from Cultures for Health by clicking through the links above. If you do decide to give this a try, I'd appreciate it if you would use that link.