Kefir: It’s What’s for Breakfast

A few people have expressed surprise that this blog is not dedicated strictly to the brewery.  The brewery will have its own space, but for now there’s just not enough business going on to keep me writing and this blog interesting, so I throw in other topics that are meaningful to me.

Kefir, which is fermented milk, is an interesting cross-over topic for this blog.  Kefir is brewed with live cultures, similar to yogurt, but kefir culture also contains yeasts that convert milk sugars into alcohol.  The product is only slightly alcoholic, about 1% or so, so it’s not like it’s a beer substitute.

My first experience with kefir was completely unexpected:  This past holiday season, I purchased a quart of egg nog from the grocery store.  I decided to treat ourselves by getting one from a Western Washington dairy that doesn’t homogenize, and sells their products in returnable glass bottles.  I checked the expiration date, which was still a week or so off.

A couple of days later I decided to have some, so I pulled it out of the fridge, and as I did I noticed that there was some schmutz around the cap.  The tamper seal was still intact, so I pulled off the plastic ring and the lid popped open on its own!  Something was clearly amiss.  I sniffed it, and indeed something was amiss, but it didn’t smell rotten, it seemed to be only slightly off and had an odor closer to sour cream or yogurt.

I had heard of kefir and understood the concept of fermented milk, but don’t remember ever trying it and didn’t really have a point of reference.  This egg nog seemed far enough from rotten that I decided I’d give it a go — it’s not like I’d never tasted bad milk before.  It was thick, even for egg nog, and it had little chunks in it that I passed off as clotted cream.  It was also pleasantly effervescent!  It gave just a little tingle on the tongue.  The sweet richness of the egg nog combined with the tingle made it wonderful!  I drank the whole glass.

But then I started getting paranoid.  I still didn’t know it was kefir, or if it was safe for me to keep drinking, so I dumped out the remainder of the bottle and washed it down the sink, chunks and all.

A few hours later when I didn’t find myself running to the bathroom, I started to regret dumping the bottle.  When I say it was tasty, I mean it was addictively tasty.  I liken it to those little bottles of Starbucks Frappuccino, which I can hardly keep from downing in four gulps.  Willpower is barely enough to overcome my desire to just Hoover that stuff down, because my inner caveman just tastes an amazing combination of fat and sugar and wants more, more, MORE!

Where was I?

KefirpilzeOh, the egg nog kefir was damn tasty, and I wish I had taken the time to think about it little more before I dumped it.  Kefir cultures start with “grains” which are colonies of bacteria and yeast that clump together for their mutual benefit while they feed on the milk sugars.  The little clumps that were in the egg nog might have been kefir grains, and if they were I’m particularly sorry that I wasted them, because once you have some you can farm them for perpetual kefir production.  It’s very similar to mother of vinegar and sourdough — feed them, and they will continue to do what they do:  Produce some tasty eats!

So today I am heading out to Meadowwood Farms to pick up our weekly supply of eggs, but also to get some kefir starter.  Starter is a little different than the grains, in that it’s missing some of the critters the grains do have, but it should give me something to work with until I can procure some.

I’m excited about kefir for reasons besides my egg nog experience.  For as much as I enjoy dairy foods, I’m actually lactose intolerant.  Recently I’ve been trying to find foods that could help me work around some of those issues, and it’s been suggested that the probiotic properties of kefir might just do that.

Kefir is just another example of how fermentation can be fun, tasty and nutritious!