Wednesday 25 April 2018

Milk kefir: the probiotic with feel-good factor

For anyone trying to give up sweets and sugar, this fermented food is a must - and you'll get a great night's sleep as well

Kefir and scoby
Kefir and scoby
Kefir cream cheese
Natural yoghurt
Valerie O'Connor

Valerie O'Connor

Milk kefir (pronounced kef-heer) is derived from the Turkish words for feeling good. It is another probiotic food and has numerous health benefits, from aiding digestion to helping you get a good night's sleep.

Kefir is made from particles called grains that look a lot like popcorn and feel like jelly. They are a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeasts, known as scoby. The grains contain yeasts and bacteria with milk proteins and complex sugars. Kefir is made by pouring milk on to the grains, preferably raw milk as it still contains all of its powerful bacteria, or raw goat's milk. If you can't get raw milk then use organic milk if you can.

The milk converts the grains into a yogurt-like drink over a number of days, or sometimes overnight, depending on the milk and the conditions in your kitchen. Due to the lactic acid in the milk, the lacto-fermentation process happens at high speed and you can get the benefits of milk kefir with a fermentation period as short as one day. The milk will turn jelly-like into kefir around the grains. The kefir is then simply strained and the grains rinsed. The process is then repeated indefinitely. The grains will multiply and can be divided and frozen or given to a friend. If you care for your kefir scoby, it will keep on living for years.

Kefir is a powerful aid to restoring your good gut flora and it acts as a natural probiotic as well as an antibiotic. It has been credited for aiding a lot of problems, from acid reflux to constipation, and can even be applied topically to rashes and cold sores.

It's tranquillising effects on the nervous system mean you can enjoy better sleep and less anxiety. The process of fermentation converts the caseins in the milk, making it easy for even lactose-intolerant people to digest. Kefir has many uses from drinking it straight, to putting it in smoothies, adding it to your sourdough breads, nut breads and muffin mixtures, or pouring over some honey or cordial and enjoying it as a refreshing drink.

For anyone trying to give up sugar and sweets, kefir is a must - it's unique tart taste alters your taste buds so that you find, quite quickly, the things you once enjoyed, like a sugary, chocolatey sweet, now taste waxy and unappealing.

Kefir grains can be procured from a fermenting enthusiast or you can order them online from or Amazon and

Why I use raw milk for kefir

First, find some kefir grains, usually you can get it online or maybe find a fellow fermenter or a nutritionist who works with the "heal and seal" method of fixing your gut. I use raw or untreated milk whenever possible, I buy this from a local farmer or from in the Limerick Milk Market on Saturdays, who are usually sold out very early.

Raw milk has all of the good bacteria that we need for a healthy gut and strong immune system and is produced by farmers with small herds who follow strict hygiene standards as laid out by Raw Milk Ireland.

You need to be very confident of the quality of the raw milk as unpasteurised milk may potentially harbour harmful bacteria.

* Valerie O'Connor is a qualified organic horticulturalist and delivers workshops/classes in fermenting food (next one is in Airfield House and Garden, Dundrum, Dublin 14 on October 3 and Hook and Ladder in Limerick on November 5th

Burst with goodness

÷ Yogurt is bursting with beneficial bacteria that are great for your gut flora. It's so easy to make and all you need is to buy a tub of yogurt to get you started. Happily yogurt is popular, so introducing this into your diet is easy.

Commercial yogurt is often heated or pasteurised to a point where all of the good bacteria are killed off, leaving you with little or no active probiotic. Home-made yogurt will have a different texture to commercial varieties, but if you find it's too runny for your liking, you can simply strain it through muslin overnight to make a thicker yogurt, reserving the whey which drains from the yogurt as this is an important tool for making other ferments. Yogurt can be added to smoothies or granola to make a substantial breakfast or anytime snack. The easiest starter to get you going is a live probiotic yogurt. Old McDonalds Natural Yogurt is widely available and does the job nicely.

Using raw milk instead of commercial will give you a much less tangy yogurt than you might expect, less tangy makes it more palatable. If you want to retain as much of the milk's good bacteria then make your yogurt like this. It's worth investing in a milk thermometer for accuracy.



Kefir grains - one ­tablespoon is enough



Pour 100ml milk, at room ­temperature, on to your kefir grains in a clean glass jar, ­cover and leave in your ­kitchen. You can add to this jar for up to five days, or you can strain and use the kefir after one day, the choice is yours.

Strain the grains though a plastic strainer as contact with metal will kill them. Rinse the grains under a cold tap and start again.

If you don't need your grains immediately, the best place to store them is in the freezer, just rinse them and pop them in a small jar or a freezer bag and freeze until you need them or somebody wants to start their own kefir colony.

You only need about a tablespoon of grains so when the colony grows, it's better to split it and keep the grains in small quantities in the freezer to give to people who want them, or keep some for yourself in case you kill your own.

It's quite hard to kill them though, they are very resilient.

If you make a lot of kefir and wonder what to do with it, you can always make an easy, probiotic cream cheese. How smug will you be then? You will need a strainer and some muslin and string.

Kefir cream cheese


Strained kefir

Olive oil

Black pepper or other flavourings


Pour some boiling water over a piece of clean muslin and line a plastic strainer with this. Sit it over a bowl. Pour your kefir into the muslin-lined strainer and cover this lightly with a cloth to leave to strain overnight. The next day, tie the bag into a knot and leave it to hang over the bowl and continue draining. It's a slow process but requires little effort.

After 24 hours, untie the muslin and you will have a ball of cream cheese. The cheese will taste very tart as it has no flavourings or salt.

You can have it as it is, stored in a jar and topped up with some olive oil, or you can roll the cheese into little balls using wet hands. Then roll your cheese balls in some crushed black pepper or crushed seaweed or herbs and store them in jars topped up with oil.



1 litre goat's or cow's milk

50g/2oz live probiotic natural yogurt (standard natural yogurt works well too just be sure it isn't a thickened variety)

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F


Heat the milk in a clean pan until just below 80°C/180°F - use a thermometer for this.

Remove the pan from the heat and sit it into a basin of cold water and allow it to cool to about 45°C/110°F - or if you stick your finger in, it should feel like body temperature.

Stir in the two tablespoons of yogurt and cover the pan with a clean tea towel.

Turn off the oven and place the pot into it, leave it overnight, or put the lid on the pot and wrap it in towel and put it in the hot press overnight. In the morning, or at least eight hours later, you will have deliciously smooth and creamy yogurt. Alternatively, pour the mixture into a clean Thermos flask that you have just heated up with some boiling water and leave it overnight. You might want to keep a Thermos just for this purpose. Or do what I do and pour it into clean jars and pop each one into a thick sock and snuggle them together in a warm place. Sometimes it takes longer than a day to set, so if it doesn't happen right away, just leave it for another day

Once the yogurt is set, keep it in clean jars or a tub in the fridge and use within the week. This yogurt can be used in lots of other recipes and of course is the perfect starter for your next batch.

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