Milk Kefir – A healthy fermented milk product – An important food as medicine

Directions on How to Make Milk Kefir. 

First you must obtain the grains. These can be purchased (one reputable supplier is the Cultures for Health website) or if you ask around in your community you should find someone who would be happy to share their grains with you.

milk kefir grains

I’d recommend finding some milk kefir grains on the Irish Fermentalists Facebook page- there is often someone near you willing to share. They are not actually a grain at all but a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter. They look like small grains of cauliflower.

The next step is to obtain the best quality milk you can find. This can be organic, raw, unpasteurised cow’s or goats milk. Or, any milk that you are used to drinking will do, as long as it isn’t UHT milk. The grains do best on dairy milk but it is possible to culture nut or soya milks- but you’ll have to read up about how best to do this so that the grains don’t starve over time. Bear in mind that even if you normally avoid dairy products like i do, once the milk has been turned into kefir it will contain little to no lactose so everyone should be able to tolerate it unless there’s a milk allergy to casein. From what I’ve read some of the casein also gets broken down during the fermentation process.

The next step is to place approx 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of grains into a glass jar with anywhere from a cup to 500 ml milk, or whatever amount your family will consume in a day or two. Cover the glass jar with a coffee filter and a rubber band or a clean tea towel and leave it somewhere it won’t be disturbed or forgotten for the next 24-48 hours. Look in on your milk kefir every now and then, give it a stir, and do a taste test. It’s ready whenever you like the taste of it. Normally it will thicken to a consistency like cream or a runny yogurt and have a pleasant yeasty aroma. Depending on the warmth of your room and the grains to milk ratio it can take anywhere from 12 – 48 hours to be kefir. If you find the liquid has started to separate into curds and whey- don’t be alarmed- just stir it all in, strain out the grains and refrigerate the kefir. Next time you could leave it a little less time. The taste will become slightly more sour over time, taste it at various stages and see where you like it best. Strain out the grains with a strainer and repeat the whole process. The milk kefir will keep in your fridge for up to 3 weeks. It’s ok to add the next days kefir to the same container if you still have some left from previous days.

A little about milk kefir in my experience:

Milk Kefir is a fermented dairy beverage- full of health promoting properties. I know that doesn’t make it sound hugely appetising. But, bear with me.  This drink has been around for thousands of years. If you imagine yogurt, it’s not much different in appearance and nature. Kefir and yogurt are both good for you in that they contain a healthy dose of probiotics that line your intestines and feed your gut flora and in this way contribute to a stronger immune system. A healthy gut is where it all starts.  Kefir has the advantage over yogurt in that it also contains healthy yeasts along with the bacteria. Both products, especially when made with full fat milk also contribute to your daily calcium, protein and vitamin needs.  Best thing is, it’s so easy to make at home.

I used to spend a small fortune on quality probiotics from the health shops. I no longer buy them as I get a wider range of these same probiotics along with other strains from fermented dairy products along with kombucha and lacto-fermented veggies such as sauerkraut and kimchi. It feels reassuring to know how to provide my body with what it needs from natural foods rather than relying on what I need to otherwise buy in a bottle from a health shop.

Are you one of the many who suffer from dairy intolerance? I also have never tolerated cow’s milk well, although  I was well into my twenties before I realised that this was the problem. It seems to be that my body can’t break down the lactose in cow’s milk well, and drinking cow’s milk, or especially cream makes me feel a strong headache, sore and bloated tummy, along with strong stomach pains, digestive problems and IBS symptoms. For many years I avoided cow’s milk dairy products (I could tolerate goat’s milk no problem- it has a smaller fat globule that makes it easier for humans to digest than cow’s milk does) but in recent years learned that both milk kefir and yogurt- made if possible with organic milk- were no problem to me. In fact there are studies that show that drinking milk kefir can help heal the issues that cause the dairy intolerance. I now find after a year of drinking milk kefir most days I can now tolerate more cow’s milk products such as a small amount of cheese etc than I’ve ever been able to do!

The kefir grains break down the lactose and casein in milk and convert these to glucose and galactatose. They also convert the lactose into B vitamins along with the probiotics.

Some of the other benefits I’ve personally seen from drinking milk kefir are: an improved digestion, less bloating, less prone to cystitis and yeast infections, and surprisingly but nearly best of all is that I found that my hay fever and seasonal allergies were vastly improved this year. I’ve struggled with an almost overwhelming allergy to pollen in the summertime. What’s worse than being allergic to nature! The increased beneficial bacteria in my gut helped ease my allergy symptoms.  These benefits along with the savings on expensive probiotics are what have convinced me that kefir is a product that could benefit many people.

Check out the pdf that is provided for free from the Cultures for Health website. They have a really informative website which highlights many fermented foods and their benefits. They also sell the cultures of kefir grains among many other fermented cultures such as yogurtkombucha, piima, cheese, etc. They have some free e-books that are available for download which I’d highly recommend if you’d like to learn more about how to prepare kefir and all the things that you can do with it in recipes etc.

Enjoy!

milk kefir grains

Kombucha Instructions

Kombucha 

Kombucha is one of my favourite drinks. It’s a fermented sweet tea. The first time I saw Kombucha

I swore then and there that it would never pass my lips! That was about 15 years ago and thankfully I gave it a try in recent years. While the culture that ferments tea into Kombucha can look a little daunting, it’s grown on me to become something I look on with extra delight, it’s an ugly fascinating tasty and healthy science experiment!

The Kombucha culture is called a SCOBY which is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast= S.C.O.B.Y.

The basic premise is simple: obtain a scoby- again ask around in your community there’s bound to be someone who also brews Kombucha and can pass a scoby onto you. If not, you’ll have to buy one or make your own. If you’d like to make your own you can buy a bottle of commercial ‘live’ plain kombucha and grow one from that. It’s not complicated, you can google it to see the process. I’ll make another post about this specifically another day.

Feed the scoby a quantity of sweet tea that’s cooled to room temperature. Let it sit/ ferment for between 5-25 days until its at a perfect balance between sweet and tart. Usually I find approximately 5 days is perfect, but this depends on a few factors such as the warmth of the room and the ratio of scoby and starter to tea. After day 3, taste a little bit of the tea each day until its a taste you find a pleasant balance between sweet and sour. The sugar will be digested by the scoby and converted into probiotics and B vitamins and you’ll find the tea is less and less sweet as each day goes by.

My favourite reference book is a free download from the Cultures for Health website. If you sign up to their newsletter you can download their compilation of e-books one of which is about Kombucha. This has the most concise and useful information that I’ve found- even better than some books I’ve bought- and best of all it’s free!

Since I’ve been drinking Kombucha I’ve found a healthy replacement for fizzy sodas that are laden with sugar and chemicals. If Kombucha goes through a secondary fermentation and you add fruity flavours it can turn out far nicer than any commercial and too sweet drink on the market.

I’ll share my exact kombucha recipe with you next and a few other recipes that I’ve come across.

In the meantime this link from Cultures for Health is the recipe I follow. You can read more exact instructions here.

And this is the most important part, that you follow these ratios. With some other ferments I feel you can be a bit loose with measurements- but with kombucha it’s more important to be exact.

 Container SizeTeaSugarWaterStarter Tea or Vinegar 
One quart1½ teaspoon loose tea or 2 tea bags¼ cup2-3 cups½ cup
½ Gallon1 tablespoon loose tea or 4 tea bags½ cup6-7 cups1 cup
Gallon2 tablespoons loose tea or 8 tea bags1 cup13-14 cups2 cups

Here is a typed instructions from my Herbalism teacher Judith Hoad:

Kombucha brewing instructions

Vegan Cashew Cheese recipe and book recommendation

I am intolerant to most dairy so Iove to find ways to still be able to eat cheese!

I love this book Artisan Vegan Cheeses by Miyoko Schinner

I’ll share here a photo montage I shared as a story on Instagram of the process:

This last step with blending in the oil is what gives your cheese a cheesy texture when kept cool in the fridge, much like a brie consistency. The nutritional yeast adds a cheesy flavour.

Chaga- A medicinal mushroom, “Would you like a cup of mushroom coffee?”

Mushroom coffee? This question is often met with a look of suspicion or disgust, but happily it is also becoming more mainstream.

I’ve been drinking mushroom tea- or if brewed dark and bitter, I like to call it mushroom coffee.

How I make it:

The chaga mushroom is hard and woody. It is best to break it up into smaller chunks or a powder, although some prefer to use it as small chunks, maybe the size of an average coin.

I do not tend to follow any exact recipe but I might add a tablespoon of powdered or dried mushroom to about 500ml of water.

I might throw some other medicinal mushrooms or herbs such as turkey tail mushrooms into the brew at the boiling and simmering stage, or maybe birch polypore, reishi, artist conk, lions mane, dandelion root, ginger, liquorice or whatever I have on hand. Or keep it simple and just use chaga or any one of these ingredients.

It can be decocted -brought to the boil and then simmered for at least 20 minutes, (or for much longer depending on if you’re sitting next to your warm stove for long stretches of time!) I then strain out the hard and woody mushroom material and drink the liquid. (Don’t toss the mushroom material, it can be re-boiled many times over until it loses its properties.)

I mix it with my milk of choice and a spoon of honey sometimes.

Alternatively I use this medicinal mushroom broth to add to miso soup, as a stock for any other soups or sauces. I use this broth to cook my rice in. Or I mix some of this into my ‘real’ coffee. Get it into you any way you can! You could also add some to your favourite smoothie recipe.

This mushroom has a lot of reported positive health benefits. It is full of anti-oxidants and has been reputed to have anti-cancer benefits among many other things. But beyond all of that, I find it a delicious way to get medicinal mushrooms into my wellness regime and is as satisfying a process as brewing a cuppa coffee.

Here is a link to some dried chaga chunks in my shop should you like to try this for yourself: https://www.hipsandhaws.com/product/wild-chaga-mushroom-medicinal-mushrooms/

Medicinal Mushroom Mousse Dessert

MUSHROOM HOT CHOCOLATE/ CHOCOLATE MOUSSE RECIPE

This recipe was given to me by Barbara Faibish and I can confirm that it is a delicious way to get medicinal mushrooms into you!

50g cacao butter

2T coconut oil

3T cacao powder

3T coconut palm sugar , or sweetener of choice

2t mushroom powder of your choice (I used lions mane and cordyceps)

1/2C cashews soaked for a few hours and then drained

dash of  vanilla extract

pinch of sea salt

2C warm water or mushroom tea (mushroom tea of course! I used a decoction of Turkey Tail, Chaga, and reishi- but you should use whatever you have!)

Melt the cacao butter and coconut oil slowly in a bain marie.  Add the melted butter and oil to a blender with the rest of the ingredients and 2C warm water or mushroom tea.

Blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust to your liking.  You can add more sweetener, more mushrooms, more cacao.

This make a comforting and warming drink.  Alternatively pour into ramekins, set in the fridge and you have a delicious chocolate mousse dessert.

This mousse is delicious as is, perhaps dusted with some cacao powder, but to bring it to another level, top with coconut milk kefir or yoghurt and sprinkle with bee pollen and maybe a borage flower or two

If you would prefer this as a hot drink, I would recommend halving the oils in the recipe.

How to make the best homemade yogurt

Homemade yogurt recipe
After many failed homemade yogurt attempts I was delighted to finally discover this method.
Process:
  • Heat the milk to at least 180°F/82°C.
  • Heat milk slowly and gently, with frequent stirring to avoid scalding.
  • It is possible to omit this heating step and make raw yogurt, never heating the milk above 115°F/46°C. But raw yogurt will never be as thick as yogurt from milk that has been heat-treated.
  • Holding the milk at this high temperature, with constant stirring, will result in evaporation and concentration of milk, further contributing to a thicker end product.
  • After heating the milk, you must allow it to cool before adding the starter culture.
  • Once the temperature reaches 115°F/46°C, remove a cup of the milk into a cup or bowl, and stir in starter. I use 1 tablespoon of starter per quart/liter.
  • Thoroughly mix the starter with the cup of heated milk; once it is fully dissolved, mix it back into the full pot of heated milk. Then transfer cultured milk to preheated jars, seal, and place in the incubation chamber, leaving it to ferment undisturbed.
  • Incubated at 115°F/46°C, yogurt will coagulate within about three hours, but if left too long it can easily curdle. I prefer to ferment it a bit more slowly at a slightly lower temperature, four to eight hours at a more forgiving 110°F/43°C. Even longer fermentations can yield more tangy flavor and fuller digestion of lactose.
My Tips:
-My favourite live commercial starter is Mossfield’s organic yogurt. I buy this and then freeze it into smaller portions.
-Less is more! I use only 1 tablespoon of starter to every litre of milk. Many recipes recommend a cup or more. I’ve found better results and a thicker yogurt with less.
-I find a huge difference in flavour of the finished yogurt from using different commercial bio-live yogurts. Some are more tart, some more smooth, etc.
-Use the best quality milk you can find. Full fat is always best. Organic. It need not be raw milk though as you are effectively pasteurizing it before you inoculate it with the new bacteria.
I personally do a large batch at a time and fill a 5 litre cast iron Le Creuset heavy pot with the milk. It helps to hold the heat in, and doesn’t burn the milk on the bottom easily. I then put this into my food dehydrator to incubate, keeping the temperature at around 110°F/43°C for 6-8 hours.
If you don’t have a large food dehydrator, it isn’t necessary and you can use an insulated cooler, a thermos, an oven with just the pilot light on, etc. Many other options available online.

How to make milk kefir

Basic How to make milk kefir
Add 1-2 tablespoons of milk kefir grains to a litre of milk. Or less grains for less milk. Use the best quality milk you can find. Organic full fat cow’s or goat’s milk is best.
Your grains will multiply quickly with pasteurised milk, so give away or compost the excess grains. Or experiment with them!
I always keep some excess grains in a jam jar in the fridge covered in milk, with a secure lid. In the fridge the cold slows down the fermentation and I change the milk once a week. I strain out the liquid kefir and drink it and cover again in fresh milk. This way I’ve got some grains backed up should anything happen to the ones in use!
If I am not ready to make or use the freshly made kefir I add it to a litre bottle in the fridge. I top this up each day with the kefir I’ve made until I am ready to use it. But a good idea would be to make the amount you or your family would like to consume each day.
I use milk kefir most often:
-to soak my porridge oats the night before breakfast the next day. I add some dried cherries, coconut, banana, or maple syrup.
-to soak in flour for pancakes the next day.
-to use in a smoothie
-to make kefir ice cream
-to make kefir cheese
-as a face mask mixed with oats and clay
Although many people seem to like just taking a shot of it when needed, or mixing with juice.
I have also dehydrated some grains to preserve them and have them as back up. They are easy to re-constitute.

Fermented Mung Bean Pancakes

I can’t stop raving about this recipe. Its become a staple in my diet. Its so healthy and versatile and once fermented it seems to keep very well in the fridge. Perfect then to mix with whatever herbs or veg I have to hand and cook up!

Most of the time spent it in soaking and waiting and fermenting. So this isn’t a recipe you can cook for dinner tonight unless you’ve started the process 2 days ago.

Give it a try though, I’m sure you’ll love them too!

fermented mung bean pancakes – revisted

How to make milk kefir cheese

Ever wondered how to make kefir cheese? I bet you haven’t! But won’t you be so glad to know 🙂

It’s easy to make this live probiotic soft cheese. A perfect replacement for Philadelphia Cream Cheese or Boursin.

First you must make milk kefir. (See my post here about how-to).

Milk Kefir Cheese
Strain the finished milk kefir through a square of muslin or cheesecloth. I line a strainer with the fabric and a bowl below it (to catch the whey), and pour the kefir directly into the muslin atop the strainer. Strain from the strainer into the bowl below. This can take many hours. It strains quicker if you hang it. For example tie the corners of your cheesecloth into a loose knot around a wooden spoon. Dangle the wooden spoon over the inside of a large pot. Or hang it from a kitchen cabinet doorknob.
It does help if the kefir you’re adding to the muslin has been fermented for a little longer, or whey pockets are visibly forming. Either way it should be ok. You want the muslin or cheesecloth to be thick weave enough that just the whey slowly drips through. The milk solids will remain in the cheesecloth.
I like to add chives, parsley, garlic and salt. If you’re using fresh herbs instead of dried the cheese will have to be eaten within 2-3 days maximum. It should last up to a week if stored in the fridge.
*Note I clean my muslin directly after use with cold water first then warm soapy water in the sink.  Just before using the cloth for straining cheese or yogurt- I then boil the cloth with water with a little bit of vinegar or baking soda in it, to remove any odours and to sterilise it.