DIY Fermented Foods, Part 1 – Easy Homemade Yogurt

Fermented foods are not only good for your health but they also have many other beneficial effects. They contain probiotics which aid in digestion and promote healthy skin, hair, nails and teeth. Probiotic bacteria may even prevent or cure some types of cancer! There are many different kinds of fermented foods such as kimchi (fermenting cabbage), sauerkraut (fermenting cabbage) and pickles (fermenting cucumbers). Some of these foods are used as a substitute for milk and dairy products, while others are added to make them taste better. These foods are also called “live” food because they do not require refrigeration and can be eaten fresh right out of the fridge.

The fermentation process involves adding live microorganisms to raw materials like fruit juice, vegetables or grains. Once the microorganisms multiply and grow, they produce lactic acid which makes it easier for our bodies to absorb nutrients from those ingredients. Lactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products, cannot be absorbed properly by humans without the addition of lactobacillus bacteria.

Kefir is a type of yogurt made with a special culture of yeast. Kefir is often sold in glass bottles and contains live cultures of lactic acid bacteria. It’s usually served cold or at room temperature, but it can also be enjoyed warm when chilled before serving. The drink has a tart and tangy flavor and contains a moderate amount of calories (8 grams of sugar per serving).

Some of the health benefits of drinking kefir are:

Reduced risk of heart disease

Improved blood sugar levels

Reduced risk of cancer

Improved immune system

Some studies suggest that kefir can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and may help to prevent or reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Kefir is rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including:

Calcium

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Iodine

Potassium

Zinc

Folate (folic acid)

Protein

Kefir can be used as a substitute for milk or added to other dishes as a way of increasing their nutrition levels. It can be used in baking, sauces, soups and smoothies. Kefir can also be used as a substitute for buttermilk in pancakes, cakes and other baked goods. It can also be used to make delicious desserts or snacks.

The only disadvantage of drinking kefir is that it’s fairly expensive and not readily available everywhere. If you want to enjoy the health benefits of kefir, you can try making your own at home. The process is fairly simple and doesn’t require any special equipment or skills. If you’re someone who likes to make things from scratch, you should definitely try your hand at making some homemade kefir.

Things You’ll Need

1 gallon whole milk

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¼ cup plain yogurt with live and active cultures (with no added sugar)

Large glass jar (at least 1 gallon in size)

Candy thermometer (optional)

To make your own kefir, you will need to get some kefir grains. These are actually colonies of bacteria and yeast, also known as a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (S.C.O.B.Y).

You can get these online or from a health food store. They are sometimes available in packages at the grocery store with the yogurt, but more than likely they are dead because the packages were not properly refrigerated before they got to the store.

Pour the gallon of milk into a large glass jar (at least 1 gallon in size). Stick the thermometer through the lid of the jar so that it sits just above the top of the milk, but does not touch it. If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can use an instant read thermometer instead.

Leave the milk out at room temperature for 12 hours. Make sure to keep the jar in a place that stays around 72-degrees Fahrenheit throughout this time. Stir the milk occasionally to make sure the heat is more evenly distributed.

After 12 hours, take the temperature of the milk and add cool water until it is 80-degrees (C). Wait another 6-8 hours and then take its temperature again. The temperature should be somewhere between 35-45 degrees (C). If it isn’t, wait longer and retest it in a few hours.

After you have achieved the correct temperature, add ¼ cup of plain yogurt with live and active cultures (with no added sugar) into the milk. Then add the grains on top of the milk. Let them soak for 8-12 hours. You should see some bubbles forming around the edge of the jar and a film starting to form on top of the milk.

This is a sign that the fermenting process has started.

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After soaking the grains, put the lid on the jar (with the thermometer or instant read thermometer still through the top, if you are using one). Put it in a place that is between 70-degrees and 80-degrees for 24 hours. After this time, the kefir should be ready. It is OK if it is a little tangy.

The flavor will mellow out after you refrigerate it.

Pour the kefir into glass mason jars or other glass storage containers. Put them in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours before using. The fermentation process will continue, but at a much slower rate.

Tips

You can use skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk to make the kefir. Do not use ultra-pasteurized, UHT or powdered milk.

If you use a candy thermometer, make sure it is heat-resistant.

For more tang in your milk, leave it out for 24 hours before taking its temperature and doing the rest of the steps.

The grains will multiply if you leave them in milk at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. You can then separate out some of the grains and add them to new milk to start a new batch or give them to a friend.

You can refrigerate the remaining grains in a clean glass jar filled with some milk. Soak them in milk overnight, drain off the milk and then add fresh milk every day. They should keep for 2 to 4 weeks this way.

The kefir will thicken as it ages past the second day. You can drink it either consistency. It is easier to strain when it is thick. If you prefer a thinner consistency, just stir it until it is to your liking.

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Make sure that the grains are covered by at least an inch of milk at all times. If they are not, add more milk until they are.

You can sweeten the kefir with honey or stevia to taste. You can also flavor it with fresh or dried fruit, such as raspberries, strawberries or blueberries.

If you do not have a candy thermometer, you can use an instant-read thermometer instead. Make sure it is a meat thermometer and not a fry thermometer. The thermometer should be heat-resistant and able to withstand temperatures of at least 400-degrees.

If you do not have a jar, bowl or other container that can hold the milk and grains and that is heat-resistant, you can use a clean paint can. Make sure the lid closes securely, so no bugs or animals can get into it.

Buy a large piece of Styrofoam to place underneath the fermenting container. This will keep it from direct contact with the floor and prevent possible contamination from the outside air.

Make sure you use clean utensils to stir the grains and milk.

Make sure any cloth or towels that the jars or container will come in contact with, do not have any harsh chemicals on them that can harm the grains or the kefir.

Make sure the jars are washed in hot, soapy water before using them.

Make sure all of your tools are clean and dry before you start.

Wear gloves while straining the grains to prevent any bacteria from getting into the kefir.

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Always wash your hands well with soap and water before touching the kefir or the grains.

If a jar gets contaminated, throw it out and disinfect all of your equipment with white vinegar or bleach.

You can use fresh or frozen fruit in the kefir. If you use fresh fruit, make sure it has been well rinsed. If you use frozen fruit, only use it right from the freezer.

Make sure you thoroughly wash any fruit or berries you put in the kefir. You do not want to introduce any bacteria into the mixture.

Do not use artificial sweeteners of any kind in the kefir or in the grains. This can harm them.

Do not let the milk or kefir grains sit out at room temperature for any length of time. They can only withstand temperatures between 33 and 40-degrees. Any warmer, and they will die.

Do not put the grains in the refrigerator. This will kill them.

Do not use ultra-pasteurized or UHT milk to make the kefir or to culture the grains. This type of milk has been altered so much that it will not work.

Always use whole organic milk to make the kefir and the grains.

You can leave the grains in the milk indefinitely. Some people do half and half, half milk and half grains. Others use all milk for five days and all grains for three days. Experiment to see what works best for you.

You can use the grains for up to five years as long as you take good care of them and replace the ones that die. After that, they do not culture the milk well anymore and should be replaced every 12 months or so.

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If you do not want to use all your kefir grains at one time, you can keep some out and store them in a clean container with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator.

Always make sure your kefir grains are well-rinsed before storing them. You can even use half milk and half distilled water to rinse them for an extra cleaning boost.

If you do not plan to use your grains for a while, you can dehydrate them and store them in a glass container with a sealed lid in a cool, dark place. Add some dried fruit or honey to the container first, then add the grains on top. Do not add any liquid. You can re-hydrate them with milk when you are ready to use them again.

You do not need to soak the grains in between each batch, but you can if you want a thicker kefir. If you soak them, use only milk and no water for proper consistency. Do not use any other liquids.

Always be sure to rinse your grains very well before re-using them.

Do not add any flavors or sweeteners to the milk when making the kefir.

Making Kefir and Kefir Grains Lasts Longer

How long does kefir last?

The simple answer is, it all depends. In its simplest form, without any additional ingredients, it lasts about a week at normal room temperature. This is assuming you have a small jar.

Sources & references used in this article:

Tarhana as a traditional Turkish fermented cereal food. Its recipe, production and composition by O Daglioǧlu – Food/Nahrung, 2000 – Wiley Online Library

Mastering Fermentation: Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods [A Cookbook] by M Karlin – 2013 – books.google.com

Inclusion of fermented foods in food guides around the world by G Caldwell – 2020 – Storey Publishing, LLC

The history of fermented foods by SN Chilton, JP Burton, G Reid – Nutrients, 2015 – mdpi.com

Importance of lactic acid bacteria in Asian fermented foods by JB Prajapati, BM Nair – Handbook of fermented functional foods, 2008 – books.google.com

Classification of fermented foods: worldwide review of household fermentation techniques by SJ Rhee, JE Lee, CH Lee – Microbial Cell Factories, 2011 – Springer

Viili Perpetual, No-Cook, Homemade Yogurt: How to Make the World’s Easiest, Healthiest, 100-Percent Natural Yogurt by KH Steinkraus – Food Control, 1997 – Elsevier

Ecology of fermented foods by C Warnock – 2016 – books.google.com

Folk to functional: an explorative overview of rice-based fermented foods and beverages in India by R Scott, WC Sullivan – Human Ecology Review, 2008 – JSTOR