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The Culture of cultures…Kefir to be exact

November 1, 2011

Culture has many faces; I suppose how you conceive of it it depends on whether you are a connoisseur, a biologist, or an anthropologist. It can be found in a family, a profession, an exhibit of art, in a concert, in a newspaper or magazine. It can be captured and even taken captive by a group of people, touting that they have the most of it. It can be exchanged like mint. It can deteriorate or be lost. It can be beautiful. It can be a person from a “far-away land,” or a group of people and their ways of eating, thinking, living, laughing and loving. It can be a 16 year old kid in Carroll Gardens. Or it can be fermented milk.

Although I have a deep love for many forms of culture, including art shows, foreign governments, tatoos, social tendencies, the newest restaurant, far-away lands, and 16 year old kids in Carroll Gardens, I’m talking about the milk culture. Kefir culture to be exact.

Let’s just start with the name. I (wrongly) pronounce it “ke – feer,” whereas it’s supposed to be pronounced like Keifer Sutherland. Kefir (the culture, not the actor–not that the actor doesn’t have culture…) is a form of fermented milk, made so by “grains” of culture called kefir. The word kefir is thought to have its roots in the Turkish word “kefi”, which means “good feeling.” Kefir grains are originally from the Caucasus Mountains, a mountain system in Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus region that runs through Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Czech Republic. It is said that kefir grains were discovered many centuries ago by the shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains who carried milk stored in leather pouches where it would ferment into a fizzy sour yogurt.

Kefir grains grow as you “feed” them milk, and in the process offer a fermented drink low in lactose (often 99% lactose free) and very high in probiotics (here’s a journal article that in shmancy language points out that it may actually even improve lactose intolerance). It has four main groups of “microflora”, including lactobacilli (16 varieties), streptococci lactococci (7 varieties), yeasts (7 varieties), and acetobacter (2 varieties). Translation: really good for you, especially for the natural balance of microflora (good bacteria) in your body. (Another article if you’re up for some fact-checking).

I got mine last fall from a lady in Ohio called, appropriately, the Kefir Lady. She sends them in the mail live! It can be more difficult to get live kefir culture than it can to get dried culture. If you would like some, let me know–mine are always growing, and I’m glad to promote the home-growing of bacteria in kitchens across America. Below are some directions on growing your own kefir. Kefir making is definitely a commitment, as it grows every few days and consumes a lot of milk. But the health benefits of the probiotics and enzymes are definitely worth it.

Kefir grains

To make Kefir, pour the grains into a jar. Cover the grains with 3-4 cups room-temperature milk.

Cover the grains in the milk with a piece of cheese cloth or other breathable cloth, and wrap with a rubber band. Allow to sit 24-48 hours at room temperature. The warmer the temperature, the faster the Kefir will ferment; conversely, if you want to slow it down, put it in the fridge. Taste periodically (I usually like mine around 36 hours) and then drain grains out and store Kefir in another container in the fridge. Start the process all over again, now with close to double your Kefir grains!


Yeastier and thinner than yogurt, Kefir has its own unique fermented flavor that is great anywhere you would use yogurt.


Add some mango juice and optionally, some thick yogurt to make a Kefir Mango Lassi

Kefir Mango Lassi


Kefir with chai seeds and honey (chia seeds are high in Omega 3, as well as dietary fiber and protein)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Katie permalink
    November 1, 2011 8:56 pm

    OK- this is just too funny. TONIGHT Troy brought home some live kefir culture from a friend at work and I was just about to go online to see how to use it when I thought “I haven’t checked Harrigan’s blog in awhile…” Apparently God knows that sometimes I need to be connected to you in funny ways from afar, I guess. Love you, my kefir growing sister.

  2. Kat from Texas permalink
    July 10, 2012 9:00 pm

    Thisis a lovely page and tutorial. It shows exactly what people mean when they call them cauliflower-like. I have recovered from an intestinal super bug, but I want to continue to stay healthy, so I am wanting to begin growing kefir, but I really want to work with live grains rather than having to rehydrate grains since this often takes awhile to get them producing again. What would you charge for some live grains? Any advice you offer would be appreciated.

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