I’ve been a little hard on kefir. As a kid I thought it was something only “health food nuts” would buy it at the co-op along with wheat grass juice and granola. Our neighbors, who lived off the grid back in the 1970s, made kefir with milk from their goats. Goat’s milk I could almost handle as a kid, but fermented goat’s milk? No way. I’ve been rather bias against kefir ever since.
Fast forward 25 years later. I shop at the co-op. I make my own cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, sourdough – you name it. I would love to have a backyard full of goats, chickens and honey bees. (I can get chickens and bees in Minneapolis, if my neighbors let me.) My friend Christopher ordered some kefir grains from The Kefir Lady online and made it while I was in the midst of writing my Greek Yogurt blog post. He gave me some grains and at first I did not care for the sour, yeasty tasting milk. Maybe I could make smoothies out of it, but that was about it. Then one morning I was gearing up to make pancakes and realized that I was out of buttermilk. Drat. My daughter and I love pancakes, making them 2 or 3 times a week. Could I use kefir in my pancakes? I didn’t see why not.
The results were fantastic. Because of the yeast component in kefir, the pancakes tasted like a cross between buttermilk and yeasted pancakes. I make my pancakes with 100% whole wheat flour, which can lead to heavy, flat pancakes. Buttermilk and baking soda prop them up a bit, but the kefir made them rise even higher than just buttermilk. And the unexpected bonus? The batter was still leavened the next day after sitting in the fridge, because the yeast in the kefir stayed active. Eureka! Below are the steps to make kefir, plus an easy recipe for pancakes.
Kefir is a “probiotic fermented milk drink,” which, according to Wikipedia, originated in the mountainous region between the Black and Caspian Seas in southern Russia. Made with kefir “grains,” the grains consist of a “symbiotic matrix” of yeasts and live bacteria, along with sugars and protein. They look like little cauliflower buds. When the grains are introduced to milk, they ferment the milk, causing it to effervesce, which is why they call kefir “milk champagne.” Get your kefir grains from a friend or an online source. There are also some kefir inoculates, but I’ve heard they don’t keep strength very long after several uses. Real grains will last forever if well cared for.