Friday, April 27, 2012

Kefir and Kombucha

There was a time in the shadier part of my little history that my best friends were Ben, Jerry, and know...Cuervo. Ohhhh, Jose and I had many a Happy Hour(s) wastin' away again in Margaritaville. We even had our own theme song:

Oh, how life does change, thank you Lord!

Me and Ben and Jerry spent many an evening together too, perhaps too many. It ALL catches up with you, just you wait. Actually, mark your calendar that I told you so in case I forget.

These days my new best friends are Kefir and Kombucha. They don't have their own theme song or tourist attraction destinations, but they are much healthier friends to have around. These are lifetime friends that help bring a body closer to good health.

Kefir and Kombucha are basically yummy probiotic/health drinks that you culture at home, info can be found all over the internet. The purpose of this post is to share the culturing techniques I use, to share with those that I share the extra cultures with.

Here is a great article about the health benefits of kombucha. In order to brew kombucha, you need a scoby (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). You can order them on line, grow your own, or find a friend who might be harboring way too many in a scoby hotel in her kitchen under the counter (ahem). Only handle your scoby with clean hands free of soap or lotions.

This is a 'scoby hotel' that stores the extra scobies.
Each time you brew kombucha, you'll grow a new scoby on the surface of the kombucha.
We brew in 1 gallon jars. For the sake of time, I make the tea in a separate container with about 4 cups of boiling water, 1 cup of sugar, and 4 black tea bags. The tea bags are removed after 20 minutes.

From there I let it cool a bit, but then because I'm impatient, I pour the now warm tea mixture into the 1/2 gallon jar and cool it down completely by adding cold water to the top of the jar. Filtered water is recommended.

The mixture must be totally cool or room temperature before you can float your scoby in the top of the jar. Place a cloth over the top and secure with an elastic band. This is the first ferment.
The next step is a matter of preference. Personally, I want the scoby to eat ALL the sugar and caffeine, so I let it brew (ferment) for 3-4 weeks. When it has a vinegar-y kick to it upon sampling, I know it's ready for the final step.

The final step (final ferment) is where the carbonation comes in. I like my kombucha carbonated. I always add cubed ginger (4-6 cubes or so), and some kind of fruit or 1/4 cup fruit juice in a each final bottle.
We use these flip top bottles for the final ferment.
Ginger and fruit/fruit juices are added first and then the brewed kombucha.
The kombucha is left at room temperature for 2-3 days once it's bottled. The warmer your house is, the quicker kombucha carbonates, so be careful! No, really. Once the carbonation occurs, move the bottles to the refrigerator to stabilize or it -may- explode. I've never had a bottle explode, but I have gotten a face full of kombucha from opening a bottle that was over-carbonated.

1/2 gallon of kombucha will fill about 7 of the above pictured bottles.

Kefir and I have not gotten along until recently. The 'magic' of kefir eluded me until a friend gave me a live culture. I learned that it wasn't me, but the grains I had been using - for me, there is a big difference between live and dried grains. What a difference healthy live grains make!

Chances are, if you're reading this you already know about the health benefits of kefir. For those of you that want to know more,
here is a site with more information than you could possibly retain about kefir, including the bacteria and yeast strains.

See the 'pockets' or 'separation' through the side of the jar? This is how I judge when the kefir is done enough for me. Give the jar a bit of a swirl to mix it at this point. 
Some people like their kefir tart, others like it more mild. The taste depends on how long you let the grains sit in the milk. The longer it sits, the more tart it becomes.
Before separating the grains from the milk, the surface has a thick cheesy texture to it.
Using a PLASTIC slotted spoon, remove the grains from the milk. I don't always strain my kefir. If I'm going to drink it by itself, then I strain it through a PLASTIC strainer. But usually, the kefir is used for smoothies so straining is not necessary. I like skipping steps when I can.
When I strain the kefir, the solids sit in the strainer to drip for 8 hours or so, reserved to season and make kefir 'cheese'. My family will not drink kefir, but they love kefir cheese on toast and homemade bagels.  It's also great as a dip.

This is a nice shot of what the grains look like. Mine stay together in one large clump.

Here, the new milk is poured into the jar and the clumped grains float to the surface. Time to give the jar another swirl. Swirl when you think of it during the day. I think the grains like it.

That's about it. Repeat as necessary.


  1. You could be speaking in another language as far as this post goes. I don't have a clue what these are. Ha. I mean, I'm reading what you wrote, but I have never heard of them.

    I must live a sheltered life. :o)

  2. Oh, sorry Beth...I guess to put it simply...they are like probiotics or beneficial bacteria and yeast that you culture at home. The links above should help if you're interested in learning more.

  3. How do you make kefir cheese? I've just been throwingthe strained part away brcause I didnt know what to make out if it.

  4. Sorry that I can't be exact, but I use garlic and onion powder, thyme, oregano, salt, pepper, and a small amount of chili powder. Taste test with baby carrots to see if there's enough spice for you.

    Be sure to let the curds drain in the strainer for quite a while. Usually, I let it sit in the fridge overnight.

    At the very least, the drained curds are super good for your dog or cat...or a neighbors cat :)

  5. Hi! I've been making kombucha for quite some time now, but just started on kefir with the gift of grains from a friend of mine. My newbie question is this: How do you differentiate the solids that you use to make the cheese from the grains that you want to save for the next batch?? Thanks!

  6. That's what I used to have a problem with! That is, until I got a healthy 'clump' of grains. They float in the top and I scoop them out with a plastic spoon before straining. Sometimes a piece will break off of the clump, it's easy to recognize because it floats to the top of my strainer. I pull this new little clump out and either give it away to a friend or feed it to my dogs or chickens. Try only letting your kefir sit for 12 hours until you get used to identifying the grains. It will also help to build them up...from my experience.

    Thanks for commenting!

  7. Thanks for the help! ALL of the stuff other than liquid just resembles squishy cottage cheese at the moment... I'll try turning it over twice a day like you suggested, and see if I can't get these guys going! Thanks!

  8. I've heard so many good things about Kefir and Kombucha, although I must admit I have yet to try them! Thank you for sharing this informative and interesting post!

  9. Great tutorials for both kombucha and kefir. I have never tried creating carbonated kombucha before, but it sounds delicious, especially with ginger.

  10. great illustrations and description! thank u!


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