Kefir

Feb. 18th, 2011 12:02 pm
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I have been obsessed with kefir this week. I like the kefir at the store, but the kefir at the store is kind of pricey and furthermore the fun flavors all have sugar in them. So I started looking at the possibility of making kefir...

*Digression 1

Kefir surprised me by not being the same as yogurt. Like yogurt, it's a microbe-fermented dairy product. Unlike yogurt, kefir requires--truly requires--a unique starting culture. Kefir grains! They are lumpy, rice-sized colonies, and as far as I can tell, making kefir grains resembles the whole calf-gut-rennet-cheese-making process. It takes guts. Unlike rennet, though, the kefir grains are self-perpetuating. Most kefir grains allegedly trace their ancestry all the way back to intrepid kefir grains of the Caucasus, though there's not much of a pedigree system in place to keep track of it.

There is an ample online community, though. As far as I can tell, everyone who starts kefir wants to blog about it, and many of them kindly provide instructive photos and contagious enthusiasm. Reading about kefir is almost as much fun as making it. Some people make incredible claims for the health benefits. If one believed them, kefir is a more potent probiotic than Florajen (which already is a power of ten greater than any manageable quantity of yogurt). I mean, I like the sound of it. A probiotic that tastes good, involves large quantities of dairy, and happens to fix the lactose problem. I suppose it was inevitable that there would be claims it cures Crohn's along with everything else, but we won't hold that against it.

There's also water kefir, which is similar but lives off sugar water instead of milk. Aigh! No! Not sugar! But if the kefir grains eat all the sugar, then it's okay, right? Ooo, carbonation and fun with flavorings, you are such a tempting combination...

I got my kefir grains yesterday and they've been sitting in milk for 24 hours now, so as soon as I get my last few errands on campus done I can go home and mess about with fermented milk product. Sounds like fun, neh?

*Digression 1: I hardly qualify as sugar-free (I like cookies) but at least I mostly keep it limited to honey, molasses, and brown rice syrup. As of last night, I am kind of sold on the idea of agave nectar as a component of chocolate chips too, although as far as I can tell, agave nectar is no less a refined sugar than high-fructose corn syrup. (But for that matter, so is maple syrup, and I happily eat that too.) The agave chocolate chips were definitely sweeter than the brown rice syrup, I would have to do a batch with extra b.r.s. to see if the flavors compare once the sweetness is balanced. I take subversive glee in making chocolate chips. Not that Sunspire doesn't make tasty grain-sweetened chocolate chips, but I refuse to pay five dollars just for the chips in a single batch of cookies.

Also, making chocolate chips is easy, if you happen to have a movie or radiology lectures to watch while you turn the mix into itty-bitty-bits. What seems to work as the basic formula:

Either 3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
OR 1/4 cup cocoa + 2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter

2 tablespoons honey or other sweet liquidy stuff
1 tablespoon tapioca starch

As far as I can tell, there are only two places on the entire internet that actually have instructions for making chocolate chips. I liked this one best: http://artofchallenge.blogspot.com/2011/01/chocolate-chips.html

If you let the stuff cool just a little, it's very easy to work with, about the texture of play dough. And then after refrigeration it sets up.

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