Kefir: the potent probiotic powerhouse
Words by Jennifer Rhodes
Many cultures have created culinary delicacies with their fermented food traditions: miso from Japan; kimchi from Korea; and kombucha from China. However, of all these cultured foods, it is kefir that contains one of the richest sources of beneficial bacteria.
WHAT IS KEFIR?
- Kefir is a rather unique fermented milk drink that has been around for centuries; thought to originate from the Eastern European region.
- Pronounced ‘Ka-Feer’, it can be linked to the Turkish word “keif” which translates to “good feeling”.
- Animal milks, such as cow, sheep or goat, can form the base of the drink, but kefir can also be made using non-dairy liquids, such as coconut milk or water.
- Kefir is a very rich probiotic food source, containing lots of different strains of bacteria that develop naturally during the fermentation process.
Positive side effects of consuming kefir:
- Beneficial bacteria help to restore the balance of intestinal flora.
- Supports the digestive tract and helps to alleviate IBS symptoms.
- Minimises allergies and skin conditions.
- Improves lactose intolerance symptoms.
HOW TO MAKE KEFIR…
If you are unable to source or purchase fresh kefir don’t let that put you off! It is so simple to make at home and is very sustainable once you know how…
- Whole full-fat milk: the best quality milk you can get, preferably organic from grass- or pasture-fed organic cows.
- Kefir starter culture: these either come as freeze-dried or fresh live bacteria grains. Although you need to find a stockist to purchase these, they can last indefinitely if cared for properly. Despite being referred to as ‘grains’, the culture is not actually a grain but rather small gelatinous beads of bacteria and yeasts.
The basic recipe:
- Place the grains and milk in a glass jar.
- Cover with a tea towel or muslin cloth, and an elastic band.
- Leave at room temperature for 12 to 48 hours to ferment.
- The liquid will start to turn a little clumpy after some time, indicating fermentation.
- Strain the mixture through a plastic sieve; collect the live grains and keep them for the next batch.
- Store the liquid in the fridge to slow the fermentation.
- Start the process again with the grains.
- Consume the milk within a few days.
How to eat:
When the milk has fermented, it will thicken slightly so that the texture is more like a drinkable yoghurt. Kefir is quite sour and tart to taste, a little like Greek yoghurt. Add a few spoonfuls of kefir to some muesli or granola, top with honey, maple syrup, banana, nuts and seeds.
Add some flavour to the kefir with vanilla essence, spices or blended fruit. Fermented foods often have strong, acquired flavours and kefir is no exception. Replacing the liquid portion of your smoothie with a serving of kefir is a good way to mask the distinctive taste.
Fascinating Fermentation Facts:
- A side effect of the fermentation process is gas; it is best practice not to seal the jar to prevent an explosion.
- Lactose present in the milk gets broken down during the fermenting process. Many people who cannot tolerate lactose in plain milk form may be able to consume kefir.
- The culture will grow at quite an impressive rate if fed properly. Give portions of your grains away to loved ones to inspire them to make their own kefir.
Kefir can also be made using coconut, soy, rice and almond milk, as well as water and coconut water. Different starter cultures are required depending on the liquid base, but the fermentation process remains the same. Water kefir is a slightly different drink compared with the milk equivalent. The water will go slightly fizzy during the fermentation process, creating a naturally carbonated healthy drink, rather than a yoghurt-type food. Since there are no naturally occurring sugars in water, sugar must be added into the mixture to feed the grains. Once fermented, water kefir can be infused with fruits to create interesting, fresh flavours.
Tagged beneficial bacteria, Dairy, Fermentation, gut health, Health coach, Healthy, Jennifer Rhodes, Kefir, Kefir milk, Kefir water, Milk, Non-dairy, Nutrition, Probiotic