What is Kefir?
Kefir, pronounced as keh’-feer, alternately known as “Grains of the Prophet Mohammed”, “Drink of the Prophet”, “Tibetan Mushroom”, “Balm of Gilead”, “California Bees”, “Snow Lotus”, kombucha, tibcos, Yogurt Plant”, “Yogurt Mushroom”, is a cultured beverage that originally hails from Russia. It is a fermented, enzyme-rich food resembling yogurt filled with friendly bacteria, known as probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, that provide health benefits when consumed. Scientists who studied kefir grains were surprised to discover that there is not a single trace of bad bacteria in the grains. They even injected Escherichia coli, bacteria that commonly inhabitant the intestines, but these were killed by probiotics. It seems that pathogenic organisms cannot exist anywhere near kefir.
Kefir grains are packed with good micro-organisms, micro- and macro-nutrients, essential vitamins and minerals like proteins, vitamin B, vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, among others. For thousands of decades ago, townsmen and shepherds of Caucasus mountain had accidentally discovered kefir who kept raw goat milk in their leather pouches. This incident accidentally produced kefir by the act of fermentation. At first, they did not know or had any medical knowledge about this food. They just knew that they felt healthier, stronger and were freed from diseases and lived longer lives after drinking it.
The first proven medical benefit of kefir was made by Russians wherein they said that it can cure tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis which can lead to death if not properly treated. Not only so, Russian doctors of the Victoria era later even used kefir for healing intestinal disorders, like constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel disease. And soon, this miraculous food was discovered. After many years of following and research, it was found out that kefir can actually treat many other more diseases. Some places in the former Soviet Union used kefir in treating allergies, atherosclerosis, intestinal disorders, respiratory diseases, cancer and many more. Since then, kefir has become a famous health drink in Russia, Causasus region, Southwestern Asia and some parts in Western Europe.
Karachay natives, Borris keev and some kefir fans were generous enough to share with us the history of kefir. They said that in Karachay or Karachayevsk, a town in Russia near Mount Elbrus, there is a statue of Karachay lady with a cup of kefir welcoming the guests of the town.
Kefir grains are very sustainable and economical. With gentle care, these grains can be recycled endless times. There are two varieties of kefir grains: water kefir which has a yellowish crystal color, and milk kefir which has a white creamy cauliflower-type appearance that of the size of wheat kernels. Both are delicious and have many health benefits. Kefir can be taken by all generations, from young to old, male and female. Even pregnant women are welcome to drink. It is safe and nutritious. Since milk kefir grains feed on lactose, kefir is perfect for individuals who are colon sensitive and lactose intolerant. The good thing about kefir is that it is not only curative but also preventive which means you don’t have to be sick to take it and it is safe to drink it everyday. I recommend 250ml everyday. For starters, you can try it every other day and increase slowly to reach 250ml per day.
There are a lot of differences between water kefir and milk kefir. Aside from being cheaper (since you only need water and sugar to prepare it), water kefir is also dairy-free, making it a perfect choice for those who want to avoid dairy. Water kefir is a lighter drink, making it easier to drink in larger quantities especially during warm weather for hydration.
Below is a simple summary of the primary differences between a water and milk kefir:
- Water Kefir: Yellowish, crystal in color with fizzy, bubbly appearance
- Milk Kefir: White and creamy like curds, cottage-cheese-like appearance
Content and Sources
Water Kefir: Water kefir is non-dairy and is made with fruit juices, coconut water, organic sugar water or as simple as filtered water. Never use tap water since the chemicals in it (chlorine and fluorine) destroy the kefir.
Milk Kefir: Although cow milk is commonly used, milk kefir can also be made from other mammalian sources like goat, buffalo, camel and sheep. Non-dairy products can also be used like coconut milk, soy milk, nut milk and almond milk, however results may vary and nutrient sources are lesser as compared with the dairy milk products. Furthermore, dairy milk is classified as raw, pasteurized and homogenized. Raw milk comes directly from the farm while pasteurized milk is what we usually buy from the grocery. Pasteurization is the process of heating food to prevent or kill bacterial growth. Homogenized milk is pasteurized milk whose milk fatty globules are processed, reduced in size and dispersed throughout the milk. No matter what type of milk you used, kefir grains manage to feed and ferment to any type of milk used.
Both water and milk kefir grains are reusable starter culture used to make a probiotic-rich drink with live, good micro-organisms in it.
Water Kefir: Water kefir can be used as a base for a variety of fruit gelatine desserts, salad dressings, popsicles, and non-dairy smoothies. It can be flavoured and is a good alternative for sodas and juices.
Milk Kefir: Milk kefir can be consumed as is or flavoured. It can also be used as a base for salad dressings and smoothies. It is a great alternative for butter, buttermilk or yogurt. Milk kefir can also be made into cheese kefir by straining to remove the whey, making a variety of cheese ranging from soft, spreadable cheese kefir to a cream cheese kefir, or a hard cheese kefir. Milk kefir grains can be used to inoculate cream to make cultured butter or a sour-cream type of dressing. Extra grains may be used as leavening or to soak flour before cooking.
Both can be flavoured by adding in fresh, dried or frozen fruit; flavour extracts such as vanilla extracts, fruit juice; herbs; sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey and stevia.
Both can be used as a starter culture for fermenting vegetables.
Water Kefir: Most people prefer water kefir to be plain. Water kefir has a sweeter taste as compared with milk kefir. But the longer you ferment, the sweetness disappear. It also tends to have a slightly fermented flavour. Ginger ale water kefir tastes almost like a beer.
Milk Kefir: Milk kefir has a more strong flavoured cultured milk depending on the level of fermentation. Generally, well fermented kefir has a sourer or tart taste and can be a little bit carbonated.
As kefir resembles yogurt, these two are usually compared. Many think that these two are similar but in reality, they have many differences. Both kefir and yogurt are cultured milk products but they contain different strains of micro-organisms. Yogurt contains two types of bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus while kefir contains several other strains of bacteria not commonly found in yogurt: Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter, Streptococcus and Pseudomonas species. Not only that, kefir also contains different strains of yeast like Candida, Kluyveromyces and Saccharomyces species. Another worth mentioning is that the beneficial bacteria contained in milk kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract while those found in yogurt provide food for the healthy bacteria found in the gut, keeping our digestive tract clean. Yogurt starters are both mesophilic and thermophilic, while milk kefir are mesophilic. Mesophlic means an organism thrives best in room temperature, neither too cold or too hot, around 20 and 45°C (68 and 113 °F). Thermophilics are heat-loving. They grow best at extremely hot temperature at around 45 and 122°C (113 and 252 °F). Activated recyclable yogurt starters are re-cultured by mixing a little of the previous batch into fresh milk. Once the new batch is done, it then becomes the starter for the next batch and so on. Another way of culturing is using the direct-set or single-use yogurt starters which come in powdered form. These are usually thermophilic and are only one-time use. Although this type of yogurt can sometimes be re-cultured a few more times, but eventually, a new set of starter will be required. On the other hand, milk kefir is cultured using milk kefir grains and requires transferring to a fresh batch of milk every 24 hours.
As all are familiar with the taste of yogurt, different varieties of yogurt starter yields yogurt that ranges from mild to tangy. The consistency ranges from a thin, liquid-like, pourable yogurt to a thicker, creamy type. Milk kefir can be a little yeasty due to the beneficial yeasts contained in the culture. It is also sourer as compared with yogurt. Both yogurt and kefir can be drained to produce cheese. Draining whey from yogurt or kefir makes thick yogurt or cheese ranging from soft to hard cheese. Both are versatile and can be used in many kitchen recipes, from appetizers, salad dressings, dips to desserts.
To know more kefir recipe visit - http://www.benefitsofkefir.com/kefir-recipes/
Here, I would like you to take note of another type of kefir: the artificial kefir. As the name implies, this type of kefir is not real. It is store-bought commercial kefir that lacks the probiotics that can be found in the traditional, real kefir. This type of kefir should be avoided. Don’t waste your bucks on these.
Learning how to make and maintain kefir grains requires minimal time and effort. Kefir can easily be made at home. It is as easy as one, two and three. Below are simple steps on how to make your kefir.
Type of Kefir
- Buy kefir grains online.
There are a lot of distributors online, however authentic distributors don’t usually make business out of kefir. They share the grains. You only need to pay for the shipping and handling.
To buy kefir grains or video course online visit - http://www.benefitsofkefir.com/buy-kefir-grains/
- Place the kefir grains in a clean jar filled with three-fourths full of milk. (I prefer raw milk.) For beginners, you can start with 2 tablespoons of kefir with 2 cups of milk then you may adjust later on. Stir gently with a wooden or plastic spoon then cover it with a breathable cloth to keep fruit flies or other insects out of the jar. Secure the cloth with a string or rubber band. Then leave it at a room temperature for 24 hours. (Milk kefir are thermophilic remember?)
After 24 hours, the kefir grains should be thickened and starting to separate into curds and whey. The taste and consistency of the kefir greatly depend on the duration of fermentation. The longer you let it to ferment, the thicker and sourer your kefir will be.
- When your kefir reaches the taste and consistency you like, stir and then strain using a non metallic strainer. You can use the grains for another batch of fermentation.
To know more about Milk kefir visit - http://www.benefitsofkefir.com/kefir-milk/
- Combine 1/3 cup of sugar in a cup of water then heat the mixture. Do not let it boil but make sure the sugar completely dissolves. Let it cool then add another 3 cups of water. Transfer in a bigger jar then add another 1 ½ cups of water.
- Add the water kefir grains into the jar of sugar water. Cover the jar with a breathable cloth just like what you did in making the milk kefir then tie with rubber bands. Leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
The taste of the drink depends on the duration of fermentation. Since the grains eat the sugar, the longer the time you let them to ferment, the less sugary you kefir drink becomes.
- Strain the grains using a non metallic strainer and use the grains for a second batch of fermentation.
Some prefer to drink it plain, but you may add lemon, fruits, ginger, raisins or vanilla for a more flavoured beverage.
To know more about water kefir visit - http://www.benefitsofkefir.com/water-kefir/
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of varieties of kefir. Below are some varieties I’ve made and they are all great and awesome. You might want to try them.
Do’s and Dont’s when handling kefir
- Never mix tap water with kefir. The chemicals, chlorine and fluorine, in tap water damage the kefir. Use un-chlorinated filtered water instead.
- Do not use metals when handling kefir. Metals react with kefir and contaminate them. Use glass, wooden or plastic utensils instead. Many prefer using glass because this is toxin-free and easier to sterilize.
- Do not boil or overheat the kefir. Boiling kills the good bacteria.
- Don’t freeze either. Freezing halts or stops fermentation but some grains are difficult to wake up after putting in a deep-freeze-sleep phase. If you must, you might to learn how to revive your grains. Continue reading below and I’ll teach you how.
- Always cover the jar with a cloth to avoid contamination.
- Do not starve the grains. If you wish to store the milk for a longer time (more than 2 weeks), change the milk every few weeks. Feed the grains with new fresh milk to make sure they stay alive and active.
Steps on How to Revive Your Grains
- Dissolve sugar in water then add the grains. Cover the container and let it stand for 3 days. Get the grains and put them in a cup of fresh milk every 24 hours.
- After 3 days, combine the grains and with milk in a clean glass container. Cover the jar and let it stay for another 24 hours.
- Mix to thicken and leave it for another 12 hours or more. After such time, the grains should be active once again. Remember to adjust the milk according to the taste and not the consistency of the mixture.
Benefits of Drinking Kefir
The benefits of drinking kefir are extensive. As mentioned above, kefir is both curative and preventive. It possess both antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Except for a few exemptions, like those who really have super sensitive intestines, everybody is welcomed to drink. Each 175 gram of kefir provides about 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium, which is important in maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid in kefir, has calming and relaxing effect. A single serving of plain, non-fat kefir has less than 100 calories, but provides 10.5 grams of protein, which makes you feel fuller without extra fat, thus a perfect choice for those who want to lose weight.
Kefir is known to regulate the immune system, to promote production of bile, to provide natural protection against diseases, to improve blood circulation, to regulate cholesterol and sugar levels, to regulate blood pressure, to strengthen the kidneys, to slow down aging and many more. It is excellent nourishment for the elderly, pregnant and nursing women, kids and those who are immunocompromised. It targets almost all our body system and is known to treat numerous disorders:
- Respiratory disorders: tuberculosis, acute bronchitis
- Cardiovascular disorders: hypertension, anemia
- Gastrointestinal disorders: ulcer, reflux, gastritis, hepatitis, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, leaky gut syndrome, colon cancer
- Genitourinary disorders: urinary tract infection, prostate cancer
- Neurological/Psychological disorder: depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), migraine
- Dermatological disorders: eczema, acne, allergies, psoriasis
- Musculoskeletal disorders: arthritis, gout, osteoporosis, rheumatism
Although some of these health claims are still under research, most of them are from personal experiences of kefir drinkers.
For people who are interest to use kefir as beauty product visit - http://www.benefitsofkefir.com/beauty-product-recipe/
To conclude, kefir is a cultured, creamy food with amazing health benefits. It is delicious to eat and easy to make. It is also cheap and economical. So why not start your own kefir to prove it yourself! Enjoy! =)