By Kiwani Lowansa Allen
Kefir is a fermented dairy beverage, similar to yogurt but a bit thinner. Recently, kefir has been gaining popularity among the health conscious as a means of increasing probiotics and other nutrients in their diet.
Why is kefir so great? Along with the probiotics, it is high in bioavailable vitamins and minerals such as B-12, vitamin K2, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and several others. Kefir is made from milk and kefir grains. Kefir grains are not like cereal grains. Kefir grains include bacteria and a yeast colony that culture and feed off the sugar, lactose, in milk. In this process the kefir grains break down the sugar and create beneficial bacteria. The end result is a slightly tangy, effervescent, dairy beverage. This process of lactose breakdown may also allow people who are otherwise lactose intolerant to be able to consume kefir. The longer you allow the milk to ferment the more lactose is broken down. If you are still sensitive to the milk in kefir there are alternatives like water kefir, coconut milk or coconut water kefir. I have never tried making non-dairy kefir, so unfortunately, I cannot offer any words of wisdom.
There has been a lot of buzz and a growing body of evidence that links our gut bacteria to obesity, type 2 diabetes, skin issues, neurological issues like MS and mental health issues like OCD and depression. In one study, school aged children who ate yogurt daily got sick less often and did better in school socially and educationally. In mouse studies, mice that have had their gut sterilized and then inoculated with obese mouse gut bacteria become obese. There is also evidence to show that many indigenous peoples have maintained some form of fermented food in their traditional diet, whether that be fermented dairy, vegetables or even fermented fish.
Here are the basics on how to make kefir at home:
What you will need:
2 glass jars
1 Tbs-ish of kefir grains
2 cups milk raw, grass fed milk
A small square (about 4″ x 4″) of cheese cloth or mesh and a rubber band
*I should point out that while many sources advise against using metal utensils or strainers, I have been using metal utensils for years with no ill result.
Clean one glass jar well. Put your cute little kefir grains in the bottom of the jar, pour fresh milk over them, cover your jar with cheesecloth and fasten in place with a rubber band. Then sit back and let the magic happen. You will need to put your kefir in a warmish location while it ferments for the next 24 to 48 hours, give or take. A cupboard is a good spot if your house is cold. If your house is warm, a counter top out of the sun is great because you won’t forget about it. The longer the fermentation, the more the milk sugar (lactose) is broken down and the more tart your kefir will be, so you should ferment to taste.
When your kefir is fermented to your desired tartness, stir to combine and pour your kefir through your strainer into a clean glass jar. I use a fine mesh strainer to catch my kefir grains and at times, if the kefir is very thick, I need to stir it around in the strainer to coax it along. Be gentle. You don’t want to squish your kefir grains through your strainer. Once you have separated your kefir beverage from your kefir grains, put your kefir grains in a new clean jar and pour fresh milk over them and start over. The strained kefir beverage will keep in the fridge with a tight lid on it for about a week.
Here’s what to do with your kefir when you’re done fermenting it.
I like to drink my kefir plain, but at times I like to change it up. You can add all kinds of yummy things to make it suit your needs. For the holidays, like everyone, I was on a serious pumpkin pie kick. You can also add jam or add it to smoothies. If you wanted a more savory kefir, you can use it in place of buttermilk in homemade ranch or blue cheese dressing.
Pumpkin Pie Kefir
2 cups kefir, 1 Tbs raw honey, 1tsp pumpkin pie spice,
½ tsp cardamom, 1 tsp turmeric
2 cups kefir, 2 Tbs of your favorite jam. I like apricot! 🙂
First you need to select the milk. Kefir can be made using almost any kind of dairy, be it cow, goat or sheep. For best results select a raw, full fat milk from a grass fed source. The fatty acid profile and vitamin content of grass fed milk is far better for you, not to mention the environmental concerns of industrialized dairy. If you don’t have access to raw milk, kefir can be made using pasteurized milk. Try for grass fed and organic. Avoid homogenized milk
Next you need to source your grains. I originally got my grains from a classmate while attending Bastyr University. Kefir grains are a living organism and as such grow a bit each time you make a batch. As they grow you can share them with your friends! So where does one get kefir grains if you are not attending an alternative university with weird, hippy peers? The Internet of course! Here are a few sources: www.culturesforhealth.com, www.mrandmrskefir.com, or just do an Amazon search for kefir grains.
There is a conspicuous lack of fermented, unpasteurized foods in the standard American diet. Kefir may not be a magic bullet to gut health. There are many aspects of a healthy diet that contribute to a healthy gut, like fiber! Read Anna Herby’s article here on fiber: http://wp.me/p4K54k-GI. However, adding in fermented foods like kefir may help with more than just one facet of your health and well being.
Check out these links below for further information on kefir and its benefits.
Kiwani Lowansa Allen holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Bastyr University.
The health section on this web site is sponsored by Sky Island Organics family of businesses, including the Natural Foods store in Idyllwild at 54423 Village Center Drive.