What is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented milk product that originated centuries ago in the Caucasus Mountains which is a region at the border of Europe and Asia, situated between the Black and the Caspian seas. It is believed that the term kefir comes from the Turkish work “keif” which means “good feeling”. Some cultures have long believed kefir to have healing powers, but kefir has only recently become the subject of scientific research to determine its true therapeutic value. It can be made from the milk of cows, goats, or sheep. It has a slightly sour taste due to the fermentation process. Kefir grains which are a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria are used to culture the milk. Its constituents may be somewhat different depending on what it is fermented in. This super food is a great source of vitamins, minerals, probiotic’s, and a variety of other unique compounds that can greatly contribute to your overall health and wellbeing.
Nutritional Value of Kefir
Kefir contains up to 42 different strains of friendly bacteria and yeast which are extremely valuable to the gut. Homemade kefir contains billions of friendly organisms per milliliter making it one of the most potent probiotic’s available. The complete proteins in Kefir are partially digested and therefore more easily utilized by the body. Kefir contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and enzymes.
Some of the more prominent vitamins and minerals include:
Calcium: approx. 300 mg per cup that can be easily absorbed
Phosphorus: Helps body to utilize carbohydrates, fats and proteins for cell growth, maintenance and energy.
Magnesium: Aid muscle contraction and relaxation, production and transfer of energy, purges body tissues of impurities
Vitamin K: Plays a key role in calcium metabolism, where it is used to deposit calcium in appropriate locations, such as in the bones and teeth, and prevent it from depositing in locations where it does not belong, such as the soft tissues and the arteries.
Vitamin A: Promotes a healthy immune system, helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes and healthy skin
Vitamin C: Supports immune system, aids wound healing, helps body absorb iron, and aids brain function
Vitamin D: Needed for absorption of calcium
B Vitamins: Including B1(Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B6 (Pyridoxal Phosphate-important for normal brain and nerve function), B7 (biotin-which aids the absorption of other B vitamins), B9 (Folic Acid) and B12 (Cobalamin-feel tired all the time if low in B12).
Amino Acids: are essential building blocks for the body that are essential for the repair, growth, and maintenance of cells. Kefir is high in amino acids one of which is tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin which is a feel good hormone that regulates mood and sleep and has a relaxing effect on the nervous system, which helps anxiety. The complete proteins available in Kefir are partially digested through the fermentation process and are more easily utilized by the body.
These bacteria are vital to healthy gut flora. The gut is responsible for 80% of our immune system. Beneficial bacteria are the housekeepers of the gut and fulfill a myriad of vital functions in the body. They provide a natural barrier and protect us against all sorts of invaders such as bacteria, parasites, fungus, viruses, and toxins. They reduce pH near the wall of the gut making it uninhabitable for the “bad” bacteria to colonize. Kefir is beneficial in preventing many gastrointestinal disorders. Various medical reports have shown that Kefir has been helpful in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, allergies, migraines, gout, rheumatic arthritic conditions, inflammation, Candida, and colitis. The World Health Organization has reported that Kefir has been effective in treating tuberculosis and typhoid fever.
Making kefir from raw dairy products is ideal, but if you don’t have access to raw dairy, you can use organic full-fat dairy, preferably from a grass-fed animal. Using pasteurized homogenized milk is better than no kefir at all. For those who cannot tolerate any form of dairy, kefir can be made from coconut milk, coconut water and even just sweetened water or fruit juice, which will provide many of the benefits found in dairy kefir. Depending on the liquid being fermented, kefir will change in size and appearance.
Making the fermented kefir drink:
- Place kefir “grains” in glass jar and add about 1cup of milk per tablespoon of kefir “grain”.
- Cover the jar with a breathable lid such as a coffee filter and secure it with a canning ring or rubber band.
- Leave kefir on the counter or put in a cupboard to ferment. Stirring the kefir occasionally will help the fermentation process. The amount of time to ferment kefir will be different depending on the ratio of kefir to milk and how warm the room is. Generally 24 hours is about right. When the liquid starts to thicken, or separate and tastes a little bit sour it is done. Kefir fermented for 12 to24 hours has a mild laxative effect, fermented for 48 hours is balancing, and longer fermentation of about 70 hours has a very mild constipating effect.
Once kefir is sufficiently fermented:
- Place mesh strainer over a bowl to catch the kefir liquid as you strain it.
- Pour the kefir through the strainer. You may need to stir to force the liquid through the strainer.
- Store the kefir (liquid) in the refrigerator.
- Clean out the original jar, place kefir grains back in the jar, add milk and repeat.
Hibernating Kefir Grains:
It sometimes becomes necessary to temporarily postpone the fermentation of more kefir drink. Just add the grains to a fresh batch of milk or cream (it tends to hibernate better in cream rather than milk) and put in a sealed jar in the fridge. The cool temperature will allow the grains to feed much more slowly but not indefinitely. The longer you are gone the more milk they will need. I have found I can leave 1 Tablespoon of Kefir Grain in 1 cup of cream or milk in the refrigerator for 10 days to 2 weeks without any adverse affects. For long storage it is recommended to change the milk every few weeks to feed the grains and keep them fully active. When you are ready you simply need to ‘wake’ them back up by adding some fresh milk and possibly going through 1-2 rounds of fermentation. The first batch may not taste to your liking. You may want to strain after 12 hours and start again with a fresh batch of milk.
Sharing Kefir Grains:
You will find that your kefir grains will grow as they ferment. They can easily be shared just the way they are or they can be dried and sent in the mail. Wake them up the same way you would kefir grains that have been hibernating. Some have even put fresh grains in a little milk and mailed them with good results. Kefir grains have an indefinite life span and will live forever if properly cared for.
Note: Store bought kefir is not the same as homemade kefir. Most of the time it is not made with real kefir grains or fermented long enough to be beneficial.