Keep Calm & Drink Kefir
Kefir has recently come into the mainstream North American grocery market, and is said to be an even better probiotic food than yogurt! Originating in Turkey, it is a unique cultured/fermented product that comes in the form of a beverage active with “good” bacteria.
Types of Kefir
The two types of kefir are: milk kefir (made from cow, sheep, or goat milk - sometimes coconut milk) and water kefir (made from sugar water, fruit juice or coconut water). Either way, the process for making kefir is the same, however, the health benefits may vary depending on the base used.
Milk kefir has a sour taste, similar to that of Greek yogurt. The taste will vary depending on the base used and how long the kefir fermented. It is not naturally sweet, but other flavors are sometimes added to make it more appealing.
Coconut kefir tends to be sweeter and less strongly flavored than milk kefir. Both types of coconut kefir (milk and water based) still taste like natural coconut and retain its original nutritional benefits (for example, its electrolyte content).
Water kefir tends to have a more subtle taste and a lighter texture than milk kefir.
No matter the type of kefir you choose to consume, look for a high-quality brand that is made with organic ingredients and in the case of milk, from grass-fed cows. Ideally, choose kefirs that are low in added sugar. Like all things, it is always important to look at the ingredient list.
Milk kefir contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics. It should be noted that specific content values vary based on the cows, cultures, and region where the product is made. Milk kefir is also a good source of protein.
It is said that kefir is one of the most potent sources of probiotics as it contains about 30 different microorganisms. The probiotics in kefir improve nutrient absorption and the base liquid itself contains nutrients.
It is important to remember that fermentation changes the chemical make-up of foods. For example, kefir is relatively low in lactose as opposed to the original milk base because this portion gets “consumed” during the fermentation process.
Kefir has been associated with boosting immunity, reducing inflammation, building bone density, fighting allergies & asthma, helping with mood, improving lactose digestion and nutrient absorption, supporting detoxification, improving symptoms associated with digestive conditions, protecting against bacterial infections and killing fungal overgrowth. Also, kefiran, a polysaccharide produced by kefir grains may be linked to reduced cholesterol and blood pressure.
How is it Made?
All kefir is made using kefir “grains”, which are actually a “gel-like” cultured mass made up of a balance of yeast and bacteria. This is used as a fermentation starter. Some also use a powdered kefir starter culture, although the probiotic content and re-usability may be different.
All types of kefirs must have sugar either naturally present (i.e. lactose in milk), or added, in order to allow the healthy bacteria to grow and for the fermentation process to take place. However the end result is low in sugar, because the live active yeast essentially “eats” most of it during fermentation.
Over 24 hours or so, the microorganisms in the grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the base, turning it into kefir. The grains are then removed from the liquid, and can be used again by giving them fresh food (milk or sugar water drink). Once you get this cycle down you can create fresh kefir indefinitely.
It is recommended to use 1-2 teaspoons milk kefir grains for culturing up to 4 cups of milk or 3-4 tablespoons of water kefir grains to culture 1-2 quarts of sugar water. Tip: try to use water with a high mineral content.
How to Use
Besides drinking kefir straight, it can be used as a base for soups and stews, or substituted for sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk in baking, ice cream, dips and mashed potatoes! Also, try it in smoothies, healthy desserts, oatmeal, homemade salad dressing, etc.
Kefir can be flavored by blending in extracts, frozen fruit and natural sweeteners (such as raw honey).
Extra kefir grains may be used as a starter culture for fermenting vegetables. You can also drain kefir whey to create various cheese products or save it to use in soups and smoothies.
Whether you purchase it ready-made or would rather make your own, kefir is a fantastic natural source of probiotics with both dairy and non-dairy based options! Now that you know more about this nutrient-packed beverage, don’t hesitate to give it a try to boost your health!
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach. -30-