Have you heard of kefir? I don’t mean the blonde star of TV’s “24,” Kiefer Sutherland. What a great show, though! I’m talking about the fermented milk drink – kefir, sometimes called the “champagne of dairy.” I’d heard of it but being somewhat lactose sensitive, I wasn’t sure I’d want to try it. Fermented milk never sounded very appetizing, but I was intrigued when a good friend said she had started cultivating it at home and found it to be an excellent alternative to yogurt and probiotic supplementation. I’ve certainly had my fair share of gastrointestinal issues and wondered if it could help me have better digestion. My friend gave me some of her cultured kefir as a starter kit to make my own at home and for several weeks I’ve been growing and drinking my own homemade kefir. I have to tell you – it’s a hit! I have noticed far less bloat at the end of the day, more regularity and some weight loss as a result of consuming 1 cup of kefir each morning!
Author and dietitian Joe Leech, from the online journal Authority Nutrition, describes kefir as, “a fermented drink, traditionally made using cow’s milk or goat’s milk… by adding kefir “grains” to milk. These are not grains in the conventional sense, but cultures of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that resemble a cauliflower in appearance. Over a period of 24 hours or so, the microorganisms in the kefir grains multiply and ferment the sugars in the milk, turning it into kefir. Then the grains are removed from the liquid, and can be used again.” The word is derived the Turkish word keyif, which means “feeling good” and refers to the feeling of comfortable digestion and well-being after drinking it. It has been a common food item in traditional Eastern European and Southwest Asian cuisine for perhaps thousands of years and was a method of keeping milk fresh during hot summer months before refrigeration, as it’s shelf life lasts well beyond fresh milk’s.
Kefir keeps in the ‘fridge for several weeks, but you have to keep “feeding” the kefir grains with fresh milk to re-activate the fermentation process. It’s pretty easy to concoct, you just need some glass or plastic jars (the bacteria don’t like metal), a plastic strainer or cheese cloth and a wooden or plastic spoon. Kefir’s magic happens when it’s fermenting outside the refrigerator in a cool, dry place with a breathable cover like a coffee filter. Once the kefir grains are added to the milk at room temperature, or you get an already cultivated strain from a friend, the mixture starts to separate. The kefir grains rise and look like cottage cheese and the bottom of the milk looks opaque. After 24 hours (the Kiefer Sutherland connection) at a moderate room temp, the separation and fermentation are complete and you’ll want to pour the mix through the strainer or cheese cloth into another metal-free container and spread the kefir “paste” through the strainer with your metal-free spoon to release as much liquid as possible into your container. Then you have the kefir drink, which may have to be stirred to reconstitute the mixture, and the thick kefir grains left in the strainer, which looks like a pasty cottage cheese. You’ll want to put the kefir grains in an airtight jar and feed them with more milk, then store in the ‘fridge until you’re ready for your next batch to be made. The kefir liquid can be refrigerated for a couple weeks, but you’ll want to drink it once it’s cooled, each day, and keep making more fresh kefir to replenish it’s remarkable effects on your diet and health. If it’s too sour at first taste, just add fruit!
Kefir does taste a bit sour, much like plain yogurt, but has a “champagne” aftertaste due to the fermentation. It is said to have ten times the amount of probiotic cultures as yogurt, with over thirty strains of good bacteria and yeasts, and its consistency is much more liquid than solid, making it a convenient gut mending beverage. Kefir has also been shown to have anti-bacterial, infection fighting properties and immune stimulating qualities that inhibit cancer cell development, digestive ulcers and IBS contributors. Allergy and asthma sufferers have shown improvement of their symptoms while drinking kefir regularly as it can also help reduce inflammation in sinus and respiratory tissues. Even if you’re lactose intolerant, kefir’s enzyme profile and lactic acid bacteria make it much more digestible and a possible alternative to milk for those who have trouble breaking down the sugar in milk, lactose.
Though it may seem like a trendy and unfamiliar food item, certainly the benefits of drinking kefir are significant enough to give it a try. I never thought incorporating fermented milk in my diet would be as palatable as it’s become. I drink it on an empty stomach each morning to get my digestion started right. The typical American diet is severely lacking in fermented foods, which were once traditional and provided the necessary bacteria to break down proteins and fats more efficiently. Plus, all the refined sugar and flour we eat has done a lot of damage to our guts over the last century. Having a healing diet ally like kefir on your side each day can make the battle against digestive disease, diabetes and obesity a bit easier. I love it and have found it an indispensable part of my daily well-being. Maybe kefir is for you, too. Look into getting a starter kit or try any of the good brands of kefir on the shelf in your health food store’s refrigerator section to get started. You never know if you’ll like it or how good it can make you feel until you try it, right? I now have several of my friends and clients becoming kefir coverts and they agree, “Kefir eats the bloat!” I hope you enjoy your kefir revolution, too!
“Let medicine be thy food and food be thy medicine.” ~Hippocrates