Whats all the fuss about kefir?

The name Kefir comes from the Turkish word keyif, which refers to the “good feeling” a person gets after they have drunk it. Kefir or kephir (/kəˈfir/ kə-FEER), alternatively milk kefir, or búlgaros, is a fermented milk drink that originated in the north Caucasus Mountains made with kefir “grains”, a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter. It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or Sheep milk with kefir grains. 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.

So I have been making my own Kefir on a daily basis at home. I use it in smoothies, baking such as chocolate Kefir brownies, (found some really good recipes online) and pancakes, as well as salad dressings. I have even heard in Poland it is served over your new potatoes. Fancy the gooey chocolate brownies, they were really delicious check out the recipe here.

It all started a few years ago when I was kindly given some grains from friend and fellow foodie, Carron – she confessed to me quite recently to getting through about half a pint of homemade kefir each day with her family serving it on top of their superfood smoothies.

There are many You Tube videos on how to make Kefir and so much information online, but it really is very easy and straight forward.

Instructions to make Kefir

You cover the grains in whole milk, I used a kilner jar and left the lid ajar for the milk to ferment on the kitchen counter. After 24 hours( it was slightly longer the first time as it had been cold) the milk appears curdled and ‘clumpy’, it is ready. Then you gently strain out the liquid, which leaves behind the original kefir grains.

Now put the grains in a new jar with some milk, and the process starts all over again. Delicious, nutritious and highly sustainable.

Kefir is described as a tart, fizzy beverage similar to drinking yoghurt in texture and consistency, but much more powerful and better for you. Whereas yoghurt has “transient bacteria” that are killed by the digestive process, kefir has “non-transient” bacteria that survive the digestive process and powerfully impact the gut microbiome.

Whats all the fuss about? With all the talk on a healthy gut, fermentation Kefir is all the rage in the natural health community and growing in popularity, you can now buy it in all supermarkets. It is high in nutrients and probiotics, and is incredibly beneficial for digestion and gut health. Many people consider it to be a healthier and more powerful version of yogurt.

Here are just a few of the amazing health benefits of drinking Kefir:

  1. Kefir contains about 30 different microorganisms, making it a much more potent source of probiotics than other fermented dairy products.
  2. Certain probiotics in kefir are believed to protect against infections.Kefir contains the probiotic Lactobacillus kefiri, and the carbohydrate kefiran, both of which can protect against harmful bacteria.
  3. Kefir made from dairy is an excellent source of calcium. In the case of full-fat dairy, it also contains vitamin K2. These nutrients have major benefits for bone health.
  4. Probiotics such as kefir can help restore the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut.
  5. The lactic acid bacteria have already pre-digested the lactose in kefir. People with lactose intolerance can often eat kefir without problems.

You can purchase bottled Kefir in health food shops, online and in supermarkets but I want to mention this local company just round the corner from me in Edenbridge, Kent called Happy Belly. Rachna from Happy Belly has given me so many interesting stories and information about keeping our gut healthy, learnt so much. Happy Belly has a wonderful ethos and I love the fact Rachna is sharing her experience and story with her product range. She also stocks local farm shops such as Tablehurst Farm and The Deli, Oxted, as making anything from scratch takes time. If you haven’t got the time please try her delicious product.

I chatted to Rachna about her story:

“My own story is one of recovering from bronchial asthma.  I am rarely affected now by seasonal sniffles , feel energetic and need no pharmaceutical support approaching my 6th decade. This, starting from a childhood of chronic bronchial problems and weak dentition. My children have never taken anti biotics and my family need nothing more than my kitchen remedies and some rest to recover when feeling poorly.
I learned a lot about kefir from mothers with autistic children reporting improvements in their children after introducing them to kefir. Shirley’s Wellness, Wellness Mama and such websites will provide you plenty of anecdotes.
Over the years I have had customers come up and tell me about improvement in their or their child’s eczema on several occasions.
A gentleman with issues sleeping reported sleeping more soundly within a week of introducing HB kefir into his diet.
A customer of mine started on HB raw milk kefir after treatment for leukaemia in 2009. He not only recovered fully, he divorced, remarried and has relocated to the US!
Another regular customer with a long history of radiation and surgery wrote an email earlier this year telling me how an out of date bottle of HB Raw Milk kefir saved her from emergency hospitalisation.
Essentially you are cultivating a more bio diverse gut environment by including a potent pre biotic + probiotic like kefir in your diet. The deeper benefits of kefir are experienced cumulatively over time as your inner garden gets more bio diverse and more auto self regulating. Health is not derived from a ‘silver bullet’ solution but is the result of doing many small things right. In this tool box of ‘ right things’ kefir is an easy and versatile tool.
I do not have any personal experience of making coconut water kefir. Fresh coconut water is not available in the UK and using packaged coconut water is not worth the trouble or viable.   Fresh coconut water is full of its own microbes and ferments naturally by itself within days….so I’ve wondered why people bother adding kefir grains to it and what the health benefit is of doing so?
Water based kefir drinks are definitely an healthier alternative to commercial sugary fizzy beverages. However , water based kefir drinks do not have the potency or food value of milk based kefir . Water based kefir drinks are a fun fizzy beverage but not a health superfood. Hey, life is not just living long but also having lots of fun doing so. So there is room for both !
Happy Belly sweet coconut Kefir is just Happy Belly Raw Milk Kefir blended with coconut milk so not a stand alone product to be written about separately. It is just like any other kefir smoothie you might conjure, blending and mixing with a base of plain kefir.
Yogurt is a tastier and more palatable fermented milk beverage compared to kefir. On health benefits kefir is the winner by miles.
Yogurt is also far easier to manufacture and market on a large scale. While authentic kefir is easier to make at a family level than yogurt, it does not lend itself to scaling up. Which is why yogurt is a big and mainstream industry while kefir remains largely a hobbyist’s enterprise catering to a more health motivated small customer base.
Where attempts have been made to produce kefir on a larger scale it has come at the cost of its authenticity and efficacy as a health beverage. Freeze dried kefir culture is the preferred starter in commercial kefir making operations for its consistency and ease of use.  Next is the use of pasteurised homogenised milk especially if not organically sourced. The difference in the end product is huge. In my opinion, supermarket brands are kefir in name only. So many who try supermarket brands of kefir, sadly have a poor experience of this wonderful and ancient superfood.”
I am keen to organise some healthy eating workshops, where we can learn more about kefir and other products that benefit your healthy/happy belly if you would be interested to come along please drop me an email at jobanks@alivewithflavour.com.

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