Popular in certain parts of the world for centuries, kefir guzzling is now taking hold globally. And with good reason.
The rise in popularity might be due to the importance of healthy gut ‘microbiome’ (fancy word for your cool little inner eco system) becoming more and more pronounced in our minds. That’s because the health media is reporting study after study linking poor intestinal health to most chronic diseases. Here’s one of our favorite health educators Max Lugavere explaining in simple and fun terms how important our microbiome is.
The studies indicate that the state of our ‘second brain’ might just be about the most important thing to health. Not being able to absorb the nutrients in our food because we lack the proper bacteria balance in the gut means food can’t do its job.
So where does kefir fit in?
Kefir, like the other increasingly mainstream, health-enhancing beverage, kombucha, acts as an intense probiotic. Although its health benefits extend far beyond that (as you’ll see below), that is probably the main reason to drink it every day.
So you see, maybe unlike the kale craze, kefir-drinking isn’t just another fad. Kefir’s got it going on – there’s no two ways about it.
Here are some facts about the incredible, health-promoting drink. Some of these are useful – others are just for fun.
- You pronounce it ke-FEER. Or ka-FEER, if you like.
- The word comes from the Turkish word ‘keif’, which literally translates as ‘good feeling’ – ’cause that’s what it gives you when you drink it.
- Kefir is type of cultured (or fermented) food.
- It’s also a probiotic food.
- Oh, and a functional food.
- And a superfood. Okay, that’s the last of the categorizations for now.
- Kefir is made from kefir grains…
- …but its grain free (so don’t worry, gluten free folk).
- The grains are a mixture of bacteria, yeast, protein, and sugar.
- There are two main types of kefir – water and milk kefir.
- Water kefir grains are grown in organic sugar and filtered water.
- Milk kefir grains are propagated in cow, goat, or sheep milk. They prefer to grow in organic and raw milk. (Selective little suckers.)
- Fresh milk kefir grains are little clouds of delight that resemble cottage cheese. They also look a little like mini cauliflower florets.
- Water kefir grains are small, translucent, gelatinous structures.
- Confusingly, kefir grains are sometimes known as Tibeten Mushrooms. They have other names, too.
- Taste wise, milk kefir is similar to a drinkable yogurt.
- Water kefir is mild and sweet, like a slightly carbonated soda.
- Milk kefir is slightly sour and very creamy. If you’re into sour foods, then you’ll dig milk kefir straight up (no flavoring required).
- It gets sourer the longer you let it ferment – but more on that later.
- Unlike kombucha, yoghut, or any other cultured food, it is an absolute dream to make. Which means…
- …kefir is the gift that keeps on giving.
- It’s a little boozy. The alcohol content shouldn’t be more than around 1% though.
- Both water and milk kefir are oh-so refreshing.
- It’s definitely not gross.
- Drinking kefir will probably make you happier.
- Kefir is ridonculously good for you.
- It’s been called an almost ideal probiotic food. We desperately need probiotics, because we have damaged our microbial health with overuse of antibiotics and junk food lifestyles. This has compromised our immune systems.
- Drinking kefir regularly is likely to radically improve your digestion. It has a healing effect on IBS and IBD.
- It’ll also help you to lose weight. It does that by revving up your metabolism…
- …and ’cause its so nourishing/balancing, it helps to eliminate food cravings.
- In the process of cleansing the intestines and furnishing you with beneficial bacteria and yeast, kefir also supplies vitamins, minerals and complete proteins. What a superstar!
- Milk kefir contains decent levels of the following tricky-to-get vital nutrients: Vitamin B12, phosphorus, Vitamin K2, biotin and folate.
- Lactose intolerant people can drink milk kefir, because the lactose gets eliminated during the process of making it.
- Milk kefir also has a slower transit time than milk – another thing that helps the lactose-intolerant.
- Kefir has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system – good if you suffer with sleep disorders, depression or ADHD.
- Kefir will help with your anxiety.
- The insane probiotic boost means its a longevity enhancer. Another reason why its good for longevity is…
- …being rich in lactic acid bacteria, kefir can kill aflatoxins and other funguses which helps preserve healthy genetic expression.
- Kefir is a great way to get extra protein in your diet without extra calories. A 175 gram serving contains around 6 grams.
- Certain compounds in kefir may play a role in regulating immune function, allergic response, and inflammation.
- Kefir may have an anti-tumor effect.
- Everyone (old and young) can enjoy kefir. Even pregnant women can drink it.
- A good amount is around 1-4 cups daily. As with everything, go for balance.
- Kefir can be used medicinally in large amounts for a short period.
Kefir v kombucha
- Kombucha is a fermented drink too, but the base liquid is tea.
- Both kefir and kombucha are awesome for you, and they do slightly different things.
- Kefir acts primarily as a wide spectrum probiotic. It contains a greater number of bacterial strains than kombucha.
- Kombucha acts as a digestive aid, a probiotic and detoxifier – so more of an all round health drink.
- Kombucha involves a longer fermentation process – from 7 to 21 days (though good news is you can just let it sit unattended).
- Kefir is the time savvy person’s fermented drink. It’s a doddle to prepare, taking only 24 to 48 hours to ferment.
- The kefir grains just keep multiplying with each batch.
- So in this way, kefir encourages generosity and friendship.
- In fact, kefir grains are possibly the nicest gift you can give.
- Kombucha has a sour taste – similar to apple cider vinegar.
- Kombucha contains caffeine (from the tea).
- Kefir is sweeter and easier to flavor than kombucha – and caffeine free.
Kefir v yogurt
- Kefir is not yogurt.
- They do have a bit in common though. Kefir is like yogurt’s effervescent older sister.
- Except she’s not an airhead or anything. In fact, she’s altogether more sophisticated than yogurt.
- Because yes, kefir and yogurt are both cultured milk products…
- …but kefir is the champagne to yogurt’s wine. And that’s probably enough metaphors for now.
- Kefir has a higher number of strains of beneficial bacteria than yogurt, and has the added benefit of good yeasts.
- The yeasts dominate and kill and control pathogens in the gut.
- Much like an affair with a passionate lover, the benefits of yoguht’s bacteria are transient, only lasting 24 hours.
- The bacteria in kefir, on the other hand, are around indefinitely. They can actually colonize the intestinal tract. They’re territorial that way.
- Kefir has three times the probiotic prowess of yogurt.
- It has health benefits that far outweigh that of yogurt (see above).
- Kefir isn’t a one trick pony. Oh no.
- You can put it on your face.
- You can bake with it.
- You can stir it into peanut butter.
- Heck, you can make it into cheesecake. Yummy.
- Most excitingly of all, kefir is blender friendly. It makes for an extremely good smoothie base.
- You can combine the two ingredients in this title, and make a kale kefir smoothie!
- You can do all sorts of other wonderful things with it.
How to make kefir
Traditionally, kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway. The bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed.
We do things a bit differently these days.
You can buy fresh and dehydrated kefir grains.
Using the dry ones means you need to ‘activate’ them before you start making your own kefir. That’s about as hard as it gets with kefir brewing.
(Note that you can also purchase a starter culture kit as an alternative to using grains. That makes it even more straightforward to make kefir. Just follow the instructions on the packet).
You can buy kefir in the shops, but its better to make it at home since you’re probably going to be drinking a lot of it now. Also, the shop brought stuff pales in comparison nutritionally, due to the need to pasteurize it.
Now let’s get down to it:
- Starter grains. These are super cheap to buy online.
- If you are making milk kefir: good quality milk – full fat and organic (raw is perfect if you can get it) or a milk substitute, such as coconut milk. No long life milk please.
- If you are making water kefir: just filtered water and sugar. Or coconut water.
- A glass jar, plus napkin/cloth and a rubber band.
Activating dehydrated grains:
This is very similar to the process of actually making kefir.
- You place the grains in a glass jar with either milk or water/sugar solution (dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 4 cups of water, and allow to cool before adding grains).
- You cover the jar with cheesecloth/a paper towel/a clean napkin and secure it with a rubber band. Do not screw a lid onto the jar.
- Store at room temperature.
- Change the milk/sugar solution every 24 hours until the grains begin to culture the milk/water and make kefir. It may take 3 to 7 days for the kefir grains to become fully active.
You need about a teaspoon of grains to ferment 1 to 2 cups of milk/water. Your grains will start to multiply over time. Maintain a ratio of about a teaspoon of grains to 1 cup of liquid.
Once the grains are activated:
- Same as the above, except that after 12 to 48 hours (usually 24 hours at room temperature), your kefir will be ready!
- Check the jar every few hours. You know that milk kefir is ready when the milk has thickened and tastes tangy. With water kefir, you know its ready when you nudge the jar and bubbles fly up from the bottom, and it has a slightly sour kick (not just sickly sweet).
- Strain out the kefir grains.
- Transfer the grains to fresh milk/water and allow to ferment again. This way, you can make a fresh batch of kefir roughly every 24 hours!
To take a break from making kefir, place the grains in fresh milk/water, cover tightly, and refrigerate.
The prepared kefir can be chugged down immediately, or covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- Sometimes milk kefir will separate into a solid layer and milky layer if left too long. That’s ok! Shake the jar to recombine and carry on.
- If your milk/water hasn’t fermented after 48 hours, strain out the grains and try again in a fresh batch. This sometimes happens when using new kefir grains, when refreshing dried kefir grains, or when using grains that have been refrigerated.
Are you inspired to begin a lifelong romance with kefir? Know about any benefits of kefir that we haven’t mentioned? Tell us in the comments below!