“No, it’s not cauliflower.”
Kefir ((pronounced /kəˈfɪər/ kə-FEER) is a funny thing. Why funny? There are so many interesting, cool facts and fiction surrounding this little bewildering bacteria. Getting to the bottom to what it is, where it originated, how people feel about it (I’ve never heard of anyone treating microflora with such affection) and pronounce it, and its real boon to our bodies was an adventure in itself, but we’ll get into that a little later. :) First of all lets look at what really matters to you – the benefits:
- it is full of beneficial bacteria, which aid in the digestive process by contributing to, enhancing and stabilizing the micro-organisms in the intestines.
- kefir made from fresh live “grains” has been found to be a much more effective digestive aid than yogurt and its bacteria is in more abundance
- the bacteria in kefir colonizes the intestinal tract (it stays inside your system to do its job), whereas yogurt has transient bacteria that pass through our system
- it’s antimicrobial against harmful bacteria that enter the body
- it stimulates the immune system
- it is a rich source of extremely bioavailable vitamins (especially vitamins B1, B12 & K), minerals, amino acids and enzymes
- lactose intolerant people often have no problem eating kefir, as it “feeds” on the lactose in milk products
- due to the metabolic effects of mycroflora (microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts), kefir has been used to help treat disorders in this regard, as well as tuberculosis, obesity, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, and even cancer (gut flora plays a major role in metabolizing dietary carcinogens); scroll to the bottom of this post for some other propounded benefits
- regular consumption of kefir is considered one of the major factors in the longevity of the people from which it originated
So What the Heck Is This Funny Sounding Flora?
Simply put, kefir is a fermented (cultured) milk beverage, that ranges in consistencies from liquid to chunky, depending on the length of the culturing time. It’s a combination of bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars. Kefir grains (the little granular pieces need to make batches of kefir) contain a polysaccharide called kefiran. Polysaccharides (complex carbohydrate compounds of chains of simple sugars) make ideal storage molecules for energy and are important in the prevention of degenerative type diseases. Sounds yummy, right? Actually, because it is fermented, it can be a bit sour, just as plain unsweetened yogurt tastes. I’ll get into how you can make it taste spectacular later in the post.
Kefir grains (see the picture at the top of the post) are what is required to start making kefir yourself. There are more and more companies selling kefir in stores now, however, you can easily make it at home. It is quick and easy. The tricky part is getting the grains; few people seem to mention this in videos or articles because usually they are trying to sell you something or they just forget to include that one very important detail. After searching high and low, though, I was able to find a source for my kefir grains. You see, there are networks of people out there that will pass forward the kefir grains that were bestowed upon them by some other kind person, either for free or for a nominal fee (I paid $5, which the woman who supplied them to me will donate to Sick Kids. Gotta love compassion!).
It is also possible to purchase kefir starter from a health food store or from the internet. Unfortunately, once you have used the starter a few times, you will need to buy more. If you are able to obtain the grains, you will never have to find/purchase anymore, as they reproduce and keep growing as you use them to make new batches of kefir. Another downside of using a starter is that they have way less amounts of helpful bacteria.
“OK, OK already! How do I get it??”
Here are a couple of places to locate kefir sharing networks:
This is the website where I found my grains. There are many sources listed by location/country.
Here is another website that lists kefir sources by location/country.
http://www.torontoadvisors.com/Kefir/kefir-list.php (the website says “torontoadvisors”, but there are sources from all over the world listed)
How to Make Your First Batch of Kefir
Once you have the grains, you’re going to want to get crackin’ on your first batch of kefir, right? Right. There are people on the Almighty Internet that would have you believe that making kefir is a complicated process and you need to purchase their “Kefir Making Video” or their “Secret Kefir Course”. There are also those that will share their knowledge and experience for nothing other than the satisfaction that you are getting healthier. Nice, eh? I think so, too. Here is one of those people. Will’s video from Teaming With Nature is the best one that I’ve seen so far on kefir preparation. I have only included Part 2 of his two part video. Part one is more of an introduction to kefir and you can watch that on his YouTube channel, if you like. He gives a very good explanation on what kefir is and how it will benefit you. Yes, I know he says the name incorrectly, but so do a lot of other people. I wouldn’t worry about it.
A couple of things I wanted to mention is that there are mixed messages on what containers you should store your kefir in (plastic or glass) and what kind of strainer and utensils you should use (metal or plastic) in the preparation. You should be aware that, as in any fermentation, the process creates an acidic environment. In light of this, it is not recommended to use anything made from reactive metals such as copper, brass, zinc, iron and aluminium with kefir. Stainless steel is not reactive and therefore could be used for handling or straining, however, to avoid damaging the grains, a plastic strainer is recommended. Storage should be in glass or ceramic, as plastic also doesn’t react very well with an acidic environment.
Making It Taste Better
The longer you let the kefir grains sit in the milk, the more it ferments and the more sour it becomes. If you find that the taste is a bit too strong for your palate, you can do the following:
- add a natural sweetener such as honey, maple syrup (my favourite choice), or molasses; typically the less refined these are the more nutritious they are
- adding fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, pineapple or mangoes is delicious; just make sure you refer to the EWG’s organic shopping list found in my Organics Vs. Non-Organics post
The Cool Stuff I Was Talking About Earlier
All right, so when I was first starting to learn about kefir I thought to myself, “It’s just a probiotic, like yogurt or Bio-K, right? Why does everyone make such a big deal about it?” As I began to delve deeper into the history, legend and lore of kefir I understood why this was so. Here are some of the things that I ran across:
The Sacred Gift
One story about the origin of kefir grains is that they were a gift from the Prophet Mohammed to the Orthodox shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains. He bestowed upon them the very first kefir grains and taught them how to make kefir or “the drink of the Prophet Mohammed”. The grains were actually rumoured to be remnants of the original “manna”, the sweet, white substance which fell from the heavens in order to feed the Israelites, being led by Moses to the land of milk and honey. Apparently the “manna” had fallen into milk and had been preserved this way. Therefore, they were guarded very closely and were regarded as the clan’s wealth and secret to longevity. The kefir grains could be reused indefinitely, and so they were passed on from generation to generation. It was a closely kept secret for over 1,000 years.
Although kefir had been a secret well kept for so long, around the turn of the twentieth century Russian doctors working in the area had heard rumours of and consequently witnessed how this drink was successful in treating tuberculosis as well as intestinal and chronic diseases. A certain Dr. Kanschlikow, who devoted much of his professional life to researching the effects and benefits of kefir, published a resulting study in 1893 expounding the multiple medicinal effects of kefir. How the Russians got their hands on the kefir grains is indeed a story of intrigue.
The All-Russian Physicians Society had asked a pair of brothers who owned a cheese factory to somehow obtain some of the kefir grains held in guarded possession by the royal Caucasus family. They contracted the services of a beautiful and seductive young woman, Irina Sakharova, to entrance the prince of said family in order to secure a sample of the grains. Although her attempts were in vain, the prince, nevertheless, fell in love with her and proposed. She rejected his proposal and headed back to Russia, but before she could return the prince had her abducted and held against her will. A brave rescue saved the woman from betrothal and the Society brought Irina’s case to the Czar’s court. The prince was convicted and ordered to pay a settlement. He offered to pay them in gold, however they refused and demanded to be paid with kefir grains. In 1908, kefir grains made their way to Russia, where they remain a regular part of the traditional Russian diet until this day.
There is another story about kefir that is also very interesting. It goes something like this. Once there was a man who was afflicted with many chronic illnesses. He visited many doctors and traveled to places both far and near to search for a cure for his ailments. His persistence and travels brought to the doors of a temple in the Far East. Upon entering the safe walls of the temple, he shared his situation with the monks there, who all appeared to be in spectacular health. He begged to know their secret and how he could heal himself. They cared for him by feeding him a curious white and sour milky beverage for some time and gradually he recovered his full health. He had never remembered feeling so well in all his life.
When he had fully recovered and was ready to travel again, he asked the monks if he could take some of the small white granular pieces with him, in order to maintain his health. They agreed upon one condition. He had to promise that when the grains became plentiful that he would never sell them for profit; they could never be used to make money. He would have to find someone who was in need of healing and help by giving some of the grains to that person. The man willingly took this oath and went on his way, and this is how kefir eventually made its way out into the world.
The Least You Need to Know
1. Kefir is good for you and your digestion. As mentioned in my post about digestion, if you can’t digest what you ingest, it’s pretty useless to you. If you’re going to improve your health through eating more nutritiously, first work on strengthening your digestive system.
2. You must have kefir grains to make kefir from scratch at home. For the best results, use raw milk (either cow or goat) with it. Next, you could use organic milk. Although not highly recommended, you could use regular milk.
3. Eat/drink kefir on a daily basis. Let it help heal and nourish you.
4. Take good care of the kefir grains and you will have them with you for life.
5. When your grains are in abundance, share your health wealth with others. What goes around comes around in good time.
Here is a list of purported benefits and therapeutic uses for kefir.
- Strongest natural remedy allergies
- Strongest natural antibiotic without side effects
- Treats liver disease
- Treats gallbladder, dissolves gall bladder stones
- Clears the body of salts, heavy metals, radionuclides, and alcoholic products
- Cleans the body of chemical antibiotics
- Treats kidney stones
- Good bacteria in kefir are able to fight off pathogenic microorganisms
- Lowers level of LDL cholesterol
- Cleans the gastrointestinal tract
- Treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Treats gastritis
- Treats pancreatitis
- Treats ulcers
- Prevents and treats colon cancer
- Improves digestion
- Improves the body functions
- Improves the human immune system
- Cures Candida
- Cures hypertension
- Stops growth of cancer cells
- Speeds up healing process
- Treats psoriasis
- Treats eczema
- Treats inflammatory diseases
- Reduces size of tumors
- Treats heart disease
- Reverses calcination of blood vessels
- Clears the blood vessels
- Boosts the bodies energy
- Natural “feel good” food
- Treats lung infections
- Normalizes metabolism thereby can be used as for weight loss
- Cures acne
- Has anti-oxidants and anti-aging properties
- Nourishes hair
- Treats the gum disease parodontosis
- Lessens effects of medicines
- Replenishes body of good bacteria after antibiotic
- Balances the microflora of the body’s digestive system
- Regulates blood pressure
- Lowers blood sugar
- Lowers blood lipid levels or cholesterol and fatty acids
- Treats diarrhea
- Treats constipation
- Promotes bowel movement
- Anti-stress properties
- Treats sleeping disorders
- Treats depression
- Treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Improves the brains neuro functions like reflexes, memory retention, attention, the five senses
- Reduces flatulence
- Lactic acid fermentation enhances the digestibility of milk based foods. People who cannot otherwise digest milk, can enjoy the vital calcium rich Kefir.
- Treats yeast infection
- Eliminates vaginal odors
- Cures wrinkles
- Treats arthritis
- Treats colitis
- Treats gout
- Cures migranes
- Treats rheumatism
- Treats other stomach disorders
- Detoxifies the body
- Improves protein quality of milk, and enhances absorption and digestion
- Good bacteria manufacture B vitamins such as B3, B6 and folic acid.
- Aids in treating tuberculosis
- Treats stomach cramps
- Treats chronic intestine infections
- Treats liver infections
- Treats asthma
- Treats bronchitis
- Treats sclerosis
- Treats anemia
- Treats hepatitis
- Healing effects on catarrh, digestive nodes, astral nodes, bilious complaints
- Treats leaky gut syndrome
- Prevents metastasis
- Cures bad morning breath