Kefir...what is it and why do you need it?

I was introduced to kefir by my parents who in turn were introduced to it by a somewhat eccentric aunt. She walked in raving about all the health benefits that she had had due to kefir. My Dad has diverticulitis and due to all these health claims that this aunt alledged, he decided to try it. He then started doing some research (we are alike like that – we love researchJ). His diverticulitis showed much improvement so he was sold. It took me a few years to try it though. Many years ago I was diagnosed with systematic candida which would flare up from time to time due to my hormones or what I was eating. Pregnancy caused havoc with my balance and I had many infections due to candida. (I am being very open and honest here!) Anyways, after my second baby I was drinking smoothies every day and decided to try adding kefir to it. Well, bye bye candida. My digestion improved and no more infections. I was sold. I stuck to it throughout my third pregnancy and I did not have one candida infection nor did I suffer from the dreaded pregnancy constipation.

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a fermented milk food which is rich in enzymes and probiotics. It is cultured from gelatinous whitish/yellowish particles that contain bacteria/yeast clumped together with milk proteins (casein) and complex sugars. They look like pieces of cauliflower and vary in size from really small to quite large.

Kefir is more beneficial than yoghurt (another cultured milk product) because the bacteria that is found in kefir actually colonised the gut whereas the bacteria found in yoghurt is transient – it passes through the gut. Both are beneficial and serve a specific purpose in that yoghurt helps to clean the gut whereas kefir colonises the gut and keeps in clean. I watched a programmed that did a study between yogurt, kefir and prebiotic foods (onions, artichokes, asparagus, banana’s, oats and garlic). They took stool samples from the participants and got a bacteria count in each person. The people were then divided into 3 groups and each group was told to consume either yoghurt, kefir or prebiotic foods for 2 weeks and then another stool sample was taken. What they found was that the people consuming the kefir had a significant increase in healthy gut bacteria. Whereas the people consuming yoghurt or prebiotic foods had very little change in the bacteria in their guts. Kefir does however have quite a tart taste and does take some getting used to.

But why is gut health so important?

Our digestive tract is responsible for up to 70% of our immune system. Apparently if our gut is teaming with healthy bacteria, the bad bacteria/germs will not be able to infiltrate into our bodies.  The gut is responsible for detoxification and when this fails, we are susceptible to many different conditions which are caused by a leaky gut. Good gut health is important for many things from good digestion of nutrients to mood and memory.  It is actually mind-blowing that our gut can be responsible for anxiety or even depression. But I suppose it actually makes sense. If we are not absorbing the right nutrients to control healthy hormone function, our mood can be influenced. We all know that hormones have a lot to do with how we feel. So, what does the bacteria in the kefir actually do? There are many different strains of bacteria in kefir which all have their own roles. However, I will just mention three.  Lactobacilli wards off anxiety and stress, digests food, absorbs nutrients, wards off infections. Bifidobacteria improves many digestive and intestinal conditions. Lactobacillus Helviticus is linked to reducing depression and anxiety. Kefir also contains strains of yeast that can metabolise lactose making it suitable for lactose intolerant people.

Making and Handling Kefir

Making kefir is easy and cheap. All you need is the kefir grains and milk. You should be able to find kefir grains in a good health shop or just bum some off a friend who is making their own kefir. Kefir multiplies at a fast rate.

1.       Put kefir grains into glass jar. I use a Consol jar and the inner of a lid to close it. Kefir is a fermented product and therefore should not be placed in a tightly closed jar. If you use a jar with a screw top make sure to allow for the fermentation gases. Also, plastic is not advisable. Plastic can be damaged and harbor dangerous bacteria in scratches and it may also contain chemicals (BPA’s act) which are harmful to the kefir.

2.       Cover with milk. Raw milk is the best option however if you cannot find raw milk, pasteurized milk is fine. Milk that has been homogenized is not advisable as it does not ferment.

3.       Allow to ferment. In hot weather this goes much quicker. If it is very hot the kefir can be placed in the fridge. Usually 24 hours is sufficient. However, the longer the kefir is left to ferment, the more potent the probiotics.

4.       Strain. Again, metal is not advisable so please use a plastic strainer.

5.       Rinse. This step can be skipped. I like to just quickly rinse the kefir off. If the kefir has gone slimy, this is a good sign! The slimier the better! It is actually one of the beneficial yeasts that is responsible for this slime.

6.       Repeat.

7.       Once the kefir grains have multiplied, they can be separated. Place the kefir grains which you have taken out into a plastic Ziploc bag, cover with milk and freeze. I have found the higher the ratio of kefir to milk, the thicker it is.

To defrost the kefir: Place the Kefir in the fridge and once defrosted, place in jar with milk. I may take a bit longer than 24 hours to ferment as it needs to get started again.

Strained kefir can be consumed in a smoothie, just like that or however you enjoy it. It can be stored in the fridge. Some sources say that this causes secondary fermentation which can improve the taste, but to be honest I have not noticed a difference.