by Claudia Jones
Kefir is revered for its health giving properties and has been enjoyed by generations living in the Caucasus region since ancient times. The origin of kefir is steeped in legend; grains of kefir are said to have been a gift from the prophet Mohammed to his people who guarded them fiercely from non-believers for millennia. Kefir grains were considered to be part of a family’s wealth and were protected accordingly. Travelers to this region would occasionally hear mysterious stories about this secret elixir which was able to perform miracles on ill-health. It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the word about kefir and its health benefits spread beyond the Caucasus region where it had been used to successfully treat tuberculosis, intestinal and chronic diseases.
What is Kefir?
Kefir is traditionally a fermented milk drink made by adding fresh milk to original kefir grains. However, there are also kefir grains available for making kefir water. Kefir is a natural antibiotic, high in strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, believed to have a greater therapeutic value than yogurt as the bacteria and yeasts are more active and therefore more valuable to the digestion process. Milk kefir grains are white or yellow jelly like particles ranging in size from a grain of cottage cheese to a cauliflower floret. Water kefir grains are small, clear jelly like particles. To make the water kefir drink, water and sugar plus dried fruits are added to the water kefir grains and the mixture is left to ferment for approximately 2-4 days until ready. To make milk kefir, milk is added to the milk kefir grains and the mixture is left to ferment for up to 24 hours.
Health Benefits of Kefir
The word kefir in Turkish means ‘feel good ’and when you know the benefits of milk kefir, it’s easy to see why.
- Kefir made from milk is a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids. Kefir also contains many minerals including calcium and magnesium. Tryptophan an essential amino acid in kefir combines with the calcium and magnesium to give a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system. The body converts tryptophan into serotonin, helping to alleviate depression and constipation and promoting deep and restful sleep. In addition, kefir is an excellent source of phosphorous, an important mineral in utilizing food for growth, cell maintenance and energy.
- Kefir increases the level of friendly bacteria in the gut by creating a layer of clear mucus in the intestines upon which they can thrive. The beneficial yeast and bacteria restore the pH balance to the intestines making it impossible for unfriendly bacteria and parasites to survive.
- Kefir becomes alkaline-forming once in the body so can help to keep our blood in the slightly alkaline zone, ensuring good health.
- Both vitamins B and K require a certain level of friendly bacteria to be present in the gut before the body can use them. By drinking kefir the body is able to produce enough of the bacteria itself and therefore able to use the vitamins effectively.
- Kefir made from cow’s milk is an excellent source of folic acid (essential in the diet of a pregnant woman for the formation of a healthy baby).
- After drinking kefir, food cravings disappear because the body has had all of its nutritional need met.
- Kefir is cooling in the case of any heat related conditions and can be applied externally as well as used internally.
- Kefir is very helpful as part of the healing process from Candida (yeast overgrowth). Once the ‘leaky gut ’has been repaired, kefir can be taken to rebalance the growth of yeast and friendly bacteria in the intestines.
Kefir has many, many more health benefits, try it for yourself and see…
How can I make my own Kefir?
Kefir can be made easily at home by obtaining some original kefir grains or a kefir starter culture kit. Please note – when making kefir it is important to use only plastic, wooden or glass containers and strainers, NO METAL.
To make milk kefir –once you have some milk kefir grains or starter culture, all you need is fresh milk, raw, unpasteurized goat’s milk is best if you can get it, otherwise any fresh milk will do. You add the milk to the grains or starter culture and leave at room temperature for up to 24 hours until ready. When the milk congeals and there are patches of separation of curds and whey, the kefir is ready to strain. Pour the mixture into a bowl through a strainer to catch the grains. Do not squeeze the grains. Store the kefir grains in a separate jar in the refrigerator and feed them a little milk regularly to keep them alive. Your kefir is ready to drink. Store the kefir in a refrigerator.
The kefir grains multiply when they are fed with milk. You will soon find you have more grains than you know what to do with, so you can give them away to friends or eat them yourself!
Milk kefir is sour tasting and can have the consistency between liquid and a watery yogurt. You can play with the quantities of kefir grain or starter culture to milk, and with the fermentation times to achieve the consistency and taste that you like best.
To make water kefir – mix a liter of water with 1.5 tablespoons of sugar until the sugar completely dissolves. Next add the water kefir grains, a tablespoon is ideal. Top with some dried fruit of your choice, this will enhance the flavor of the kefir drink. Dried apples, raisins, prunes, dates, mango all make delicious kefir water. Cover with muslin and leave out at room temperature to ferment. Taste after two days, if it is still sweet then further fermentation is needed. When there is no longer any sweetness to the drink, it is ready. First remove the dried fruits, and then strain the kefir water through a piece of muslin into another jug and store in a refrigerator. Wash the kefir grains in filtered water, taking care not to touch them. Use them immediately to make another batch of water kefir. If you are not going to use them immediately, place them in a container of sugar water and keep in the refrigerator.
Gates, Donna and Schatz, Linda Body Ecology Diet Recovering your Health and Rebuilding your Immunity , B.E.D. Publications, USA, 1996
www.kefir.org Kefir Manual
Jarzembski, Marilyn, Kefir Recipes, www.kefirlady.com