It occurred to me this afternoon that I had not publicly espoused the benefits of kefir for a while. This is not to say I have not been busy kefir-pushing with clients. This special yoghurt stands out as one of the most useful changes any individual could make to their diet, providing a wide range of benefits, from beneficial bacteria to an enviable array of nutrients. Yet many people have not heard of kefir, let alone used it. Here is a range of questions I get when discussing this probiotic powerhouse.
What’s the difference between kefir and live yoghurt from the supermarket?
Both kefir and the probiotic products available commercially fall under the classification of ‘yoghurt’, but that’s where the similarity ends. They are both yoghurts in the same sense that a Bentley Continental and a Fiat Panda are both cars. A serving of ‘live yoghurt’ founds in the supermarkets may provide around 500 million viable organisms. This sounds impressive, but a well-fermented serving of kefir can deliver upwards of 40 billion viable organisms. This is one of those occasions where the numbers do matter.
Can I not just take a probiotic if I want these benefits?
Yes. Good quality probiotics capsules represent a sensible solution, in fact the only sensible solution for some clients who are in several countries on a typical week. However, kefir provides a number of advantages over a probiotic supplement. Take a Lamberts Extra 10 Acidophilus product (an item that I recommend regularly): this supplement provides four types of helpful bacteria and around 10 billion viable organisms. While this is great, a serving of well-fermented kefir provides around 40 billion of the good guys, split between 28 different species; research shows that the diversity of good bacteria in the gut is as important as the overall number, especially in regards to allergic responses. Beyond this, kefir provides a wealth of B vitamins, as well as an excellent provision of superoxide dismutase, glutathione (antioxidants) and beta-glucans (which stimulate the immune system).
What does it taste like?
On it’s own, not great; if you’ve fermented it well, it will be sour. It is for this reason that you cannot find kefir made commercially – it just wouldn’t sell. That being said, most individuals can learn to tolerate it just fine after several weeks. Otherwise, one pleasant way to add kefir into the diet involves 300ml of kefir in a blender, with 60g spinach, a handful of berries and 35g whey protein. (As a note, just the protein and the kefir on it’s own tastes quite nasty, in my humble opinion).
Should I use coconut milk or goats milk?
Both work just fine. I prefer the nutritional profile of the coconut milk, as it contains the medium chain fatty acids (good for fat burning and immune support) and a balanced level of minerals. The only problem, for both myself and clients, is that the kefir culture tends to die if coconut milk is used exclusively for a period of months. For this reason, I suggest using coconut milk for 8-12 cycles, goats milk for 2 cycles, then repeat. Goats milk is infinitely easier to digest than cows milk so remains the dairy milk of choice, although the latter will ferment just fine.
The kefir culture, often referred to as the kefir ‘grains’.
What happens if I get it wrong?
The reality is making kefir is hard to get wrong. If you use a jar that lets air in, then fermentation (an anerobic process) will not occur, ie. nothing will happen. If you don’t use a Kilner jar, and instead start the fermentation process in something that resembles a jam jar, you may find there is no mechanism for the gases to escape and the jar will explode. However, use the right type of jar, follow the instructions and you’ll be fine. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again and again.
I get gurgling in my belly after consuming it, what should I do?
Many people have imbalances in the bacteria of the intestines, which is not surprising when you consider the over-prescription of antibiotics and the huge sugar content of the typical Western diet. With over 400 different strains in the intestinal milieu, each battle for dominance by releasing chemicals that kill off the competition. It is a war. When you introduce a huge number of beneficial bacteria to a gut that is predominant with pathogenic varieties, you are likely to feel (and sometimes hear) the effects of the fight that takes place. The gurgling is normally as a result of gases and chemicals released in this process; providing it is tolerable, it should not be a concern and should disappear as the bacterial balance improves.
HOW TO MAKE KEFIR
You will need:
kefir culture (“kefir grains”)
two large glass jars
a milk medium
1. To start, place the kefir grains into a glass jar. Pour the milk into the jar.
2. Leave the jar for 24-72 hours in a dark cupboard, swirling it once or twice a day. The rate of fermentation will change according to the temperature (you can also place the jar in the fridge, although the rate of fermentation will slow significantly, the final product will also be thicker). It is normal for there to be significant seperation visible from the outside of the jar. Over this time, the kefir grains will ferment the liquid and make it increasingly sour and thicker.
3. Having swirled the jar to mix the liquid, pour the contents of your jar through a sieve into the other jar. You will likely need to shake the sieve/use a fork to ‘push’ through the remaining yoghurt until only the kefir grains remain.
4. The second jar now contains kefir yoghurt. I suggest you store this in the fridge, ready for consumption when required.
5. Place the kefir grains back in the original jar and repeat Step 1.
You can almost never make Kefir wrong. It’s almost always based on your preferences. After you’ve done this basic recipe once feel free to experiment.
There are many who believe that only plastic utensils should be used with kefir, although I have never noticed any problems using metal utensils. My recommendations would be to use plastic utensils if you have them, but I would not worry about using metal if they are not available.
You should ensure that the kefir grains are not exposed to chlorinated water. However, washing the sieve/funnel as you would other kitchen items is not a problem.
A lot of kefir-related information can be found at http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefirpage.html – a lot of the pages relate to kefir using cow’s milk as the medium, but the information is just as valid.