With people more conscious about their gut health, good bacteria-rich fermented foods are on top of the list of the superfoods that are expected to take the spotlight in 2020.
Fermented foods contain probiotics that are good for the digestive and immune systems, and the newest darling in the fermented food segment is kefir.
Kefir comes from the Turkish word “keyif,” which means “feeling good.” It has long been used by Caucasian mountain folks found in Russia and Central Asia, and also in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Sweden. Accounts say that shepherds accidentally “developed” kefir as the fresh milk they carried on their leather pouches fermented throughout the course of their time outdoors.
Due to its nutritional benefits, North American and Japanese health aficionados promote its consumption or produce it, particularly due to its high probiotic content. You’ll most likely find kefir within the dairy section next to yogurt. It’s referred to today as “drinkable yogurt” and the “champagne of milk.”
Lactose becomes lactic acid in fermented food. The end product therefore has a much lower to nearly zero lactose due to enzyme action so it’s something lactose intolerant people can enjoy.
Kefir looks and tastes a lot like yogurt but the composition of the two are very different. Unlike yogurt, which contains only two to three strains of bacteria, kefir contains a lot more plus yeast.
That’s because the so-called kefir grains are actually powdered kefir culture composed of bacteria and yeast instead of grains such as rice or wheat. They feel like gelatin and look like cauliflower florets.
Types of Kefir
The scoby or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast can be mixed with dairy (cow, goat, or sheep’s) milk or nut milk.
Vanilla or other berry flavors are usually added to make milk kefir sold at stores taste sweeter. Meanwhile, honey, maple syrup, or organic stevia extract can be added to homemade versions.
Grass-fed raw milk is the best type of milk to add your kefir culture, followed by raw milk (but not from grass-fed cows), grass-fed milk that’s pasteurized, organic and pasteurized milk, pasteurized milk, and powdered milk.
The scoby is mixed with sugar water, coconut water, or soya milk. Water kefir is usually lighter in texture and less tart-tasting than its milky counterpart. The scoby feeds on carbohydrates instead of lactose for non-milk kefir.
Benefits of Kefir
High probiotic content makes kefir beneficial to your gut.
Kefir is packed with up to 61 strains of bacteria, making it more potent as a probiotic than yogurt. Probiotics promote a healthy microbiome in your gut that aid in digestion.
Kefir can help you with weight loss.
Just like in other fermented dairy food, kefir is rich in L. acidophilus bacteria, which helps make you feel full. This prevents you from eating too much and often.
Probiotics in kefir cause your body to store less fat and improve your metabolism. Kefir also contains proteins that increase satiety and breaks down fat.
The amount of calories offered by kefir depends on the type of milk you use. For example, there’s around 100 calories in kefir made with fat-free milk. Meanwhile, up to 200 calories are contained in kefir made with whole milk.
The antibacterial properties of kefir strengthen your immune system.
Kefir helps colonize your gut with healthy microorganisms. Seventy to eighty percent of the cells comprising your body’s immune system are located in your gut.
Kefir can ease skin disorders.
Your skin often reflects the state of your gut. Skin conditions like eczema or acne can be due to an inflamed gut. Taking kefir can support the lining of your digestive tract by getting rid of toxins, thereby reducing inflammation.
Kefiran, a carbohydrate found in kefir, also aids the skin’s ability to heal wounds.
Kefir is actually being used now as a face and hair mask, hand soak, and body scrub. It’s also an ingredient in some lotions and soaps.
Good bacteria from kefir can beat allergies.
Allergies are set off when imbalances in the gut disturb the immune system, particularly among people with over-sensitive immune systems. Good bacteria from probiotics like kefir are found to lessen allergic reactions, especially to certain food, according to a study.
Kefir is rich in nutrients necessary for healthy bones.
Kefir contains calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin K, which work together to make strong bones. Vitamin K aids the bones in absorbing calcium better. Meanwhile, magnesium activates calcitonin. These hormones draw calcium from the blood and soft tissues into the bone to preserve bone structure.
Kefir may protect body against cancer.
How to Incorporate Kefir in Your Diet
Kefir has many benefits but the amount of intake depends on your tolerance.
Start with about 100 milliliters if you’re not used to taking fermented drinks and food. Gradually increase intake as your body begins to adjust to kefir.
- Add it to oats and let stay overnight then eat for breakfast.
- Add it to your smoothie.
- Use it as a creamy salad dressing or sauce in place of sour cream, yogurt, or mayonnaise.
- Use it for tenderizing meat. Soaking chicken in kefir will make it extra juicy upon baking or pan-frying.
- Use it as a substitute for buttermilk to make extra fluffy pancakes, muffins, and waffles.
- Use it as a bread spread or dip.
- Add it to your fruit popsicles.
Due to side effects such as stomach discomfort and bloating, individuals with gastritis, pancreatitis, and duodenal ulcers should take kefir with caution.
There are some who believe that kefir could be included in the diets of candidiasis patients but they should take their time.
How to Make Your Own Kefir
You can make kefir at home using scoby or starter grains, which you can get online, from health food stores, and supermarkets. Read the instructions to activate the grains.
In a clean wide jar, mix one to two tablespoons of kefir grains and one to two cups of milk (grass-fed or organic milk is the healthiest). Add full-fat cream for thicker kefir.
Don’t fill up to the brim but leave an inch (2.5 centimeters) of space at the top of the jar. Use the lid, a coffee filter, or cheesecloth to cover the jar, leave it in a warm spot, and check after eight hours. You should see the kefir starting to thicken after eight hours. Avoid “over-culturing” your grains or leaving them too long because they will no longer have anything to feed on.
You can strain the clumpy kefir grains from the finished kefir, store it in the refrigerator, and reuse in a new batch of milk. High-quality grains usually reproduce kefir slowly, but they’re less yeasty and rich in bacteria.
Mix 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of hot water in a jar until sugar is dissolved. Make sure to use dechlorinated water and unrefined sugar (granulated brown sugar, cane juice, sucanat, turbinado, jaggery).
Add 3 cups of room temperature water and kefir grains. Let it ferment for 24-48 hours.
If you don’t plan to make water kefir for several days, immerse the grains in plain sugar water. In the case of milk kefir, pour enough milk to cover them in your jar. Then change the water every two weeks.
Start exploring kefir today and see how it can give a different twist to your snacks and meals.