I’m apparently one of the last few people to board the fermentation train… or I’m still wet behind the ears when it comes to complete and real nutrition.
Can someone hand me a towel, please?
I’ll admit that I’m still kinda new at this real food thing. Baby steps, right? I’ve learned leaps and bounds these past few months and it’s changing how we eat, and why we eat, for the better. Way better.
One of these changes is indeed fermentation. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to incorporate fermentation into your diet is kefir.
(For those wondering what “fermentation” means, it’s essentially taking good bacteria and allowing it to cohabitate with other foods so some of the goodness seeps in and transfers into the food. Heard of yogurt, sauerkraut or sour cream? Recognize the slightly sour taste that sits on your tongue at the mention of their names? That’s fermentation! A slightly longer explanation is below.)
What is kefir?
The short answer: kefir is a fermented drink. The end.
The long answer: kefir is a fermented drink that is traditionally made by taking kefir grains and placing them in mammals’ milk (cow, sheep, goat, etc.) for a period of 12 to 24 hours, depending on the environment and the grain to milk ratio. The cooler the temperature, the slower the fermentation process is. The greater quantity of grains present, the quicker the fermentation process. (Kefir thrives in temperatures between 68-77 degrees and the quantity of kefir grains can range from 2 to 10% of the milk.)
Good news! Kefir grains cannot be created in a lab. They grow naturally in the fermentation process and eventually split, thus creating more grains.
The not-so-good news is the kefir found in most stores today is not created using grains. In order to maintain consistent results, manufacturers use an exact combination of different bacteria and yeast.
This shouldn’t be a deal breaker though. While homemade kefir is best, some fermentation is better than no fermentation.
The kefir grains themselves are a combination of probiotic (good) bacteria and yeast, and these are intermingled between various proteins, lipids and sugars. The grains kinda resemble cauliflower, are yellowish/whiteish in color, can be as small as a pin head and can grow to be as large as walnuts or even golf balls.
Kefir has a tart, sour-like taste. At first sniff, one would think that it was milk gone bad. But those who are seasoned in the kitchen (or simply know what kefir is) can relate it to yogurt or buttermilk. It’s a clean sour, not a rancid sour. If the kefir tastes rancid, it’s gone bad.
Attune foods has an excellent write up on the benefits of fermented foods here. For those who don’t feel like clicking, fermentation allows good bacteria into your digestive system to help it work better. Our bodies need bacteria to process the food we eat, but this good bacteria has about a two-week gut life. We do consume bacteria in the foods we eat, but not nearly as much as we should to make our bodies efficient, and if we consume more fake food than real food, our bacteria levels will be even lower.
The good bacteria and enzymes in kefir kick start your digestive system by helping to break down other foods, stimulating your system to produce it’s own enzymes better, and can even help those suffering with Irritable Bowl Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Kefir helps to keep things moving, which is imperative to good intestinal health – clean pipes are happy pipes!
Why drink kefir?
Kefir is a lot like oatmeal – it’s a powerhouse of a huge variety of vitamins and minerals. Calcium, phosphors, magnesium, folic acid, nicotinic acid, iron, B2, B12, Vitamin K, Vitamin A and Vitamin D are all in abundance. In addition, kefir also has tryptophan. Yep, the same amino acid that puts us in post-dinner Thanksgiving comas is found plentiful in kefir.
For those who may be wondering, drinking kefir will not put you in that same Turkey Day coma. At least drinking it in ½ – 1 cup servings (each day in my morning smoothie) hasn’t done me in yet. In does though offer a mild, calming and slightly soothing affect (because of the calcium and magnesium). Homeschool is a breeze after my smoothie! Fair warning though – consume an entire quart and you (and your kids) are on your own.)
In addition to being good for your gut and good for your nervous system, kefir can also help treat candidiasis (affectionately referred to as yeast infections). It may sound strange to treat a yeast infection by consuming more yeast, but kefir is good yeast that helps to bring the bad yeast under control.
Interested in making your own? The how-to is here!