Have you ever wondered what are kefir grains and why is everyone crazy about them? If you have, the short answer is this – because they are extremely healthy. The long answer is detailed in this piece. You’ll find out everything you ever wanted to know about those white, thick pearls we call kefir grains, how to get them, grow them, what they are good for, and what exactly is kefir.
What Is Kefir?
Kefir is basically a type of runny yogurt that you can drink rather than eat with a spoon. It’s very creamy, a bit tart and tangy in taste, which makes it refreshing and delicious. It’s made of fermented milk, and it’s an ancient beverage.
The word itself, ‘kefir’, is thought to originate in Turkey, where ‘keif’ means ‘good feeling.’ It’s said that the drink comes to us through the centuries from the shepherds in the Caucasian Mountains. They used to carry around the milk in leather pouches. It somehow fermented and turned into the delicious drink we know and love today.
There are two types of kefir – the water one, where the small grains need sugar water to ferment and grow and the milk kefir. The latter requires fat milk or even cream for the grains to grow and thrive. You can also make kefir out of coconut milk, using the same grain. It’s considered healthy eating as well and it’s perfect for people who are lactose intolerant. They can enjoy it without fearing secondary effects. Recipes are to be found anywhere online.
Many people choose to make their own kefir at home, because once you get the process started, you will have a never ending supply. This yogurt is a living organism, so to say. It has more than 30 microflora living in symbiosis in it and forming the grains you can see.
As this culture progresses and ferments in the milk, they create new grains. You can add these to a new pot of milk, and they will create a new batch of kefir and, in the process, some more grains. And so on, making the kefir last as long as you have milk to grow it in.
What Are Kefir Grains?
Simply put, the grains shaped like cauliflower you can see being used to make kefir are a combination of bacteria and yeast. They usually live right on the surface of certain dairy products. They are gelatinous in texture and creamy white in color. Kefir grains are available for purchase, but you can also look for someone who is currently making kefir and ask for some.
Their exact story is not known, seeing as they are so old. Their history is now lost to us but, luckily, not the product itself. Interestingly enough, some historians have advanced the theory that kefir grains were actually the mana God sent from heaven for the Israelites when they wandered for 40 years through the desert after escaping Egypt. Other say kefir grains were a gift from Allah to the prophet Muhammed, who then spread them out in the world, for everyone to benefit and enjoy.
The secret of kefir grains was so well-guarded in the past that the Russian actually had to employ a spy to steal them at the beginning of the 20th century. After the recipe was stolen, kefir spread throughout Russia and Eastern Europe and from there on to everywhere else in the world.
Evidently, no one knows if these stories are true or not, but they do go to show how important kefir is to people. Why is that? Because it’s one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, with restorative and palliative characteristics. Scientists actually believe that the reason why Caucasian shepherds lived such long and healthy lives is kefir.
How to Make Kefir
The process is so incredibly easy you will be wondering why you haven’t done this before. All you need to do is add your kefir grains to some milk and let it sit in your cupboard or on the kitchen counter for 18 to 24 hours. Strain the grains and store the kefir in the fridge.
The best part is that you can reuse the kefir grains as many times as you want. There is no need to wash them. However, if you do, make sure the water you use doesn’t have any chlorine in it because it will kill the bacteria in the grains and they won’t work anymore.
There are some cases where you might like to slow down the process. For example, if you’re leaving town and want to have fresh kefir when you return. Then all you need to do is put the grains in the milk and the milk in the fridge. The process of fermentation will still take place only at a much slower pace.
As you continue to use and reuse your original kefir grains, they will grow. This means you can share them with whoever wants to take up kefir brewing themselves. Usually, once you start doing it, and people around see how easy and healthy it is, they will want to do it too, so you will quickly find yourself at the center of a very healthy community of kefir enthusiasts.
Is Homemade Kefir Better Than the Store Bought One?
The simple answer to that question is yes. Here are a few reasons why.
- Store bought kefir does not start from kefir grains. It’s rather made from starter cultures containing organisms that form the original kefir symbiosis. However, it’s not all of them. This is why what you are actually buying from the store is not kefir per se, but a look-alike beverage.
- The quality of the product is lowered for commercial purposes. The final product is a lot runnier and watery than it should be.
- Store-bought kefir is easy to spot as not real kefir because it’s all the same. Normally, that would be impossible. Since the milk goes through a process of fermentation based on real live microorganisms, the results vary from batch to batch. However, the modern craze for uniformity does not allow for different products under the same label. Therefore, it’s far easier for manufacturers to make a kefir-like beverage than real kefir.
- The store-bought type has only 10 to 12 bacteria in it while the homemade one has up to 30. The key word with kefir is ‘the more bacteria, the better!’
- The kefir you buy in stores, although not bad for you at all, it doesn’t heal you like the real one does. It has fewer bacteria, as shown above, and the fermentation process takes a lot less because manufacturers have to produce large quantities in a very short time to fill up supermarket shelves. These two reasons lead to the kefir they sell not being the cure for certain ailments it needs to be, which brings us to the following.
What is Kefir Good for?
Here are some of the amazing proven health benefits of drinking this beverage based on kefir grains.
- It’s a lot easier on your stomach than milk. This is due to the fact that it’s fermented for quite a while. It makes the resulting product a lot easier for the stomach to handle because the proteins are already digested, the immunoglobulins are broken to pieces and the fermentation process itself has consumed the lactose.
- All of its microbes are incredibly beneficial. As pointed out, a well-crafted batch of homemade kefir has up to 30 bacteria. These include the famous Lactobacilli, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter, and Saccharomyces. Apart from these, kefir also has a lot of smaller, but still beneficial microbes. These microbes are actually what separates kefir from yogurt. While yogurt only has bacteria, kefir has both good bacteria and yeast.
- Kefir is very soothing to your gut lining. The fermentation process kefir goes through renders copious amounts of lactic acid that soothes the gut lining and heals it if it’s damaged. Needless to say, everyone, no matter what age needs this bonus kefir comes packed with to the brim.
- It’s very high in Vitamin B, Biotin, Vitamin K2, and a whole series of active enzymes. No matter how healthy you think milk is, and it is, no doubt about it, kefir is even better. Its nutritional value varies, depending on the type of milk you used to make it and how long you left it to ferment.
Simply put, the longer you leave it on the counter to do its fermenting job, the tangier it will be. When you can taste this pronounced tanginess, you know it’s very high in foliate.
- It also colonizes your gut. Apart from healing and soothing it, kefir also colonizes the gut with friendly bacteria. There are already some tiny friends in there that help you process and pass food, but, sometimes, some help is very welcomed. Instead of taking pills to solve this problem you might have, you can try drinking freshly homemade kefir. Once you stop, so will the benefits towards your intestinal tract, so keep on drinking this age old remedy.
- Kefir stimulates the entire immune system. You probably already know that probiotics are ‘guilty’ of fortifying your immune system and guess what? Kefir is chock-full of them. This basically means that, yet again, kefir is a wonderfully natural and tasty solution to a nasty problem you used to medicate yourself for until now.
- Kefir may inhibit certain tumors and keep them from growing and becoming dangerous. Amazingly enough, this includes cancerous tumors. There are studies which prove how beneficial kefir really is in the regard.
- It’s also highly antimicrobial. If you choose to drink it regularly, kefir will help against different infections, such as vaginal and gastro ones. A word of caution here, as this has proved to be a problem for users who have misunderstood what this means.
Kefir can be used to treat these ailments, but only by ingesting it. This means that vaginal infections should not be treated locally with kefir. Drink away and you’ll feel better in no time!
Tips on How to Maintain Your Kefir Grains
- There are two ways in which you can get a hold of the miraculous kefir grains:
– buy them from health food stores or online. They are relatively cheap, seeing as a small package costs approximately $7 at big retailers such as Amazon. Do not buy a lot of it, as it will grow in time and you will actually end up throwing some of it away.
If you purchase them online, the bug shops can ship them to you anywhere.
– ask around in your neighborhood or town. Someone is bound to be making kefir at home, and they will give you some at a very low price or even for free. As mentioned above, people who have been doing this for quite a while usually have an excess of kefir grains, simply because they grow so much over time.
- Always store the kefir grains in a very clean glass or plastic jar, never in bags or aluminum foil.
- When acquiring your first kefir grains, you may rinse off some of the excess fat if you want. However, do not use chlorinated water.
- When handling the grains, never use metal instruments, such as spoons, ladles, or forks. The metal affects the microorganisms in the grains and alters their behavior. Plastic utensils are always a good way to go as they do not interact whatsoever with the bacteria.
- As far as making the kefir itself goes, the mil-kefir grains ratio is not carved in stone. However, the rule of thumb is to pour 20 parts milk over 1-part kefir grains in volume.
- Always use organic fat milk. Skimmed milk or 1 percent is not good. The kefir grains feed off the fat in the milk, so if you provide them with none, they will not work. You may also use raw milk, if you wish. It’s easily available on the market and the instructions are the same.
- You may place a lid on the jar if you don’t want dust or insects landing on it, but never screw it tightly. The kefir grains need oxygen. The best thing you can do is to cover the jar with a clean cotton towel.
- Always keep the jar at room temperature while making the kefir. Remember it has yeast and bacteria in it that need warmth to grow and get activated.
- The best way to keep the kefir grains active and alive is to continuously pour milk over them. In this way, you will always have a healthy supply of kefir at hand.
- Should you wish to discontinue making kefir for a while, you can still keep the grains alive. Pour some of the old milk over them and top it all off with some fresh milk. This will prevent them from making new kefir but it will feed them so they will still be alive. You need to do this on a daily basis.
- Don’t worry about the milk spoiling when it’s kept at room temperature. The good bacteria in the kefir grains will never allow it to go sour.
- It’s difficult to revive or rehydrate dried up kefir grains, so make sure you don’t let them go to waste.
- As far as storing goes, no not let them freeze out because once dry there is no getting them back to life.
Seeing as it is considered either mana from the heavens or a gift from Allah to the prophet Muhammad, it’s evident kefir has a great importance in cultures everywhere. Therefore, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy some kefir grains today and start making your very own tasty batch at home. Mana in your kitchen? Yes, please!