How kefir rejuvinates your body, where it comes from, and how to get it.
You may have heard about this drink by some celebrity endorsement as the “champagne of dairy” or perhaps labeled as the new “super food” by health magazines. It sounds like the setup of a bad dad joke, “What’s a kefir? It’s for unlocking doors!”
Jokes aside, kefir is nothing new. In fact it has been around for over 1000 years and is perhaps linked to responsibility in maintaining health and longevity since its discovery. The hype kefir has received lately is in fact, well deserved. This delectable beverage, not dissimilar to a drinkable yogurt, is being rediscovered here in the west for its use as a powerful source of probiotics, regulation of bone health, potential reduction for risk of cancer, and more. Not to mention, you can easily make it at home!
Kefir comes from kefir grains, like in the image above. They’re a bit slimy and wet, but most kefir drinks and products are strained. Some connesieurs of kefir will eat these grains.
Where kefir originates and what it tastes like
Where is it from? Kefir derives from the turkish word Kayeff which means “feels good” after eating. It is thought to have originated somewhere in Southern Europe or West Asia as early as 1000 years ago. Making this beverage is familiar and strange.
In cheese, milk bags were left out and healthy cultures of molds and bacteria transformed the milk into the wonderful product we know today. Kefir was developed in much the same fashion, with healthy cultures of yeast and bacteria. Furthermore, Kefir was produced in the home, with milk bags being left in common rooms so family members could agitate it and promote good mixing as they passed by, ready for consumption in a couple of days2. Traditional whole-milk kefir is velvety, tangy like a greek yogurt, and thanks to the yeast it can be bubbly, providing a refreshing zing that earns it the title “the champagne of dairy.”
What is Kefir and how it helps your gut
Many sources refer to kefir as a more powerful form of drinkable yogurt but that definition doesn’t really do it justice. The two definitely share similarities, they look, smell and taste similar, albeit kefir is more tart, but like people, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts and kefir is a powerhouse by comparison. Yogurt’s claim to fame is that it’s a probiotic, a term given to food that contains healthy microbe cultures that aid in digestion, weight management and mental health. Probiotics replenish healthy gut bacteria therefore alleviating issues such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers and more! Kefir is a much more potent probiotic, sometimes containing up to 61 different strains of microbes making kefir a far more diverse source of probiotics than yogurt, and the benefits don’t end there.
Kefir contains an array of nutrients, peptides and organic acids that contribute to its health benefits3. It is a rich source of calcium, protein, vitamin d, vitamin k-2 important for bone health, also b vitamins and tryptophan which fend off stress and produce calming effects 3 . One of the main probiotics in kefir, Lactobacillus kefiri, paired with the polysaccharide kefiran, a carbohydrate unique to kefir, has potent antibacterial properties3 4. This attributes kefir as a source to fend off infections and inhibit growth of bad bacteria3. Kefiran is also associated with lowering blood pressure and cholesterol4. Lactobacillus kefiri, is responsible for giving kefir its sour tang as it converts lactose sugars into lactic acid1. Most lactose is actually converted in the fermentation process and the final product still contains enzymes which will further break down lactose in digestion 4.Therefore, Kefir is a great product for the lactose intolerant 4.
Nutritional Highlights are as follows3:
|Total fat||5 g|
|% daily value|
|B 12||12 %|
|B 2||10 %|
“Water-Kefir” is an alternative to the standard dairy kefir that we’ve been talking about which is normally produced from goat or cow’s milk 4. Water kefir is an unsung hero that is great for those who are severely lactose intolerant or are looking for a tasty alternative to soda 4. Just about any beverage with about an 8% sucrose content can be made into kefir . Those made from non-dairy sources are called water-kefirs and the best part is all the benefits we have talked about so far are still present minus the protein4. Most water-kefirs you find, say in the supermarket, will be derived from coconut water but if you make it for yourself at home you could get pretty creative. The yeast, as we’ve talked about before, imparts carbonation which will give it a soda like quality and you can play with different beverages for different flavor profiles 4.
Furthermore, the benefits of kefir continue to abound as it contributes to bone health, allergy relief and potential to protect against cancer. Kefir,promotes the health of bone tissue and therefore, has great potential to reduce the risk of developing Osteoporosis. Dairy- kefir contains calcium and vitamin K-2. Vitamin K-2 plays a crucial role in regulating the calcium metabolism and regular uptake of the vitamin has been shown to prevent the risk of bone fractures by as much as 81%. 1 3
For the Allergy prone Kefir may offer some relief. Allergies often present themselves as an inflammatory response to certain foods or substances. Kefir has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, repressing inflammatory responses. Therefore, it may be a good thing to keep around during allergy season. 3
Probiotics are believed to reduce the risk of cancer by keeping your immune system alert. Since Kefir is choc full of probiotics it is perceived that it may help fight cancers from developing. Testing is still experimental, only extending itself to animal and test tube experiments, no human trials have been conducted yet. However, results are promising. 3 4
Water kefir vs kombucha
Many pro-health advocates have compared water-kefir and kombucha tea. The two definitely seem a lot alike, both are fermented beverages that are claimed to aid in digestion but how they’re made and what they do for you are very different. Kefir-water is made from kefir grains, bacteria and yeast cultures that look like cauliflower in appearance, usually with coconut water. Kombucha is derived usually from black tea, and yeast and bacteria in the form of a ‘scoby” a living mat that floats on top of the kombucha not unlike a pudding skin until it is fermented. 5
Kefir only takes about a day to ferment and has more probiotics. This leads to replenishing bacteria in the gut among all the other probiotic benefits we talked about above. It’s great for mornings or after doses of antibiotics. Kombucha which is a little more acidic and aromatic takes about 30 days to ferment. It’s more acidic and powerful in the form of digestive enzymes and is good for breaking down food in your system. Therefore kombucha is great for after a meal or later in the day, just not too late as black tea has caffeine. 5
All in all they are both great beverages but serve different purposes so feel free to experiment with both!
Where to get kefir
If you’re curious to try kefir, you can find it in most supermarkets, or health food stores likely near the yogurt or digestive health products both in the form of water-kefir or dairy-kefir varieties 4. As it is fairly tart you’ll often find it flavored and diluted down with added sugars 4. So for the health conscious, buy the natural unflavored varieties 4. If you find the flavor too tart or bland on its own, flavor it at home. Cinnamon, honey and fruit juices are common additives, it is also supposedly really good in smoothies 4 . Personally I enjoy the kefir produced by Grace Harbor farms…
You can easily make it at home too! It’s easy, and sustainable, all you need to get started is kefir grains. You may be able to find kefir grains at your local health food store or easily online 3 4. You’ll only need to buy the grains once as they will reproduce forever ! To get started you will need to choose a pasteurized whole milk or beverage ( needs 8% sucrose content) of your choice 5 7. For best milk results it is recommended to use milk from grass fed cows 3. It’s important that whatever liquid you choose it is pasteurized as you want no presence of other bacteria to find its way into your final kefir product 7. From there it’s really simple 3:
- In a large jar or container add 1-2 tablespoons of kefir grains for every 2 cups of liquid you add ( the more grains the faster it ferments)
- Leave about an inch of free space to account for CO2 build up that comes from the fermentation process and put a lid on your container ( for thicker dairy-kefir you may add some heavy cream on top)
- Allow the container to sit for 12-36 hrs
- Strain your kefir mixter through a fine mesh strainer. What passes through your strainer is your final beverage and what remains in the strainer is your kefir grains which can be used again and again for further batches
 Mayo Clinic Minute: What Is Kefir?, 2018 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvOTShbyFxA&ab_channel=MayoClinic> [accessed 26 September 2020].How to Make Kefir at Home, Forever!, 2018 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHJpJ23iaSc&frags=wn&ab_channel=Dimitra%27sDishes> [accessed 26 September 2020].
It’s really that simple! This fantastic champagne of dairy can easily be produced in your own home sustainably. It’s great for bone health, allergies, and may even reduce risk of cancer. The friendly culture reduces flatulence, helps upset stomachs by colonizing your intestines with helpful microbes 4. It’s potentially the traveler’s best friend as it regulates your stomach whether you are blocked up or have the runs. It keeps both your mind and body healthy and happy 4. And to boot It tastes great. So if you haven’t, give kefir a try.