Kefir - What Will It Do For My Gut & How Can I Make My Own?
Fermented, or probiotic, foods have had a gain in popularity in recent years but they have in fact been part of the human diet since 10,000 BC! Fermented foods are rich in probiotics (beneficial bacteria) which grow during the fermentation process. There is a variety available and each are associated with a host of health benefits but this article is going to focus on Kefir.
What is Kefir?
Traditional kefir originates from the Caucasus Mountains in Eurasia and the name comes from the Turkish word keif, meaning ‘good feeling’. It is a fermentable milk drink with a creamy texture, sour taste and subtle effervescence. It is similar in many ways to yoghurt but instead of heating the milk, adding a culture and keeping it warm, as with yoghurt, all you need is a starter culture called ‘kefir grains’.
The grains provide a live colony of bacteria and yeast which all ferment the milk, producing lots of bacterial species known to benefit our microbiome. The most prominent species are the lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus, specifically Lactobacillus kefir.
Benefits of Kefir
Kefir has primarily been studied for its effects on gastrointestinal function and dysfunction, due to the wide range of bacterial species it provides. It is also rich in a range of other nutrients required for health including amino acids, enzymes, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin K and B vitamins.
Kefir may have anti-microbial activity, which is attributed to competition with pathogens for available nutrients, and it has shown anti-microbial activity against certain strains of yeast and bacteria including Candida albicans, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.
Keﬁr has been shown to have a considerable impact on colonising the gut microbiome with increases in beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Lactococcus and Biﬁdobacterium, and reductions in infection causing Proteobacteria and Enterobacteriaceae.
Kefir may help to support the eradication Helicobacter pylori, an infectious bacteria found in the stomach that can cause digestive symptoms and ulcers, when used in combination with antibiotic therapy whilst also helping to reduce symptoms such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain and nausea.
Kefir may help to stimulate the immune system, of which over 70% is actually found in your gastrointestinal tract.
Kefir has been suggested to be well tolerated by people with lactose malabsorption since it contains β-galactosidase expressing bacteria, which hydrolyses lactose, thus reducing lactose concentrations in the drink.
Ways to include Kefir in your diet:
These days kefir can be found in most supermarkets and health shops where it is normally in a white bottle and shouldn’t say anything other than ‘kefir’ or ‘natural kefir’. On the ingredients you just want pasteurised milk and live kefir/bacterial cultures – and sometimes kefir yeasts, but make sure there are no added sugars. However you can easily make kefir yourself and we’ve provided a recipe below. By making it yourself, you can ensure that it contains live bacteria as some shop bought varieties may be lacking. So, you’ve either made a batch yourself or bought a bottle, now what? Kefir is probably easiest to have at breakfast where it can replace dairy milk.
You can drink kefir just as it is! Why not swap your ‘probiotic yoghurt drink’ for a small glass of kefir each morning. These ‘probiotic yoghurt drinks’ usually contain sugar and the levels of bacteria in them are pretty low.
Add it to smoothies instead of yoghurt or milk.
Make your overnight oats with it.
Layer kefir, granola, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds in a glass.
Use in place of yoghurt for yoghurt based salad dressings.
You can usually swap kefir in for milk, yoghurt or cream in any baking recipe so why not get creative!
Homemade Kefir recipe
The easiest way to make kefir is to use a kefir starter kit, these are readily available online. Although cow’s milk is traditionally used, kefir can be made with sheep’s milk, soy, coconut, rice or nut milk. Once you have made a batch, you can use some of this to make up to 6-7 batches before you need to purchase more starter powder. Generally one starter kit will make about 1 litre/2 pints kefir but it will vary according to the size of the starter kit. It takes between 24-30 hours to ferment the cultures in milk at room temperature on colder days but less if it’s warm. Once fermented, store it in the fridge and consume it within 4 days. You can then take 200ml of your freshly made kefir to make another 1 litre portion of kefir if desired.
1 starter kit
1 litre/2 pints milk or milk alternative
A clean, sterilised jar big enough to hold 1 litre/2 pints
1. Empty one starter culture into a small glass, pour over a little of the milk and stir to make a smooth paste.
2. Gradually add more milk and keep stirring to ensure there are no lumps. Then pour all of the milk and culture into your prepared jar.
Cover the jar with cling film or put the lid on and leave the mixture to ferment at 23°C for at least 24 hours, but up to 48 hours may be required. Make sure to store out of direct sunlight and away from a direct heat source. After 24-48 hours the mixture should be pourable but still thick.
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