Friday, July 26, 2013

Kefir; The Best Whole Food Source Of Probiotics

I just obtained some kefir grains the other day and started making my own kefir at home. I had done this before in the past with "grains" I purchased online. I never had much luck with these freeze dried, purchased grains. So I gave up temporarily and started buying kefir from the store again. I had some problems with this. First, it's expensive! Second, it's made from pasteurized milk. I believe when your culturing something it is best to start raw. Third, the flavored versions just have way too much sugar in them to be healthy. So, we started ordering our kefir from a local farm that made theirs from raw goats milk and it was delicious and unsweetened, but still expensive. So I bought some kefir grains from the very same farm and decided to give it a second go. I thought I might have better luck with fresh grains that hadn't been dormant for who knows how long and shipped thousands of miles. I was right! I got my grains home and plopped them in some milk and voila, 24 hours later I had drinkable, delicious kefir!
       




Maybe I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Perhaps some of you are not familiar with kefir? Maybe you've seen it in the dairy section and think it's kind of like yogurt? The only thing that yogurt and kefir have in common is that they are both cultured dairy products that tend to have a sour taste, the similarities really end there. Kefir is made from kefir "grains", which are nothing like actually grains. They are a complex culture consisting of 24-36 different kinds of beneficial yeast and bacteria, proteins, carbohydrates and fatty acids. The actual grains look a bit like cottage cheese. These grains basically act as the "starter" or "mother" culture for unlimited batches of kefir. Once the culture is established and has food to grow it will continue to multiply. My grains have quadrupled in size since I got them just a few days ago and I've already given some away so that others can make kefir as well!




So whats the big difference between kefir and yogurt, and why should you make kefir a part of your diet? Yogurt has an average of two strains of beneficial bacteria (only when it says live cultures) on the container does it even have living beneficial bacteria. Like I said previously, kefir contains anywhere from 24-36 different beneficial microorganisms. It's even been called by a certain well known paleo enthusiast, the "not-quite paleo superfood". Also, the diverse set of organisms in kefir tend to stay and populate the digestive tract, while bacteria found in yogurt tend to be flushed out after a period of time. When making kefir, the grains will never need replenishing if they are cared for properly. Yogurt, on the other hand, can only be made so many times from a starter culture before you have to purchase a new one. Lastly, kefir is so much easier to make! It ferments best at room temperature (65-80 degrees) unlike yogurt that likes a higher temperature so it needs to be heated and monitored. Making your own kefir is so easy, anyone wanting to try it should make their own!

A note on raw vs pasteurized milk; there is much debate over whether raw milk is "safe". I wont get into this topic too much, but I will give my personal opinion and experience with it. Raw milk is safe if it is purchased from a farm you know and trust, who keep their animals humanely, with plenty of room to move around and graze, and have a sanitary milking room. Culturing any raw dairy product decreases the chance of becoming sick. Our family has consumed raw dairy for over six months now and no one has been ill from it. It is against FDA regulations to "sell" raw dairy in the US, although vastly more cases of illness due to pasteurized dairy are reported every year. You can obtain raw milk through something called a "herd share agreement" in which you become part owner of a herd! www.localharvest.org is a great resource to help find farms near you, that may offer herd share options. You can also find stands at farmers markets offering herd shares. In the end, it's best to educate yourself on this topic and make your own decision.

Obtaining kefir grains should be fairly easy, there are a lot of people catching on to this "super food". You can buy them from a local farm like I did, or ask around. Most people that make their own will be more than happy to give you some free grains. If you live in the Rouge Valley area, email me! I'd love to share!

Things you'll need to make your own kefir: Milk (preferably raw), kefir grains, strainer, glass jar with a loose fitting lid.

Directions: 

- Put about one cup of milk for every 1 Tblsp of kefir grains in your glass jar, let sit at room temperature with lid on loosely for approximately 24 hours. This time will vary depending on the temperature of your room and the strength of taste you are going for.

- After 24 hours put the milk through a strainer into a cup for drinking, or a jar to go in the fridge (it will keep for about 3 weeks).

- Take your strained grains and put them into a fresh jar (no rinsing of the grains is required) and add another cup or so of milk.


Hooray, you've just made kefir! Wasn't that easy?

Now, the flavor of just plain kefir may not be that appealing to some, and it is "different" than the store bought so I thought a couple of ideas/recipes would be helpful.

- Kefir Mango Lassi: frozen mango cubes, kefir, coconut water, vanilla extract. My kids and husband (not normally a kefir fan) love this! Play around with ratios to see what you like best.

- Kefir Parfait: Granola, kefir, honey and cinnamon. 

Hopefully these ideas will be enough to get you started and perhaps help you develop some recipes of your own!

Happy kefir making!