Kefir is basically fermented milk. It can be animal based — using cow, goat, or sheep milk — or plant based — using rice, soy, almond, or coconut milk — but cow and goat milk yield the best results. Kefir is made from a culture called the kefir grain. This grain consists of lactic acid bacteria, yeast, and polysaccharides which ferment the milk to produce a creamy product called kefir.1 It has a milky, yeasty aroma and a creamy consistency similar to that of yogurt and a slightly sour taste, sort of a mixture between buttermilk and sour cream.2
Kefir is a super probiotic as it contains about 30 different probiotic strains (bacteria and yeast).3 These probiotics act as good bacteria that support digestive health and also help to strengthen the intestines by preventing the growth of harmful bacteria. Kefir is also highly nutritious as it contains protein, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin K, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.3 One thing to note is that kefir made from plant based milk such as coconut milk will have a different nutrient makeup compared to that of animal based kefir.
History of Kefir
Kefir has been around for centuries and it originated in the Northern Caucasus Mountains in Eurasia. It is said that Kefir was first used by the shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains. They would add kefir grains to goat or cow milk and let it ferment for several days in a goatskin leather bag. It is most popular in places such as Russia, Southwest Asia, and Eastern and Northern Europe.4
Benefits of Kefir
Supports Various Bodily Functions
Kefir helps to improve the function of several organs in our bodies: the gallbladder, the liver, and the heart. It can also improve the metabolism and circulation of blood and oxygen in different cells in the body, including the brain.5
Research has shown that kefir is able to slow the growth of cancer cells in rats. This is because kefir contains a variety of probiotics, which detoxify the colon as well as stimulate the immune system.6 However, this study has only been conducted on animal cells. Research has not been carried out in humans to see if the same results are yielded.
Certain probiotics in kefir help to protect against bacterial infections in the gut. Research has shown that kefir is able to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that cause illnesses such as Salmonella and E.coli poisoning.7
Dairy products are known to lower cholesterol because of the good fat they contain. When ingested, kefir provides the gut with an abundance of good bacteria (probiotics), and research has shown that these probiotics are able to break down indigestible carbohydrates.8 This results in the formation of short chain fatty acids, which is known as good cholesterol. The good cholesterol helps to decrease the presence of bad cholesterol in the blood.8
Kefir vs Yogurt
Kefir and yogurt both result from the fermentation of milk and so have similar textures and taste. They provide some health benefits such as supplying the gut with probiotics, but kefir contains several strains of good bacteria such as Lactobacillus Caucasus, Streptococcus species, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, Torula kefir, and Saccharomyces kefir that are not found in yogurt.9
Yogurt works by cleaning the digestive track and providing food for the good bacteria that live there. It contains transient probiotics, meaning that the bacteria will only last a few days in the gut and hence one would have to eat yogurt daily to experience its digestive benefits.10 The good bacteria in kefir, on the other hand, colonize the intestines with potent friendly bacteria that can get rid of the toxic organisms.
Another advantage kefir has over the yogurt is the ease of digestion. This is because the curd size of kefir is smaller than that of yogurt and hence is a better option for babies, elderly people, and people who suffer from chronic digestive disorders.10 Many people who are lactose intolerant report being able to eat kefir safely as well.
How Kefir Is Made?
Kefir is so simple to make that it can be done right at home. Kefir is made from kefir grains, which can be found at health food stores. Just add one teaspoon of the grains to the milk of your choice, whether it is cow milk or coconut milk, and let it sit out at room temperature for 24hrs. During this time, fermentation of the milk takes place by the healthy bacteria and yeast present in the kefir grains.11 The finished product will result in a thick milk product that has a tangy taste. It is then strained to get rid of the excess grains, which can be reused approximately every 24 hours to make more batches. It is then ready to drink.
How Can Kefir Be Used?
Once kefir milk is made, it can be used in a variety of ways. You can incorporate in into your breakfast by using it in cereals and smoothies, or it can be used as a yogurt substitute. It can also be used as a buttermilk substitute, making it a great option for pancakes or other baked goods. For savory options, it can be included in pasta sauces, salad dressings, and herbed cream cheese. Last but not least, it makes for a great dessert, as it can be used in recipes such as ice cream and fruit flavored cream cheese or delicious baked goods like cakes, cookies, fruit tarts, and many others .11
Does Kefir Have Side Effects?
Kefir is more or less safe for all adults but may cause intestinal cramping and constipation in some persons when they first use it. Caution should be taken with children, however. Children as young as 1-5 years old may take kefir but can only consume it for a period of up to 10 days at a time.12 With regards to pregnant or breastfeeding women, not enough information is available to know whether of not it is safe for them, so it is best for these women to avoid kefir. Persons with compromised immune systems should not consume kefir either, as it contains active and live bacteria which can feed bacterial and fungal infections.12
You don’t have to give up your love of yogurt, but try adding kefir to your diet, as it contains a range of benefits. It is the ultimate probiotic compared to other fermented dairy products that will support and maintain digestive health. Not only will it be tummy friendly, but it can also help to lower cholesterol, along with improving overall health.
- Nummer, B.A. (2004). Fermented Foods: Kefir. National Center for Home Food Preservation. The University of Georgia.
- Joe Leech, D. (2015). 9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Kefir. [online] Authority Nutrition. Available at: https://authoritynutrition.com/9-health-benefits-of-kefir/
- The Science of Language Self-Study | LinguaLift Blog. (2012). Kefir: The history of the magical grains. [online] Available at: https://lingualift.com/blog/kefir-history-recipe/
- Skovmose, E. (2009). What is Kefir? Published by Midvalleyvu Organic Foods
- Protective Role of Probiotics and Prebiotics in Colon Cancer. Published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society of Clinical Nutrition. 2001.
- Carasi, P., Díaz, M., Racedo, S., De Antoni, G., Urdaci, M. and Serradell, M. (2014). Safety Characterization and Antimicrobial Properties of Kefir-Isolated Lactobacillus kefiri. BioMed Research International, 2014, pp.1-7.
- Health Benefits. The Body Ecology Diet and Kefir. Published by Body Ecology. Unknown.
- Kefir vs Yogurt. The Body Ecology Diet and Kefir. Published by Body Ecology. Unknown.
- Skovmose, E. (2009). What is Kefir? Published by Midvalleyvu Organic Foods.
- Christensen, E. (2014). How To Make Milk Kefir — Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn. [online] The Kitchn. Available at: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-milk-kefir-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-202022.
- Webmd.com. (2016). KEFIR: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings – WebMD. [online] Available at: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1056-kefir.aspx?activeingredientid=1056&activeingredientname=kefir
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