Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Magic of Kefir

I first heard about kefir when I read Jordan Rubin's book, The Maker's Diet. He seemed to think it was the bee's knees, so I wanted to try it post-haste. It would be about 8 years before I would have the chance to try real kefir, made from kefir grains, but it was worth the wait! Although I still don't find the taste of plain kefir all that appetizing, I can mix it in a smoothie with some frozen fruit and raw honey, and can't even tell it's in there. It is tart, like yogurt, but has a thinner consistency and a more "yeasty" component that yogurt lacks. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, but the benefits are worth the work of making it palatable to our modern tastes. Simply put, I love my kefir! And I firmly believe almost everyone should be consuming it often. So, for your educational pleasure, here are some kefir facts:

What is it?
Kefir is a fermented beverage, traditionally made from milk. It can also be made from coconut milk or water, but coconut milk will not sustain the grains for continued use, and water requires a special "water kefir grain" to produce.

How is it made?
Real kefir is made from kefir grains. Kefir grains (pictured above) are small, ivory bundles that look somewhat like tiny cauliflower florets. They are composed of yeasts and bacterias bound by a water soluble polysacharide called kefiran. It is not a thermophilic culture, meaning the grains perform their lactic-acid fermentation at room temperature. It is not necessary to heat the milk before culturing, so it is extremely easy to produce! Commercial kefirs are not made from kefir grains and, therefore, do not contain the same bacterias. They are considered inferior to kefir made from grains. To make homemade real kefir, all you need is a batch of grains (as little as 1 Tbs can culture a cup of milk in 24 hours), and a cup of milk. Really! You place the grains in the milk, cover loosely, and let sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Then you can strain out the grains, drink the resulting beverage, and use the grains to produce another batch. The grains will "grow" with each batch made, so they are perfect for sharing with friends.

What are the benefits?
Like yogurt, kefir populates the gut with beneficial bacteria that will boost the immune system and impart a general feeling of well-being. The difference between yogurt and kefir is that yogurt has a transitory effect, meaning you eat the yogurt, then the bacterias pass through your system and exit the body. Kefir bacterias are not transitory, so they stick around a while and continue to work their magic in your gut. This is one of the reasons kefir is thought to be highly superior to yogurt. Following are some of the benefits I found on the Seeds of Health website. I have included their references below.

"Kefir has many reputed health benefits. It has antibiotic and antifungal properties. It's been used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, and allergies, tuberculosis, cancer, poor digestion, candidiasis, osteoporosis, hypertension, HIV and heart disease. You might find it odd that that a drink containing yeasts would be good for treating candidiasis but it has been helpful to many people, both by restoring a better balance to the gut flora and because some elements of the microflora will kill off Candida Albicans. Not all yeasts are harmful.

In addition to beneficial bacteria and yeast, kefir contains many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. Tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids abundant in kefir, is well known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Because kefir also has an abundance of calcium and magnesium, also important minerals for a healthy nervous system, kefir in the diet can have a particularly calming effect on the nerves.

The abundance of enzymes brings more health benefits, especially to lactose intolerant people, many of whom can tolerate kefir without difficulty, as long as the kefir is raw and not cooked (cooking destroys the enzymes)."

Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in kefir grains and kefir made from them. J Ind Microbiol Biotechnol 2002 Jan;28(1):1-6 .
Inhibitory power of kefir: the role of organic acids. J Food Prot 2000 Mar;63(3):364-9
Antibacterial activity of milk-fermenting bacteria. Vet Med (Praha) 1990 Mar;35(3):187-92
The Caucasus Kefir. Dr. Lee Lorenzen, Biochemist

Photo Credit:
Chiot’s Run, Flickr


  1. Great info! Great blog! If you want to share links, I would be happy to add you on my blog.

  2. Would love that, Shari! I haven't figured out customizing ads on the sidebar yet, but I can certainly link up with a "following" text link for now. Pretty sad for a professional web developer, eh? Hehe.

    I just read your post about HFCS and leaky gut...fascinating, indeed. Did you know kefir can help heal leaky gut? You probably did :)