So Kefir So Good
Kefir is nothing new. But the science supporting its numerous benefits is. So much so, if you could do just one thing to truly benefit your health - this is it! Enough said.
First off - huge apologies for this longer post but impossible to fine tune further as such a vast subject. I finally worked up the courage to make my own Kefir (huge thanks to my go-to nutritional therapist Karen Ward). Yes I did it, and have been enjoying it! Honestly, its far easier than I thought and when flavoured in a child-friendly way, my children are availing of its benefits too.
I won't delve into detail about why Kefir is so amazingly good for us, but safe to say that its overflowing with probiotic microbes to help heal and keep our gut healthy, which in my opinion is the key to overall health during our middle years and at every stage in life. And having written extensively on the subject (see here and here for starters) I have been lucky enough to tap the brains of some true experts. While I also know that larger studies are needed before some of the more recent claims can be verified by the medical community, I'm convinced of its benefits and it seems the vast majority of health experts are too.
What is Kefir?
Basically Kefir is a probiotic drink made from kefir grains - not actual grains as in wheat and oats etc - but clusters of bacteria and yeast living in a symbiotic relationship and held together by a bacterial produced polysaccharide (type of sugar). To me these grains look like tiny balls of jelly or some might say popcorn clusters. Once fermented and flavoured the extract culture produce a deliciously fizzy kefir drink.
There are 2 types of kefir - milk and water, each made slightly differently and both hugely beneficial. Milk kefir is most often made from cows, goats or coconut milk mixed with the starter grains. Other non-dairy milks can also be used but I'm not sure how well they will work. Water kefir is make from sugared water, fruit juice or coconut water mixed with starter grains. The culture works its magic and you can get the consistency you desire with a little trial and error. Initially it looks a bit lumpy and bumpy!
There are endless ways to flavour water kefir. A powdered kefir starter culture may also be used to culture coconut water or fruit juice.Probiotics are also found in kefir. Making a water or milk-based kefir allows you to enjoy this affordable fermented product. It’s simply a matter of adding the grains to water or milk in a nice big glass jar and leaving it, covered, at room temperature for one or more days.
Water Kefir recipe
Here's how I made mine. it sounds more complicated than it is - honestly!
You will need:
Plastic Sieve (kefir doesn't like metal)
Plastic or wooden spoon
Plastic funnel or glass jug with spout.
Mason or kiln jar advised but I used a big jam jar for starting out.
Unrefined cane sugar (preferably organic) or maple syrup (avoid honey or xylitol -they will kill it)
Filtered water (kefir doesn't like flouride). I am also trying coconut water for every second batch. It is not recommended in place of sugar as the cultures need sugar to thrive.
1. Gently rinse kefir grains in a sieve with fresh (non chlorinated) water.
2. Dissolve cane sugar (about 1/2 cup of sugar per cup of grains) in enough hot water to dissolve the sugar. Once dissolved top up with cool water and add the grains (once the water is room temperature).
3. Cover with muslin or a piece of clean tea towel and elastic band and put in warm cupboard out of sunlight for up to 3 days to ferment.
4. Once 'cooked' and highly active - as in the jar will look quite cloudy with bubbles obvious - pour liquid and grains into the plastic sieve and decant the liquid into a lemonade bottle (with a flip top lid/or a grolsch bottle). The more airtight the bottle, the more bubbles are produced.
[Keep the grains in the sieve for next round - see step 6]
5. Add some fresh fruit juice (apple, orange mango or most other juices except pineapple). You can also add fresh pulped berries, ginger. lemon or whatever appeals. Simply seal the bottle, give it a good shake and put in a dark warm cupboard for 1-2 days. By then it has then turned into the yummiest fizzy probiotic ever. Store in the fridge and feed your gut starting with 1/4 glass per day, building up to 1/2 glass or more (less obviously for young children).
6. Meanwhile, rinse out the jam jar and begin the fermenting process again with you grains. (Step 1 above).
Flavourings are important to ensure people will drink it so experiment to see what works best for you and your family. it's trial and error really but there are plenty of videos and recipes on line to inspire you. My 8-year-old loves it with orange or apple juice - more importantly, he doesn't realise he is drinking it when handed to him this way! I love it with coconut water, lemon, ginger and a little apple juice.
Starter cultures can be purchased on line but do ensure you choose a reputable supplier. Alternatively if you have a reliable healthcare provider they may give you some to get you going. That's how I started. but In Ireland try Karen Ward or Derbhla Reynolds of The Cultured Club. UK-based nutritional therapist Jeannette Hyde has 2 books (and counting!) on the subject. Also check out Cultures for Health for further ideas and recipes. Bear in mind, I'm no expert on kefir and fermented foods in general but I have learnt a lot and am always willing to try.