You must have heard about this beverage, but you have probably never drunk it. Here are the reasons why you should give kefir a try.
Kefir originated in the Caucasus Mountains. In the 19th century it came to Russia and Central Asia and gained enormous popularity there. This tart-tasting beverage is also well-known in Eastern Europe and Chile (the homeland of quinoa). Kefir is currently becoming more and more popular in the US, Japan and Western Europe.
Kefir is made from milk to which special kefir grains have been added. Kefir grains are a unique combination of bacteria and yeasts: they radically change the taste, texture and consistency of milk so that it becomes slightly sour and creamy. The word ‘kefir’ is believed to be of Turkish origin; it means ‘froth’ or ‘foam’. Although kefir is usually made of cow’s milk, it can also be prepared from milk from sheep, goats and other mammals. It is even possible to make kefir from various milk substitutes such as soy, rice or coconut milk; what’s more, kefir grains are able to ferment sugary liquids like fruit juice and ginger beer.
Kefir is very low in lactose as yeasts break it down to carbon dioxide and ethanol. Thus, well-fermented kefir can be drunk by people who do not tolerate lactose. It, however, contains small quantities of alcohol (up to 2% in traditional kefirs and some 0.3% in factory-produced drinks).
Nutritional composition of kefir and its calorie content greatly depend on milk it was made from. Thus, it is possible to buy whole kefir as well as a low-fat version of this beverage. Kefir contains numerous vitamins and dietary minerals; however, their exact amounts can greatly vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
What makes kefir special is an abundance of probiotic bacteria. Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in your intestine and help the organism to digest food and fight harmful microbes and fungi. Although FDA warns manufacturers of food products not to exaggerate health benefits of probiotics, it is widely believed that probiotic bacteria can be used to deal with diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. There are also hypotheses that the health of your intestine directly influences your immune and nervous systems. It might be possible that problems with a person’s digestion and bowel movements can lead to allergies and chronic inflammations. Kefir is extremely rich in beneficial Lactobacillus bacteria and also contains healthy Bifidobacterium strains; therefore it can improve both your gastroenterological and general health.
While it is possible to buy ready-made kefir in most health food stores, you might also try to prepare homemade kefir using special powders (also called starters) that contain freeze-dried cultures of kefir and other probiotics. All you need to do is heat the milk or juice you want to turn into kefir to about 75ºF, add the starter culture (usually, one packet per quart of liquid) and stir it until fully dissolved. The container should be covered with a cloth and placed in a warm spot for some 16 hours. Easy, isn’t it?