Not just another yogurt
Kefir, pronounced kee-feer, is a drink made from the fermented milk of a cow, goat, or sheep.
Historians believe kefir originated centuries ago in the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe near present-day Turkey. The word kefir is derived from the Turkish word “keif,” which translates to “good feeling.”
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What is kefir?
Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink, originally from the mountainous region that divides Asia and Europe. It is similar to yogurt – but thinner in consistency, making it more of a drink. Kefir has a tart, sour taste and a slight ‘fizz’, due to carbon dioxide – the end product of the fermentation process. The length of the fermentation time determines the flavour. Kefir is a good source of calcium and is rich in probiotic bacteria.
A serving (250ml) of whole milk kefir contains approximately:
- 145 kcal
- 8.3g protein
- 7.5g fat
- 11g carbs
- 333mg calcium
- 28mg magnesium
- 383mg potassium
- 0.7mcg B12
Milk is a good source of protein and calcium, and kefir is no different. However, it has the added benefits of probiotics. Probiotics are known as ‘friendly bacteria’ that may ease IBS symptoms such as bloating and digestive distress in some people.
Enjoying kefir regularly has also been associated with benefits. Plus, depending on the variety that you use, kefir grains may contain 30 or more strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. Some of the major strains include the lactobacillus – or lactic acid bacteria (LAB).
As the process used to make kefir can vary, it is hard to monitor its potency, so some products may be richer sources of probiotic bacteria than others. For those who are not used to probiotics or fermented foods, it is sensible to start with a small amount and increase slowly. Some people report digestive symptoms such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea when introducing fermented foods to the diet. Anyone with a compromised immune system or histamine intolerance should speak to a health professional before introducing or increasing their fermented food intake.
The method used to make kefir is one of the main differences between kefir and yogurt. Traditional milk kefir uses kefir grains and whole cow’s milk. Kefir grains are not actually grains at all – they are small gelatinous beads that look like grains and contain a variety of bacteria and yeasts. The grains are placed in a glass jar or bowl, soaked in milk, covered, and left at room temperature for a minimum of 24 hours. This enables the bacteria and yeast to ferment the lactose (natural sugar in milk) into lactic acid, activating the bacteria to proliferate and grow.
After around 24 hours at room temperature, the grains are strained from the kefir and transferred to a fresh batch of milk, and used again to enable them to keep reproducing – this cycle can be carried on indefinitely. The strained kefir is now ready to drink.
The grains will multiply as long as they are kept in fresh milk at the right temperature (ideally about 22-25C). When the product is put in the fridge, the cool temperature inhibits the fermentation process.