‘KEFIR’ the digestive tract tonic


Fermented foods are essential to introduce to the GAPS diet from the very beginning and kefir can be managed after whey and yoghurt have been successfully introduced. Supplementing with probiotics in general will allow beneficial flora to do its job primarily in the upper parts of the digestive system which does not generally reach all the way down to the lower bowel however, fermented dairy will carry probiotic microbes all the way down to the end of the digestive system. Whilst yoghurt carries some very beneficial forms of good bacteria for your gut biome, Kefir has been known to carry colonies as large as 27 different strains or more, many of them of which have great yeast killing properties. Fermentation predigests the dairy, making it easy for our digestive systems to handle, that is why fermented foods are easily digested by people who have digestive disorders. Fermentation releases nutrients from the food, making them more bio-available for the body.





HOMEMADE KEFIR

You can get a commercial Kefir starter in a sachet or use some live fresh kefir grains as a starter. If you make kefir from organic unpasteurised (raw) milk, then do not heat it, just add the starter and ferment it on the bench. Only pasteurised milk needs heating, as pasteurisation makes milk vulnerable to contamination by pathogenic microbes. Raw milk is usually well protected by its own probiotic bacteria and other factors.


Remember, that kefir contains more potent probiotic microbes than yoghurt, as a result kefir will produce a more pronounced “die-off reaction”. That it is recommended to introduce yoghurt first, then start introducing kefir. Both should be introduced slowly and gradually controlling the “die-off”. Kefir, apart from probiotic bacteria, contains beneficial yeasts. That is why it is essential to introduce for people with yeast overgrowth. A healthy human gut contains plenty of beneficial yeasts, as well as beneficial bacteria and other microbes. In order to get rid of the “bad” yeast, we need to replace it with the “good” yeast.


By dripping your kefir through cheesecloth you can separate it into cottage cheese and whey. Pour the whey into a clean glass jar with a tight lid and keep it in the refrigerator to use as a starter for fermenting different foods, such as vegetables, fish, beans and grains (when your patient is ready to have them). The cottage cheese is delicious with some honey, fruit, soups or as a savoury snack.


WHAT IS KEFIR?

Kefir is a health promoting fermented dairy drink, similar to yoghurt but slightly tangier and much stronger. While yoghurt usually contains only two or three strains of bacteria, kefir contains a much wider variety of friendly micro organisms, including beneficial yeasts, some of which can break down lactose [milk sugar]. Kefir is a probiotic beverage made with either Real Kefir Grains or a powdered Kefir Starter Culture. There are two types of grains, Milk Kefir Grains and Water Kefir Grains. Milk (dairy) Kefir culture can be used with cow milk, goat milk or coconut milk. Water Kefir Grains can be used with sugar water, juice or coconut water. Kefir Grains consist of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship. The term “Grains” describes the look of the culture only. The culture does not contain actual “grains” such as wheat, rye, etc.


WHAT IS REAL KEFIR

Real kefir is kefir prepared in the traditional fashion, starting off with kefir grains. Store bought kefir, on the other hand, is produced by culturing pasteurised milk with a limited number and species of organisms, which are strategically selected to imitate the flavour and texture of the real thing, but with limited properties. In particular, commercial kefir cannot be used to make new kefir on a continuous basis, because the culture inevitably loses viability. Kefir grains, instead, can continue to produce fresh kefir on an indefinite basis. Also, distinctive scientifically proved therapeutic properties of the actual kefir grains, when ingested, which enhance health, are not possible with the use of commercial kefir or a kefir prepared with commercial starter-cultures.


WHAT ARE KEFIR GRAINS

Kefir grains are a biological mass synthesized [created] by colonies of micro organisms living together [symbiotically] to form a polysaccharide mass, which form into lumps similar in appearance to cauliflower rosettes. Grain size varies from the size of wheat kernels to that of a golf ball or larger. Once placed in fresh milk, the grains [also referred to as a natural starter-culture or starter-culture], transform the milk into kefir within app. 24 hours. The same grains (or culture) are used for the next batch, to continue the ongoing process.


WHERE DID KEFIR GRAINS ORIGINATE?

The grains originated in the Northern Caucasus Mountain region, where local people have been using the culture for centuries – perhaps for up to one and half to two thousand years. It is said that the people of this region were gifted kefir grains from Allah, or God. At the beginning of the 20th century, Russian nobel prize winner E. Mechnikov investigated the grain’s health promoting properties. This initially brought much interest in the product to the people of former USSR, which followed on to the the rest of the world.


WHY SHOULD I DRINK KEFIR? IS IT HEALTHY?

Kefir has many health promoting benefits. In a nutshell, these benefits could be divided in two groups:

1. Kefir grains contain a vast amount of micro-organisms from 4 genus groups, including lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. The distinctive microflora of kefir is compatible with the needs of our body. Kefir micro-organisms are able to stabilize or balance the Gastro Intestinal tract, as well as ensuring better digestion and fight off harmful bacteria, yeasts [including those which cause stomach ulcers, diarrhea, and yeast infection] and viruses. The consumption of kefir has proven to stimulate the immune system, which can also assist the cells of the body to increase the production of interferon [virus controlling agent] due to a unique lipid [sphingomyelin] found in kefir.


2. Kefir may provide other benefits: the friendly micro-organisms breakdown substances such as lactose in milk and from, this synthesize favourable substances, including lactic acid and “Kefiran”, a health promoting polysaccharide unique to kefir grains and to kefir. Kefiran has proven to reduce the size of certain cancers, including having anti-inflammatory properties. Certain organisms of kefir produce lactase, an enzyme which breaks down lactose [milk sugar], which provides the body the ability to further breakdown any milk-sugar [lactose] in the diet, while taking kefir with that meal.


OK, I HAVE SOME KEFIR GRAINS, SO HOW DO I PREPARE KEFIR?

Basically, just put two to three tablespoons of kefir grains in a half litre [1 pint] of fresh milk, and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. For greater or smaller quantities, vary the proportions accordingly. Unlike yoghurt, the milk with the added culture does not need to be heated and kept warm during incubation. Nor does it need to be boiled first [to sterilize or pasteurize]. Actually, brewing at a cooler temperature makes a smoother kefir [but takes a little longer to brew]. Once the kefir is ready, strain through a plastic colander or sieve and plop the grains into more fresh milk to prepare the next batch. This process is simply repeated.


SHOULD I STERILISE ALL UTENSILS?

While cleanliness is always important in the kitchen, it is not necessary to go as far as to maintain a sterile environment when preparing kefir, since kefir grains are hardy and survive quite well in the kitchen environment. However, try avoiding non-stainless steel metal utensils, because the acidity of the kefir may cause corrosion. To avoid problems, you could opt to use only glass, plastic, nylon or wooden utensils.


SHOULD I RINSE THE GRAINS WITH WATER BETWEEN EACH MILK CHANGE?

This is not necessary. But if you really want to, you can “fast” the grains by placing them in filtered water for one day [one part kefir grains to 3 part water as a general rule]. The grains are then strained and placed directly in fresh milk to prepare kefir as per usual [explained above]. This can be performed once weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The water strained from soaking the grains contains Kefiran, a unique healthy polysaccharide native to kefir grains. Dom, the list owner has given a uniquie name for this solution “Kefiraride”, which has a variety of applications.


I’VE NEVER HAD KEFIR. WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW BEFOREHAND?

Certain individuals may have a reaction when first consuming kefir, similar to the Herxheimer reaction. This reaction may range from slight stomach cramps to diarrhea, nausea or vomiting – which may be attributed to certain changes of the intestinal microflora due to the new micro-organisms and unique substances introduced through drinking kefir. In most cases, individuals find that symptoms eventually clear up after a short period of time. Newcomers to kefir who may experience such reactions should begin taking lesser amounts of kefir, for instance, taking a couple of tablespoons of kefir daily, and increasing the amount by one to two tablespoons each day, until one cup of kefir can be well tolerated. Once this amount is well tolerated, in most cases, the individual can then take one to four or more cups of kefir daily, if required.


HOW MUCH KEFIR CAN ONE DRINK?

As much as you feel comfortable with. Many individuals may have one cup of kefir in the morning and one at night before bed time. Some individuals enjoy a small glass of kefir before each meal. One word of caution: like yoghurt, kefir contains lactic acid bacteria which can erode the tooth enamel, so be sure to rinse your mouth with water after consuming kefir, or after consuming food which contains lactic or acetic acid.


IS IT TRUE THAT THE GRAINS GROW?

Yes, healthy kefir grains should grow by 5 to 15 % daily [by weight]. This enables generous people to share extra grains with others who are interested in the preparing the drink for themselves.


ANY TIPS ON HANDLING GRAINS?

Avoid exposing them to excessive temperatures, since some of the micro-organisms are quite sensitive to heating above body temperature. As a rule of thumb, milk that is too hot for you to put a finger in it, will surely kill your grains.


WHAT DO I DO IF THE GRAINS BECOME CONTAMINATED OR PINK SPOTS APPEAR ON THE SURFACE OF THE CULTURED MEDIUM?

This might happen especially if you covered the jar with a cloth, which might favour certain mold spores or weed micro-organisms to fall in the kefir. Simply strain the grains and rinse them in filtered water. “Fast” them in plain water for 24 hours in the fridge. Rinse the grains with fresh water and place them in fresh milk. You might want to discard the first batch of kefir, since it might still taste unusual. The second batch of kefir should be good enough to drink.


I HAVE PROBLEMS DRINKING MILK. WHAT CAN I DO TO HAVE KEFIR?

Either:

You are lactose intolerant: in that case, leave your kefir to ripen one more day before drinking it. This will give time for the kefir bugs to digest more of the lactose [milk sugar] in the milk, and for the bugs to produce more lactase [the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose which your body can then utilise to further break down lactose].

OR

You pay caution to casein (the protein in milk). In such cases you might try different milks (goat’s and sheep’s milk has shown to be gentler than cows), or you may have to avoid dairy at the beginning, in which case you might like to try coconut water kefir.


CAN I MAKE WATER KEFIR USING ORDINARY MILK-BASED GRAINS?

Water kefir can be prepared with milk kefir-grains. Use only a portion or extra milk-grains for this. First rinse the grains with filtered cold water and place them in a 5 to 10 % sugar solution. Add some lemon slices and brew for 48 hours at room temperature. Initially, the grains will take up to 4 days to begin brewing the new form of kefir. This is normal since they have to get used to the new medium. Please note that once converted to water, milk grains will stop growing and will no longer be able to produce milk kefir any more. So make sure to only use extra grains to make the water version, and always brew the two types separate from each other.


IF MY HOUSE IS COLDER THAN 68 DEGREES, WILL IT TAKE LONGER FOR THE MILK TO KEFIR?

Yes, cold slows down the fermentation process so it will take longer to make kefir. Alternatively, if your home is warmer than standard room temperature, the process will take less time.


DO I NEED TO STIR THE KEFIR DURING THE CULTURING PROCESS?


You can stir the kefir while it’s culturing but it’s not necessary.


HOW WILL I KNOW IF I’VE SUCCESSFULLY MADE KEFIR? HOW DO I KNOW IF I SHOULDN’T DRINK IT?


When milk turns to kefir it thickens. We always recommend that you refrain from consuming anything that looks, smells or tastes unpleasant.


WHAT DOES KEFIR TASTE LIKE?

The taste of finished kefir varies greatly based on the type of milk used (cow versus goat for example) and the length of time it is allowed to culture. Generally speaking, dairy kefir has a sour taste and an effervescent texture. If you have not tried kefir before, we would recommend purchasing kefir at the grocery store to try (generally located next to the milk and yogurt) before purchasing a starter culture.


CAN THE MILK KEFIR GRAINS BE CULTURED IN GOAT MILK OR COCONUT MILK?

Many people have reported excellent results using dairy grains to make goat kefir and coconut kefir.


HOW DO I TAKE A BREAK FROM MAKING MILK KEFIR?

To take a break from making dairy kefir simply place the grains in the fresh milk, place a tight lid on the container and place it in the refrigerator. The cold will greatly retard the culturing process and they can keep this way for up to several weeks. If at the end of that period you require more time, simply repeat the process with fresh milk. If you desire a longer break period, you can also dehydrate your dairy grains by placing them on unbleached parchment paper in a safe location (room temperature) for several days until they are completely dry. Then place the dehydrated grains in a secure glass container and keep in a cool dry place. They should keep this way for at least 6 months.

IF I’M MAKING OTHER CULTURED FOODS (YOGURT, SOURDOUGH, KOMBUCHA, ETC.), HOW FAR APART DO I NEED TO KEEP THE KEFIR CULTURE?

When items are being actively cultured (and don’t have lids), we suggest keeping a distance of at least several feet (and preferably more) between items. When your cultured items are being stored in the refrigerator with tight fitting lids, there is no need to keep distance between them.


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