Fermentation is not just about turning your vegetable garden into something deliciously healthy to eat. You can also make your own drinks and snacks, such as kefir. It’s a great source of probiotics and calcium, easy to make and a good alternative for those suffering from lactose intolerance. But what is kefir and how is it made?
There are 2 different kinds of kefir which each are made up of grains. However, unlike the name suggests, these have nothing to do with cereals. Instead, the grains are a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria.
Water kefir is a mildly fermented sugar and water drink. It has a light and refreshing taste and is free of caffeine. To make water kefir, simply ferment water kefir grains at room temperature in a sugary solution. It’s still fairly new and possibly originates in Mexico where the grains were found on cactus pads feeding of the sugar extractions. You may have heard of Tepache, a sour drink made from brown sugar, pineapple and cinnamon.
Milk kefir, however, is considered to be the oldest cultured, fermented milk drink that we know of today. It most likely originates in the Caucasus mountain regions between Asia and Europe where it has been consumed for more than 2000 years. According to historians, the mountain shepherds of the region learned that milk put in leather bags with kefir grains would ferment into a fizzy drink. Each tribe had their own variety of kefir grains which were considered to be sacred.
In Turkish, the word ‘kefir’ simply means ‘wellbeing’. And indeed, whether you’re opting for water or milk kefir, there are a range of health benefits attributed to either beverage due to their nutritious content which have been proven scientifically.
Kefir is high in amino acids, calcium, folic acid and B vitamins. Through the fermentation process the milk becomes a lot easier for the human body to digest and allows it to absorb more of the nutrients. It also means that it’s usually safe for people with lactose intolerance.
It generally supports a healthy digestive tract and immune system and because kefir cultures create antibiotic substances, they can help control harmful microorganisms such as cancer and other diseases. Milk kefir is often used to combat indigestion, stomach aches, diarrhea and IBS symptoms and hospitals in the former USSR were known to prescribe it for allergies, cancer and tuberculosis.
How to make milk kefir
To make milk kefir, simply add a teaspoon of kefir grains to a cup of milk. If you don’t like cow’s milk, try almond milk, coconut milk, goat’s milk or any other dairy alternative, though some people say the results are not as good. Cover the glass and let it sit at room temperature for about 24 hours. The healthy bacteria and yeast from the kefir grains will ferment the milk and transform it into kefir, a thick and creamy texture similar to yoghurt or buttermilk.
Strain out the grains and use them in another both and enjoy your glass of fresh milk kefir. You can also use kefir in baking as well as a healthy substitute for milk or yoghurt.
Kefir grains are reusable indefinitely as long as you store them properly, either by making kefir on a regular base or by storing them in a cup of milk in the fridge. They were traditionally used to make milk last longer in hot climates with the healthy bacteria and yeast in the kefir grains preventing any unhealthy bacteria to take hold and spoil the milk.
How to make water kefir
Water kefir works on the same principal whereby you simply add a tablespoon of grains to two cups of sugary water and leave it to ferment over 24 hours. Over this period of time the symbiotic culture consumes the sugars resulting in a yummy soda like drink.
Both milk and water kefir can be flavoured with your choice of fruits, vanilla beans, ginger and so much more. It's simply a matter of experimenting with your favorite flavours.
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