Thursday, 29 May 2014

Focus on Fermentation Week: Kefir

Funny how the last few fermented foods I have written about are all foreign sounding words beginning with K. Kefir (pronounced ke-feer) is another lacto-fermented product that provides numerous health benefits. I was a little dubious about this one as people had told me it doesn't taste great. I still decided to make it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it tastes similar to yoghurt, and with fruit blended through it (as in the image above) it is actually really refreshing. As with Kombucha tea, the health benefits are astounding and are summarised and explained really well on Imperfectly Natural

Here are just a few of them:

1.     Diabetes - because of naturally occurring sugars within kefir, it is a good tool for regulating blood sugar for those who struggle with diabetes.
2.   Kefir boosts the immune system to effectively fight external germs and potential diseases.
3.   Treats digestive disorders such as constipation, diarrhoea, and substantially decreases bloating, wind, discomfort in the abdominal area, and thrush.
4.   Kefir apparently assists with colon cancer, ulcers, respiratory conditions, eczema, psoriasis, acne and diseases bourne from gut dysbiosis (a destructive imbalance of microbial flora which is linked to e.g. inflammatory bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome).
6.   Kefir is teeming with vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body such as vitamins B and K, folic acid, phosphorous, calcium and magnesium.
7.   Kefir provides energy by assisting with digestion.
8.   Kefir improves the functioning of the liver, gallbladder, circulation and heart activity. it increases metabolism, oxygen supply to the cells and blood circulation to the brain. 
Phew, I am going to have the healthiest gut in the country at this rate!

As with Kombucha, Kefir also needs a special ingredient to get the culture started. The kefir 'grains' are what you need and they are not really grains, just a special culture that in many European families, is handed down through the generations. I found my grains on Ebay - $3 for one teaspoon including delivery and could I not give it a go? This is the plastic bag I received (above).

The white grains stuck to the plastic so I scraped them off the best I could...with a plastic spoon, apparently metal is not good for the kefir.

This is what I ended up with in my glass, a little messy but probably about a teaspoon of grains.

Cover the jar with a cloth or paper towel and secure with a rubber band. Leave the jar on the kitchen bench and the kefir will ferment at room temperature. During winter you can place the kefir on the top of the fridge to ferment quicker. 

Check the kefir every 6-12 hours or so. Once the milk has thickened, the kefir has formed, usually 24-48 hours.  It is a good idea to let the first batch ferment for three days, then I have found subsequent batches are ready every 24 hours.

Another sign that you have kefir is if it tastes tangy and sour like natural greek yoghurt. You then strain the milk and the remaining grains are placed back into the jar and topped with fresh milk…a continual process.
If you want a stronger fermented kefir (with more probiotics) then wait until the floating curds separate with the whey (which stays on the bottom), then mix the two together and drink. 

The interesting thing with kefir is if you place the grains in a larger vessel with more milk, then the grains will multiply, producing a larger quantity of kefir. I am happy with one coffee jar full per day, which is enough for a work-day fruit smoothie and to add to my dishes for dinner. Last night I used it in place of yoghurt in a chicken curry, stirring through last minute. There are some amazing recipes for using kefir if you do a Google search.

So, there you have it...the last post in this current fermentation series, and another gut-busting sensation. Have you ever heard of kefir or do you already make it yourself?
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