Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's Kefir? A Healthy Food!

Have you ever tried kefir? My journey with making this wonderful food is just beginning.

First, here is a bit about what kefir is. Then on to my amusing personal kefir story.

Kefir is a cultured milk product similar to, but more liquid in consistency than yogurt. Kefir grains are living cultures that ferment milk. My understanding is that the fermentation process digests the lactose and proteins, making milk easier for the ultimate consumer to digest and assimilate. For people who are milk intolerant, this pre-digestion may make it possible for them to comsume kefir. Once fermented, kefir can then be made into cheese and other edibles.

The origin of kefir is considered to be in the Caucasus Mountains, possibly in North Ossetia. (Yes, near South Ossetia, the area of recent political unrest and ethnic cleansing -- primarily driven by U.S. interests in oil. Were you aware of that??) The people in this region have cultured and consumed kefir for over 1,000 years. They are renowned for longevity and good health. It is said that the tribes-folk regarded kefir as the drink of the Prophet. (Source, and for more details: Dominic "Dom" Anfiteatro, information follows.)

Introducing Dom, the World's Acknowledged Kefir Expert

My introduction to Dom occurred through a friend. (Thanks Jo!) He is both the kefir expert and the very best source for kefir grains. My first visit to Dom's website was . . . astonishing. The volume and depth of information will astound you. He knows his stuff.

I recommend spending time on his website. A printed version of some of this information can be ordered then downloaded or sent by mail: Kefir! A Probiotic Gem Cultured with Probiotic Jewels: Kefir Grains! (I encourage people to purchase kefir grains and the book from Dom, supporting his continuing work with kefir and health for the benefit of the world.)

Sandra's Adventures In Kefir Land

Having read Dom's detailed instructions, I felt pretty confident in beginning my journey with this wonderful and health-supporting food. However, when the grains arrived, I discovered that reading just isn't the same as doing. A few days ago, as I laboriously hand-sorted kefir grains from the kefir, the following came to mind, . . .

Making Kefir is NOT for the Faint of Heart

(Though in actuality, since consuming kefir has been known -- for centuries -- to have a substantially positive benefit of improving health, making kefir could potentially be VERY good for those who are physically challenged in the heart department. I couldn't really say one way or the other.)

All joking aside, at least initially, making kefir does take a bit more devotion and time than I was expecting. And though I had READ what kefir is like, when I finally had the real stuff, it bore little resemblance to what my mind had imagined.

Today, precisely a week after I first put kefir grains to revive in milk, I have a system for making kefir somewhat figured out, and I have come to love drinking kefir. I would say that making kefir is most definitely a worthwhile endeavor, and the end product is wonderfully enlivening and vital.

For those who may be contemplating the possibilities of making kefir . . . it is helpful to know in advance what you are getting into . . .

What Being a Keeper of Kefir Grains is Like

I now compare making kefir to being a person who has pets. Have you ever heard that it is the pet or pets in a household who are in CONTROL of the household? Have you seen signs saying that the person living there does the bidding of the cat (or the dog)?

If you have a dog, you feed Rover every day, and you keep water in his dish. Regular walks and the occasional bath are definitely recommended. Beyond tending to those basic physical needs, we all know that EVERYONE is happiest if Rover also gets plenty of love and attention.

Well, keeping kefir grains is somewhat like that, though definitely on a smaller scale. To a certain extent, my life now revolves around caring for and feeding my kefir grains. To keep them living and growing, the cultured milk (kefir) is strained away from the grains once a day, and fresh milk is added. Containers and utensils are washed to keep contaminating chemicals or foreign bacteria from killing the culture. Every couple of hours, I stir the mixture to put the grains in contact with fresh milk. Eventually, I will remove some grains and freeze or dry them for future use, because they will have multiplied. And because I am leaving for a week soon, my husband Ken has been designated the babysitter of the kefir grains, keeping them happy during my absence.

On a more personal level, I have a relationship with my kefir grains. Occasionally, I let them go too long before straining, and the kefir becomes thick in consistency. Straining then takes more effort and time. Because my culture is quite young, I want to keep as many grains in the culturing jar as possible, so I pick through the kefir by hand to find the grains that escaped through the holes of the strainer. When doing this, I actually find myself talking to them (occasionally even out loud). I tell them that anyone who wants to keep living in the jar needs to make themselves known and allow themselves to be retrieved. (Any that remain in the kefir will be . . . eaten! Which is perfectly acceptable. They are highly beneficial for health, providing a wealth of fabulous probiotics and nutrients.) After the grains are back in the jar and fed their milk, I frequently tell them, "Okay guys, multiply!"

I am not a pet owner, but I imagine that the fond feelings and the tender treatment that I give to my kefir grains are right in line with how people relate with their pets. Yes, kefir grains require attention and love. And I find that they are very much worth the effort.

Real Kefir vs. Commercially Produced Kefir

Real kefir, cultured with living kefir grains is NOT AT ALL like commercially available kefir. I was expecting something resembling what I had previously purchased in the store. What I got had absolutely NO resemblance to that white-liquid-in-a-carton. As far as I am concerned, their only similarities are that they are both liquid forms of milk, and that they both contain cultures of bacteria.

It is important to note that real kefir grains are quite different from the powdered kefir cultures that are commercially marketed to people desiring to make kefir. I imagine that grocery-store kefir is made with culture powder. Powdered cultures will never multiply or become real kefir grains, so continuing to make kefir requires additional culture purchases. Assuming that I keep my kefir grains healthy, I will have cultures forever. In fact, I will accumulate extra, which can be given away. The nutritional profile of the 'kefir' that is produced with powders also differs from that of true kefir. For more information, see Dom's website.

Reading that kefir is slimy in texture and consistency just did not fully clue me in. In fact, it really is quite slimy and stringy, in a liquid kind of way. My telling you that may produce a preconceived impression of what it is like, one that is perhaps a bit negative. Face it, the words 'slimy' and 'stringy' just do not convey a particularly positive image. But in fact, kefir's texture is acceptable, at least for me. Any initial anticipation of unpleasantness was quickly dissipated once I actually drank the kefir. My husband also seems to enjoy it. (While I am gone, will he continue drinking kefir on his own? That will be the true test.)

Lactic acid produced during fermentation gives kefir a slightly sour taste. Depending on how it is made and stored, kefir can also be a bit frothy. Fruit, herbs, and other food ingredients can be added in preparing kefir for consumption. I have yet to make smoothies and cheese. I look forward to this with anticipation. Dom gives quite a few recipes. For now, I am quite happy with straight kefir.

Raw Milk & Kefir

I think my kefir cultures quite rapidly went from dried to fully revived, more quickly than my reading of Dom's material led me to expect. Certainly part of this is due to the very high quality of Dom's cultures. And the raw milk that my kefir grains have been fed from day one will most certainly have contributed.

Go here for one of several postings on this blog about Raw Milk, its numerous benefits, and the issues associated with its availability.

That's My Kefir Story

For now, that's it. I may provide further installments, as the kefir adventure continues.

I'm going to have a glass of kefir, and experience the rush of aliveness and vitality that always follows.

Healthy Food to You!

Sandra Lynn Lee
Certified Healing Codes Practitioner
Miracle Inspirations

Everything in this newsletter is the opinion of the author and is provided for informational and educational purposes only. When information is drawn from outside sources, both credit and access to the source are given, when available.

Copyright 2008 Miracle Inspirations. All rights reserved.
To go to the Breathe - Life's Inspirations With Sandra blog.

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