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Traditional Food #2: Kefir

Today’s post is about kefir, the second item in my Top 10 Traditional Foods list. Kefir is a cultured milk beverage, similar to yogurt, but typically thinner–think “drinkable”. Like yogurt, kefir contains friendly bacteria (probiotics) that aid in digestion. Unlike yogurt, the bacteria found in kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract–providing a fantastic defense against pathogens.

So where can you get kefir? Some grocery stores carry it; Lifeway and Helios are two brands I can find locally. You can also make your own kefir; it’s very simple. Kefir is made when kefir grains, placed into milk, are left to culture (ferment) for usually 24 hours. So what is a kefir grain? Sounds weird, right? Here’s what Dom, the Kefir Guru, has to say about them:

A batch of kefir grains consist of many individual white to bone-coloured mostly self-enclosed bodies made up of a soft, gelatinous biological mass somewhat resembling cooked cauliflower rosettes. The complexity of the kefir grain is a mixture of protein, amino acids, lipids [fats] and soluble-polysaccharides. Kefiran a unique polysaccharide with many health-promoting virtues, is the major polysaccharide of kefir grains and is also found in kefir. The bacteria and yeasts not only create the bio-matrix structure, or the grains, the organisms are also harboured by the very structure that they create; abiding on the surface, and encapsulated within the grain itself

Check out Dom’s site here. He is truly the Kefir Guru and you will learn more than you ever thought possible about kefir. It’s fascinating reading; kefir grains can also be used to culture sugar water–I haven’t tried it yet, but I may this summer when the weather warms up.

Kefir Grains

Kefir Grains

So why do I drink kefir? The taste, for starters. I love fermented foods and the effervescent quality of kefir really makes it for me. I substitute it for milk whenever I can–I made coleslaw dressing the other day with kefir, and it was fabulous. It helps with digestion; drinking some always helps settle my stomach and has helped with nausea. It has another, intangible aspect as well. When I drink kefir, I *know* that it’s good for me. It’s almost as if the effectiveness is immediate. Some people (Dom) claim it has spiritual properties. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, but it is wonderful.

Kefir is also relatively inexpensive to produce. The grains will culture any kind of milk (and non-milks such as pumpkin seed, etc); I use organic whole milk. A one time investment of under $10 will last a long time as grains reproduce and can be maintained indefinitely. I should qualify that I’m not actively culturing any kefir at the moment; my grains didn’t survive our move home last summer. I’ve been buying Lifeway lately and am pleased with it, but I can’t wait for my new grains as I prefer my kefir on the tart side. Commercially prepared kefir tends to be very mild.

My kids enjoy it, too: kefir smoothies are a huge hit in our house. We’re on a strawberry kick right now; here’s Mo’s Strawberry Smoothie:

1 cup kefir
2 large organic strawberries, washed
1 tsp of your favorite sweetener (we use raw honey)
1 tsp virgin coconut oil

I throw everything into my processor and whizz until done. Sometimes I omit the honey; it depends on the sweetness of your other ingredients.

Kefir resources for your viewing pleasure:

Dom’s Kefir in-site
http://comfort4adhd.tripod.com/id44.html
http://www.lifeway.net/