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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


My Top 10 Traditional Foods

Five years ago (or thereabouts), during one of my normal trawls through the library’s cookbook section, I came across a book called “Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.” How could I resist a title like that?

Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions

I took it home, expecting to find a compilation of vegetarian, lowfat recipes, and instead found not just a cookbook, but a reference manual. I don’t mean reference manual as in The Joy of Cooking; this is a reference manual that debunks every food myth you’ve ever come across, and advocates eating foods prepared in the traditional way.

Synopsis from newtrendspublishing.com:

This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: Animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper funciton of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels. Sally Fallon dispels the myths of the current low-fat fad in this practical, entertaining guide to a can-do diet that is both nutritious and delicious.

Topics include the health benefits of traditional fats and oils (including butter and coconut oil); dangers of vegetarianism; problems with modern soy foods; health benefits of sauces and gravies; proper preparation of whole grain products; pros and cons of milk consumption; easy-to-prepare enzyme enriched condiments and beverages; and appropriate diets for babies and children.

Sally Fallon clearly makes her case for traditional foods such as raw milk, fermented grains and vegetables, saturated fats (coconut oil in particular), and cultured dairy products that I was an instant convert. More on that later.

This subject is too broad to cover in one post, so today I’ll limit discussion to my Top 10 Traditional Foods. When I say my Top 10, I mean the traditional foods that I have successfully incorporated into our diet without too much griping from the peanut gallery 🙂

  1. Coconut Oil
  2. Kefir
  3. Home-raised eggs
  4. Whole milk yogurt
  5. Whey
  6. Flax oil
  7. Wild Salmon
  8. Sprouted vegetables (including sprouted grain bread)
  9. Kombucha
  10. Fermented vegetables: sauerkraut and kimchi

Each of these deserves it’s own post, really, so let’s start with the first item on the list: coconut oil.

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon starts her introduction talking about fats, and devotes 16 pages to the subject; it is the one section of the book that truly requires a complete mindset. If you can wrap your brain around her message, (low-fat=bad, right fat=good) then you’ve become an instant convert. That’s what happened to me!

She methodically explains the history of the subject–faulty research in the 1950’s, agribusiness concerns; then the chemistry of fats, and why we should eat more, not less, is explained. Here’s an excerpt, from page 20:

In summary, our choice of fats and oils is one of extreme importance. Most people especially infants and growing children, benefit from more fat in the diet rather than less. But the fats we ear must be chosen with care. Avoid all processed foods containing newfangled hydrogenated fats and polyunsaturated oils. Instead, use traditional vegetable oils like extra virgin olive oil and small amounts of unrefined flax seed oil. Acquaint yourself with the merits of coconut oil for baking and with animals fats for occasional frying. Eat egg yolks and other animal fats with the proetins to which they are attached. And, finally, use as much good quality butter as you like, with the assurance that it is a wholesome–indeed, an essential–food for you and your whole family.

Organic butter, extra virgin olive oil, and expeller-expressed flax oil in opaque containers are available in health food stores and gourmet markets. Edible coconut oil can be found in Indian and Caribbean markets.

Coconut oil was the easiest to incorporate into our diet. Funnily enough: my husband is not much into health food or exercise (ok, he’s a lazy retired guy). So I decided to use coconut oil in our stir-fry, and not tell him; if I had, he would have protested forever. Instead, I went ahead with it, and sure enough, he poked his head in and asked “What smells so good?” I fed him and the kids coconut oil for months before I told him what I’d done. I hated to be sneaky like that, but hey, it worked, so I’m happy.

So why do I like coconut oil? It smells great, for one thing. If you don’t like that smell, no worries: there are many different grades/refined states from which to choose. I prefer the organic, un-refined coconut oil; I find that it is very aromatic during the cooking process, but the flavor doesn’t overwhelm in the finished dish. It has a high smoke point, so you don’t have to worry about scorching your cookware; it is stable and can be kept for months without becoming rancid; it contains lauric acid, a fatty acid with strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties, and it’s the only naturally saturated fat besides butter available locally, LOL. I’d like to try palm oil but haven’t worked up the courage.

Try cooking with coconut oil. I think you’ll be presently surprised, as I was.

So, next up: Kefir! It’s an amazing, probiotic cultured milk beverage; think yogurt, but different. More to come.