Fabulous fermentation: the many benefits and types of kefir

What is Kefir?

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Kefir is traditionally a cultured dairy product that is one of the most probiotic-rich foods known.


The homemade version is easy to make and far outweighs store-bought kefir in terms of health
benefits. Store-bought kefir often contains added sugars and does not contain the diversity and abundance of beneficial bacteria and yeast that homemade kefir boasts.


Kefir is made from starter “grains”, otherwise known as a SCOBY. A SCOBY is a "symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast". Scientifically speaking, kefir grains contain a complex microbial symbiotic mixture of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a polysaccharide–protein matrix. These organisms interact with the milk to produce a fermented product that even most lactose-intolerant individuals can drink. (Yeast often gets a bad rap because Candida can cause yeast infections. However Candida itself is not a problem unless there is an overall imbalance or disbiosis in the gut, and there are many beneficial yeast strains as well.)
Kefir can be made from cow, sheep, goat or coconut milk. Dairy kefir contains between 20-35
strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts. It also contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium,
magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics. The precise content values can
vary based on the breed of cows, sheep or goats the milk comes from, time of year and
nutritional content of grasses fed to animals, kefir cultures used and region where it’s produced.
If you are using raw, whole milk from pastured cows, you are also getting significant amounts of vitamins A & D, as well as the essential fatty acid Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). CLA has
numerous health benefits of its own, including that it helps regulate a healthy metabolism, may
prevent cancer, and boosts the immune system.


More benefits of dairy kefir:


1. Boosts Immunity. Kefir contains many compounds and nutrients, like biotin and folate, that help kick your immune system into gear and protect your cells. It has a large amount and diversity of probiotics, the “good” bacteria. One in particular that’s specific to kefir is called Lactobacillus Kefiri , and it helps defend against harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. Coli . This bacterial strain, along with the various others handfuls, helps modulate the immune system and inhibit many predatory bacteria growth.

Kefir also contains another powerful compound found only in this probiotic drink, an insoluble
polysaccharide called kefiran that’s been shown to be antimicrobial and help to fight against
candida. Kefiran has also shown the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
2. Builds Bone Strength. Osteoporosis is a major concern for many people. While calcium gets a lot of press for being essential to help prevent osteoporosis, the truth is that calcium alone, especially in supplemental form, is not enough to prevent this devastating disease. (Click HERE to learn more about the dangers of taking supplemental Calcium.)
Dairy kefir has ample amount of calcium, and more importantly, bioactive compounds that help
absorb calcium into the body and stop bone degeneration. Kefir also contains vitamin K2, which has been shown to be vital in improving bone health, density and calcium absorption, while vitamin K deficiency can lead to bone issues. The probiotics in kefir improve nutrient absorption, and the dairy itself contains all of the most important nutrients for improving bone density, including phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2.
3. Potentially Fights Cancer. Kefir can play a big role in helping your body fight this all-too-prevalent disease. Kefir plays an important anti-carcinogenic role inside the body. It can slow the growth of early tumors and their enzymatic conversions from non-carcinogenic to carcinogenic
4. Supports Digestion and Combats IBS. Dairy Kefir helps restore gut bacteria balance and fight against gastrointestinal diseases like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s and ulcers. Drinking kefir, loaded with probiotics, also helps your gut after taking antibiotics. The probiotic compounds help restore the lost flora that fight against pathogens. The probiotics also protect against disruptive diarrhea and other gastrointestinal side effects caused by these types of medications.
5. Improves Allergies. Various forms of allergies and asthma are all linked to inflammatory issues on the body. The live microorganisms present in kefir help promote the immune system to naturally suppress allergic reactions and aid in changing the body’s response to the systemic outbreak points for allergies. There’s evidence that allergic reactions are the result of a lack of good bacteria in the gut. Researchers from the Vanderbilt University Medical Center performed 23 different studies with almost 2,000 people, and in 17 of those studies, test subjects taking probiotics showed Improved allergic symptoms and quality of life.
6. Heals Skin. When your gut is imbalanced (known as dysbiosis ), it can send signals to your skin that disrupt its natural balance and cause all sorts of problems like acne, psoriasis, rashes and eczema. Kefir helps bring good bacteria back to the forefront and level out the homeostasis for your largest organ, the skin.
7. Improves Lactose Intolerance Symptoms. The good bacteria found in many dairy products is essential for a healthy gut and body. However, there are many out there who cannot tolerate dairy because they have an adverse reaction to digesting lactose, the key milk sugar that’s active when it’s digested. The active ingredient in kefir helps break lactose down into lactic acid, making it easier to digest.
Furthermore, kefir has a larger range of bacterial strains and nutrients, some only specific to
kefir, that help remove almost all of the lactose in the dairy.

Goat’s milk is one of the original ways to make kefir, and I highly suggest goat’s milk, which is
naturally homogenized and contains less casein than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk is also easier to
digest even before the fermentation process begins.
It will result in a thinner kefir than cow’s milk. Any milk that’s ultra-pasteurized, or UHT milk, will not work to make kefir.


How to make dairy kefir:


1. Place the grains in a clear glass quart jar. For every 2 cups of milk, put in 2 tablespoons
of grains.
2. Cover the jar with a coffee filter or cloth, and secure with a rubber band.
3. Place the jar out of direct light in a room-temperature place.
4. Leave to ferment for 1–3 days depending on the level of fermentation and sourness you
prefer. Temperature also factors into the fermentation. A cooler climate will take longer
to ferment so adjust accordingly. A shorter fermentation leads to a more mild flavor, and
the longer it goes, the zestier it will be. Experiment to find what you like best.
5. Strain the kefir using a plastic strainer, catching the kefir in a cup or container.
Immediately place the grains in a new batch of milk to start over.


A dairy-free version of kefir can be made with coconut milk. Use the same process as above, but substitute coconut milk in place of the cow or goat milk. Easy! 

Join me for a live class on how to make your own Kefir at home! I will be teaching on Sunday, June 24th, 3 pm - 5 pm at Wild Island on beautiful Orcas Island! Click HERE for details. To register, email me at regina@zwillinghealth.com.


What is Water Kefir?


Like traditional dairy kefir, water kefir is made from “grains” of bacteria and yeast, also commonly known as a SCOBY. As the name implies, it is made from water. The water needs a source of carbohydrates to feed the SCOBY, usually from sugar or fruit juice. Water kefir made from coconut water is particularly rich in potassium and enzymes. The SCOBY produces a lightly fizzy beverage that is low in sugars and contains many beneficial probiotics.
Water kefir does not contain most of the vitamins and minerals found in dairy kefir, but it does
contain some enzymes and probiotics. It contains between 10-15 strains of beneficial bacteria.
When a secondary fermentation with fruit juice is added to the first fermentation, the result is a delicious, low-sugar fizzy beverage that is delicious, hydrating and good-for-you too! As we head into summertime, water kefir is a huge hit at my house. My kids love a refreshing, cold glass of fizzy water kefir on a hot day. 


How to make water kefir (about 1 quart):


1. Put ¼ cup organic raw sugar, or organic brown sugar, into a jar and add 2 cups hot water.
Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
2. Add ¼ cup water kefir grains.
3. Fill the jar the rest of the way with water.
4. Cover with a coffee filter or cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Leave at room
temperature for 1-3 days. Temperature will affect the speed of fermentation. A lower
temp will take more time to ferment.
5. Strain the water kefir through a plastic strainer, and go back to #1.

For a secondary fermentation:
1. Add about ¾ cup of your favorite organic fruit juice to the freshly-strained water kefir. Put
both in a quart jar with a tight fitting lid, or a bottle with a swing top if you have it
available.
2. Leave on the counter for another 24-48 hours.
3. Put in the fridge to chill.
4. Enjoy!


To make coconut water kefir:


1. Put ¼ cup water kefir grains in a clear glass quart jar. Add a quart of coconut water.
2. Let it ferment for 1-3 days, depending on temperature and desired level of sourness.
3. Strain the coconut water kefir through a plastic strainer, and go back to #1 to make more
Water kefir grains can be used interchangeably with plain filtered water and sugar, and coconut water.

Pro Tips:

  • Always be sure to use filtered water to remove any chlorine. Chlorine can kill the yeast and bacteria that are working so hard to ferment your beverages for you!
  • Adding a few drops of liquid minerals to your first step fermentation can keep your grains vigorous and active. They are living organisms that need minerals to thrive. Dairy kefir does not need this addition because there are plenty of vitamins and minerals in the milk, regardless of the type.

Join me for a live class on how to make your own Kefir at home! I will be teaching on Sunday, June 24th, 3 pm - 5 pm at Wild Island on beautiful Orcas Island! Click HERE for details. To register, email me at regina@zwillinghealth.com.