I’d never heard of kefir until my wise and wonderful acupuncturist encouraged me to try it as part of my recovery regimen for Lyme disease. Explaining that the fermented drink has many benefits and would boost my struggling immune system, he pressed a small packet of the starter culture into my hand to take with me.
I read up on this ancient superfood, and discovered its rich history over many centuries. Legend has it that long ago, shepherds in the Caucausus Mountains discovered that milk they carried in leather pouches fermented into tasty kefir as they rambled with their sheep.
Another story says that kefir was a gift to Orthodox Christians in the region from Mohammed, who warned them it would lost its miraculous health benefits if they shared it. People held it close, but kefir inevitably began to spread as its value came to light.
The people of the Caucausus are famous for being long-lived; maybe I could enjoy some of the same benefits. Kefir is loaded with vitamins, calcium, and fiber along with health-promoting bacteria. The National Kefir Association says this drink typically contains three times the probiotics of yogurt.
Studies show that kefir can “stimulate the immune system, enhance lactose digestion, and inhibit tumors, fungi and pathogens— including the bacteria that cause most ulcers.” Who knows, maybe research will show kefir goes after the lyme bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, too.
I couldn’t wait to get started. People commonly refer to the culture as kefir “grains” (not to be confused with grain as in wheat, but meaning the shape as in rice grains). Consisting of live yeast and bacteria, it looks sort of like cauliflower. Care and feeding is pretty straightforward.
For the first batch, I placed the culture (about 2 tablespoons) in a covered glass bowl with two cups of skim milk to let it do its work overnight. Since then, I’ve gotten into a quick and simply daily routine.
Each morning, I strain the kefir through a non-metal strainer, reserving the liquid in a glass. Then I rinse the culture left in the strainer with filtered water (chlorine isn’t good for me, so I suspect it isn’t good for the live culture).
Finally, I put the rinsed kefir “grains” in a small glass bowl (never metal) with a top and add milk. A jar works nicely, too. The bowl goes in my pantry closet overnight; kefir culture loves cool darkness.
The next day, I have a new batch ready for my daily shake.
To temper the bright, sour taste, I throw in some frozen blueberries and often include a handful of baby spinach, a celery stalk, a banana, and vanilla protein powder. Lots of healthy goodness.
The culture itself grows over time. I only need about two tablespoons, so I add the benefit-packed grains to my shake for an extra boost or give them to someone who wants to try making kefir.
I enjoy my routine, but I’m ready to try some of the recipes I’ve seen online.
Flavored kefir sounds especially intriguing; I think I’ll try it next. Blogger Donna Schwenk says once the kefir is fermented, add one of the following and let it sit another half to whole day: a lavender or chai tea bag, some lemon or orange peel, or basil leaves. She finds that garlic cloves in kefir make for an interesting veggie dip.
If I’m going on a trip and can’t provide fresh milk for more than a few days, I put the covered bowl of milk and grains in the fridge. For longer periods, rinsed grains do fine in the freezer. I notice that it takes a couple of batches of kefir to bring them back to their robust selves after some down time, so if it is slow to work at first, don’t worry.
Kefir fermentation breaks down much of the lactose in milk, so lactose intolerant people like me generally tolerate it well, especially when starting off slowly with small servings.
I’ve read that people use the culture in soy, almond, and coconut milk, but I wonder if the grains produce as many bacteria in those liquids. The National Kefir Association says true kefir is dairy-based only, and they define it as having ten probiotic strains. In any case, milk doesn’t bother me so I’m sticking with centuries of tradition.
Kefir culture is available on the internet and in stores, but I like the idea that mine has been passed free of charge from hand-to-hand. I haven’t event tried the ready-made commercial kefir drinks. Why spend money when I can make it for pennies? And commercial kefir may have added sugar and fructose, which I try to avoid.
Besides, I love the feeling of kinship—all the way back to those shepherds in the Caucacus Mountains. I’m counting on capturing some of their famed vitality for myself.