What is Kefir: Benefits, Nutrition and Taste
If you are one of the health-conscious people, you might have heard about kefir. A lot of people confuse kefir with yogurt and we don’t blame them. They both share a lot of similarities but they are not the same.
But do you know how to pronounce kefir? It’s not ke-fir. It’s more like keh-fuh. It is believed to be invented in the northern Caucasus mountains. It’s a decedent of the Turkish word keyif, which means good feeling.
In this article, we’ll cover the history of kefir. We’ll also take a look at how you can make kefir at yourself and what are the kefir health benefits. Without further ado, let’s get started.
What is Kefir?
Kefir is very similar to yogurt in nature. It’s fermented and is consumed as a beverage. Kefir has been around for thousands of years and the popularity of kefir has gone through the roof after its health benefits were discovered.
Kefir is fermented with a combination of bacteria and yeast. They are known as kefir grains. But don’t confuse kefir grains with conventional grains like wheat or rice. Kefir grains are mixed usually with milk and cultured at room temperature for fermentation.
The best part of kefir is that even lactose-intolerant people can drink it without any side effects. As kefir is fermented, the bacteria break the lactose down. The conventional way of making kefir is from cow milk. But there are alternatives as well.
If you want kefir derived from dairy but don’t like cow milk, you can go for kefir made from goat or sheep milk. For the people who don’t like dairy at all, they can choose coconut milk, rice milk, coconut water, etc. as the ingredient of kefir.
Make Your Own
Although kefir is widely available across the globe thanks to its amazing health benefits, you can make your own kefir at home. It’s a fairly simple process and you don’t need any fancy ingredients or equipment to get on with the action.
To ensure maximum hygiene, you should start by washing the utensils and your hands thoroughly. The ingredients and equipment you will need will be found around your kitchen. All you got to do is look for them.
- Kefir grains for fermentation
- Milk (according to your preference)
- A jar for culturing
- Cheesecloth/ Coffee filter
- A rubber band to seal the jar
- A stirring utensil (non-metal)
- A mesh strainer
How to Make Kefir Grains
Before starting with the actual recipe, you might want to know how to source kefir grains in the first place. The kefir grains are the factors that differentiate yogurt and kefir. While yogurt is fermented using only bacteria, kefir is fermented with a combination of bacteria and yeast.
Let’s keep things simple. You can buy kefir ‘starters’ in shops. Starters are pre-processed for your convenience. There are different types of starters available that go with different types of kefir. It totally depends on the taste and consistency you are going for with your kefir.
Let’s Get Started
You’ll need 1 teaspoon of kefir grains per cup of milk you pour in the jar. Start by pouring the milk into the jar and add the kefir grains. Use the coffee filter or the cheesecloth to cover the opening of the jar and seal it with the rubber band.
Now you need to let it ferment. Kefir usually ferments at room temperature which is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You might need to put it in a warmer or colder place depending on your room temperature.
Check the consistency of the milk after 12 hours. It should be thickened within 12 to 48 hours. Once the milk has reached your preferred consistency, strain it into another jar and store. If sealed properly, you can store kefir for up to 1 week.
The reason we use everything non-metal is that contact with metal can weaken the kefir grains. As a result, you won’t find accurate results.
If you live in a hot place where room temperatures go over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you might want to keep your kefir culture somewhere cooler. Milk will get spoiled in such high temperatures. Don’t put the jar into direct sunlight even if you live in a cold place.
When you are straining the kefir, your strainer should catch the kefir grains. You can reuse them in the future. If you see kefir getting separated during storage, shake it rigorously. You can even infuse your kefir with different flavors.
For example, if you want fruit-flavored kefir, you can cut your favorite fruits into pieces and add them to the strained kefir before fermenting. After around 24 hours, you can strain the kefir again to get the fruit extracts out of the drink or keep it as it is.
How Does Kefir Taste Like?
The taste of kefir is very similar to yogurt but more delicious. It packs a strong tart flavor. It’s often considered as the champagne of milk. Some people compare it with Italian Soda. Italian soda is a regular soda mixed with cream. No matter how you want to picture it, kefir is a great addition as an everyday beverage.
It highly depends on the procedure that was used to make kefir. The longer it’s fermented, the sharper the smell is going to be. It’s a shame we can’t provide smell through virtual mediums but we can always compare it with some known aroma.
Think of yogurt and cheesecake. The smell of kefir lies between these two. You might even get a little vinegar or bread. The season also influences the smell of kefir. In springtime, it smells like sweet vinegar. The summer packs a sharper tang to the smell and in winter, it smells like bread.
The jar also plays an important role. If the jar hasn’t been washed, the smell is going to be very sharp. The more it’s reused, the more smell it packs. Once you clean the jar, you’ll notice a significant drop in the strength of the smell.
You know the consistency of buttermilk, right? Take that as a standard. It’s not going to be as thick as yogurt, but the consistency will be thicker in winter or after refrigeration. If you add cream, it will be thicker as well.
In summer, on the other hand, kefir is going to be much thinner, if not watery. If you decide to make or buy kefir that doesn’t have dairy in it, it’s going to be thin.
The consistency of the kefir is dependent on the environment surrounding it. The grains are best suited to stable temperatures and humidity. If there are any sudden changes to the temperature, the consistency will become a problem for you.
Nutrition in Kefir
The benefits of kefir are beyond question when it comes to nutrition. It’s a great addition to the daily diet. Let’s take a look at the nutrition benefits of kefir in one cup serving.
- 11g of protein
- 2g of fat
- 12g of sugar
- 90 micrograms of vitamin A
- 110 calories
- 390mg of calcium
It’s based on low-fat cow milk kefir. The values are going to change depending on what milk was used and what kefir grains were used. But this is a general picture of the nutrition benefits of kefir.
Kefir Health Benefits
Kefir not only tastes good but it also contains a lot of health benefits. It’s higher in protein than yogurt and lower in fat at the same time. Let’s take a brief look at the kefir health benefits.
- Blood Sugar
People with diabetes can benefit greatly from drinking kefir. Studies found that people who drank kefir instead of yogurt had significantly lower blood sugar levels in the morning. It also helps to reduce the hemoglobin A1c values which is a blood sugar measurement technique.
The probiotics found in kefir helps to lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol in our body. A study was conducted to check the effectiveness of kefir against low-fat milk. The study was conducted for 8 weeks and the results favored kefir with very low cholesterol amount.
- Stomach Health
Our stomach is filled with bacteria. There are both good and bad bacteria. We don’t get sick from them is because there is a healthy balance between them. The moment that balance is disrupted, we’ll face stomach problems.
Kefir contains a lot of probiotics that work as good bacteria. Kefir helps bring the balance back and maintain it. Even antibiotic treatments can disrupt the bacteria count in our guts. Drinking kefir regularly helps to keep your stomach health intact.
- Weight Loss
Benefits of kefir goes beyond the internals of our bodies. As the level of bad cholesterols is going down, the weight takes a dive as well. The probiotics help cut fat and it has been tested on mice. There is not enough research on humans yet.
As milk is very rich in calcium, kefir is too. Consuming kefir on a regular basis results in stronger bones and reduce the probability of osteoporosis.
Nothing is perfect in the world. Although kefir health benefits are great, it does come with some side effects as well.
Kefir is suitable for people with lactose intolerance, but if you have some other kind of allergy to milk, you should refrain from drinking kefir.
An excessive amount of kefir consumption can result in constipation and abdominal cramp. Some commercial brands of kefir contain added sugar which is really bad for people with diabetes. It is advised to check the label carefully before buying it. If you are making your own kefir at home, don’t put extra sugar if not necessary.
As kefir is fermented, it contains some level of alcohol. The more it’s fermented, the more alcohol it can develop. If you have problems with alcohol, try purchasing commercial ones that don’t contain any alcohol.
Kefir has been around for centuries and it’s a very popular drink in Eastern Europe and Asia. It comes with a great number of health benefits as well. It’s packed with vitamins and probiotics that are great for our stomach health. It tastes good as well.
So, if you think you need to start drinking kefir if you haven’t been already, follow the procedures we broke down for you. You can make your own kefir very easily at home and meet all your nutritional needs.