The word ‘kefir’ derives from the turkish “keif“, which literally translates to “feel good.” Kefir is a fermented drink containing strains of beneficial bacteria and yeasts (in a symbiotic relationship) that give kefir antibiotic properties.
In Russia it’s a popular beverage, an effervescent drink, through fermentation of milk that comes from cows, goats, or sheep . Kefir comes from the mountains of the Caucasus and the variety of beneficial bacteria in the kefir makes it one of the most powerful probiotic foods available.
In addition to numerous strains, kefir is rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It contains thiamin, vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, and vitamin K2. It’s also a good resource of biotin (a type of B vitamin that helps to assimilate other B vitamins).
The finished product is not like a real yogurt, but it tastes more sour, refreshing, and contains different microorganisms.
Kefir does not feed yeast, and usually does not cause discomfort in people who are lactose intolerant. This happens because the yeasts and beneficial bacteria that ferment the kefir consume most of the lactose present very efficiently and produce enzymes (lactase) in order to eliminate any portion of lactose still remaining once the fermentation process is done.
Kefir is produced through fermentation of gelatinous granules (resembling crystals), which are yellow or white in color. The granules contain a mixture of bacteria and yeast mixed with casein (milk protein) and “hosted” by a polysaccharide. No other cultured dairy is able to form granules, making kefir rather unique.
Without refrigeration or pasteurization, the milk sours and separates spontaneously. This is due to the process of lacto-fermentation during which the bacteria that produce lactic acid begin to digest both the lactose (milk sugar) and casein (the element generally more difficult to digest for the intolerant). When these bacteria have produced enough lactic acid to disable all putrefactive bacteria, the milk is actually preserved for several days or weeks.
The lactase enzyme produced during the fermentation process allows many people who are sensitive or intolerant to tolerate fresh milk kefir. Furthermore, the content of both vitamin B and vitamin C increases during fermentation.
In addition, a portion of the milk proteins (casein) is decomposed, releasing the amino acids that are formed. Some research shows that the proteins are digested yogurt twice as fast as those of unfermented milk.
The fermentation of milk makes it more similar to a person with lactose intolerance, since a good part of the lactose is converted to lactic acid because the presence of the lactase enzyme in fermented milk contributes to digestion in the digestive tract.
During the fermentation of products with milk, 30% to 40% of the lactose is “consumed”. Unfortunately, the activity of beneficial enzymes that contribute to the digestion of lactose in the intestine is much reduced in pasteurized products (the process by which many of the enzymes die).
Other similar drinks are prepared- Koumiss in Russia with horse milk, the Longfil in the Scandinavian countries (Norway), the Laban in the Far East, the Dahi in India, and in Iceland the Syros (diluted with water and drunk or used for preservation of certain foods).
For those who are intolerant to milk (even after fermentation), it’s worth trying water kefir.
The Types of Kefir
Water kefir grains are granules, and if properly treated they’ll increase at each fermentation. Milk kefir grains are similar to those of water grains. Like the others, just buy them once and they will continuously regenerate, fermented with regularity. Freeze-dried kefir includes both water and milk varieties, while kefir can be found in commercial bottles.
Generally, commercial needs for these products are never fermented enough, with a result that contains very few good bacteria compared to beverages made at home. In addition, they have added sugar and other sweeteners to make the drink more palatable.
For fermentation, material of plastic or glass (containers, strainers, spoons) is used to avoid the corrosion of metal and metal components ending up in the product from the acidity of the kefir.
Kefir used as Milk?
Ideally, raw milk should be from cows raised on organic farming and grazing. You can try it with other types of milk, such as from goats or donkeys. For fermentation, always use milk at room temperature, considering the sensitivity of the granules that may die if immersed in liquids at altered room temperatures.