Kefir is essentially a fermented enzyme rich food product which has its roots in the Middle East and Russia. Kefir is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals. It is easily made by adding Kefir grains to any beverage.
Kefir is not a new food by any means and has been consumed by people living in the Caucasus Mountains for centuries. Over time, reports started to appear that consuming Kefir led to better health and an increased life span. Soon more reports from Russia indicated that Kefir had many medical benefits including treatment for constipation, diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and osteoporosis. In the Middle East, people have been consuming Kefir to prevent a variety of medical ailments that include asthma, cancer, atherosclerosis and lung diseases.
Today Kefir grains are sold in most health food and grocery stores and are very affordable. Some people think that yogurt is another variation of Kefir, but is it?
Kefir vs. Yogurt
Visually both Kefir and yogurt appear similar but biologically and functionally there have some differences. The few differences that these products have are in the manufacture, types and some bacteria, flavor and consistency. Once these differences are appreciated, then one can determine which product they want to consume. The one similarity between Kefir and Yogurt is that they are both derived from fermentation, but the organisms in the product are different. Yogurt is fermented with Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus whereas Kefir contains many other strains of bacteria not found in yogurt: the list includes Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Acetobacter and Pseudomonas species. Further, Kefir also contains different strains of yeast like Kluyveromyces, Candida, and Saccharomyces species.
When Kefir is consumed it immediately colonizes the intestinal tract and restores the balance between good versus bad bacteria. This effect is long lasting. Yogurt does contain organisms that also colonize the gut, but the effects are usually short-lived.
While yogurt comes in many flavors and is more viscous, milk Kefir tends to be slightly sour and more of a liquid solution. Both these products can be used to make cheese and can be used a dipping sauce for a variety of appetizers, dips and in many desserts and baked goods.
Types of Kefir
There are two main types of Kefir: the water and milk Kefir. The water Kefir crystal is slightly yellowish in color, and the milk Kefir crystals are white and creamy. Both have the same health benefits and can be consumed by people of all ages. Because the milk Kefir contains bacteria that can break down lactose, it can be consumed by people who have lactose intolerance.
Water Kefir crystals are much cheaper than the milk Kefir. These crystals can be mixed with some beverages like water, fruit juices or even coconut water. The majority of people who drink water kefir prefer it plain. If the water kefir is fermented for long periods, the sweetness disappears. Avoid mixing water kefir in ginger ale as it often tastes like frothy beer. One should avoid mixing Kefir with tap water as the chlorine may inactivate the active ingredients like bacteria.
Since water Kefir is free of dairy products, it can be consumed by people who want to avoid d dairy or have lactose intolerance. Further water Kefir is a lighter beverage and is ideal for warm weather to prevent dehydration.
Milk Kefir with its white and large creamy curds can be mixed with cow’s milk, but one can also use milk from the camel, goat or sheep. Some people use coconut milk, almond milk or soy to mix the milk Kefir seeds. Milk Kefir has a strong taste depending on the duration of fermentation. If it is well fermented the taste may be sour and slightly frothy.
What are Uses of Kefir?
Water Kefir can be used in salad dressings, desserts, nondairy smoothies and even Popsicles. One can flavor or mix then in fruit juices and even soda beverages. Milk Kefir can also be consumed as is or it can be flavored. It is also used in salad dressings, smoothies and is an alternative for yogurt, buttermilk, and butter. In Russia, milk Kefir is often used to make cheese Kefir.
Health Benefits of Kefir
There are many health benefits of Kefir. This food can be used to treat and prevent some medical disorders. For people who have irritable bowel syndrome or a sensitive gut, Kefir is an ideal food. Kefir also has antibacterial and antifungal properties and may help decrease the symptoms of an upset stomach. There are reports that Kefir can strengthen bone, enhance blood circulation and lower blood cholesterol and sugar levels. There are even claims that Kefir can suppress appetite by keeping you satiated- thus making it a good choice for people who want to lose weight. Kefir is an excellent source of nourishment for pregnant and breastfeeding women and the elderly. There are also reports that regular consumption of Kefir can decrease allergies and diminish eczema and acne.
How Much Kefir Should One Drink?
While there is no universal dose, most healthy people can safely consume 100-200 ml of Kefir every day. Remember, Kefir is also rich in calories, so you need to watch how much you drink. It is important to know that reliance on any one supplement for good health is not realistic. Thus, at the same time to eat healthy, exercise regularly, discontinue smoking and drink alcohol in moderation.
Where to Buy Kefir?
It is important for consumers to know that because of the high demand for Kefir and its many health benefits, some people have resorted to making artificial Kefir This is not the real natural Kefir and lacks the probiotics. So please do read labels and only buy your product from a reputable dealer.