Kefir is a beverage created after fermentation of kefir grains in a liquid. Sometimes other ingredients are added to assist in the fermentation, to feed the grains or to alter the flavor.
Two distinct types of kefir grains are used for the fermentation process: water kefir grains and milk kefir grains. They look very similar, but milk kefir grains are a deeper white color, while water kefir grains are more translucent. The milk grains are used in cow, goat and sheep milk as well as non-dairy varieties like almond and soy milk. Water kefir grains are used in spring water, mineral water, well water, coconut water, etc.
Kefir can be consumed as is, added to smoothies or used to make kefir cheese. Some kefir can even be fermented longer to create an alcoholic beverage.
The primary reason people consume kefir is to increase their levels of probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Probiotics are destroyed along with the harmful bacteria when antibiotics are used (or misused), so it has become more and more important to intentionally add them back into your diet.
Kefir grains are a combination of healthy bacteria and yeasts that transfer into the beverage during fermentation. Kefir assists in cleansing the intestines and providing high levels of vitamin B12, minerals and complete proteins. It is often referred to as “a balanced and nourishing food” and is said to contribute to a healthy immune system.
Kefir is often recommended to help with autoimmune disorders, stomach complications, chronic fatigue syndrome and cancer. It is also a great source of calcium; a 175 grams serving of kefir provides about 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance, which is vital for healthy bones and teeth.
As for mental health, kefir boasts a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system, which can potentially benefit those who suffer from depression, sleep disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Kefir beverages can be purchased commercially; however, it is very simple and inexpensive to make kefir at home. It just requires some grains or even a starter kit, a glass jar and the liquid, and 12-48 hours to culture. Once cultured, you can add sugars, blended fruit or juice for flavoring. Luckily, there are dairy and dairy-free choices available, so lactose-intolerant individuals can benefit as well.
Michelle Bosmier is a passionate nutrition expert, author and health journalist with vast experience in dieting and wellness, as well as a committed ‘high’ raw foodist and raw-foods researcher. Michelle has co-created RawFoodHealthWatch.com, a resource base dedicated to unraveling the perks of raw foodism, sharing recipes and healthy alternative dieting tips.