Kefir is like yogurt, frequently made from cultured milk. Yogurt, however, is made by fermenting bacteria; kefir is made by fermenting bacteria and yeast.
We’ve been enjoying kefir since the 70s. Since the pandemic began, I’ve been putting a cup or so of kefir in my morning smoothies.
Kefir has traditionally been made from milk, and it seems to have started in what is now Russia; it has since spread throughout Europe, Asia, and the world.
Kefir comes from a Turkish word meaning “good feeling,” and drinking kefir does, indeed, help you feel good about facing the day.
Kefir is important to human health for several reasons. One of kefir’s main benefits is that it contains probiotics, the live microorganisms that promote intestinal flora and help support the immune system.
Kefir, like fermented products including pickles and kimchee, promotes gut health and immune response. In the era of Covid, maintaining immunity is more important than ever, so we’ve been going through the kefir rather quickly. Sometimes we’ve gone to the grocery store primarily to pick up kefir – and, yes, it is ironic that we go to a place where we could catch Covid to get the kefir that helps the body fight Covid.
So, a few months ago, we decided to avoid grocery stores all together and make our own kefir, which turns out to be extremely easy.
To start the kefir culture, you put kefir grains into milk (we buy gallons of milk in advance and freeze it until we need it). Kefir grains are inexpensive: a bag is available on Amazon for around $10, and from that bag you can generate dozens of batches of kefir: just add the grains to milk, let it sit around the kitchen for 1-2 days, and you have kefir. You can then reuse a half-cup of every batch of kefir to generate more.
The advantages of making your own kefir are that it costs less than store-bought, is every bit as good as store-bought, and if you plan with just a little care, you won’t need to make extra trip to the store (and that’s a benefit whether or not there’s a plague happening).
Milk kefir, pound for pound, contains more protein than an egg, and some of the health benefits claimed for kefir are that it’s anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic. It is also believed to lower cholesterol and it tastes good, slightly sour, creamy, and as sweet as the fruit you put in it.
Here’s the thing, though: there has not been a lot of research on which probiotics are responsible for which healthful benefits. So, it might be wise to drink kefirs produced from different sources, just to ensure you’re getting a balanced diet of micronutrients.
We’ve been making most of our kefir from milk, but now we’ve started also using coconut water, which yields a kefir that is much thinner than milk kefir and has a slightly salty, almost grassy flavor profile. The coconut water kefir contains different probiotics than the milk kefir, so drinking it is a way of ensuring that we get more of the probiotics we need for gut health and, thus, increased immunity to Covid.
We’re also experimenting with nut milks, like the “Better than Milk” brand of almond milk, which is dairy free and good for people (like me) who are watching their cholesterol. Nut milks seem to create a more liquid kefir, which is better for smoothies.
With vaccinations on the way, and as the Village and the nation move toward full recovery, I’m going to continue drinking kefir every morning. It’s an easy safety step to take, it makes my smoothie smoother, helps protect the body from infection…and, not incidentally, it tastes good.