Kefir: The hush-hush nutritional gem of the Caucasian Region

First off, I bet a few of you are wondering what the heck is kefir?

Kefir is a probiotic drink made with either kefir grains or a powdered kefir starter culture.  There are two types of grains, milk kefir and water kefir.  Milk (dairy) kefir grains are (duh!) used with milks such as goats milk, coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk.  Water kefir is used with sugar water, fruit juice or coconut water.

Kefir grains are comprised of bacteria and yeast existing in a symbiotic relationship.  NB:  It is not an actual ‘grain’ such as wheat or oat,  ‘grain’ merely describes the appearance of the culture.  Think cottage cheese.  It looks very similar!

milk kefir grains

milk kefir grains

The dominant micro-organisms in kefir are Saccharomyces kefir, Torula kefir, Lactobacillus caucasicus, Leuconnostoc species and Lactic Streptococci.  These beneficial micro-organisms are what makes kefir stand out from virtually all other cultured milk products.  Typical cultured milk and yoghurt products on the market today usually use only one, and rarely more than three species in the culturing process.  Furthermore, the heat-treating manufacturing process characteristic of these products kills the beneficial live ferments.

Centuries old kefir was first discovered when the shepherds of the Caucasus mountains noticed the fresh milk they transported in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into a tarty beverage.

Mystery surrounds kefir as legend has it that kefir grains were gifted to the Caucasus people from Mohammed, who instructed them on how to use the grains.  Mohammed forbade them from teaching others how to prepare kefir, or passing kefir grains to anyone else, because they would supposedly lose their ‘magical strength.’  This may explain why kefir grains and their preparation are shrouded in such secrecy.  Check out the historical tale involving a beautiful woman, Irina Sakharova, who reportedly enticed the then-prince of Russia into giving her kefir grains.

Ferments (sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh et al) are said to be an essential part of overall nutrition. These ‘super-metabolizers’  assist in gut health, increase digestability of foods, minimise constipation, preserve foods, and increase nutrient assimilation.

Kefir’s Health Benefits

New York Times best-selling author Dr Perricone is also a renowned healthy aging expert and dermatologist.  He rates kefir as one of his Top 10 Superfoods, reporting the drink has been “famously credited with the extraordinary longevity of people in the Caucasus.  Hospitals in the former Soviet Union use kefir—especially when no modern medical treatment is available—to treat conditions ranging from atherosclerosis, allergic disease, metabolic and digestive disorders and tuberculosis to cancer and gastrointestinal disorders.

A number of studies conducted to date have documented kefir’s ability to stimulate the immune system, enhance lactose digestion, and inhibit tumors, fungi and pathogens— including the bacteria that cause most ulcers. This makes a lot of sense as scientists have since discovered that most ulcers are caused by an infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori and not spicy food, stomach acid or stress, as physicians erroneously believed for years.”

Veering off the traditional dessert route, this take combines the tartness of homemade coconut kefir with the sweetness of mangoes.  I had chopped mango stored in the freezer already, due to a buying frenzy in the summer months!  You can use whatever fruit is in season.

The chia seeds thicken the mixture into a pudding or custard consistency, and reminds me of the sago pudding served in Chinese restaurants during yum cha.

coconut + mango + chia

coconut + mango + chia

Coconut Kefir Chia Pudding

500ml homemade coconut milk kefir drink
handful of diced frozen mangoes
heaped tbs of chia seeds (how many tbs depends how many puddings you want to make)
stevia, to taste

Mix chia seeds and stevia with coconut kefir.

Pour approx 150ml of coconut chia mixture in each serving glass or bowl.

Drop in a few diced frozen mangoes in each glass.

Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to thicken.

Optional: decorate with drizzles of agave and some fresh mint leaves to garnish.

Coconut Kefir

2 cups coconut milk
1/4 cup milk kefir grains

I simply made the coconut kefir drink by combining approx 1/4 cup milk kefir grains with 2 cups coconut milk.

This was left to ferment in a tightly closed glass jar for 24 hours (in the pantry).

I then strained the milk kefir grains and put the fermented milk in the fridge, reusing the kefir grains for another batch.

If it’s too tart for your tastebuds, you can add some agave or honey to the strained milk.

The resulting taste is very similar to the drinking yoghurts widely available in Europe.

Took these babies to a friend’s house for dinner where it brought back all-too-distant memories of sun, sand, surf and mango daiquiris!

tropical kefir pudding

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