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

The Dairy Debacle + 4 vegan alternatives

One of the most successful cons out there is that dairy does a body good.

I used to consume copious amounts of it, mistakenly believing I was preventing osteoporosis in later life, that it was good for my overall health.

Dairy products are marketed as high calcium foods that assist in strengthening bones.

However the most ideal foods for bone health are foods that are not only high in calcium, but reduce calcium loss in the body.  Namely… fruit and veg.  Fruit and veg also contain boron, which assists in reducing calcium loss.

Dairy is an acidic food, along with meat, white flour and sugar.  Studies show consumption of an acid-producing diet will lead to four times more bone fractures.

Acidic foods age and degenerate your skin.  Eeps!  Those expensive miracle creams are wasted if your diet is highly acidic.

Have you ever wondered when you’re feeling under the weather, why the doc tells you to up your liquids (clear soups, herbal teas, water) and steer clear of dairy?

Two reasons.

In order for our bodies to digest lactose (lactose is the sugar found in dairy), we need an enzyme called lactase.  From when we are 18 months to 4 years old, up to 95% of this enzyme is lost.  So put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Undigested lactose + acidic nature of milk = breeding ground for intestinal bad bacteria = higher cancer risk

Dairy products produce mucus, and the body’s natural self-defense mechanism is to develop a cold or an ‘allergy’.

Dairy does not deter osteoporosis.  Its high protein content leaches calcium from the body by sucking calcium sources from the bones to balance the pH in our blood.  Foods even lower in calcium such as meat and eggs cause even greater losses.  This explains why blood tests show you have adequate amounts of calcium if your diet is based around dairy and meat.  It is no coincidence the countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis (USA, Sweden, Finland) are the biggest consumers of meat, milk and other animal foods.

A host of other problems have been linked to the consumption of dairy: acne, anaemia, anxiety, arthritis, ADHD, autism, cancers of the breast, prostate and ovaries, fibromyglia, heartburn, indigestion, IBS, joint pain, colic, obesity, heart disease, diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

It’s not all doom or gloom though, folks.  The good news is there are plenty of alternatives.  It’s all about substitution!

DAIRY ALTERNATIVES

I thought I would feel deprived until I discovered the joys of milk alternatives such as almond milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk… even mung bean milk!  Same story with cream and condensed milk – swap over to coconut, nut or tofu based substitutes.

When it comes to yogurt, I am about to experiment with making my own.  If you can’t be bothered then COYO is delish, found in many health food stores and some IGAs.

Cheese – There are plenty of ready-made alternatives out there whether you want.  Brands such as Notzarella, Vegusto and Tofutti are pretty tasty.

As for icecream, buy sorbet or get creative by making your own.  There’s so many recipes out there, with most of them being comprised of some sort of non-dairy milk, tofu, or frozen bananas.  Coco Luscious makes a range of ready-made non-dairy ice creams which are *to die for*

Below are some tried and tested recipes for dairy alternatives.

Basic Almond Milk

1 c raw almonds (soaked overnight in filtered water)
3 c filtered water
optional: agave or stevia, vanilla extract, cinnamon

Discard soaking water and rinse nuts.  Place nuts in blender and add filtered water.  Blitz until smooth.  Add sweetener to taste (optional).

Place a bowl on kitchen counter.  Slowly pour milk into a nut milk bag and catch liquid in bowl.  Squeeze nut milk bag gently until no liquid remains.  What’s leftover in the bag is almond meal you can use for crackers, cakes, cookies, replacing flour etc.  Leftover almond meal can be frozen for later use.

homemade almond milk

homemade almond milk

Pour strained milk into glass mason jars and store in the fridge.  Keeps for 3-4 days.

Tip:  A favourite of mine is using hazelnuts.  Smells rich and chocolatey.  Add cacao powder and 1 tsp vanilla essence to make chocolate milk.

Raw Cashew Cheeze

1 1/2 cups raw cashews (soaked)
1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons water
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice or vinegar
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
freshly ground pepper
Drain nuts and place them food processor or blender. Add 1/4 cup water and the rest of the ingredients, and mix until thoroughly puréed, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl every so often.

Add a little more water if necessary and blend again to adjust the consistency; the cheese will get a little more solid as it sets.

Transfer to a bowl, cover, and let stand somewhere cool for 24 hours before placing in the fridge, keeps for 5 days.

Rawmesan (Parmesan alternative)

1 cup almonds
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
sea salt

Blitz almonds in food processor until crumbly and resembling grated parmesan.  Add in nutritional yeast and sea salt to taste.

Sprinkle on top of pastas, pizza, salads…  Refrigerate unused rawmesan in airtight container.

Raw Pistachio Icecream

1 ripe avocado
4 chopped frozen ripe bananas
2 tablespoons agave
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
1/4 cup pistachios

Throw everything in a food processor with the ‘S’ blade.  Process until smooth.  Scoff!

Happy experimenting 🙂