Kefir--the royal path to gut health


Hello, Health Conscious Friends:

Today I want to encourage you to include kefir in your diet. About 5-6 months ago, I read an article on about kefir . His article sums up the benefits of kefir. For me what made me jump on the kefir band wagon was the fact that kefir, unlike yogurt, has various bacterial and yeast (good) strains that can colonize the intestine. Yogurt has beneficial bacterial, but it moves through your system in a couple of days, while kefir can live in the gut and continue providing benefits.

If you have been following alternative health care, you probably are aware of the importance of probiotics. You want lots of beneficial bacterial and as many strains as possible in your gut. These probiotics can help maintain the health of the gut wall and help digest food into easier to absorb nutrients. Because your gut comprises what is called the "enteric nervous system", a healthy gut can most definitely help with moods and overall mental health. The idea is to have the benefit of "good" bacteria as well as crowd out the pathogenic bacteria and other residents. I would like to do a full blog just on probiotics and intestinal flora, but today, I just want to get down to basics and show you how I make my kefir.

You can get your starter "grains," which are not grains at all, but the concentrated colonies of kefir bacterial/yeast colony from a friend or simply order them. I got mine from a friend after she bought a starter kit from eBay (Texas Grains). After a couple of weeks she had so much kefir grains she was giving them to her chickens. So you probably won't need more than one pack since you can reuse them over and over.

There are differences in vitality among the various strains and certainly it may make a difference what substrate you use. My friend uses goats milk and I use half and half, but you can use any type of milk, even coconut milk. There are kefir strains which work well with water and sugar. For that fermentation, you can add herbs to get something that is supposed to taste like root beer. So far I have not tried that yet, but it sounds intriguing.

When you get the "grains" they smell like a very mild cheese, almost like mozarella--nothing unpleasant at all.

Here's how I make kefir, with some comments:

1. Use plastic, silicon, glass or porcelain tools or containers: I got a silicon rubber spatula at the dollar store and a large plastic sieve. Do not use metal, kefir colony may be adversely affected by the contact which tends to be toxic for bacteria.

2. Use about 2-6 tablespoons of grains per quart mason jar or equivalent. Smaller amounts need longer initial time to grow into the milk or milk-like or based substrate, while larger amounts can very quickly (i.e. over night) propagate through out the milk.

3. Cover the jar with a paper towel and put a rubber band around it. This will keep out the possible bugs that can get attracted.

4. I live in San Francisco Bay area and it tends on the cool side, even in Summer. I found that a little warmth works best, but everyone will have different idea of what best kefir tastes like. I use an inexpensive heater pad set on low. I have a friend who uses the oven with just the pilot light on. If your house is in the 70's most of time, you may not need any heat at all. I do not know what the upper heat limit is for kefir, but it appears to continue to grow, although much slower, even in the refrigerator (well, at least the strain that I have been using). The idea is that the kefir grows fast enough to overwhelm any unwanted bacteria.

5. In the environment I just described, after about one full day, perhaps 1.5 days, the clear whey may separate from the milk solids. That usually indicates that it is close to being ready. You will want to stir the kefir at least once per day and for sure when the whey separates, for when it does it can pop out of the top of the jar and dribble down on the counter. That's why I use a flat bowl under the jar. Also, do not overfill the jar with milk initially.

6. I tend to prefer a tangy kefir. Tangy means it is slightly acidic and means that the sugars have been fermented. You may prefer it less tangy, thus will want to "harvest" the kefir sooner. To harvest, simply stir the kefir and pour into a large plastic sieve held over a bowel.

7. Use a spatula to wipe the kefir up against the sieve sides until all the kefir has gone through the sieve. You will see that near the end, there will be very noticeable "grains" in the bottom of the sieve. They may be fine (like mine) or very large (like my friend who uses goat's milk). Transfer about 1/4 cup to another clean jar and add milk to start the process over again.

8. Kefir keeps in the refrigerator for over a week and is still very active. You can use just the kefir itself to start a new batch. After 6 months I have not had to replace my strain, nor do I notice any diminishing vitality of the strain. It does change from time to time, i.e. thick and smooth to more watery and then back to thick and smooth, but it still tastes great! I'd say it tastes like Greek style yogurt. The half and half once in the refrigerator has a consistency of sour cream (that does not have the thickener additives).

Personally, I add it to my lunch "smoothy", which is mostly a protein-lecithin-brewer's yeast mixture I got from Dr. Kristal, DDS, when I learned Metabolic Typing. At some point I will blog about that "smoothy," too.

Yes, there is saturated fat in my half and half kefir, but for my metabolic type this works very well. I tend to be not hungry for 5-7 hours after having it and it really evens out my energy. I have noticed a dramatic change in my ability to handle stress, too, since starting to use kefir. I did not have bad digestion before, but my gut is more calm since adding kefir to my diet.

Try it, you'll like it!

Best of health to you,

Chuck Belanger

Below are pictures showing the process.

Keifer 1 Kefir jar about to be harvested with heat pad and shallow bowl to catch any over flow.

Keifer 2Here you can see the whey separating in the lower part of the kefir. It's nearly ready to harvest!

Keifer 4 Using the plastic sieve with silicon spatula to separate the kefir from the "grains."

Keifer 5 Adding grains to new batch.

Keifer 6 Adding half and half to start the process again.Keifer 8 The finished product ready for the refrigerator.