Do you suffer from digestive disorders, cramps, allergies, bloating, diarrhea, inflammation, skin irritations, and headaches? Have you ever heard of kefir or kombucha? Are you wondering how fermented foods can be important for digestion? Fermented foods can be just as effective as taking probiotic supplements and digestive enzymes, and can be cheaper and healthier. Learn more.
WHAT IS KEFIR?
Kefir is a fermented milk drink alternatively called ‘milk kefir’, or ‘búlgaros’, made with kefir “grains” (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter) and has its origins in the Caucasus Mountains. It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat or sheep milk with kefir grains. Kefir was traditionally made in bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed. Kefir is similar to yogurt in that it is a fermented milk product that contains probiotics and can be substituted in several recipes. WHY ARE FERMENTED FOODS HEALTHY?
Fermented foods are rich in enzymes, full of probiotics, improve digestion and have high vitamin content. Our bodies contain both bad and good bacteria, and there are many benefits that result when we have more good bacteria than bad. Probiotics are anti-inflammatory and improve our health in many ways, in that they can:
- Help cure allergies
- Prevent food poisoning
- Reduce infections
- Relieve skin irritations
- Relieve diarrhea
- Improve digestion
- Treat Kidney Stones
- Improve cholesterol
- Improve brain function
How do you know what your bacteria content is like? Well, if you have a lot of bad bacteria, you’ll likely have some of the following symptoms: food allergies, seasonal allergies, indigestion, headaches, or cramps.
HOW TO MAKE MILK KEFIR
Milk kefir is a close relative to yogurt and is easy to make. Simply add kefir grains to milk (raw or pasteurized) and let it sit for 48 hours. Kefir grains are a colony of probiotic cultures that digest milk, turning it into kefir. Some people who have difficulty digesting milk have no problem with kefir due to the additional enzymes and because so much of the lactose is digested by the kefir cultures. If you want to create your own kefir, drop the grains in a jar of milk, close the lid and leave on the counter until the milk thickens and sours slightly (usually 24 to 48 hours).
HOW TO KNOW YOUR KEFIR IS READY
Here are some things to look for to make sure it’s ready:
- When you open your fermentation jar you get a loud pop and get splattered with kefir ‘spray’
- The kefir smells yeasty, like beer
- The milk has thickened and looks gelatinous but still fairly thin when stirred
- The milk will have an effervescent taste – like a ‘milk soda’
Once it is cultured, the grains are strained out and ready to use in the next batch (or you can put them in the refrigerator to hibernate until you are ready to use them again). They multiply over time, so even if you start with a small amount, they will grow and soon you will be able to share with your friends. The longer you allow the milk to culture, the more sour it will become. After you strain your kefir, it’s ready to consume! But it can be stored in the refrigerator until you are ready for it. Another way to consume milk kefir, especially if you aren’t accustomed to the taste, is to add some frozen fruit and stevia or honey and blend it in the blender to make a smoothie.
- In between batches, you can allow your grains to hibernate in the refrigerator for about a month. It may take 2-3 batches for them to fully wake up after hibernation.
- If you need them to hibernate for longer than a month, you can dehydrate them.
- You do not need to rinse your grains between batches, but if you do, use super clean, filtered, non-chlorinated water. Contaminated water will kill your grains.
- They will grow & multiply.
- When your grains have grown, you can split them and share them with friends and family.
Traditionally, home fermentation of kefir was a mechanism to preserve milk before the usage of refrigeration. Fermented foods are considered to be less likely to cause food-borne illness due to the fermentation process. The cultures help to kill or inhibit the growth of illness-causing microorganisms. The practice of milk preservation is easily accomplished using pasteurization and refrigeration, which allows kefir to be enjoyed for its flavor.
PRECAUTIONS WITH KEFIR
Few foodborne illnesses have been reported in relation to kefir, so it is considered to be relatively safe. Properly fermented kefir (pH less than 4.5) inhibits many pathogens, but not forEscherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp., and Yersinia enterocolitica. In order to prevent the development of these pathogens, take care to:
- Use only pasteurized milk
- Use quality kefir grains from a reputable source.
- Because of the small risk of pathogen growth in home fermented kefir, it is NOT recommended for those with weakened immune systems, e.g. pregnant women, the elderly, the very young and the chronically ill.
- Pasteurization of kefir before consumption will kill the microorganisms listed above.
Making your own homemade kefir provides many benefits. It is more potent and contains more probiotic strains than store-bought kefir. Another benefit is that homemade kefir grains are reusable, so you can use them repeatedly and share them with others. Homemade kefir is also a frugal choice, because you won’t have to buy expensive probiotic supplements if you eat kefir and kombucha.
WHAT IS KOMBUCHA?
Kombucha is any of a variety of fermented, sweetened black or green tea drinks that are commonly consumed for their unsubstantiated health benefits. Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using a “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast” referred to as a SCOBY. Actual contributing bacterial components of SCOBY cultures differ, but the yeast component includes the probiotic fungus, Saccharomyces and other species, and the bacterial component usually includes Gluconacetobacterxylinus as an agent to oxidize yeast-produced alcohols. It is made with tea, sugar, a SCOBY and a starter from a previous batch. The sugar and caffeine is used during the fermentation process so there is very little in the final product. Kombucha is brewed (or fermented) over a course of 7-31 days. The final product is naturally carbonated making it a popular drink.
CANCER RESEARCH AND KOMBUCHA
In the first half of the 20th century, cancer was on the rise, so in Russia and Germany widespread research was done on kombucha’s health benefits, mostly because of a push to find a cure for the rising rates. Russian scientists revealed that specific regions in their country were seemingly untouched by cancer and they hypothesized that the kombucha, called “tea kvass” was the reason behind the regionalized healthiness. So, they began a series of experiments which not only verified the hypothesis, but began to pinpoint exactly what it is within kombucha that continues to be so beneficial.
German scientists begin to make their additions to the research, but the Cold War demanded research and development in other fields. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that information regarding the effects of kombucha first came to the U.S. There are limited amounts of research done on the beverage, but what has been done has shown that many of the nutrients and acids it contains in large quantities (such as B-vitamins, antioxidants, and glucaric acids) are extremely beneficial.
THE BENEFITS OF DRINKING KOMBUCHA
Here is a list of healing properties from drinking kombucha:
- Probiotics create healthy bacteria
- Alkalizes the body creating balance with internal pH
- Detoxifies the liver improving mood
- Increases metabolism
- Improves digestion to remove toxins
- Rebuilds connective tissue to help with arthritis, gout, asthma, and rheumatism
- Cancer prevention
- Alleviates constipation
- Boosts energy and can help with chronic fatigue
- Reduces blood pressure
- Relieves headaches and migraines
- Reduces pain from kidney stones
- High in antioxidants to destroy free-radicals that cause cancer
- High in polyphenols
- Improves eyesight
- Heals eczema and can even be applied topically to soften the skin
- Prevents arteriosclerosis
- Speeds healing of ulcers
- Helps clear up candida and yeast infections
- Aids in healthy cell regeneration
- Reduces amount of gray hair
- Lowers glucose levels by preventing spiking from eating
Experimenting with kefir and kombucha can be a fun and rewarding experience. If you have any luck making your own, be sure to let us know. Best of luck in your journey to better health!
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Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. 2nd Ed. Edward R. Farnsworth, Editor. CRC Press, 2008.
Kirsten. “Milk Kefir-Simple Instructions.” Cheerfully Imperfect. WordPress. 11 June, 2013.
Michaelis, Kristen. “Kombucha Health Benefits.” Food Renegade.
Nummer, Brian A. “Fermented Foods: Kefir.” National Center for Home Food Preservation. November 2004.
This article was written by Jessica Johnson. Jessica is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Jessica has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in Management with an Economics and International Studies Minor from the University of Central Misouri (UCM). She is currently working as Assistant Manager and Sales Representative in Pacific Grove, California. She was Vice President of Delta Epsilon Iota Honor Society from 2011-2012 and is a sales representative for Young Living Essential Oils Company.
Jessica is passionate about holistic health and healing. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at http://www.montereybayholistic.com. Photos images: http://www.Pixabay.com
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