Kefir: Foundation Drink No. 3

I KEEP SEEING THIS IN THE STORE

That’s right, you can now buy “kefir” at the store! Liberté Organics has a version in a plastic jug that you can drink, and it’s also flavored with strawberry or blueberry. Try this if you are new to kefir. It’s just super sweet like YOP! Enjoy, preferably last thing at night before bed.

Once you are ready to graduate to the next level, try buying a better commercial version. Here in Ontario we have Pinehedge Farms, which makes a UNHOMOGENIZED WHOLE MILK version in a glass jar. They also have a low fat version but I do not encourage low fat products.

But I put “kefir” in quotes up above for a reason. The commercial “kefir” that you buy is made from a powdered compilation of beneficial bacteria and yeast cultures – usually containing about 9 strains combined. This is “better” than yoghurt, which usually only contains one or two varieties (Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus). Just as an aside, there is a story going around that yoghurt cultures are destroyed in the stomach and never make it to the intestines to flourish, but this study suggests otherwise. The cultures in commercial “kefir” are great, and like the yoghurt cultures, they make it through the digestive tract and live to colonize the intestines. The Pinehedge “kefir” is a fantastic product, thick, creamy and great tasting, and I would be happy if you ate a 1/2 cup every night before bed so that it can colonize you in your sleep.

WHY BOTHER MAKING MY OWN KEFIR THEN?

As much as I love the Pinehedge “kefir” (or similar glass-bottled whole milk unhomogenized products), they probably don’t have more than 10 strains of bacteria in their makeup. Whereas homemade kefir from “grains” contains 29 strains of bacteria and 27 strains of yeast. Want to see the whole list? Though please note that this isn’t a more = better contest. Actually, change that. It most certainly IS A MORE = BETTER CONTEST as far as intestinal bacteria is concerned. I mean, you want more of the “good bacteria” certainly and less of the “bad bacteria”, but what you are especially looking for is diversity. This is like the rainforest – lots of options give you adaptability but a monoculture or fewer species of bacteria limit your immune system’s ability to deal with all the environmental factors you throw at it. But even beyond this great diversity of bacteria and yeasts, homemade kefir from “grains” derived from the Caucasus Mountains have an even more profound advantage. In fact homemade kefir from these grains is such a very special creation that no commercial enterprise has been able to replicate it, though they have certainly tried and tried. Wikipedia calls kefir a unique “symbiotic consortia of bacteria and yeasts”. And what is most special about these Caucasian grains is that when allowed to ferment on the lactose of dairy milk, they create a substance called kefiran. And it’s all about the kefiran.

KEFIRAN

Kefiran is the polysaccharide that holds the “grains” of kefir together, and is created as a result of the unique relationships between kefir’s bacteria and yeasts. Kefiran tested on rats has reduced and eliminated tumors, induced systemic anti-inflammatory response, reduced serum cholesterol levels and suppressed increased blood pressure. In human studies, kefiran had a preventative effect against breast cancer cells without harming the healthy cells,  and it stimulated body cells to produce 14 times more Interferon-beta, a vital glycoprotein excreted by body cells to combat viral infection, and possibly combat cancer cells. Nobody has compiled the research on kefiran better than Kefir Mentor Dom Anfiteatro, who has the most comprehensive guide to kefir that exists, complete with references to every existing study.

But that two-page list of studies is all there is. Are there ongoing large-scale clinical trials on kefiran? Certainly not. There is no money in it as kefiran just cannot be made commercially. It has to be tended, like a pet, and it is very susceptible to changes in temperature, humidity and the ratios of milk to grains. Is this the inexpensive low-tech answer to curing cancer? I don’t know, but it doesn’t cause any harm (unlike all cancer medicines and conventional protocols),  and costs no more than good quality milk, some cool glass jars with flip-tops and a one-time purchase of grains (under $20 unless you can get them from a friend for free).

YEAST, YUK! RIGHT…?

I get it, you just spent  months on a Candida Cleanse to get rid of your yeast overgrowth, which was characterized by sharp pangs in your stomach (intestines) every time you ate too much sugar, and also by an anti-intuitive out of control craving for that same sugar. You cut out sugar, bread, beer, brewer’s yeast, fermented products of all sorts. So how on earth can it be beneficial now to ingest more yeast?

Well the 27 yeasts in kefir are generally “the good yeasts”! And they will fight off “the bad yeasts”(Candida albicons) that are controlling your sugar appetite and leading to yeast overgrowths. For this reason, sometimes when people start taking kefir, the new yeasts cause a die-off of the old yeasts, called a Herxheimer reaction. These dying Candida albicons can produce up to 79 short-term toxins and be kind of unpleasant (headache, fatigue, bloating) until they are all eliminated. One way to avoid this is by initiating your kefir protocol slowly, like a few TBS at night, and then only over a week or two work up to 1/2 cup or more. If you get constipated, you have taken too much too soon.

stovetop kefir

WHAT WILL IT DO FOR ME? BIG PICTURE

People, let’s start with the problems you don’t know you have yet. Consider that all auto-immune diseases start in the gut. Check out the long, long list of auto-immune diseases. You don’t have any yet? Well your mom or your uncle probably does. And I’m sorry to say this but on a Western diet, they’re coming for you. And what about allergies? If your gut health isn’t optimal, meaning if you don’t have the best balance of beneficial bacteria colonizing your intestines, then the walls of your intestines are leaking partially digested foods directly into your blood where they act as toxins. These toxins affect both your psychology and your physiology. There is a name for this occurrence, it’s called the Gut and Psychology (or Physiology) Syndrome – shortened to GAPS, and coined by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Haven’t heard of GAPS yet? Have you heard of Leaky Gut Syndrome? It’s not exactly recognized by the conventional medical establishment, but it is understood to be the pre-cursor to every auto-immune system. Leaky Gut Syndrome is not a side effect that the medical establishment can treat with commercial drugs, so it doesn’t seem very interesting to them, and nor is healing the gut. In our system, a drug comes first and then an illness is discovered and marketed to sell the drug. The economic problem here is that it is drugs themselves, especially antibiotics, that create imbalances in the gut and harm it. But all that is an aside.  I am here to tell you that healing the gut is EVERYTHING.

WHAT WILL IT DO FOR ME? SMALLER PICTURE

Kefir is high in tryptophan, so has a tranquilizing effect on the nervous system and can help you get to sleep as well as ease depression and ADHD. It is easily digested, balances and cleanses the intestines with beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and builds up the immune system. The fermentation process creates complete proteins, reduces carbohydrates by pre-digesting sugars and lactose, boosts levels of B Vitamins – especially B12 and folic acid, and in particular creates the important Vitamin K2.

When you take kefir regularly (I prefer at bedtime when it has the best chance of colonizing the intestines) it will reduce gas, promote regular bowel movements and eliminate bloating and other intestinal issues.

ALREADY CONVINCED? WELL TRY MAKING IT

There are so many great sites online that show you how to make kefir. Let me direct you to Dom’s Kefir-Making Site, where he has step by step instructions with photos. If all that info is too much to handle, look at these simpler instructions at Nourished Kitchen.

WHAT I DO

I use 2 glass flip-top jars for the first fermentation and the second fermentation. I use a steel strainer and a wooden spoon. I use raw (unhomogenized organic whole fat) milk that I get in an alley from a cow that I share (thanks for the hassle, Ontario!). I also use lemon peels and sometimes basil leaves for the second fermentation.

FIRST FERMENTATION: WITH KEFIR GRAINS

  1. Before bed, I put a small handful of kefir grains in a flip-top 1 L jar and fill about 3/4 full (3 cups of milk). This is a very high grains to milk ratio, but I have a lot of grains and not a lot of room to store milk.
  2. I put the sealed jar into a dark cupboard, because that is convenient for me. A countertop is fine. When I remember and pass the cupboard, I give the jar a gentle shake.
  3. In the morning, about 12 hours later, I check the kefir. The milk is usually still runny, and it hasn’t thickened or shown signs of “legs” on the glass when shaken.  I put it back in the cupboard.
  4. Usually between 3pm and 6pm, the kefir has started to look like it is thickening up. But I usually don’t have time to deal with it right away. So I move it to the fridge until bedtime, to slow it down.
  5. At bedtime, let’s say 9 or 10pm, I take the kefir out of the fridge and check again to make sure it is ready. Usually the fridge seems to thicken it a bit more, I think because a different form of bacteria is allowed to propagate at the cooler temperature.
  6. At this point if it is ready (has legs, is thick) I pour it through a strainer into a bowl, stirring with a spoon to separate the grains from the kefir.
  7. I put the kefir grains back into the same flip-top jar without rinsing them or the jar (I rinse the jar every 3 or 4 turns), and fill back up with milk, then put the jar back into the cupboard to repeat at step 2 above. This jar is called THE FIRST FERMENT.

THE SECOND FERMENTATION: WITHOUT KEFIR GRAINS

  1. I pour the freshly strained kefir from the bowl into a second glass 1L flip-top jar, and add about a 1/4 of a lemon peel. Sometimes I add a basil leaf as well, or bee pollen and royal jelly. This jar is called THE SECOND FERMENT.
  2. I seal up this jar and put it into the cupboard next to the first ferment. And then I go to sleep.
  3. In the morning, I check both jars and maybe shake them a bit. I am checking for thickness, legs, or separation.
  4. Usually between 3pm -6pm, both the first ferment and the second ferment are ready or almost ready, so I put them both in the fridge. Again, the fridge just makes them a little more drinkable to me, a little smoother and creamier.
  5. At bedtime, I take out the second ferment and check it for doneness. Now is a great time to drink it! It should be bubbly like champagne, slightly tart from the sourness of the milk, zesty from the lemon and/or basil, and mild (to my taste anyway). It should not taste or smell revolting or overly sour. It should definitely not taste or smell like rancid milk.
  6. At this point I usually rinse or don’t rinse the second ferment jar, and pour the strained kefir from the first ferment into it. Etc.

grainsIt’s great when it all works like this, because I like to be able to drink my kefir at night, and do all the work at the same time. However sometimes it’s just not ready in time, and I have to wait until morning. Sometimes I wait until morning and then it has gone too far – characterized by separating into curds and whey. (If this happens, you can then strain the kefir through a cheesecloth and make cream cheese from the curds and drink the whey separately). Sometimes if it has only separated a little, you can put the jar in the fridge and it will sort of “come back together”. The fridge seems to smooth out a lot of human error, I find.

A NOTE ON JARS

You can do this in mason jars, so long as you don’t make them too tight. The fermentation process produces CO2 which can cause the jar to explode. But the problem with a loose mason jar lid is that it also lets random yeasts and bacterias in, which changes the final product (can make it extra sour etc.). The best results happen in an air-lock jar where the carbon dioxide can get out but nothing can get in. You can see every method of jar tested here, on 28-day sauerkraut. Even better results happen when there is a bit of pressure on the jar, but not enough to burst it. Which means you don’t have to spend big money on a fancy Pickl-it jar, as any old Fido or European brand of glass flip-top jars will do. Ikea jars, not so sure. Let’s leave the Chinese glass in China.

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6 thoughts on “Kefir: Foundation Drink No. 3

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  6. Keener says:

    I have started fermenting recently and read what seemed like a million articles about anaerobic environments for ferments. As I am a student I could not afford Pickl-its or the equivalent the shipping alone to bring them into Canada is ridiculous! I stumbled backwards onto a solution that I would like to share, and it is mega cheap and allows you to still use mason jars! I bought a bung ( a rubber stopper with a hole) and an airlock from a make your own wine store (I used Wine Kitz) the size for a regular mouth mason jar is a size 12 bung and make sure it had a hole in it! Then you can get an airlock that will fit into the bung and you have made yourself an anaerobic vessel I had my doubts at first about the quality of the seal but then I did some research and the LCBO has approved these seals for the make your own wine stores in Ontario so I feel comfortable with using them. Beyond that results do not lie, I have basically perfect fool proof and high quality ferments every time. If you are are looking for genuine Biormiolo Rocco Fido jars they can be found at Hendrix restaurant supply stores. I do however, use the IKEA jars for the most part to store my ferments, and I did a bit of an amateur test and the seal proved to be fairly air tight quite similar to the genuine Fido jar. The grand total for the “DIY airlock system” is roughly $5. I think it is well worth the cost I have worked with the Wine Kitz in Pickering and the owner Bob is a sweet older man who is only too happy to order in the bungs. Also as long as you have a measurement of the mouth of the jar you want to use they can order other bungs as well, I have size 11 which I can use in recycled jam jars. I also got a smaller size 6 bungs to make my water and milk kefir with as well because it fits the 1 gallon glass jugs I use I hope that this helps anyone who is stressing about anaerobic and quality ferments!

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