Saturday, 4 January 2014

kefir the magic elixir

Kefir is an incredible magic food which comes into being through the symbiotic activities of three living groups: humans, grazing animals and beneficial micro-organisms. The name 'kefir' itself means 'good feeling', an apt name as it contains a lot of tryptophan from which serotonin, the well-being biochemical, is made.

Kefir can be thought of as a kind of powerful yoghurt but with some significant advantages. It is the most powerfully probiotic food or supplement that we know of. It actively repopulates the gut, laying down a healthy mucus layer that micro-flora can flourish in, supporting the digestive and immune system.

The culture is so powerful that, unlike yoghurt, it can successfully compete with all the micro-organisms that naturally exist in milk and also it will work at room temperature. This means that, unlike with yoghurt, the milk does not have to be heated to make it and so the nutritional components in the milk remain undamaged. This is great because it allows us to take full advantage of the nutrition in dairy milk, for example the fat soluble vitamins A (retinol), D3 and K2. Also it avoids the changes to the proteins and sugars in milk which can cause problems.

The kefir culture, which transforms animal milks into a supremely nourishing drink, is actually a mixture of numerous kinds of friendly bacteria and yeasts. Our bodies are really whole ecosystems and ideally our digestive tracts contain ten times more friendly micro-organisms than we have cells in our bodies; these support a healthy immune system and brain function. The kefir culture itself is potentially immortal – if properly looked after and fed with milk, it can live indefinitely. The liquid kefir that it makes is a preserved living food and can keep for months. We prefer to store it in a cool place but this is not necessary. If it is stored in a warm place secondary fermentation in the bottle will take place so you may want to check that too much pressure is not building up over time.

The particular nutritive properties of kefir are numerous. The culture rebalances the amino acids in animal milk making them more suitable for humans. In particular, as already mentioned, it increases the amount of tryptophan which is the raw material from which serotonin, the well-being biochemical, is made. Tryptophan tends to be lacking in modern diets as it is easily damaged by cooking. Kefir contains ample amounts of B vitamins including B12. Acetylcholine in it improves sleep and is good for memory, intelligence, learning, enthusiasm and general mood. Kefir also contains lecithin which helps in the assimilation of fats. It contains 'right-rotating' lactic acid (as opposed to 'left-rotating' lactic acid found in other yoghurts) which revives cells.

One of the great aspects of kefir is that it allows us to take advantage of the nutrition in raw milk whilst avoiding some of the potential allergenic problems of dairy products. The culture breaks down the lactose into lactic acid and the casein into beneficial peptides. If kefir is made with Jersey milk (which ours is) then the additional allergenic problems of modern milk are further avoided.  Jersey cows along with Guernsey, Asian and African cows are a traditional breed which produce predominantly A2 milk which is  much more suitable for human consumption than the allergenic A1 type milk  produced by modern breeds of cows. In A1 milk the amino acid proline is replaced by histadine which breaks off and creates a rogue form of casomorphine. The cows that produce the organic milk that we use are grass fed for most of the year and when possible in winter. It is also interesting to note that kefir can break down pesticides.

Added to all this, kefir has an unusual, delicious and acquired taste. When bottled,  it undergoes a secondary fermentation and becomes slightly fizzy - the 'champagne of raw dairy'. You need to open it carefully – occasionally it can bubble over the top of the bottle.

Using kefir

Kefir can be made into a mild soft cheese. Simply pour into a muslin bag (for example the type used for making seed and nut milks) and hang over a container to catch the whey. Leave for 24 hours and you have kefir cheese in the bag. You can use this to make raw cheesecakes.

To make kefir cream simply leave the kefir in a jar and let it separate out and scoop the cream off the top. You can use the whey that is left behind too to inoculate vegetable ferments. Sometimes the kefir is already separated out in the bottle this way. If you want to mix it up you can just shake the bottle. Be careful when you open it after doing this as it will make it more fizzy!

Kefir is delicious drunk by itself but you can also mix in superfood powders and fruit etc according to taste. One of our favourite foods to add is yacon, either as the yacon root powder or yacon syrup; they contain prebiotics, indigestible sugars and fibres which act as food for beneficial micro-organisms in the gut. Dried noni is also a great addition as it facilitates the absorption of tryptophan.

Making kefir

Kefir can be made from almost any kind of milk – cows’, goat’s, sheep’s, soy, coconut, nut milks and seed milks – but not rice or oat milk as they are quite different. It is much easier to make kefir with animal milks and this is what the culture really needs to feed on.  If you make it with nut or seed milks then you need to sweeten the milk for example with blended in soaked dried fruit and you may have to feed the culture itself with animal milk from time to time.  Also the culture thrives best on raw milk, you can make kefir with pasteurised milk and this will help add life-force to your milk but it is tastier and more nutritious with raw milk and the culture does better.

So...you just put the culture (it looks a bit like cottage cheese and is different to the drink which is made with it) into the raw milk in an airtight glass jar (a kilner type jar is ideal). The process is anaerobic (happens better without oxygen). Metal can damage kefir if it touches it. Plastic is no good for any period of time as the kefir, being acidic will slightly corrode the plastic into the kefir. Just leave at room temperature for about 24 hours, strain with a plastic sieve and use the liquid that drains out for eating, drinking or recipes. Store the liquid in the fridge until you use it. Clean the jar with hot water and put the lumpy bits (culture) back into the jar. You can rinse the lumpy bits with lukewarm water before you return them to the jar but traditionally they were not washed and this may be better for them.

If not making kefir for a while store the culture in a mixture of water and milk in the fridge. Kefir culture multiplies very quickly - store spare culture in this way until you find someone else who wants it.

You can obtain cultures and kefir by the bottle at here at food for consciousness shop

Holly Paige

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