Milk kefir (pronounced kee-fur) is produced by kefir 'grains'; they look like white mulberries or little cauliflower florettes. The grains ferment milk at room temperature into a wonderfully delicious probiotic yogurt type drink. The fermentation process takes about twenty-four hours after which you can change your grains over into fresh milk to repeat the ferment; or put them in the fridge to keep them dormant.
Milk kefir is more readily digestible, in comparison to yogurt. This is because milk kefir curds breaks down into into very small particles which facilitates widespread action in the gut. Yogurt tends to hold together or break into lumps.
Milk kefir contains beneficial bacteria and yeast, many essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. It is high is calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin K, vitamin A and Tryptophan.
Kefir has many health benefits. It is antibiotic and antifungal. It has a history of use in the treatment of a wide range of conditions from allergies, osteoporosis, illness recuperation and candidiasis. It is a physiologically active food that gives health benefits beyond basic nutrition.
Milk kefir is generally acceptable for people who are lactose intolerant due to the fact that the milk is pre-digested during the fermentation process.
The regular use of milk kefir will give you a healthier digestive system which is one of the absolute foundations of optimum health and longevity.
You will receive approximately 30 grams of grains which will ferment approximately 2 cups of milk. As you ferment your kefir culture the grains will grow and multiply and provide you with an endless supply of kefir. The growth in the grains also allows you to experiment with other milk ferments like coconut milk and nut milks.
I read somewhere a person describing it as an 'organoleptic' food. Meaning (to be honest I had to look it up) 'an aspect of food as experienced by the senses, including taste, smell, sight and touch'. It is a good description.
And you can make cheese out of it as well.
THINGS TO NOTE:
Milk kefir grains are a complex mixture of bacteria and yeasts which are held together in a polysaccharide cellular structure. It contains an extensive range of lactic bacteria and bacteria. The number ranges up to 50 but they would not all be present in a single culure.
Their presence depends on a range of factors including the original kefir culture, type of milk, temperature of the ferment and the season.
Some of the major active ingredients include:
Lactic Acid Bacteria
Lactobacillus is a type of bacteria. It has around 30 different species and the main role is the conversion of lactose and other sugars to lactic acid.
Lactobacillus bacteria are present in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts and the vagina. They are 'friendly' bacteria that work to crowd out the 'unfriendly' bacteria.
They form the largest part of the bacterial agents in milk kefir. Up to about 18 species might be present, the number and type dependant on the fermentation.
A main role is in treating diarrhea from a range of causes, but also:
S.Thermophilus & S.Paracitrovorus
Another useful set of bacteria contained in milk kefir, particularly for their ability to break down casein, the protein in dairy milk.
The streptococcus bacteria are helpful in:
Is a gram-positive (has a single lipid membrane) anaerobic bacteria that generally inhabits the large intestine. It exists in humans in small rather than large quantities.
It is able to provide an important range of functions that include:
Lactic acid is a major product of the fermentation process. Lactic acid fuels glucose and glycogen production in the liver, helps us to use dietary carbohydrates more efficiently. lactic acid serves as a quick energy fuel preferred by the heart and muscles.
Lactic acid from probiotic fermentation provides a number of benefits, including:
Positive Yeast Strains
As there is good and bad bacteria, there is good and bad yeast. Milk kefir contains a range of helpful yeasts like the Saccharomyces group which helps treats intestinal culture problems. The good yeasts work similarly to the good bacteria; they work to make the conditions inhospitable for the detrimental yeast.
The most common and viralent yeast strain they protect against is candida.
The slimy-gooey stuff that is commonly referred to as kefiran is actually a polysaccharide (complex sugar) made up of glucose and galactose (brain sugar). The polysaccharides facilitate a slower breakdown in your system.
Milk kefir is a rich source of potassium.
Potassium plays an important role in:
Diacetyl & acetaldehyde
Two of the compounds that provide milk kefir with it's distinctive aroma are diacetyl and acetaldehyde. They are both commonly found in beer and wine and responsible for the fruity aroma of some wines and the 'slippery' taste in beer and wine. Acetaldehyde is also naturally occurring in fruit.
Acetaldehyde in excessive amounts is responsible for the hangover feeling.
Essential Amino Acid
Tryptophan is an amino acid is an essential ingredient in the production of serotonin and melatonin. It is one of the essential 10 amino acids.
Tryptophan has a role in:
Tryptophan has two major roles:
Probiotics carry out a preventative, maintenance and restorative role. Whilst there is documented evidence of the affect of probiotics against particular diseases and health issues there is a growing body of evidence linking gut with general health and the interdependence of gut health and the brain.
What is happening in the rest of your body is likely to be a mirror of what is happening in your gut.
Whilst there are no clinical studies to back the claim, milk kefir has been associated with the longevity of people who inhabit the Caucasus region and who are traditional consumers of milk kefir.
Similarly in Japan where there is a long-standing tradition of regular probiotics. Japan currently has 10 of the 15 world's oldest people.
As we age various mechanisms in the body slow down and impact on our ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Milk kefir is particularly easy to digest as it has already been partially broken down through two different process. Firstly through the action of the bacteria and secondly by the action of the yeast. The nutrition in milk kefir is more available than milk in its raw form or yogurt.
Cancer risk & prevention
There are a number of studies which have investigated the role of milk kefir as an anti-tumour agent. This is specifically due to the presence of a number of phytochemicals, particularly indole and also the alkaloid imidazole which is found in some anti-cancer medications.
There is a lowered risk of colon cancer in people consuming milk kefir. Population studies have demonstrated that cultures which regularly consume fermented dairy products like kefir have a lower incidence of colon cancer.
Laboratory studies have indicated that the likely cause of this lowered rate of cancer is the ability of bacteria (particularly lactobaccillus bulgaricus) to bind to heterocyclic amines (carcinogenic chemical compounds that are produced by amino acids reacting to high heat) particularly when meat is cooked at high heat and charred and move them out of the body.
Is an enzyme that disrupts our ability to detoxify environmental toxins and hormones, like estrogen, which are naturally produced in the body. High levels of beta glucuronidase are markers for susceptibility to breast and colon cancer.
A flourishing population of gut friendly bacteria like the range produced by milk kefir helps to crowd out the undesirable bacteria responsible for producing this enzyme.
A side effect of chemotherapy treatment is severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. Milk kefir is able to reduce the severity and duration of the pain through the lactobacillus bacteria present in the culture.
Cognitive & mental functioning
Gut Health and Mental Health
Milk kefir provides high levels of calcium and magnesium which play an important role in the regulation of the nervous system and the introduction of kefir into the diet can have a calming effect on the nerves.
In excess of 95% of the body's serotonin (a neurotransmitter produced in the brain which when out of balance can have an impact on mood and play a role in depression) is in the gut. Research indicates that a healthy gut flora has a direct influence on the brain's ability to produce serotonin and GABA (an amino acid that also has an effect on mood and anxiety levels).
A gut flora populated with lactobacilli can have a significant impact on the ability to relax and stay calm as during fermentation, lactobacilli release Tryptophan which is a pre-curser of serotonin.
A candida yeast growth has been associated with, although commonly not thought of when looking at causes, anxiety, depression and mood disorders. The presence of bifidobacteria in the gut is particularly effective at keeping candida at bay and milk kefir is a rich source of bifidobacteria.
Daily health & wellbeing
Milk kefir's substantial nutritional profile provides immense health-maintenance benefits for everyday health, wellbeing and longevity. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and is abundant in milk kefir. It has a documented relaxing effect on the nervous system and is an aid to a good nights sleep.
Kefir is a good source of phosphorus (the second most abundant mineral in our body) which aids in the utilisation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins for cell growth, maintenance and energy.
Energy, endurance & exercise
Milk kefir is a rich source of a range of B vitamins which are an essential component of maintaining energy levels. The B group vitamins play a key role in the body's energy generation metabolic cycle and are essential for:
Kefir provides the gut with a complex and active range of microflora. The helpful bacteria in the gut play a role in crowding out and eliminating unhelpful bacteria. The helpful bacteria produce toxins that make it difficult for the unhelpful bacteria to grow. Acidophilus, for example, produces hydrogen peroxide which is toxic to a range of invading bacteria.
There is a range of evidence showing that animals with low amounts of helpful bacteria are easy to infect with unhelpful bacteria.
Kefir stimulates peristalsis, which is the action of the bowels contracting and pushing food along. It stimulates the production of digestive juices in the intestinal tract.
Kefir digests yeast cells, the proliferation of which are the cause of Candida.
The vitamin B levels in milk kefir are beneficial in the maintenance of healthy functioning of the kidneys and liver.
Kefir is particularly beneficial if you are lactose intolerant due to the fact that it contains lactase which is the enzyme that breaks down the dominant sugar in milk, lactose.
There are two published studies, one US and one French that show similar rates of reduction of the symptoms of lactose intolerance (stomach pains, gas and bloating) by 70%.
Milk kefir has been shown to reduce the duration and effects of diarrhea, particularly in children.
Traditional thinking on the cause of peptic ulcers was an imbalance between acid and pepsin (a digestive enzyme released by the cells of the stomach to turn protein into peptides) and issues with the gastic mucosal barrier.
However more recent studies have shown the presence of Heliobactor pylori (a gram-negative bacteria) as the leading cause of chronic gastritis and duodenal and gastric ulcers.
There have been a large number of studies that have shown Heliobactor pylori is supressed by a number of probiotic cultures, particularly lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Immune & respiratory
There are a number of studies that show the helpful bacteria in the gut like those produced by Milk Kefir, stimulate and help to educate the immune system in carrying out its proper role. There is also research that indicates a healthy gut flora can play a role in moderating and calming an overactive immune system response. This has potential benefits on a range of immune system conditions like asthma and eczema.
There is significant anecdotal evidence that milk kefir has a positive role in easing and eliminating the symptoms of asthma.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is produced in the mucosal linings and plays a critical role in mucosal (stomach, airwaves) immunity. It can also inhibit the inflammatory effects of other immunoglobulins. Milk kefir increases the number of IgA plasma cells.
Kefir supports the immune system in a number of other ways, including:
Rate of Infection
A study was reported in Environmental Health America, 2005 (Dr Py Tubelius et al) on whether lactobacillus reuteri (present in milk kefir) ,might help prevent sick leave due to respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. They randomly assigned 174 employees of the company to take a drink containing L. reuteri or a placebo for 80 days. The results were:
The researchers hypothesised that the reason for the decreased susceptibility to illness and time off work was due to the fact that probiotics have a strengthening effect on the immune system.
Maternal & infant health
Baby Gut Health
Babies are born without any gut bacteria. They acquire them through their mother's birth canal, or through breastfeeding. This has a number of important implications for mother and baby:
Milk kefir is a particularly suitable for infants and pregnant women because it is so far more easily digested than yogurt.
Developing Immune System
The bacteria that inherit the gut in our early years actually work with the cells of the gut to grow and develop. They also play a role in the development of our immune system and in fact work in tandem with the immune system to assist its growth and development of functioning.
Colic in Babies
A study carried out in 2010 (reported in Paediatrics America, September 2010) showed that a daily probiotic supplement may assist in helping babies cry less. Following three weeks of treatment with probiotic bacteria:
Dental Caries in Children
Research has shown that regular feeding of a probiotic to children results in a significant decrease in the level of dental caries
Children and Neurological Disorders
Even where minerals are available, a person may not be absorbing those minerals if their gut health is compromised which it typically is with many children on the autistic spectrum.
A mineral that children with a compromised gut culture are likely to be deficient in is magnesium, and some of the signs of magnesium deficiency include:
Skin, hair and eyes
The quality of the bacteria in your intestines has a significant impact on the look of your skin. People who start using probiotics and correctly the flora balance in their gut often notice a quick change in the quality of their skin.
You can also apply the cultured milk kefir to your skin and it will have a nourishing and softening effect. I would plan on a shower after doing it though.
Gut Flora & Weight Management
There appears to be increasing attention and research that indicates the composition of your gut flora is a prime determinant in your ability to manage your weight. Bacteria in the colon can produce leptins (signals or messengers) that let us know when we are full. An out of balance gut flora sends signals to the brain that we need to eat more when the reality is we are already full.
A diet high in processed sugar and starch can quickly put put your gut micorflora out of balance which leads to low levels of inflammation in the intestines, intestinal permeability risks which set off a chain of reactions that include weight gain.
A key first step in any weight management programme should be the introduction of a gut health regime. A probiotic like milk kefir would form one of your front line defences.
Milk kefir can also help eliminate unhealthy food and sugar cravings through making the body more nourished and balanced.
Gut Flora & Obesity
Two studies, one on mice and the other on humans have provided corroborating evidence that the gut flora of slim and obese people are different.
There are two major families of bacteria which inhabit our intestines and help to digest the food we eat: Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. The studies showed that obese people had about 20% more firmicutes than people in the normal weight range. Obese people also had about 90% less bacteroidetes than people in the normal weight range.
In the rodent study the obese rodents had high levels of firmicutes than the normal weight rodents and when the bacteria were implanted into the normal weight range rodents they gained twice as much fat.
One of the easiest ways to influence the type and ratio of the bacteria growing in your gut is through taking a high quality probiotic like milk kefir.
One of the basics of weight management is an efficient food digestion system and this cannot happen without an appropriately balanced gut flora.
The human colon is occupied by different classes of bacteria and each has distinct roles to play. The bacteria in the upper part of the colon have the role of fermenting and digesting carbohydrates, and the bacteria in the lower part of the colon work on the digestion of protein and fats.
Much of the nutrient value we obtain from food is through the work of the intestinal bacteria on the hard to digest carbohydrates that makes its way undigested from the upper to the lower digestive tract
You should keep in mind that a probiotic like Milk Kefir can populate your intestinal tract with a myriad of helpful bacteria, but those helpful bacteria need to be nourished through a diet that contains an appropriate amount of fibre and insoluble carbohydrate.
Milk kefir is produced commercially in Russia and Eastern Europe on a large scale. Up to 75% of the milk probiotics drunk in some of the Eastern European countries is kefir.
You can use milk kefir pretty much the same as you would with yogurt. I think the thing people most commonly do is have it as part of a smoothie. It combines sensationally with a number of fruit and there are a number of recipes in the recipe section.
It is an extremely beneficial probiotic drink for children but it will be a stronger taste than they have been used to with commercially produced yogurts so the best means of introduction is through a smoothie. You might want to start with small quantities of kefir compared to the other ingredients and gradually increase the amount of kefir as they become used to it.
You can also make some interesting cheeses and I will publish some recipes once the bulk of the website is complete and there is some more time for the nice to do things.
There are obvious similarities but the big difference is that that yogurt is a single ferment process through lactic acid bacteria wheres a milk kefir is a dual fermentation process of bacteria and yeast.
Yogurt can be cultivated from other live yogurt cultures but milk kefir can only be cultured using milk kefir grains.
A study was carried out in Lucerne Switzerland (Swiss National Accident Insurance Institute) to determine the possible effect of ingesting probiotics on the bacterial flora of the nose (on the basis that the nasal cavity has protection from hairs and the like but it is still a source of infection). The study:
Making milk kefir is a straightforward and pretty much foolproof process. Your original 5 grams of milk kefir grains will make about one or two cups of milk kefir.
Detailed instructions for fermenting milk kefir are found in the recipe section.
Pretty much all you need is equipment you are likely to already have in the kitchen. I use glass jars for the fermenting but you can use plastic or ceramic jars. I do not seal the jar; I simply cover the top with a tea towel. Fermenting of milk kefir is an aerobic process so it requires oxygen. You will need a sieve to separate the grains from the kefir at the end of the fermentation process. The very fine plastic sieves I use for the water kefir grains are too fine so I use a metal sieve and push the kefir mixture around with a slotted spoon.
They say you shouldn't use metal but I use the metal strainer and I have never had a problem.
One to Two Days
Generally 24 hours, but could take up to 48 in the colder weather and depending on the amount of grains you are using. The milk kefir grains wiill rise to the top and you will see a separation of the curds and whey once the fermentation is in full swing.
You can use the timeframe to control the lactose content if you are lactose intolerant. The longer you ferment the more lactose will be used to produce lactic acid.
Also the longer you ferment the stronger the taste. All kefir has a bit of a tangy/peppery taste, but it becomes quite pronounced after a long ferment. Also the longer you ferment it the fizzier it will become.
Type of milk
You can use normal full fat milk or low fat milk, goats milk; it does not make any difference. You can also use other milk like coconut milk or nut milks, but you can't do this on a regular basis. Non dairy fermentations will not provide the kefir grains with the nutrients they need to grow and survive.
if you are going to experiment with a range of non-dairy ferments best to wait until you have built up some extra grains. The safest way is to carry out a couple of non-dairy ferments and then go back to milk for three to five ferments to give the grains time to recover.
The only things that can impact on grain health are keeping them in the ferment too long, keeping them in the fridge too long or continuous fermenting with non-dairy kefir. Other than that they are very resilient.
I have never heard of any diseases they are prone to or any health warnings associated with the quality of grains.
Slow Grain Growth
Milk kefir grains are slow growing. The grains grow in size and they also produce little chunks that break off which grow into new large grains. After a while you are going to have more than you can use, but you don't see the grains growing before your very eyes like you sometimes do with water kefir.
I'm sure you will find plenty of people who will be pleased to take a few off your hands!
Resting the grains
Taking a Break
I am not sure if the grains need a rest; they seem to happily ferment time after time. You might though! If you want to rest the grains simply put them in the fridge with some fresh milk in a sealed jar or bottle and you will be able to safely leave them for five days or so. I have left them longer and they have been fine.
If you are looking for a longer break you can also freeze them or dry them out.
Remove most of the kefiran and fermented milk and freeze in a plastic container. Allow some air space for expansion. Grains can be stored for up to six months.
To rejuvenate them take them out of the freezer and place in milk as normal. They will take a number of cycles to return to fermenting. You might also experience some grain loss.
Drying is more time-consuming but safer. I have dried them out in a dehydrator which works well, but you let them dry in a warm part of the house. Under a reading lamp also works well. Once they are dry put them in a sealed container until you are ready to use them again.
The only known precaution is for people who are lactose intolerant. Whilst the bacteria and yeast in milk kefir break down the lactose there will still be a residual amount.
People who are lactose intolerant should ferment the milk longer and start with small amounts to test tolerance.
The culture is quite hardy but y the time you receive it there is likely to be some need for it to receive a little oxygen. It was placed in regular milk when it left Auckland and the fermentation process will have started at that point. It is a little difficult to say how much fermentation will have taken place because each ferment is different. It depends on temperature and the amount of grains. In this case there will be an issue of little oxygen. This should not affect its ability to re-culture however.
To care for the grains and manage your culture, follow these instructions:
Things to note
Long term care
Milk kefir seems to be quite a hardy culture:
You can send your culture to a rural delivery address, but the risk is with you. We have no control over the number of extra days the culture will take to arrive and after three days re-culturing can be problematical. Although Milk Kefir is quite hardy and i have seen people reculture it successfully after four or five days in transit.
We recommend sending it to your work or friend or relative with instructions to open the lid and refrigerate it until you are in a position to pick up the culture and reculture.