Kefir is something I have only recently begun learning about. I first heard of it when we lived in Las Vegas, and there was a guy who participated in our raw milk co-op who touted the benefits. He was quite a fruit-cake anyway, though, so we never gave it much thought. Later, we came across the topic again, when we read the book “Nourishing Traditions” (an educational recipe book I highly recommend, by the way!) The more I learned about fermenting foods, the more the idea of Kefir would pop into my head. So, just what is Kefir, you might ask?
Kefir is a very ancient Russian drink that is believed to have been accidentally discovered by shepherds carrying milk in their animal-intestine pouches. As they traveled, the milk would get agitated, coagulate, and form a fermented beverage that they learned to very much enjoy. As time went on, folks began learning more about the drink, and the health benefits that derive from it. It started to be commercially produced and sold in Russia. As the centuries went by, more was learned, the idea of it spread worldwide, and it eventually found its way here, to the U.S.
Now, true Kefir is produced from little clusters of bacteria and yeasts, called “Kefir grains.” It looks a little like cottage cheese. These grains eat many of the components and lactose found in milk, literally turning it into a mildly alcoholic (like 1%), somewhat slimy, fermented dairy drink. Once the milk is broken down (24-48 hours on average), the grains are strained out of it, and the thin, sour, yogurt-like drink can be used as is, or turned into sweeter concocotions such as smoothies, baked goods, or fruit-sweetened Kefir yogurt. In our modern society, though, it is very difficult to find true Kefir. Because the grains can be difficult to find, modern science came up with another way to produce Kefir, using bacterial Kefir starters. These starters are powder-like, and come in little pouches that you mix into the milk. Much like yogurt, you can simply save a bit of the result from the previous batch and use it to start your next batch. While still beneficial, and very similiar, however, these starters never form true Kefir grain clusters, and therefore are not true Kefir.
So what are the benefits of drinking something that sounds so disgusting, you may ask? I won’t get too technical (visit google for that), but essentially, true Kefir is reported to be one of the best natural antibiotic remedies, immunity builders, and digestive aids you can get! The way the grains are created, the fact that the grains are descended from original grains formed centuries ago, the way it breaks down milk, and the way it works with your body, all work togther to create quite a miraculous food–make that 2 foods, the grains and the milk! So, I was interested. There was just one problem…I didn’t know anyone who grew their own Kefir. If I am going to do something, I want to do it right. I needed Kefir grains, not powdered culture.
Well, wouldn’t you know, after we moved out here, it turns out our neighbor was growing Kefir! I mentioned to her that I was interested, and about 2 weeks ago, she finally had enough to divide and gave me some. I was so excited! After tasting the grains (they resemble really sour gummi bears), I followed her instructions, put the 2 Tbs. or so that she gave me into a quart jar, filled it with fresh goat milk, and a day later, VOILA! the milk had totally changed, and the grains had grown. Since then, I have been straining the Kefir milk into a new jar about every 2 days, putting the grains into a new jar with fresh milk, and I am finally starting to see they have probably tripled in quantity! I still hadn’t tested the health theories of it though, until last week…
A virus began to spread rapidly through the Air Force Academy, and cadets were getting violently ill with a stomach bug. It wasn’t severe–just a stomach-flu type thing, but everyone was miserable. It got so bad, in an attempt to get it under control, the Academy actually quarantined a whole dorm section, and anyone who came down with the virus was temporarily re-assigned to this dorm and quarantined. Staff were ordered to stay home if they showed signs of illness. I knew it was only a matter of time before S brought it home to us. Sure enough, last Friday, he came home early feeling terrible. I won’t get too gross, but he definitely had an intestinal bug! He went to bed early that night, and then I noticed it was time to change the Kefir milk. I did so, and reserved a tsp. or so of the grains, and about a 1/4 cup of the fermented Kefir milk for him. I went in and woke him, made him eat/drink it all, and waited. By the next morning, he was doing great! Other than a little fatigue, he had absolutely no symptoms of this virus that was taking others down for a week at a time! He even spent Saturday butchering all our roosters.
Granted, I have no proof the Kefir caused his amazing recovery, but it certainly was coincidental. It simply reinforced to me that God designed healthy, nutritious, natural foods that build us up and allow us to withstand the onslaught of bad things out there. All we have to do is develop an appreciation for those less-than-modern foods–no easy thing for our society! Nonetheless, I guess if you visit my house sometime in the foreseeable future, you are likely to notice a jar of fermenting milk sitting on my counter. Now you know why!