Kefir is a popular drink made from fermented milk. It is believed to be invented by the shepherds who traveled to the Caucasus mountains and carried the fermented, fizzy drink in a leather pouch. The term comes from the Turkish word, “Keif” which can be literally translated as a “good feeling.” The drink is known by many names. The commonest terms are kephir, mudu kekiya, búlgaros, milkkefir and keefi.
It is prepared by mixing milk with kefir grains which are considered to be a living culture. The drink can also be water based and modern versions include non dairy products like soymilk as the base ingredient.
The kefir grains are usually added to the milk and fermented overnight. A mixture of bacteria and yeasts form clusters shaped like cauliflowers which propagate within the fermented liquid mking it beneficial for health.
The end product of fermentation is usually a drink that is carbonated and sour in taste. It has a thin consistency and may contain some alcohol as well. The content of alcohol never exceeds 2% with the present day forms of the drink containing it in lesser amounts due to decreased fermentation time.
The water based kefir drink known as kefir d'acqua is mixed with sugars and dry fruits like figs as well as the juice of a lemon. It is fermented at room temperature for 24 hours before consumption.
The beverage is extremely popular in South West Asia, Northern Europe and Russia. It has recently been introduced to the United States of America.
History of Fermented Kefir
The drink was popular among the shepherds who roamed in the Caucasus mountains during the ancient times. It is said to have been invented accidentally when the milk carried in leather pouches got fermented and turned into a thin yogurt like beverage.
According to the legends, the grains were a gift from Mohammed to the people of the mountain. He explicitly forbade sharing of the recipe or the grains with others which resulted in the ingredients and preparation method being shrouded in mystery.
The ancient methods of preparation involved mixing the grains with milk and leaving the contents to ferment overnight in a leather pouch. Visitors to the household were expected to jolt the pouch which was hung from the door knobs. This ensured proper mixing of the constituents.
Fermented Kefir: Ingredients and Preparation Overview
The most authentic method of preparing the drink is to add some of the white kefir grains to milk at room temperature. The grains grow within the milk and a teaspoonful of it is considered to be sufficient enough to produce a liter of the drink.
Placing the grains at the bottom of the jar and topping it with milk is the most effective process. The jar needs to be set aside for 8 to 10 hoursin a cool, dark corner when the room temperature is around 50 degrees F. The jar can be twirled and shaken a bit periodically to enhance the mixing process and the resultant liquid is strained and refrigerated when ready.
The culture can grow in all types of mammalian milk including fruit juices and water. Soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk are also used as variations for preparing the drink. Ginger beer and beer wort are suitable for growing the culture as well.
Fermented Kefir: Health Benefits
- It is antibiotic and antifungal in nature and can treat infections and allergies effectively.
- Helps in improving blood circulation and digestive disorders.
- The amino acids, minerals and vitamins present in the drink help in maintaining general health.
- The antioxidants fight against cancer lowering the risk of developing the disease substantially.
- The high calcium and magnesium content also aids in controlling rheumatism and osteoarthritis.
- Tryptophan, an essential amino acid together with calcium and magnesium soothes the nervous system producing a relaxing effect on the body.
- The lactococcus present in kefir can inhibit the growth of E-Coli and salmonella.
- Coconut kefirs can reduce skin blemishes including moles, warts and liver spots successfully.
- Research studies have proved that the drink can improve dairy product tolerance in patients diagnosed with lactose intolerance.
Culinary Uses of Kefir
- People across the United States of America find the drink too sour and usually consume it after adding various flavors and sweeteners.
- It is used to prepare sourdough bread.
- It is an important ingredient of the cold borscht in Lithuania.
- The inhabitants of Eastern Europe use it as a substitute for breakfast cereals.
Marco Polo referred to the kefir drink in his travelogue.