The Beginner's Simple Guide to Kefir
Kefir has gained popularity in the United States over the past 10-15 years, particularly in the health and nutrition space. But a lot of people still don't know what it is (or have never tried it) and are missing out on a beautiful way to incorporate dairy into their diet. I find a lot of our customers know very little about it, and over the last few years, we have been seeing a growing interest and curiosity about it.
Today, we're going to break it all down for you!
What is kefir?
Kefir (technically pronounced ke-feer) is a fermented milk drink that is thinner than yogurt but could be thought of as a type of drinkable style of yogurt (at least it has a similar tangy flavor to plain yogurt). It originated in Armenia and the Caucasus region of Russia. In fact, the original word, keyif means "feeling good after eating." (1)
Traditionally, it is made from either sheep, goat, or cow's milk and is fermented with "grains". These "grains" are actually cultures of bacteria and yeast colonies that look like soft, curdled cheese. It is generally fermented at room temperature from anywhere from 16-36 hours.
Why drink it?
Kefir is a probiotic powerhouse! Full stop. Period.
Prepared correctly (especially when made with raw milk), it provides billions of amazing gut-friendly bacteria and nutrients. Kefir is very low in lactose, which makes it digestive-friendly for most people.
It's no secret that raw, fermented dairy is the best way to go for folks who choose, and are able, to include dairy with their diet. Personally, I find raw milk kefir to be one of the most agreeable ways my body prefers dairy, and it's a staple food for me in building strong gut-health. Then, because of its high probiotic content, it's also a clear winner for building a robust immune system and maintaining strong metabolic health. (2) In fact, there are lots of people who have reversed various chronic autoimmune diseases (like Chron's disease) by incorporating raw milk kefir into their diet! (3)
Another amazing immune-system benefit of kefir is its antibacterial properties, which actually fight pathogenic bacteria like salmonella and e-coli. (4, 5)
How to make kefir?
The good news is that kefir is pretty easy to make! For me, it seemed intimidating at first (so many new things are initially), but after about two times of going through the process, I felt like a total pro! (And so can you!)
Even though I have touted raw milk as the milk of choice, if you don't have access to a safe, trusted source of raw milk, you can still make it with pasteurized milk. My recommendation, however, is to use a grass-fed, organic brand, and if possible, a brand that has been vat-pasteurized and/or non-homogenized. The less-processed, the better. Also, make sure you use WHOLE MILK so your kefir grains have plenty of food to enable the fermentation process, and so you get all the nutrient potential milk has to offer.
For those interested in making kefir, I prepared a helpful video tutorial to walk you through each step!
For most folks, I think the most challenging part of starting the kefir-making process is finding good kefir grains. So, my suggestions are:
Check around with friends and neighbors in the health-food space. Someone out there is bound to have some. Kefir grains grow and multiply, and so kefir makers ALWAYS have some to spare and give away.
You can buy them usually at a health food store (in the refrigerated or freezer section). NOTE: Make sure you get MILK kefir grains! There are water kefir grains, too, but they will not work with milk (something I had to learn the hard way...).
You can also order kefir grains online from various health-food vendors. I wouldn't recommend this unless it's truly a last resort since I don't know how reliable shipping methods will be for keeping the grains cold.
How to eat it?
My favorite way to eat kefir is to make smoothies with it. I keep my kefir grains tapered so as to make about 2 cups of kefir each day (or every other day if I can't get to it). My quick and easy kefir smoothie recipe is as follows:
2 cups of milk kefir
1 half frozen banana (or a whole or half-frozen avocado); makes for better texture and consistency
1 to 1.5 cup frozen berries
1/2 to 1 cup kale (optional)
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup (optional)
2 Tbsp raw cacao powder (optional)
Blend all the ingredients up together until fully smooth and voila! Enjoy! This recipe makes about two 12-16 oz servings.
You can, of course, do other things with kefir like bake with it or just drink it plain. Some folks like to drink it plain, but add a little maple syrup, cinnamon, and turmeric to it. Get creative! The sky's the limit here!
Have fun making kefir and seeing great changes in your health as a result! Feel free to email or DM us on social media with questions or success stories!
- Joseph B. Shumway is a certified Primal Health Coach