The above picture shows 2 smoothies: a mango and banana kefir and a mixed berries and blueberries kefir with chia seeds.
THE HEALING POWER OF CULTURED OR FERMENTED FOODS
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that has been around for thousands of years. The name kefir is believed to have originated from the Turkish word “kef.” The word is still used in Middle Eastern languages to refer to “pleasure” or “good feeling”. Kefir is sometimes known as the “Champagne of Milk”.
It’s one of the oldest of cultured milk products and its popularity is spread through Russia and the Caucasus Mountains where people claim their longevity is due to this amazing drink. North Caucasus is comprised of Russia. South Caucasus is comprised of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
In history we find many mentions of fermented mild products, such as the scrolls from Abraham associating his long life to these drinks and Noah professing to have gotten these grains from angels on the ark.
Muhammad claimed that kefir grains were a gift from Allah to him. The legend was that Muhammad gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. The “Grains of the Prophet” were guarded with much jealously, because it was believed that they would lose their strength if the grains were given away and the secret of how to use them became common knowledge. They were considered a family treasure, and this wealth in the tribe was passed on from generation to generation and it was kept secret for centuries. There were mentions of Kefir in Marco Polo’s chronicles. It was considered a drink with magical properties.
It was not until doctors in Russia discovered that kefir had healing properties in the treatment of tuberculosis and intestinal and stomach diseases. The first scientific studies on kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century but kefir was extremely difficult to obtain so the Russian Physician’s Society became determined to obtain kefir grains so that kefir might be readily available to their patients. It was in the early 20th century when a representative of the Society approached two brothers with the last name of Blandov who owned the Moscow dairy to see if they might get a hold of some kefir grains because they also had holdings in the areas of the Caucasus Mountain.
This is the amazing story:
“Nikolai Blandov sent a young beautiful employee named Irina Sakharova to the court of a local prince called Bek-Mirza Barchorov. She was told to charm the prince into giving her kefir grains. But everything didn’t go as planned, because the prince was afraid of violating religious law. On the other hand, he was taken by the beautiful Irina and didn’t want to lose her either. Irina and her party left Kislovodsk, when she realized she wasn’t going to obtain the kefir grains. On the way home, mountain tribesmen stopped them and kidnapped Irina and returned her to the prince. It was local custom to steal a bride and Irina was told she had to marry Bek-Mirza Barchorov. A daring rescue mission saved her from the marriage. The prince was brought before the Czar and was told he had to give Irina ten pounds of kefir grains in recompense for the insults she had endured. The prince had offered gold and jewels, but she had refused, insisting on kefir grains instead.”
Production of kefir began in Russia around the 1930’s and the method was perfected in the 1950’s to produce a drink like the home made version,
In 1973, the Minister of the Food Industry of the Soviet Union sent a letter to Irina Sakharova, who was then 85 years of age, thanking her for bringing kefir to the people of Russia.
Currently kefir is the most popular fermented drink in Russia. In 1988 it’s reported that over 1.2 million tons were produced there and it’s now a popular drink around the world. Tibet also has a similar drink known as Tibetan yogurt mushroom or “tara”.
Dr. Elie Metchnikoff is a Russian immunologist, who received the Nobel Prize in 1908 for discovering phagocytosis and he believed that the lactic acid bacteria in the fermented milk were responsible for their exceptional health and longevity of the longevity of the people of the regions of Bulgaria and the northern Caucasus. The population in these areas has thousands of centenarians among them.
His studies of the lactic acid bacteria in the functions of the digestive and immune systems may have laid the foundation for the field of probiotics. He published a book in 1907 named “The prolongation of Life” based on his research on the health promoting properties of lactic bacteria and doctors in Paris began proscribing it for their patients to treat digestive system problems as well as tuberculosis.
In modern times, it’s known that Lactobacillus consumed in fermented milk products (like kefir and yogurt) survive the passage through the acid contents of the stomach and these bacteria play a major role in regulating the internal intestinal flora positively affecting of physiological functions of the digestive system.
I remember growing up my mom used to make her own yogurt with live bacteria, and that’s what we had for breakfast with all kinds of fruits or she would make us smoothies with any fruit in season, whether it was strawberries or peaches, it was always delicious and refreshing drink, blended with some ice cubes in the summer.
Now I discovered that Kefir is even more potent than yogurt because kefir has between 30 and 56 strains of good bacteria, while yogurt has only 7 to 10 and they are different types of bacteria than the ones in yogurt. The most important fact is that the yogurt bacterium passes through the body within 24 hours, whereas kefir bacteria will stay and take residence in your digestive system creating a colony of good bacteria. Kefir is also very low in sugar only 1% sugar comparing to yogurt which is 4%.
So I have begun making kefir at home every day. My live grains are happily growing and multiplying so I am going to be able to start sharing my extra supply with others very soon.
This is a picture when I first started with my “baby kefir grains”. In the next post I will show you how they have much grown since.
We make smoothies, with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, peaches, mangoes, etc. The combinations are endless! We also add flax seeds or chia seeds with a touch of organic honey to the smoothies to increase their beneficial effects.
The beauty of making your own kefir, is that is not only super easy to do, (in reality the bacteria do all the work, you basically just add fresh milk each day), but you know that you are not getting any artificial preservatives or flavors only wholesome and natural ingredients. The consistency of kefir is creamy and more liquid than yogurt, like pourable yogurt.
There are infinite resources on recipes in which you can use Kefir, please check out my references about the site for “Cultures for health”, from pancakes to kefir cream cheese you will never run out of ideas.
I will be sharing the kefir recipe and the kefir herbed cream cheese recipe which is super easy to make in future posts. However, I noticed that using some kefir in other dishes also enhances their flavor, for example: omelets, with a bit of kefir will come out fluffy, airy and delicious!
In addition making kefir is even easier than making yogurt because you don’t need to warm the milk. Kefir grains get destroyed with heat, so they only need cold milk or room temperature.
I have already discussed the benefits of cultured food in my previous post: “Healthy bacteria and cultured foods”.
If you have not read it I recommend you do because I will not be repeating all the information again so please checkout:
In the book “Cultured food for life” by Donna Schwenk there are many other anecdotal reports of positive effects such as improving sleep, helping to heal diarrhea, ulcers, yeast infections, allergies, etc.
The benefits of probiotics are endless. Studies have shown that these bacteria produce lactic acid and ACE inhibiting during milk fermentation which is a substance doctors prescribe to lower high blood pressure particularly effective in mild hypertension. Lactobacillus helveticus is found in high concentrations in kefir and is responsible for this substance.
Kefir also has properties that help regulate the immune system and blood sugar levels because kefir is rich in lactic acid and enzymes that regulate sugar metabolism. In addition kefir helps to decrease inflammation throughout the gut, enhances digestion since the milk sugars are predigested through fermentation. It’s also good for people suffering from anemia and other diseases and it can even be drunk by the lactose intolerant. However, it’s not a panacea. Those who have stomach ulcers are not recommended to drink it.
I recommend starting with small doses, half a glass at first and gradually increase the amount because your body has to gradually adapt as the toxic bacteria in your gut gets balanced out by the good bacteria. Some people experience symptoms during the initial period for a few days until the body adjusts.
I also noticed that as we start to balance our natural flora our cravings for sugary foods decrease and it has helped me and my husband to lose weight without actually “dieting”.
I really recommend her book if you would like to dive deeper into the benefits of fermented foods and find all the answers to your questions in terms of resources and recipes.
This is not meant to be used as a replacement for your medications if you are currently being treated for any conditions, please consult with your doctor.
If you are vegan and you don’t use dairy, you can use coconut milk or almond milk. Also there are grains available or live strains that are used for “water kefir”.
Schwenk, Donna, D.S, 2013. CULTURED FOOD FOR LIFE, how to make and serve delicious foods for better health and wellness. 1st ed. USA: HAY HOUSE.
Enzymes-facts.com. 2009. Kefir – The Mystical Side. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.enzyme-facts.com/kefir-mystical-side.html. [Accessed 16 July 2016].
CULTURES FOR HEALTH. 2015. Milk Kefir Recipes. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/learn/category/milk-kefir-recipes/?type=r. [Accessed 16 July 2016].
RT Russiiapedia. 2011. Of Russian Origin: Kefir. [ONLINE] Available at: http://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/kefir/. [Accessed 16 August 2016].