The first thing you need to know about kefir is that it is not just liquid yogurt. Yogurt is fermented by bacteria, typically from the Lactobacillus species. Kefir is fermented with both bacteria and yeast, which results in a fizzy beverage with a tangy flavor. Plain kefir should have a smooth but slightly tart flavor, not harsh.
Kefir is produced using kefir “grains”, which are actually clumps of bacteria and yeast. The microbes ferment the milk sugar lactate, producing lactic acid and carbon dioxide, which creates the fizziness. As with yogurt, you can buy kefir plain or flavored and sweetened.
As a Bad Ass Nutritionist, my kefir preference is plain. Honestly, I just don’t like how these traditional foods are sweetened up to cater to sugar-addicted taste buds. I’m in favor of people moving away from sugary taste preferences, not to mention the added sugar calories. But if you’re hesitant, try a flavored kefir first.
Kefir isn’t a food you cook with. Cooking would ruin the probiotic benefits. Use it as a beverage. Drink it straight or add to smoothies. You could also put in on cereal. I find it to be filling and soothing. However, I always advise that one person’s wonderful probiotic food is another person’s tummy upset. Probiotics can be very individual. Even different yogurt brands can affect you differently. If you feel like a probiotic/fermented food doesn’t agree with you, find another one.
Kefir traces its origins to Eastern Europe, particularly the Caucasus Mountain region. It’s fun to imagine how this food evolved over the centuries. Centuries ago, without refrigeration, milk sat at room temperature. According to tradition, it was stored in goatskin bags, where local microbes did the fermentation. People liked the results.
Goatskin bags have been replaced by modern fermentation technology. Many different animal-sourced milks can be fermented: cow, goat, sheep, even camel. A kefir-like beverage can be made with soy or almond “milk”, although fermentation of different plant “milks” doesn’t always produce consistent results.
- High calcium
- Great source of protein
- Fits a vegetarian diet
- Probiotic – supports healthy gut microbe populations
Kefir isn’t a beverage you guzzle in large amounts. As I said above, it’s filling and satisfying. If you add it to a smoothie with fruit, the smoothie will be even more filling. I’d say a 4 to 8 oz serving would be fine for most people. I sip it as part of the morning meal, maybe 3/4 cup. If you prioritize gut health, but haven’t tried kefir yet, I highly recommend it.