Many centuries ago, shepherds in the Caucasus mountains used to carry fresh milk in leather pouches for their consumption during the long hours they had to spend while tending their flocks. They occasionally found that the milk would ferment and turn into an effervescent beverage with slight alcoholic attributes. This is what kefir is, basically, a self carbonated beverage that is dairy based.
Kefir is made by fermenting milk with kefir grains. Kefir grain is not actual grain that is grown, but is a combination of bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of sugars, lipids and proteins. This matrix forms grains that have a resemblance to cauliflower florets and are between 0.3 and 2.0 cm in size. They have a light yellow color, are elastic, and have a characteristic smell. Kefir grains cannot be made from scratch, and require fermentation from pre-existing grains that grow during the fermentation. This requires the continuous cultivation in milk that increase the biomass by a small percentage every day. The grains do not dissolve in water. They can be reused several times. Live Kefir Company also offers kefir drinks.
The fermented milk requires to be constantly agitated to form the beverage and the additional grains. In earlier days, people making kefir put the milk in leather bags, which were hung at doorways. The constant movement of people kept the kefir agitated, and tradition was to push and punch the bag when you went in or out. Once the milk is fermented, the grains come to the surface and can be strained out. The grains can then be rinsed in cold water, and dried for 36 to 48 hours. Ovens can be used for faster drying. The grains can then be stored so that they remain cool and dry, till they are required to be used again. They can be stored for a year or more.
Kefir tastes like yogurt but has a thinner consistency. It will contain protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and some vitamins, B12 and D. Kefir is a probiotic, like curd but is more potent. The grains contain 61 strains of bacteria and yeast. This helps kefir to give protection against infections. The calcium in this beverage can help bone health and slow down the progress of osteoporosis, a deterioration in bone tissue. It has also been to stimulate the immune system and slow the growth of tumors. Probiotics in kefir can go long way in treating digestive problems and maintaining digestive health.
Regular dairy products contain lactose, a natural sugar. Many people have lactose intolerance and are not able to digest them. In kefir, the lactose is turned into lactic acid that is easier on the digestion. Enzymes in kefir break don the lactose even further. Kefir has been known to improve the symptoms of allergies and asthma.
Kefir can be easily made at home using kefir grains that are available in health food stores, supermarkets and on livekefircompany.co.uk. It can be combined with fruit to make healthy desserts. The milk use to make kefir can be from any animal. Each will have its own distinctive taste.