Fermented foods

Fermented foods have been a traditional staple of many cultures over the centuries, although these days since the agricultural age the use and practice of fermenting foods is not a common. Two of the main benefits of traditional fermented foods are helping to promote beneficial bacteria in the gut and the balancing of stomach acid.

Some of the best known are:

  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Soy sauce
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Natto
  • Miso

In a place such as the UK, we’re used to the likes of yogurt and cottage cheese. Goto any supermarket and you’ll see numerous yogurt drinks, all with some “Good bacteria” marketing label. Take the well known Yakult, this is basically just milk that has been fermented by a strain of bacteria.

Gut Health

If you’ve read any health advice in the last decade you’ll know the huge benefits of good gut health, in contrast poor gut health is linked to almost every ailment such as IBS, bad skin, weak immunity, even mood disorders like depression. There is a strong link between the gut and brain and the importance of  balanced and beneficial gut bacteria cannot be overstated.

Probiotics

The issue with most probiotics is firstly that bacteria are a living organism and as such needs conditions that promote their survival. Many products have been sitting around on shelves for days or weeks and a lot of the bacteria won’t even make it to your mouth. The next issue is once the bacteria has reach your mouth, it then has to survive the onslaught of your stomach and the acidic environment there. If you look at most research you’ll see that the majority of probiotics have little to no effect due to the bacteria not reaching your gut. Usually the only answer is to increase the number of bacteria in the hopes some will make it through.

Kefir

One of the great things about Kefir is that it can have around 30-40 different strains or bacteria and yeast in hugh numbers, as opposed to maybe 2-3 you see in traditional probiotic yoghurts. A small glass is meant to contain around 1.5 trillion beneficial bacteria.

The important thing to mention is that no matter what form the bacteria is from, most will not make it to your gut. If Kefir was a an army general it’s tactic would be to bombard the stomach with multiple different weapons in huge numbers, some are going to make it through!

How milk becomes kefir

The short answer is that bacteria is a simple living organism and tends to thrive on simple foods such as sugar, the sugar found in milk is called lactose for which the bacteria feed off. The byproduct from the bacteria such as acid and carbon dioxide create the fermentation effect. The easiest way to describe the taste of kefir is “soda milk”, it’s sour much like yogurt but with a more gassy texture.

Some benefits of Kefir

  • Much more potent form of probiotic than the usual yogurt varieties
  • Antibacterial properties
  • Helps with digestive issues
  • Found to have a positive effect on asthma and allergies
  • Can help improve lactose intolerance
  • Better immune system from a better gut bacteria profile
  • All the countless other benefits of anything that improves gut health

Kefir grains lifespan

One of the interesting things about the kefir grains is that they are a living culture of bacteria which grow and renew over time, this means that if fed (milk in this case), the grains can life infinitely. That’s right you could technically reuse the same grains for the rest of your life.

Ingredients / Tools Needed

Kefir

Kefir grains

MyGainz example: £9 from ebay

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/100-Organic-Milk-Kefir-Grains-50-Strains-LIVE-Probiotic-Healing-Tibetan-1-/201172329783?nma=true&si=lMZzzgBFyDpyv%252FfvcoLd7hdBWFg%253D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

Bowl

Strainer

MyGainz example: £1 from poundland

Wooden spoon / Spatula

MyGainz example: £1 from poundland

Dark container

MyGainz example: £1 from poundland

Milk

MyGainz example: £1 from tesco

Steps

1. Place 1-2 tablespoons of live Kefir grains in a container and pour in 200-1000ml of milk depending on how much kefir you want to make

Ideally the container is glass and lightproof. I personally just use a black metal coffee container. You could also wrap a glass container in black tape.

2. Leave the container at room temperature for between 1-5 days. There is no exact numbers here, you can just go by taste and how strong you would like the kefir to be. More days will equal a more fermented and thicker Kefir. Yes room temperatures will differ depending on where you live, but don't worry too much about these smaller details at first.

I usually leave for around 2-3 days

3. After the Kefir has been sitting for the required number of days, place a fine strainer over a bowl and pour the whole container into the strainer

Straining the kefir

4. Slowly move around the liquid with a wooden spoon or spatula, you will see the kefir grains are intact and the goal is to drain the liquid into the bowl and keep the kefir grains in the strainer, which is easy to do.

Kefir grains

5. Place the grains back in the dark container and recover with milk

6. Finally in the bowl you will have your final Kefir drink. Pour this into a glass and drink as desired, ideally within 24 hours

I like to refrigerate mine for 1-2 hours before straining so the end result is cold

Final kefir

Benefits of homemade Kefir

  • Being able to control the strength by adjusting the fermenting period (1-7 days typically)
  • No hidden additives or ingredients
  • Very cost effective
  • Homemade kefir contains more probiotic cultures than commercial

Costs

Store bought kefir itself is quite hard to come by at your local shops and is typically only stocked at specialist health stores or at a more diverse online supermarket such as Ocado. Prices typically are around £2-4 for 500ml.

Do it yourself kefir is great value for money in the long run and I even purchased one of the more expensive kefir grains off ebay and even so the equipment needed to get started will realistically cost around £10-13. The only thing you’ll need to do is buy a little milk each week.

Time

Time wise once you get used to the process, you can easily strain the Kefir grains within 1-2 minutes, there is very little skill or effort required.

Final Tips

  • Ideally use organic milk where possible (even though I used normal in my example)
  • Like most bacteria they thrive best at room temperature and out of direct sunlight
  • Store the kefir in a light blocking container
  • Over time the Kefir grains will grow in size, so you can share with other people 
  • If you need to leave the Kefir longer than 7 days (going on holiday), place the container in the fridge. This significantly slows down the fermentation process
  • Full fat milk is supposed to be a better environment for the Kefir grains, however I’ve had no issues using skimmed or my usual semi skimmed
  • Kefir is generally well tolerated by those with lactose issues however it is possible to also make water kefir or coconut milk kefir
  • Start off with small amounts, trying to change your gut bacteria too fast can have negative short term reactions

MyGainz recommendation

Start off with a test amount of a tablespoon and then work your way up slowly. Gut bacteria will not change overnight, it’s important to stick to the use of probiotics for a number of weeks and months. Personally I have a small glass (~250ml) of kefir 2-3 times a week, each batch therefore has been fermenting for around 2-3 days..