25 April 2014

My Introduction to Kefir (AKA Clumpy Milk)

As I work to become more deliberate in my family's food choices, I was graciously gifted with some grains of kefir.

Um, thanks?

I can only suppose that's what one should say when handed a jar of warm milk with clumps in it. If I dare open it, I envision wafts of sour milk filling the air and my company falling to the ground. So I don't. Instead, I kindly place it on my counter and try to move on to more pleasant things.

Like many, I've heard of kefir but was not intimate with it. Kefir is so foreign to 21st century Americans that we can't conceive the notion of intentionally growing bacteria on our kitchen counters, much less consuming it. For us, our dairy products come from a far away land where the cows frolic in flower fields and delicious dairy products are magically made by elves. That's totally normal, right?

Well, I was assured by the gifter that was not  how it was done. The jar I was looking at was how it was done - with colonies of bacteria and yeast growing inside warm milk. Dream crusher.

I was also informed that this jar held the nectar of the gods and that its healing powers are otherworldly. Kefir translates to "good feeling" and was aptly named by the gods who bestowed it upon the humans as a gift of good heath.

Okay. I'm sold. I'm open-minded and do realize that old-world traditions have a viably justified place in modern medicine. Besides, it was made by the gods. But my logical mind had to research this phenomena before embracing such an odd and foreign idea. Do I really want to grow colonies of bacteria on my counter, much less consume them? Can I get past the repellent visual of clumpy grains in warm milk? And is is truly safe to drink this bubbly concoction? According to my research, yes.

Let's look at what Kefir actually is and how it's consumed. Kefir is similar to yogurt, except that it's more liquid. Its flavor is likened to Greek yogurt/sour cream with a slightly effervescent attribute. And it's most commonly consumed as a smoothie, mixed with fruits and a sweetener such as honey.

So, if it's similar to yogurt, why not just stick with the yogurt you've come to know and love? Because kefir packs way more of a health punch than yogurt. While yogurt only "feeds" the good bacteria currently residing in our system, kefir is the good bacteria. As it's consumed, it colonizes within our digestive tract and reduces the colonies of bad bacteria. This difference is crucial in maintaining a balance of good vs. bad. And with 35 different strains of good yeasts and bacteria, kefir's benefits tower over yogurt's mere 5 strains.

Other facts I've found are:
  • Kefir's pro-biotics boost the immune system.
  • 80% of our immune system is located within our digestive tract and is dependent on good bacteria to maintain its health.
  • Kefir has anti-tumor properties.
  • Kefir is known for its ability to control toxins in our system.
  • Kefir increases digestibility and is a proven treatment for digestive issues.
  • Kefir is rich in protein as well as vitamins A, B2, B12, D, K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, + tryptophan. All sorts of goodness there.
So how do I get past the idea of warm clumpy milk growing on my kitchen counter? I simply think of it as I do when making yeast breads. Those little packets of yeast we use to start our breads are basically the same thing, little colonies of yeast which we ultimately consume (with wild abandon, slathered in butter). And as I continue to nurture these little clumps of grains and watch them grow, I find myself becoming more attached to them. Just as I do with my family, I feed them, care for them, and tend their every need. And in return, they keep my family healthy.

If you're like me, a product of 21st century commercialism, it might be difficult at first to wrap your head around growing colonies of bacteria and yeast in your home. But if you think of it as you would bread yeast, the idea becomes less foreign. If you're ready to give it a try, next week I'll show you how to maintain kefir and my recipe for a kefir smoothie.



  1. Welllllllllll . . . I'm not sure about this. You do a very good job of making the case for it but it just looks so icky (and I grew up on a dairy farm and know all about weird uses of dairy products!)

  2. Oh, Kerry! I though you of all people would be perfectly okay with the whole notion. So you can testify that cows don't live in flower fields and dairy products aren't make by elves?


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