Over the pst year I have been looking to add more fermented foods into my diet, knowing that modern life (and our phobia of microbiology) has been rough on the beneficial biology of the gut. Even foods that were once, traditionally, fermented are no longer the biologically rich foods they once were. Example: tempeh, which used to be endorsed as good source of B12 vitamins is not so in the US. Our regulations and our mechanized food supply (which favors profit and convenience over nutritiousness, flavor and quality) do not allow tempeh producers to make available the same product you would find in Southeast Asia (where tempeh originated from). It’s just too full of biology and that scares people. You have to make tempeh at home if you want the quality, flavorful and nutritious tempeh that would be rich in B vitamins.
Another example of this trend is commercially produced kefir. Kefir is a yogurt-like fermented product, reputed to be originating from deep within Russia, made from milk and kefir grains. Kefir grains are a combination of bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower. Specific species that are likely to be present in milk kefir grains are listed at the end of this article.
Humans have consumed fermented foods since probably the dawn of their appearance. The assumption is often that fermentation (bacteria, yeasts, etc) are always a bad thing. This is far from being true. You cannot live without these creatures. Inside your gut resides countless organisms that help you digest your food and assimilate nutrients into the body. In addition we are now coming to understand that these creatures are also intricately involved with our immune systems protecting us from harmful microorganisms. While I don’t understand all the ways in which this works, one thing I do understand is that when we have killed our biology through the use of drugs like antibiotics, the space left behind is vacant, which allows some other sort of organism that may or may not be friendly to occupy that space. This is perhaps our biggest oversight in public health which currently supports a phobic response to microbiology. We are killing our allies in the hopes of being “clean” but the end result is that we have created vacancies where most of the time the more opportunistic and usually non-beneficial organisms take up residence.
In addition to making sauerkraut, kombucha and other home-fermented products, I have established a daily routine at home making kefir.
I ordered my kefir grains from Real Kefir Grains. They came vacuum-sealed with instructions in the mail. I opened this packaging and dumped the kefir grains into a quart-sized, wide mouth jar. Over these I poured about half a quart of milk (these were new grains and few so I didn’t want too much milk. I then tied a piece of cloth over the top of the jar and set it in a dark cabinet for 24 hours. You can also just use a lid, but there is no need to omit oxygen. In fact I think the presence of oxygen is probably beneficial.
In the morning I got my first batch of Kefir. Every day I wake up, strain out the grains, and drink the kefir. The grains I add into a new quart jar with almost a quart of milk. The kefir grains have already multiplied over the past few months and I have already shared them with friends.
The longer you leave kefir grains in the milk, the the more alcoholic the drink becomes, but nothing close to the content of even the weakest beer. Depending on the temperature, after a bit of time the whey will also start to separate from the curds, and in effect you are starting to make a cheese. This is fine if this happens. I just vigorously stir the contents of the jar until it is more homogenous again and then sift out the grains.
Kefir is much more nutritious and full of beneficial organisms than yogurt. What is more, those organisms are much more likely to colonize the digestive track than yogurt. The reasons are complicated but suffice it to say that I have noticed lots of benefits to my consumption of kefir daily.
I happen to be allergic to dairy products. Usually such a large consumption of dairy like this would not be good for me. I am not sure but I suspect that the fermentation process renders the aspects of dairy that don’t agree with my body harmless. This is only a personal experience and perhaps someone else knows the science behind these results.
I drink kefir plain. It is somewhat sour, slightly alcoholic and if left to ferment longer, somewhat carbonated. I enjoy this flavor a lot but some people find that adding some fruit or sweetener to kefir more appealing.
This is been one of the easiest and healthful routines I have assimilated into my daily routine.
Organisms that commonly reside in kefir:
Lb. brevis [Possibly now Lb. kefiri]
Lb. casei subsp. casei
Lb. casei subsp. rhamnosus
Lb. paracasei subsp. paracasei
Lb. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
Lb. delbrueckii subsp. lactis
Lb. helveticus subsp. lactis
Lb. kefiranofaciens subsp. kefirgranum
Lb. kefiranofaciens subsp. kefiranofaciens
Lc. lactis subsp. lactis
Lc. lactis subsp. lactis biovar. diacetylactis
Lc. lactis subsp. cremoris
Leuc. mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
Leuc. mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides
Dekkera anomala / Brettanomyces anomalus
Kluyveromyces marxianus / Candida kefyr
Pichia fermentans / C. firmetaria
Yarrowia lipolytica / C. lipolytica
Debaryomyces hansenii / C. famata
Deb. [Schwanniomyces] occidentalis
Issatchenkia orientalis / C. krusei
Galactomyces geotrichum / Geotrichum candidum
Kluyveromyces lactis var. lactis
Sacc. subsp. torulopsis holmii
Sacc. turicensis sp. nov