Kefir is a fermented milk product that can be made from cow, goat or sheep's milk. It is distinguished from similar lacto-fermented drinks by its unique kefir grain, a cauliflower floret-like object which consists of a cluster of symbiotic yeasts and bacteria in a polysaccharide matrix known as kefiran. Due to the presence of beneficial yeasts, kefir is slightly effervescent and contains a small amount of alcohol.
Originating in the Caucasus Mountains, kefir was a traditional drink among Muslim nomads who lived in yurt-like dwellings. The origins of kefir are shrouded in mystery. Its nomad propagators claimed that kefir grains were a gift from Allah and passed on their grains as a supreme form of family wealth. The word kefir comes from the Turkish word keif, meaning "feel good." Kefir is the original health drink and "pick me up."
Aside from being an easily digestible and nourishing drink, kefir is an important source of probiotics or beneficial micro-organisms. In addition to the typical lactobacilli found in yoghurt, such as L. acidophilus and L. bulgaricus, kefir contains many unique organisms such as L. kefiri and L.kefiranofasciens, which are distinguished by their ability to colonize the human digestive tract. The organisms in kefir improve lactose digestion and enhance gastric motility and emptying. They also have important antibiotic, anti-fungal and antimicrobial actions against a range of pathogens including coliform bacteria, Staphylococci, Streptococci, Salmonella, and Listeria as well as Candida albicans, the yeast involved in systemic candidiasis. Thus kefir is of great value in food poisoning, bowel dysbiosis and yeast overgrowth. Kefir is also a valuable anti-oxidant and has been shown to possess anti-cancer activity and to promote immunity.
Because the organisms in kefir ferment lactose, kefir is acceptable for lactose intolerant individuals. Those sensitive to cow's milk protein may do well with goats milk kefir, while for vegans or those unable to tolerate any form of dairy product, a delicious and beneficial kefir can be made from coconut milk.
There are many commercially available forms of kefir, but unfortunately these products do not necessarily contain the unique blend of micro-organisms that give the drink its full benefits. Traditionally-made kefir is far superior to its commercial counterpart. It is easy to make kefir at home, since the grains, once the treasured heirlooms of Caucasian nomads, are now readily available from dedicated individuals. Because of its wide range of health benefits, it is well worth spending a few minutes each day to produce your own "feel-good drink."
Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
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