Fermenting is quite a thing these days. Kefir has been a big topic on The Archers for months now, so clearly the time has arrived to embrace the world of fermented foods.
This very ancient process of preserving foods is now well established to be astonishingly beneficial for our health. Many things, be it milk, vegetables, tea or even water can be transformed in to highly functional foods teaming with beneficial, health-enhancing bacteria.
The process of natural fermentation encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria and yeast to eat up the natural sugars in foods and in the process of the bacteria and yeast breaking down the sugars, they produce really beneficial microbes that support our gut health. Good gut health equals good health throughout the body, esp. important for strong digestion, well balanced immune system and brain health.
Pictured here are the 2 ferments I make every day. There’s dairy kefir – a highly complex sour yogurt-type drink that is teaming not only in very high numbers of probiotic bacteria but importantly, dairy kefir has a wide range of beneficial bacteria too. Your standard shop-bought yogurt will have 2 – 3 strains of bacteria. Dairy kefir can have more than 20!
Kefir, as with ANY and ALL fermented foods should be SOUR. Through the process of the fermentation, sugars are eaten up. I am somewhat dismayed that the push for fermented foods commercially has resulted in bottles of dairy kefir now being readily available, but due to the challenging nature of dairy kefir i.e. a very sour, slightly fizzy, thin yogurt-style drink, this is quite a hard sell, so many commercial makers are not leaving the process of fermentation long enough for the sugars to be eaten up. This not only leaves way too much lactose (milk sugar) present, but more importantly, means that the beneficial bacteria count will be very poor. Ironically kefir means ‘pleasure drink’, but due to our modern palettes being so used to sweetness, the sourness of real kefir can be more challenging than pleasurable.
If you have been buying kefir, merrily swigging away a delicious, creamy buttermilk type drink, you really are not getting the benefits of true dairy kefir.
It is extremely simple to make. Those odd little slimy white balls in the photo are dairy kefir grains (I got mine from Happy Kombucha. This specific SCOBY – symbiotic combination of bacteria and yeast, are what eat up milk sugar. Therefore, you put these little magical bundles in some organic full fat milk, preferably non-homogenized, leave at room temperature for a couple of days and the job’s done. Strain off the kefir, put more milk in with the kefir and off you go again.
These are living, breathing organisms that need to be fed. If they are not kept in milk, they will die. And once they have consumed all the milk sugar, they will need to be re-homed in new milk fairly quickly. What is so staggering about making true milk kefir with these grains, is that you can’t create the dairy kefir. These bacterial bundles are ancient are believed to have originated many centuries ago in the Caucasus Mountains. Every dairy kefir colony today has to have originated from the ferments from way back then. This makes sense as the kefir grains quickly grow through the process of eating up the lactose. This means that anyone making kefir with grains (rather than the powder) very quickly find they have too many grains to cope with, so pass on thier kefir grains to friends and family and so it keeps on going.
Just 120ml a day of a good dairy kefir is enough for a therapeutic dose of beneficial bugs. You can use it in smoothies, add to yogurt, and blend up with berries or just drink. Your taste buds will quickly adjust. If buying commercially, look on the back of the bottle and see how much sugar is in the drink. The sugar content per 100ml should be below 1 gram. This is quite hard to find. For a really good product, try Chucking Goat – extremely therapeutic.
The other kefir in my picture is water kefir. This has a similar taste to Kombucha, which is fermented tea, but a different SCOBY and I think easier to make. Kombucha is also gaining popularity and again, often has way too much sugar in it. To make Kombucha, sugar is added to tea and the Kombucha SCOBY, a big slimy disc, eats up the sugar and leaves fizzy, live tea. But as with dairy kefir, to make it more commercial timing wise and taste wise, there is way too much sugar remaining.
Water kefir is also easy to make at home. You have to buy the water kefir grains, these are like little jelly crystals, and they eat up sucrose (sugar) rather than lactose. So to make water kefir, I put the grains in a glass jar with water and raw Muscovado sugar (this contains minerals as well as sugar) and the kefir grains eat up the sugar and thrive on the minerals and in the process, burp out lots of fabulous beneficial bacteria. The water becomes fizzy, sour and so, so delicious.
As above, after a couple of days at room temperature, the kefir is drained off, the grains are put back in a clean jar, more water, more sugar and off you go again. I like to add lime or lemon juice to mine, which provides more fuel for the kefir to feed on and adds flavour and nutrients.
The other well-known and now readily available ferments are live yogurts, both organic dairy and coconut are good, but check for no added sugars. Then there are the fermented veggies – sauerkraut, fermented cabbage; Kimchi, a spicy fermented Korean dish and variations on these such a my favourite, Beet Kraut made by Laurie’s Foods – so tasty, so live and fizzing, you just know it’s doing you good – but don’t heat, you don’t want to kill off those beneficial bacteria.
Raw apple cider vinegar, another great way to get live bacteria in to the system, and even mature cheeses contain good bacteria. Get your taste buds tuned in to these foods. The benefits are truly staggering and something to be made a part of your daily meals where possible.