Our collective obsession with gut health has seen the rise in products/practices/promises to assist in managing your microbiome. And one of those gut health helpers is a much-buzzed about drink called kefir, slated to be a more powerful probiotic than yoghurt and a rich source of calcium, protein and B vitamins.
But are the health benefits of kefir legit? We've enlisted the help of nutritionist Steph Geddes to find out what exactly kefir is and whether its health claims stack up.
So, what is kefir?
While the consumption of kefir is only just hitting the mainstream, the drink has actually been around for thousands of years – thought to originate from the north Caucasus Mountains.
Traditional kefir is a fermented drink made by adding kefir grains to milk. Kefir grains aren't those you'd find in a bowl of cereal but "grain-like" colonies of a combination of yeast and bacteria. Milk (usually cow's or goat's) is combined with these kefir grains and stored in a warm spot to ferment, a process which produces billions of live cultures and probiotics.
It has a similar consistency to thin yoghurt and it has a tart, tangy flavour.
"Kefir can also be produced with many different types of milk (such as coconut, sheep or soy), as well as water," Steph says.
What are its health benefits of kefir?
"Kefir offers an extremely effective source of nutrients, live cultures and probiotics, and is particularly known to benefit digestion and gut health in a well-balanced diet," Steph says. "Good gut health can contribute to a number of other aspects of our health. Good gut health is important for absorbing nutrients from the foods we eat, boosting our immunity, modulating signals to the brain and even our mood!"
"The beneficial properties of kefir beyond gut health benefits include supporting bone health and helping lactose intolerance as the probiotics and live cultures breakdown the lactose," Steph adds. "[Milk-based kefir] Is a good source of calcium and protein, as well as containing B vitamins."
How often should you be consuming it?
Much like other fermented products, it depends on what each individual body can handle so try introducing a little bit of kefir to your diet before tipping it over everything. However a daily dose of kefir would be a great addition to a healthy, balanced diet, Steph says.
What should you be looking for in a kefir product?
There are many different kinds of kefir products that can be purchased in store or even made at home, each with their own nutritional profiles and flavour profiles.
"Like all foods, the quality of kefir can vary – from the health benefits right down to the taste," Steph says. "An example is to consider water kefir – it is a fantastic alternative for a dairy-free diet, but may not necessarily contain the same amounts of protein or calcium that can be found with a milk based kefir."
She suggests that if you're shopping around, make sure your kefir of choice contains a proven probiotic and live cultures.
"My go-to for a good quality milk kefir product is The Culture Co. Probiotic Kefir Yogurt as it is free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives, but also really smooth and creamy to eat – and doesn’t have a fizziness to it like some other kefirs," Steph says.
How to use kefir
You can use kefir where you'd normally consume milk or yoghurt
"It can be used in smoothies, bircher muesli, salad dressings, marinades, in dips and even in healthy desserts," Steph says.
Keep in mind that heat may significantly decrease probiotic concentration.
How to make your own kefir
What you'll need:
- Active kefir grains
- Your preferred milk (cow's or goat's is usually used)
- A glass jar
- A non-metal stirring utensil
- A breathable cover for the jar like cheesecloth or muslin
- A rubber band
- A plastic mesh strainer
Into your glass jar add one teaspoon of kefir grains for every cup of milk. Cover the jar with your breathable cover and secure it with a rubber band. Store this mixture in a warm spot for around 12 to 48 hours – you'll know it's ready when the milk is slightly thickened and it has a pleasant aroma. After the milk changes texture, separate the grains from the liquid. These grains can be reused in a new batch of milk. Cover your finished kefir tightly and store in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Other tips for making kefir:
- Avoid exposure to metal as it weaken the kefir grain
- Keep the jar away from direct sunlight and high heat as temps over 30 degrees can cause it to spoil
- If the mixture starts to separate, give it a shake
- Temperatures above 90 °F can cause the milk to spoil.
- If you'd like to add fruit to flavour your kefir, introduce it to the strained kefir and let it sit for an additional 24 hours.