"She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness." Proverbs 31:27

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Dairy Kefir

Dairy Kefir is a fermented yogurt-like milk. It is slightly sour and not as thick as yogurt, and it contains more probiotics than yogurt. Dairy kefir grains (they are not real grains, but a SCOBY –symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) are required for making kefir. Kefir is alive with beneficial bacteria and yeast which depend and work in harmony with each other. Just as the kombucha culture feeds off of the sugar, dairy kefir grains feed on the sugar in milk (lactose). That is why people who are lactose intolerant are generally able to drink kefir without problems.  

Kefir is one of the easiest and healthiest things you can make. All you have to do is pour milk over a small amount of grains in a glass jar. Cover with a cloth or coffee filter, and let it sit for 24 hours. It’s ready after 24-48 hours, when the milk has thickened. Strain out the grains, and you’re ready to make a kefir smoothie. After you strain off your kefir yogurt drink, refrigerate. It is alive, and it will keep getting stronger in flavor if left at room temperature.

Dairy kefir grains are reusable, and they don’t need to be rinsed between batches of kefir. They multiply slowly over time, if taken care of and fed. They don’t go bad, unless something contaminated the batch and caused mold. Don’t forget that metal will harm the culture. Stir the kefir with a plastic or wooden spoon, use a plastic strainer, and store in glass jars.

Raw milk is best for making kefir, but pasteurized milk can also be used. However, ultra-pasteurized milk will not make kefir. It is dead milk, and won’t ferment correctly. Grass-fed milk is safest for the health of the culture and for you.

Health Benefits:
Raw milk kefir is full of enzymes and vitamins that help with overall health. Kefir can even reverse health problems by healing the digestive tract and restoring proper gut flora. People with lactose intolerance can usually drink RAW milk kefir. Kefir is known to heal heartburn, and heal an imbalanced gut.

The most popular way to drink kefir is in a fruit smoothie sweetened with honey.

Other uses: You can experiment with creating thicker kefir to use as cream cheese or sour cream, by letting it sit on the counter for a couple more days than normal. Sour cream is made the same way as normal kefir, but with cream instead of milk. Kefir cream cheese is also made the same way as normal kefir, but let it sit longer until it separates into curds and whey (a couple days). Wrap it in cheesecloth and hang over a bowl to strain off the whey. Use the cream cheese like you normally would, and use the whey for other homemade fermented foods. Kefir can also be used as leaven in sourdough bread. It can be used in place of yogurt or sour cream in recipes, or used however you like.

There is also a water kefir version of the culture. It feeds off of sugar instead of milk. It’s similar to kombucha, except it is not vinegary in flavor. It doesn’t have the same detoxifying qualities as kombucha, but it contains more probiotics (the same as dairy kefir, but less concentrated). 

Visit Culturesforhealth.com for more information, or to order dehydrated kefir grains. 


What is kombucha?
Kombucha is fermented tea that is full of beneficial bacteria/probiotics and yeast. It is a very detoxifying, energizing, and refreshing beverage. Kombucha’s origins date back to ancient China and Japan. It has been popular in many different countries for its health benefits, and it is known by many names. Before Kombucha was brought to the United States, it was a traditional Russian beverage called “tea Kvass.”

Kombucha SCOBY:
In order to brew your own kombucha tea, you need a kombucha “mushroom” or SCOBY. A SCOBY is a Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. This SCOBY mushroom is what ferments the tea and adds all the health benefits. The SCOBY lives off of sugar (which you add to the tea), the vitamins and minerals found in tea, and oxygen (it needs to breathe). The SCOBY culture looks like a flat pancake or mushroom. It’s not a real mushroom or fungus, but many refer to it as such because of its appearance.

The SCOBY is alive, and fermenting the tea with the SCOBY causes the tea to become alive and full of probiotics. The yeast and bacteria which make up the “mushroom” live in symbiotic harmony and dependence with each other, creating a community or culture. The culture will fight against harmful invaders, and fills your tea with beneficial bacteria and yeast. However, you have to properly care for the kombucha culture or it will die and not ferment tea.

Black tea is traditionally used for kombucha because it has all the necessary nutrients and minerals for the culture. Green tea can be mixed with black tea for a milder flavor. Really, any true tea (not herbal tea) can be used. Oils from herbal teas can damage the culture. Organic tea is best for kombucha, because it is free of pesticides which are harmful to the kombucha culture. Sugar is what the culture feeds on. The sugar isn’t an issue for those who drink kombucha, because most of the sugar is metabolized by the SCOBY. A full term brewing period will result in very minimal traces of sugar. White sugar is easiest for the SCOBY to digest, and that is what most people recommend.

While fermenting and feeding on the sugar, the kombucha tea is transformed into a tea full of vitamins, acids, minerals, enzymes, carbon dioxide, and many different strands of beneficial bacteria and yeast (probiotics). This is great for us, because the beneficial bacteria in kombucha balances gut flora, which contributes to overall health. The tea tastes like a cross between apple cider, sweet tea, and vinegar. Stronger brews taste like vinegar or beer. The makeup and nutrients of Kombucha is very similar to that of apple cider vinegar. Kombucha can become bubbly like soda, because of the carbon dioxide produced. It also contains a trace amount of alcohol (no more than .5%).

Health Benefits:
Some of the health benefits reported from drinking kombucha include energy, overall good feeling from removal of toxins, and improved digestion. It has also been said to clear up acne, aid hair growth, prevent gray hair, and helps with weight loss if taken before meals. It helps athletes recover after strenuous workouts, by eliminating the bad lactic acid (the cause of sore muscles) from the muscles. It is also said to fight against cancer. Kombucha tea is full of B vitamins, folic acid, and L-lactic acid (it removes the bad DL-lactic acid from your body). Kombucha contains glucuronic acid which binds up poisons and toxins and pulls them out of the body. The acids in kombucha are what make it so detoxifying; because the powerful acids are what pull the toxins out. These acids bring toxins straight to the kidneys for excretion. Some people call kombucha a “second liver.” The enzymes in kombucha are what help with digestion. It contains probiotics (but not as many as kefir), and boosts the immune system. Some drink kombucha as a healthy replacement for soda, or as a coffee alternative.

Be careful when first drinking kombucha tea. Start with only a couple ounces a day. Slowly build up to about 12 ounces a day. Drinking too much can cause headaches or nausea, because it will detoxify your body too fast. Detoxing is something that should be done slowly as to not overwhelm your body. Also, there may be a die-off of pathogenic bacteria and yeast in your gut, because the kombucha is replacing it with beneficial bacteria and yeast. This can cause flu-like symptoms if too much kombucha is consumed too soon.

How to Make Kombucha:
You will need tea (black or green),
sugar (white sugar is best),
1 SCOBY mushroom,
starter tea (already brewed kombucha tea),
and purified water (city water will kill the kombucha culture because of poisons like fluoride and chlorine).

Don’t worry about the caffeine or white sugar in the tea, because the SCOBY metabolizes it.  
You will also need a glass jar or bowl, plastic strainer, and glass bottles.
Never let metal touch your kombucha tea or SCOBY. Kombucha will pull out metals and leech plastic. That is why it is so detoxing. It pulls metals and toxins from our bodies when we drink it. Plastic is ok for straining the kombucha. However, kombucha should only be stored and brewed in clear glass. Crystal is also harmful because it contains lead.

Here is a basic recipe: Boil 2-3 quarts of water. Add 1 cup of sugar, and 4 tea bags. Let it steep until completely cool. Pour the sweetened tea into a glass bowl/jar and add ½ cup of starter (already brewed kombucha tea). Place the SCOBY in the tea mixture, and cover with a cloth or coffee filter. Secure cloth with a rubber band so that fruit flies can’t get in. Let the tea ferment for 7-10 days. It will be ready when a baby mushroom has formed on top of the tea, and the flavor of the tea is slightly sour yet pleasant. Refrigerate your harvested batch of tea or it will keep fermenting and turn to vinegar. Most people like to store their harvested kombucha in glass bottles to retain fizzy-ness. 

Final Brewing Tips and Warnings:
Size doesn’t matter when first starting with a kombucha mushroom. It will eventually grow a baby SCOBY that covers the surface area of your glass container. Holes in the mushroom are fine, and the little strands of brown yeast are normal. On the other hand, mold is bad, and means the culture is sick or dead. If you see mold, throw it away. You should be able to use your SCOBY for a long period of time. It will grow thicker each time you ferment tea. However, you want to replace your mother SCOBY with one of her babies, eventually. A good sign that you need to replace a kombucha SCOBY is when it turns dark brown. The dark brown color means the mushroom is worn out and old.

The kombucha SCOBY is sensitive to light, noise, temperature (ideal is between 70 and 80 degrees), fruit/oils, and environment. It’s best to ferment the tea in a semi-dark and quiet area. The tea also has to be able to breathe while it ferments, and should be covered with a cloth. A batch of tea takes at least 7-10 days to ferment, and a healthy mushroom produces a new baby each time. SCOBYs can’t be heated. Always make sure your tea is cool before placing the mushroom in it. If a culture sinks to the bottom of the jar, this could mean that the tea is still too warm. SCOBYs can be refrigerated in a glass jar if you need to take a break from fermenting.

Other uses for Komucha: You can use kombucha to make a sourdough bread starter, vinegar, or flavored fruit juice kombucha.
You can double ferment you tea with fruit or juice to make it more effervescent, but only after the SCOBY is removed. If you want to experiment with different teas or sugars, use an extra culture that you can discard if it doesn’t turn out. Don’t add it back to the original brew.

Visit Culturesforhealth.com for more information, or to order a dehydrated SCOBY.

Sources: Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, Kombucha Phenomenon by Besty Pryor and Sanford Holst, and my personal experience.