ASK CLAIRE // KEFIR & KOMBUCHA

Kefir and kombucha. What’s their story? Should we go there or not?

Fermented foods have been used for centuries. The main component, Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), is exploited in societies for food preparation and preservation all over the world (and has been for years). Basically, when refrigeration came about there was less need to preserve foods. So, apart from traditional societies, the practice was lost.

Now it’s surfacing in research (see review articles here and here) just how incredible fermented foods can be for our health. Normal yoghurt just can’t compete with the plethora of probiotics (lactobacillus acidophilus and bifdobacterium bifidum being the main guys) we gain from fermented foods! Why? Because manufacturing, packaging and transporting of supposedly probiotic-rich foods can cause fluctuations in the actual amount of live bacteria in the products. Plus, they don’t always thrive in their new environments if they are additions to the product, and not naturally produced there (as in pot-set yoghurt).

There are many varieties of fermented foods. Kefir, being fermented milk, kombucha, being fermented tea, kvaas, being fermented beets, sauerkraut, being fermented cabbage, and kimchi, being fermented cabbage and spicy peppers (more ingredients than sauerkraut). You can also get kefir water grains that you can use to ferment water or coconut water for the same benefits as milk kefir, but for those that can’t tolerate dairy.

The benefits of fermented food is really endless.

First off, they have a positive effect on our microbiota (ecology of micro-organisms that live within us). If you refer to an older post of mine here, I touch on microbiota.

This has a flow on affect. Consuming fermented foods, such as kefir and kombucha, has been shown to have a positive affect on mental health, inflammation and immune system function, gut function, and even lactose intolerance…to name just a few.

Specifically referring to Kefir and Kombucha, as that was your question…

I personally love, love, love kefir! I drink it every other day, when it’s finished fermenting in my kitchen. The starter culture is this squidgy cauliflower looking stuff (that you begin to associate with them like they are pets). You add the starter culture to room temperate milk (I use A2 milk, I tried using organic non-homogenised and it didn’t work as well…) and then leave it for 2 – 3 days. I always put it in the fridge (with the grains) after 2 days and leave it for a day before draining and consuming. I don’t know why, but I feel like it settles and you get an awesome taste! Plus it’s cold and crisp.

The kefir grains can be bought online, or you can find someone with an already active colony and steal some of the grains. If you are actively fermenting kefir every 2-3 days you will find they multiple quite quickly! (Yes, the grains grow and multiply, it’s insanely cool! Hence why they become like pets).

Now, I can’t drink milk or eat ice-cream without getting a stomach ache. Yet, I can consume copious amounts of kefir without any tummy troubles (I actually drink it when I have a stomach ache!). It’s so delicious with a little bit of cinnamon. If you are new to fermented foods and find the ‘tang’ of the kefir a bit much, you can start with a little drizzle of jarrah (15+) honey as well.

Kefir is Turkish for ‘feel good’.

With probiotics being well known for their health benefits, but probiotic products being quite costly – it’s great to have an alternative like kefir! It costs as much as buying a 1L milk once or twice a week!

Kefir contains appreciable amounts of B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, molybdenum and cobalt. The calcium and zinc are definitely what I am after in kefir (above and beyond the probiotic goodness)! The bioavailability of micronutrients is insane as well.

So yes, I think kefir is worth it.

I also think sauerkraut and/or kimchi are worth it (I have this with my eggs every morning for breakky) and beet kvaas (being the easiest to make) is also a great alternative to vinegar in a salad dressing.

Kombucha I haven’t fallen in love with, but that’s not to say it’s great too! It’s super sweet for me and by the sounds of things harder to deal with. The sound of a ‘scoby’ freaks me out and it reminds me of a jellyfish! But I think I will have a go at this one sometime soon. I reckon I could make a less-sweeter version myself.

This being said, the other night I forced myself to drink a ginger kombucha from Fresh Provs because I had a raging stomachache from not eating right during the day at uni. It went away right away, it was super soothing. I ended up really enjoying it. So maybe I just need to overcome the idea that it kind of makes me feel like I am consuming a fizzy drink!

So in short, yes! I definitely think any fermented food it worth it. Not only for the plethora of probiotics you receive from them but also for the fun in creating them and being totally in control of the production and preservation of your food! (Well, maybe not totally in control because the milk farmers are producing your milk, but you know what I mean!).

This being said, at any point when we introduce a high-probiotic food (like kefir) start small! It could be a shock to the system ingesting a shitload of probiotics – remember, these guys are LIVE bacteria (and when I say a shitload, a load your body would not be used to as no foods really match up to fermented foods!). Start with a tablespoon or two and then move up to a cup or so. My first time trying kefir was pretty full on. It felt like there was a drum and bass party in my stomach! And I have had a lot of probiotic goodness in my lifetime, clearly not as much as is in kefir!

I hope this answers your question!

Would love to hear everyone else’s opinion on fermented foods? Do we love ’em? Which ones are our favourite?

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 8.41.36 am

Claire Hargreaves