These days, the market is flooded with a lot of dairy options and alternatives. These include the popular milk kefir.
What is it, and how different is it from yogurt? Is it truly great for one’s health?
What Is Milk Kefir?
Milk kefir is a fermented dairy product, which has been around for thousands of years with a long history of use among many cultures. Like yogurt, milk kefir is made from the addition of “healthy bacteria” to warm milk.
These good bacteria then ferment the lactose in the milk, creating lactic acid and a delicious fizzy texture. This process makes the nutrients more digestible and bio-available (absorbable by your body).
Milk kefir and yogurt are two very different products. Whereas milk kefir is fizzy, similar to pop or champagne, yogurt is not (unless one lets it ferment for quite a while). Milk kefir also has a much wider variety of bacteria strains than yogurt does, which is part of the reason people find it so easy to digest.
One can also make milk kefir from raw or pasteurized milk, although it’s best to be safe and use concentrated dairy products that undergo stringent processes. Yogurt, meanwhile, uses only pasteurized milk. Additionally, most commercial yogurts contain sugar, whereas one rarely finds dairy sweeteners in the cottage-cheese-style milk kefirs.
What Are the Benefits of Kefir?
Kefir seems to offer a long list of health benefits:
1. It Helps Maintain Normal Cholesterol Levels in your blood
A 2017 study on Iranian women showed that drinking kefir might help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood. In this research, the team divided the participants into three groups: control, those who drank low-fat milk, and women who consumed kefir.
After eight weeks, the results revealed that those who drank either milk or kefir experienced a lower blood cholesterol level than those in the control group or women who consumed low-fat dairy products other than milk or kefir.
2. Kefir Is Great for the Gut
More studies showed that the gut’s role is more expansive than helping digest food. The microbiome in the intestines, for example, might be associated with health and longevity. For example, gut bacteria can influence brain development, according to a 2021 study by the University of Vienna.
In the same manner, some attribute many chronic conditions such as diabetes to poor gut function. One of the common theories is that the lack of diversity of the organisms there can make the intestinal wall more permeable.
This can allow wastes, organism by-products, and even food to enter the bloodstream when they shouldn’t. It could then trigger the immune system to become overactive or increase the risk of chronic inflammation.
Kefir is rich in microorganisms, thanks to the starter culture. In fact, it can have more live bacteria than yogurt. The quantity and diversity can, therefore, potentially enhance the condition of the gut.
3. Kefir Can Be an Alternative to Regular Milk
Kefir contains active enzymes called peptidases that aid digestion by breaking down protein into its individual amino acids, making it easier for your body to absorb them through your intestinal walls. For lactose-intolerant people, kefir actually contains a type of lactase that makes the digestion of dairy products possible.
4. It Can Improve the Condition of the Skin
The lipids in milk have been shown to improve the elasticity of human skin and reduce the depth of wrinkles as we age. Further, kefir might have a positive effect on acne sufferers.
In this case, it is believed that the bacteria responsible for acne cannot attach to mucus membrane lining with living microorganisms. Some studies have also linked acne with issues with the gut. By helping to correct this problem, it can clear up the skin.
5. Kefir Can Promote Wound Healing
Kefir can also enhance the healing of wounds and burns because it stimulates the growth of new tissue cells. It can also soothe irritated skin and inhibit pathogenic bacterial growth. Studies have found that kefir contains a few different antimicrobial peptides with antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic activity.
How to Make Milk Kefir
To make milk kefir, one needs only two things: whole milk and a starter culture that contains live active probiotic bacteria. The culture comes freeze-dried inside packets, similar to what they would find in yogurt or sour cream because the good bacteria are dormant until they are rehydrated with liquid milk. Once mixed with milk, they ferment into delicious kefir.
Once someone receives a culture, they have to use it immediately or freeze it quickly. They can then take one packet of the culture and mix it with half-cup milk in a glass jar. They can cover tightly with a non-metallic lid (like wood or plastic) and let sit at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours.
After this time, the kefir will have thickened into a drinkable consistency. Depending on how tart one wants their kefir to be, the longer it ferments, the more tart flavor that develops.
Once the kefir is fermented to one’s liking, they can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.