When I lived in Sydney, I purchased water kefir from a regular customer at the health food store in Woollahra where I worked at the time. He would come in with his homemade kefir, have a chat, then buy his groceries.
I’m sure some people thought it strange as he handed over a large jar of murky water to me. But he was adamant it worked wonders for health and had been drinking it for years. Well before everything fermented and gut-health related was ‘trendy’.
There has been a fair amount of research conducted on kefir now so I dug through the journals to bring you the most up to date, evidence-based info I could find on this fascinating fermented drink.
What is Kefir?
Originating in the Caucasus Mountains thousands of years ago, kefir (kee-fer) is a probiotic drink made from combining kefir grains (a mix of live bacteria and yeast), a base liquid and sugar.
The word kefir is derived from the Turkish word keyif, which means “feeling good” after its ingestion.
Similar to kombucha, it’s a fermented beverage that uses sugar and bacteria to naturally carbonate the base liquid and create a probiotic-rich drink that supports a healthy gut by adding more of the beneficial bacteria that help to bring balance back to our gut microbiome. The main products of kefir fermentation are lactic acid, ethanol and carbon dioxide.
You can find a range of different kefir drinks now. Most commonly, they’re based on either goat’s milk, cow’s milk, coconut milk, coconut water, or plain water.
What are Kefir Grains?
Kefir grains are what a SCOBY is to Kombucha. It’s the starter culture of bacteria and yeast, but instead of making a strange looking mushroom top like kombucha, kefir grains cluster together in a mesh of proteins and polysaccharides and sink to the bottom of the jar.
7 Health Benefits Of Kefir
1. Kefir may support gut problems, hypertension, allergies, and ischemic heart disease
Even though every kefir batch is different, studies have found a wide variety of bioactive compounds such as organic acids, CO2, H2O2, ethanol, bioactive peptides, exopolysaccharides (kefiran), and bacteriocins.
These compounds include probiotics which are the good kind of bacteria that happily live in our guts that offer numerous health benefits such as making key nutrients, aiding in digestion and boosting our immune system.
The mix of active compounds may work together or separately to support the management of these conditions. However, we’re not sure how yet or if it works for everybody!
2. Kefir offers antimicrobial benefits
The mix of bioactive compounds created during the fermentation process gives kefir impressive antimicrobial powers. These compounds may have beneficial effects not only in the reduction of food borne pathogens and deteriorating bacteria during beverage production and storage, but also in the treatment and prevention of gastroenteritis and vaginal infections, with studies showing it may assist with managing candida overgrowth.
3. Kefir Aids Healing Processes and Offers Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
It’s still early days for this benefit, as there isn’t a great deal of evidence around it. But studies on mice have shown anti-inflammatory effects when kefir was used as a gel for wound healing and it supported healing activities on infected burns.
4. Kefir can help balance your gut bacteria (helping to reduce bloating and improve digestion)
Regular consumption of kefir may alleviate tummy issues such as diarrhoea, constipation, reduce flatulence and help restore your digestive system to normal after taking antibiotics. The effect is a combination of its antimicrobial activity killing off the harmful bacteria and its beneficial probiotic content. It may even aid in the treatment of peptic ulcers.
5. Kefir might reduce tumor growth
That’s a big statement, I know. I’d like the emphasise the “might” here as more research is needed. But still, kefir potentially has anti-tumoral properties and promotes resistance of the mucosa to intestinal infections according to this study. It may also act as an antioxidant.
6. Kefir can influence your immune system
Consuming kefir has been shown to change the activity of your immune system by stimulating the immune system and promoting cell-mediated immune responses against tumors and intracellular pathogen infections.
7. Kefir may improve lactose intolerance
Research is still in its early days, with one study showing that kefir made from cow’s milk had a dramatic reduction of symptoms in their lactose intolerance symptoms. Reducing flatulence and cramps by up to 50%.
Some kefir grains show β-galactosidase enzyme activity, which stays active when consumed, and the drink contains less lactose than regular milk thanks to the healthy bacteria and yeasts that use it as fuel during the fermentation process that occurs to make kefir.
How can I drink it?
Kefir has a tangy and almost carbonated flavour, with a texture that is thicker than milk. Although Kefir may sound very foreign to some it can be used just like a yoghurt: You can add it to smoothies, on top of muesli or even use it in baking or just drink it straight up. The water varieties are best consumed as a beverage, straight up and chilled.
I adore the plain water kefir as it is naturally sweet, contains no other fruit juices or flavourings so it sits really well in my sensitive system. My current favourite is Yogi Nectar, created in Mullumbimby, NSW.
Have you tried kefir? Has it helped you in some way? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!
Updated Oct 19, 2017.