My Introduction to Fermentation
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
All of my adult life I have struggled with my weight. It probably does not help that I have a serious love-hate relationship with sweets and carbs. I hate that I love them so much. Twice in my life I have followed a weight loss program. And each time I had success, but maintaining that weight loss has been difficult if not practically impossible. Almost two years ago I was reading an article in a First Magazine, the kind of magazine I would never read; but found an interesting article that said that Dr. Oz believed that a skinny person and an overweight person could eat the same thing, but because of different gut flora the overweight person would gain more weight or the skinny person would lose more weight. This introduced me to the idea of probiotics and prebiotics.
A probiotic is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “denoting a substance that stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora).” Examples of probiotics include unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, fermented pickles, yogurt, kefir, and sourdough bread. The Oxford Dictionary defines a prebiotic as “a nondigestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.” In other words, a prebiotic is a carbohydrate that the human body is unable to digest, but that probiotics are able to digest. This helps to promote a healthy digestive system. According to prebiotin.com examples of prebiotic foods include bananas, raw garlic, raw and cooked onion.
I knew that my diet wasn’t helping me to lose weight, but the idea that certain foods could help me maintain weight loss caught my attention. First I started taking a probiotic supplement that I found at a local drugstore. There was a pretty large selection and I had no idea where to start. In the few months I took the supplement I felt great, but they were expensive and I read that a good portion of the live cultures might in fact no longer be live. Around this time I became pregnant. During my first trimester I could barely keep water down and ended up losing 13 pounds. I wanted to keep taking the supplements because I read that probiotics can be very beneficial for your baby. I ended up quitting the supplements because they were way too expensive to throw up!
Fast forward to after my little one was born and my sister Annie came to help for a week. When she visited she also brought with her kefir grains. And that was my introduction to homemade fermented food and probiotics. Fermented foods are a good source of probiotics. The Oxford dictionary defines fermentation as “The chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically involving effervescence and the giving off of heat.”
What is Kefir?
Kefir grains look like translucent curds of cottage cheese. Each grain has a symbiotic relationship between bacteria and yeast that are joined together with milk proteins and complex sugars. Kefir is a “cultured and microbial rich food” that aids in restoration of inner ecology (Nourishing Traditions 86). During the fermentation process beneficial bacteria and yeast within the kefir devour most of the lactose in dairy products and in turn provide enzymes, such as lactase, for consuming whatever lactose is still left after the milk has fermented. Kefir is abundant in vitamins A, B2, B12, D, and K. It is also plentiful in calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. (Cultures for Health) In fact, fermentation actually increases the amount of vitamins B and C in milk. (Nourishing Traditions, 81) When I was pregnant I learned that I was extremely deficient in vitamin D and was given a prescription to increase my levels. It is great to know that there is a cheap natural way to get vitamins that I need. Whey is the result after fermenting milk with the kefir grains. Whey is milk without the fat or milk solids, but still contains all of the potassium and calcium of whole milk. Kefir whey is also said to have tryptophan in it.
Research by Steven R. Hertzler, PhD, Rd, is even suggesting that kefir helps lactose intolerance. (WebMD) Breath hydrogen levels (a sign of having too much gas in the digestive track) and lactose intolerance symptoms were studied eight hours after five different test foods: 2% milk, plain yogurt, raspberry-flavored yogurt, plain kefir, and raspberry-flavored kefir. Each food test was performed after twelve hours of fasting. The study participants reported little to no symptoms after eating the test yogurt and kefir. They also reported half as much hydrogen gas levels when drinking kefir compared to when drinking milk.
Kefir grains will have a different composition house to house and location to location. Different locations, conditions and temperatures cause a development of different symbiotic communities of yeast and bacteria to exist. Two different studies have found twenty-three common bacteria strains, which include subspecies and variants, and nine common yeast strains. (Cultures for Health.com)
Common Bacteria Strains
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii
Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis
Lactobacillus keﬁranofaciens subsp. keﬁranofaciens
Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei
Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris
Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. dextranicum
Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides
Common Yeast Strains
History of Kefir
Kefir is a popular drink in Russia and the story of how it came to Russia is like a story out of a spy movie. Originally kefir comes from the Caucasus mountains of Central Asia, but in the early twentieth century a group called the “All-Russian Physicians’ Society” decided to learn the mysterious source of this healthy effervescent drink. In hopes of charming Bek-Mirza Barchorov, a Caucasus prince, into giving away some of his kefir grains, they sent a young Russian woman named Irina Sakharavo. When the prince refused to share his grains with her she tried to leave and he then had her kidnapped. She was rescued and the prince was charged with kidnapping in the Czar’s courts. To make amends the court had the prince give her some of his kefir grains. She brought kefir to Moscow in 1908 and in 1973 was acknowledged by the Soviet Ministry of Health for bringing what has now become a popular drink to the Russian people.
It can be hard and expensive to make healthy choices in this day and age. Homemade fermented foods and beverages can make that choice delicious and a lot less expensive. Kefir is a great way to begin making your own fermented foods and beverages. In my next post, I will discuss how to prepare kefir and give you some ideas on how to use it.
King Arthur Flour Baking Companion
Cultures for Health.com
Milk Kefir: A Where Healthy Food Starts Guide
Oxford Dictionary Online