It's a cultured milk beverage made by adding kefir "grains" to fresh milk and allowing it to ferment. Cow, goat or sheep's milk are traditionally used.
The grains are composed of bacteria and yeasts. From these, the lactic acid bacteria and yeast ferment the milk. The yeast makes it slightly effervescent or bubbly and very slightly alcoholic (1%).
Kefir is not another name for yogurt. Kefir yogurt doesn't exist unless you mix the two together after they're fermented. Though they're both fermented milk products they're quite different.
It's history goes back many centuries, no one knows for certain how far back. It's thought that shepherds in the Caucasus Mountain region of Russia hung sheep or goat skin bags filled with milk and kefir grains in the doorways. Each time someone went by, the bag would be pushed and the ferment mixed up.
North Americans aren't accustomed to drinking fermented milk... so it may not sound too appealing. You may be thinking, “fermented milk, ewww”. That’s what I thought until I tried it.
Kefir tastes pleasant..... slightly tangy and smooth. When you make your own you can control how strong the taste is. I'd compare it to a quality cultured buttermilk. In fact it makes an excellent buttermilk substitute. I often use it in recipes in place of buttermilk.
The texture is also similar to buttermilk. The milk is slightly thickened, quite unlike yogurt.
It can be drank plain, sweetened or savory. While it tastes very good plain, if you don't care for the sour taste, to sweeten it, try adding:
Some popular savory additions are:
While I enjoy drinking it plain, my daughter doesn't like the sour taste. I make smoothies for her... she loves them and she still gets the health benefits.
Of all the cultured dairy products, kefir has the most reputed health benefits. It's a powerhouse of probiotics. It contains more strains of lactic acid bacteria than other fermented milk products such as yogurt or buttermilk.
It's also the easiest to digest because of it's small curd size. People that are lactose intolerant, on restricted diets or convalescing are said to be able to handle this fermented beverage without problems.
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