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Enjoyed in the Caucasus for hundreds of years, kefir has only relatively recently hit UK fridges but it is already becoming a staple for many of us.
Why? Because not only does kefir taste uniquely great but it also contains ‘friendly’ beneficial lactic acid bacteria.
Sometimes referred to as kefir milk, kefir yoghurt is thinner than traditional yoghurts, suitable to pour over granola or whizz into a smoothie. Water kefir, meanwhile, is a clear liquid canned or bottled as a refreshing drink.
Making kefir is surprisingly simple, requiring just the fermentation of milk or water with kefir grain (actually a bacteria-packed culture, or ‘starter’) for 12 to 24 hours.
However, buying a natural, organic kefir yogurt is even simpler, taking the hassle out of sourcing your daily injection of protein and calcium – since both found in good amounts in every kefir drink.
Generally containing slightly less sugar than yoghurt, unflavoured, natural kefir is also high in potassium, phosphorous, vitamin A and some B vitamins too.
A fermented milk drink, kefir is made by fermenting milk or water with kefir grains, a gelatinous substance containing an array of bacterial cultures and yeasts.
This blend is then fermented for 12 to 24 hours before refrigeration and consumption.
Full of protein, calcium, B vitamins and friendly bacteria, kefir products are a great alternative to yoghurt-based food and drinks.
Originating in the Caucasus (a European-Asian region including Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia), kefir is now enjoying a surge in popularity right here in the UK, with drinkable and pourable versions stocked on supermarket and health food shelves the country over.
Kefir is typically enjoyed as a clear or slightly cloudy drinkable beverage.
With a slight fizz and an unusually tangy flavour, kefir drinks are high in good bacteria and calcium, and are usually lower in sugar than yoghurt drinks (though they can be higher in overall calories).
Many brands offer flavoured kefir drinks, with berry, fruit, ginger and even cola options available.
Made using a fermentation of coconut water and kefir grains, coconut kefir is especially popular.
With a thicker pouring consistency, kefir yoghurt is ideal for smoothies, breakfast cereals or drizzling over a fresh fruit salad.
Although 100% suitable for vegetarians, traditionally made kefir is not vegan suitable, having been produced using a fermentation of kefir grains and dairy-based milk.
However, an increasing number of wholly vegan kefir products are now available, made using alternative milks including soy, nut and oat milk. Some are also made with natural water or even coconut water.
Nonetheless, it is vital that those following a vegan eating regime look out for the appropriate labelling because many products, even those made using milk alternatives, may contain flavourings such as honey, which are not vegan suitable.
The flavour of kefir can vary from product to product, depending on whether you are enjoying a thin, clear and drinkable kefir water or a thicker kefir yoghurt, and depending on the base liquid used in fermentation – milk, water, coconut water or an alternative milk.
However, all kefir products have the trademark ferment tang, sometimes described as a less sweet, tarter yoghurt or buttermilk flavour.
With numerous flavoured kefirs available, from raspberry to rhubarb or passionfruit, even those who do not enjoy the typically slightly sour taste of kefir can take advantage of its high levels of calcium and protein.
Kefir is well tolerated by most. However, there are some things to bear in mind when adding kefir into your diet.
For example, fermented food and drinks tend to have a minute alcohol content. Although extremely low this can be an issue for those who do not tolerate alcohol well.
Additionally, the beneficial bacteria found in fermented products such as kefir can cause minor stomach upsets in some people. These bacteria also make kefir unsuitable for those with immune system disorders.