Holy bacteria, Batman!

The Caucas mountains have produced people of very great age, where living to over one hundred is taken for granted. Long ago nomadic shepherds found that milk carried in leather bags would ferment and self-carbonate, becoming the favorite drink. A connection between longevity and kefir doesn’t sound coincidental when you study this strange clump of “grains” that make up the catalyst for this nutritious drink.

Legend has it that Muhammad himself brought the first kefir grains to this region and forbade the people from sharing it lest they lose its “magic”. This story would explain why the method of kefir preparation remained a mystery for so long. There is truly nothing like it in all the world.

To make kefir, you must first have a clump of “grains”, which is really a group of yeast and several species of bacteria all stuck together. It does grow at a slow rate and can be divided and shared. It is essentially immortal if cared for. The grains are put in a container of milk (cow, goat, sheep, coconut, rice, or soy) which is then placed in a warm, dark place. Leave it undisturbed for about 24 hours until it’s the consistency of smooth yogurt. If left for twice that amount of time, it turns into curds and whey, somewhat like cottage cheese or cream cheese. When the kefir is finished making, the clump of grains is removed (it usually is floating on the top) and stored in a small amount of kefir awaiting the next batch.

The bacteria partially digest the lactose in the milk, making it perfect for people who are lactose intolerant. It makes the milk high in calcium, amino acids, and a host of vitamins. It actually creates antibiotic substances and is anti-carcinogenic. Although it contains yeast, it can control Candida, or excessive yeast in the intestines. It is a probiotic par excellence. It contains tryptophan in abundance which relaxes the nervous system. In the past when there was no other available treatment, it has been given successfully to patients in the treatment of tuberculosis, cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders.

It can be used as a drink or in cooking. I stopped buying buttermilk years ago after making kefir. I substitute it for buttermilk in my biscuits and cornbread. My favorite drink recipe is blending one chopped frozen banana, 1 c kefir, 2 TB honey and a handful of any other frozen berries. I don’t think I could drink it unsweetened, because it’s really tart. That is one reason why it doesn’t have a great shelf-life at the store: They put so much sweetener in it to appeal to most people’s taste, that the bacteria go berserk with all that food (sugar). It can make it very “fermenty”.

Wether it came from Muhammad, or just naturally formed inside the leather pouches of shepherds, it is a magical clump of bacteria full of health benefits: A bacteria superhero. Give it a try and you may even live a little longer.

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