Kefir Milk: A Substitute for Lactose Intolerance
Although yogurt is a familiar food to many Americans, its relative kefir is less well-known. Both are fermented milk products. Readily available in most health food stores, kefir grains offer you the ability to make your own kefir.
Kefir owes its healthful properties to the process of fermentation. Kefir grains — starchy clumps of carbohydrate created with each batch of fermentation — are mixed into cow or goat milk. The grains also contain lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria), sugars, fats and proteins. The product is covered and left to ferment at room temperature for 24 to 36 hours. You may also add a little cream to the milk to help make the kefir thicker. Once the kefir has finished fermenting, strain out the grains and save for the next batch. Refrigerate both the kefir and grains.
Like many fermented products, kefir offers additional health benefits compared to regular milk. Fermented milks contain probiotics — beneficial lactic acid bacteria that help improve the digestive functions in the intestines. In addition to some of the beneficial bacteria found in yogurt, kefir also contains one specific probiotic found nowhere else. Most kefirs contain more than 30 different lactobacilli strains. People who are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate kefir, and the kefir may also reduce the abdominal gas that is one characteristic of lactose intolerance.
You can drink kefir on its own or flavor it with fruits. It makes an excellent base for a smoothie. Kefir can also be used in soups, but heating will decrease the effectiveness of the probiotics. Traditional recipes from countries like Russia and Eastern Europe often use kefir in cold soups. For example, traditional Russian Okroshka is a cold soup of kefir, sour cream, and shredded vegetables like radishes, green onions and cucumbers with herbs.
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