by Michelle Rankin
We’ve been sooo excited for this article to come and you can be assured we’ll be posting it in our next issue of HHH, too. It’s brilliant and so helpful! BIG thanks to Michelle Rankin for putting this one together!! Go ahead and let her know what you think and if this was helpful for you!
Kefir: A bubbly, tangy, yummy elixir of health. From Michelle Rankin’s Fermented Kitchen
First, the caveat: I don’t claim to be a kefir expert but I am a big fan and I did offer to write this article so here goes. Since this is primarily a raw vegan audience, this article will focus on how to make fermented young coconut kefir and a similar probiotic drink using either a powdered kefir starter or probiotic capsules. Like all my articles, this is intended to be a very basic overview. I’m one of those people who quickly gets analysis paralysis, but if someone just spells out the basics, I will get started, then do an afternoon-wasting, in-depth research project on the topic later.
Having said that, if you do perform an internet search for ‘kefir’ and even more interestingly ‘kefir history’, you’ll learn that a whole new world exists and I believe it is one worth checking out. However, I recommend you follow these simple instructions first and make yourself a gallon of coconut kefir to power your search and ward off the analysis paralysis that will likely ensue as you ponder the many varieties of opinion you’ll encounter based on the fact that kefir likely originates from a discovery by shepherds that fresh animal milk carried in leather pouches on hot days would often ferment into this health creating, effervescent beverage. As a more interesting story, I’ll let the following history lesson taken directly from http://www.kefir.biz/history.htm set the stage for the great importance of the information you’re about to learn.
“Amongst the people of the northern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains there is a legend that Mohammed gave kefir grains to the Orthodox people and taught them how to make kefir. The ‘Grains of the Prophet’ were guarded jealously since it was believed that they would lose their strength if the grains were given away and the secret of how to use them became common knowledge.
Kefir grains were regarded as part of the family’s and tribe’s wealth and they were passed on from generation to generation. So, for centuries the people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed this food without sharing it with anyone else they came into contact with.
Other peoples occasionally heard strange tales of this unusual beverage, which was said to have ‘magical’ properties. Marco Polo mentioned kefir in the chronicles of his travels in the East. However, kefir was forgotten outside the Caucasus for centuries until news spread of its use for the treatment of tuberculosis in sanatoria and for intestinal and stomach diseases. Russian doctors believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published at the end of the nineteenth century.”
And with that, the secret was out. Today, proponents of kefir claim that it helps with everything from cleansing the liver and endocrine system to increasing energy and calming the nerves. Donna Gates, author of the Body Ecology Diet reports that it helps with food cravings as it nourishes and balances the body. It is used for sleep disorders, ADHD, and depression. In addition to its antifungal properties, it is also antibiotic in nature. And for all these reasons and more, there is a large constituency using kefir in healing from Autism.
Concerning candida and kefir, from http://www.seedsofhealth.co.uk, I found the following quick overview:
“You might find it odd that a drink containing yeasts would be good for treating candidiasis but it has been helpful to many people, both by restoring a better balance to the gut flora and because some elements of the microflora will kill off Candida Albicans. Not all yeasts are harmful.”
Unless you can find the small transparent water kefir grains, also called sugary kefir grains, regular large white dairy grains don’t generally transfer well from an animal based source to coconut water and tend not to live very many generations. In order to know exactly what you’re fermenting with anyway, the solution is found in powdered kefir starter, available for purchase online. I buy from the Body Ecology website http://www.bodyecology.com or Wilderness Family Naturals http://www.wildernessfamilynaturals.com.
Usually, one box of powdered kefir starter can be used about 6-7 times in coconut water. After that, you might have errant bugs take over and should start over from scratch to ensure you are drinking what you intend to be drinking. While I’m on that topic, if you already take a high-powered probiotic, you can make a similar fermented drink substituting two probiotic capsules for the kefir starter. Just know that you’re not drinking the real thing and if your health doesn’t resolve like the claims made above, break down and buy the kefir starter. Your own probiotic will colonize better anyway while drinking the kefir regularly, and kefir generally colonizes your intestines much better than a probiotic alone.
Oh, and one more thing to note, I have looked many times at the kefir starter in the refrigerated section of my health food store and it does not contain any kefir. How it can be labeled as kefir is beyond me but if you’re looking to buy it locally, look for fancy long words that resemble: Lactococus lactis subsp. Lactis, Lactococus lactis subsp. Cremoris, Lactococus lactis subsp. Diacetylactis, Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. Cremoris, Lactobacillus kefyr, Kliyveromyces marxianus var. marxainus, Saccharomyces unisporus. Phew, what a mouthful. I don’t know why many of those words look the same; I just borrowed that information from the Wilderness Family Naturals site.
Okay, moving right along to the moment you’ve all been waiting for… How to make kefir.
Making kefir is as simple as this: warm your coconut water, dump in the starter, stir, cover and let sit on your counter for 24-48 hours.
That’s it. Too easy? In case you can’t believe it is that easy; I made a batch and took a few pictures to prove it. Here are the details for you Type A’s like me.
1. Order your kefir starter and a case of 9 young coconuts from your local Asian grocer. I pay $12.50 for mine. A case makes nearly a gallon, give or take depending on how much you drink in the process. The directions on your box of kefir say something like use 3 coconuts. That would last me through breakfast so I use a gallon and still only dump one starter packet in.
2. Open your coconuts. Now, do not do a u-tube search for this topic unless you want to crack up. Do not get out your cleaver either. That comes later. Do not, I repeat, do not cleave off the top of your coconut and waste half the juice. Instead, get a clean little screwdriver and a clean little hammer that you can dedicate to this task. You’re going to hammer one hole in the top and turn it over on a glass and poke through the bottom. You’ve created two holes and it will drain out quickly. There is an eye on the bottom, you’ll get used to finding it, and in the meanwhile, just hack away on the bottom until your screwdriver goes through, it is really pretty fun.
You’ll notice that I’m draining it into a little glass jar. I only drain one coconut into a little jar at a time, and then transfer it into my big gallon container. That way, if you get a purple one, you haven’t contaminated your whole brew. I’ll get to the details on the purple ones later. Try not to drink all the water you’re draining out and do your best to get a lot of it into your big container. Donna Gates says it’s too sweet for you in that form. I say it’s YUUUMMMMMY!
3. Put your big container into a pot of water and heat it until your coconut water gets just below 100°F. You can test it with your finger, you shouldn’t be able to really feel it as it will be the same temperature as your body. Remove it from the water so it won’t heat up anymore.
4. Dump your starter or probiotic capsules in and stir it up.
5. Cover it and let it ferment overnight. Test it in the morning with a clean spoon. It should taste tangy and tart, not sweet anymore. It will have gone from clear to a little milky. If it is still sweet, let it go another 6 hours. 24 hours is plenty in the summer where I live but if you’re cranking your air conditioner, it might take a little longer. If it is winter where you are, first, I’m sorry; second, it will probably have to go closer to 48 hours. This isn’t rocket science, you’ll know when it’s ready, just taste it.
6. Refrigerate it to slow down the process and drink it with meals and throughout the day.
Purple water: Now, your coconut water will vary from coconut to coconut. What you don’t want is a purple or pink tint to the water. If you notice that, throw it out. If you’re not sure (it can be subtle), open that coconut to check the meat. You’ll be able to notice a distinctive purple or grey tinge to the meat. There is quite a debate online about this, some people claim it is a delicious baby coconut and some people claim it is spoiling. It likely won’t kill you any more than eating a spoiled apricot will but if you’re trying to heal from your own inner spoiling ie. Candida, why risk it? I took a picture of the purple water (I told you it is subtle) and the meat of a normal coconut and the purple one side by side to try to illustrate this point. I asked the owner of the grocer about this and her exact words were, “No Michelle, we don’t eat the purple ones”. I took her word for it. She’s been eating them much longer than I have.
Opening your coconut to get the meat out. This is where you get to get out your cleaver. We use a cheap machete. My husband hacks it on each side then the top along the same line. You get the picture. Open it up and scoop out the meat. Use it in your smoothies or to make cheese by blending it up and adding a little of your fermented kefir. Let it sit out overnight the same way and enjoy when it gets tangy.
Formaldehyde. There has been considerable debate about weather or not young coconuts have been sprayed with formaldehyde for shipping. This is a rumor that has spread for years and scared many away from this healing drink. Matt Amsden recently had a bunch of different brands tested and he found that they did not contain formaldehyde. They might contain something else to preserve them but I doubt it. They spoil just like my mangos from the same region in the same amount of time. Anyway, you just can’t worry about everything. I just wanted to bring that up because if you haven’t heard it yet, you will.
Transferring to another batch. If I’m using a probiotic, I usually start over each time with two new capsules per gallon. If I’m using kefir starter, I transfer about a cup of it to a gallon and let it ferment away. No need to open a new packet until you’ve fermented six or seven batches or if the taste changes drastically.
Cost per batch: Kefir starter at both of the above links is $26.95 USD for 6 packets; each can be used 7 times so each batch costs about 65 cents plus $12.50 for coconuts. So, roughly 13 bucks for a gallon of coconut kefir elixir of health, not bad at all!