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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Probiotics, Milk Kefir, and Giveaway

First of all, a little about probiotics and why they're so great.

Have you seen those commercials for the yogurt that "helps regulate your digestive system?" You know, the one with the picture of a stomach that has an arrow pointing down on it? I always thought that picture was kind of funny....

Well, the reason that yogurt is good for your digestive system is that it's full of something called "probiotics", which is another word for "good bacteria."

Good? Bacteria? Those words can go together? Absolutely! In fact, much of the bacteria in the world is beneficial, as it helps in digestion, keeps our ecosystem working through decomposition, and helps to build our immune systems. The problem is, bacteria has gotten a bad rap around here lately, and we think that we have to spray, wipe and scrub away all bacteria from every surface in our home.

*note: I do recognize the importance of sanitizing, as there are also plenty of dangerous germs out there, too! I just think we tend to go a little overboard spraying everything in sight with chemicals that can very well be worse than the germs that were there to begin with!

I've even heard of natural medicine practicers taking large doses probiotics instead of antibiotics as a first resort to fighting illnesses. I'll definitely be testing that one out next time I get sick.

Traditionally, before fridges, freezers, and other modern preserving practices, many foods were preserved by fermenting or pickling. By fermenting fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and even meat, people were not only making their foods last longer, but they were also allowing beneficial bacteria to grow, which aided in digestion and boosted the body's immunities. Modern science is finding even more benefits to having a healthy, probiotic filled gut, such as maintaining a healthy weight and boosting mental well-being.

So, what are some good sources of probiotics?

Out of your normal grocery store foods, just about the only things containing still-living probiotics are in the yogurt section. It's best to check for "live, active cultures" listed somewhere on the label, and watch out for the sugar content - most small cups of yogurt contain around 20 grams of sugar - that's 5 teaspoons! Unfortunately, refined sugars feed the bad bacteria in your gut, so you just may be canceling out the benefits of your probiotics. You'd do better to buy plain yogurt and flavor it yourself with fruit, honey, or even jam. Even if you add straight sugar, you're not likely to add the 20 grams that would be in a flavored yogurt.

The best way to get a good source of probiotics is to grow them yourself, which I have to admit is kind of a hobby of mine. I've mentioned my kombucha in a previous post, and today I want to talk specifically about milk kefir. If you're interested in making other cultured and fermented foods, check out this link from Cultures for Health.

Milk kefir is similar to yogurt in that it is a cultured dairy product, but it is more liquid than yogurt. It also contains more beneficial bacteria and therefore tends to have a stronger flavor. It is becoming more common in grocery stores, but it still isn't well known. To make milk kefir, you simply place your kefir grains in a jar with some milk and let it sit covered for 24-48 hours. After your milk kefir is fermented, you strain out the grains and start the process over again. Dairy kefir can be consumed plain or mixed into a smoothie, with honey, or you can even strain the whey out through a fine cloth like a clean pillowcase or tea towel to make a kind of kefir cream cheese.

A picture of my kefir grains an a jar of finished kefir in the background. Kefir grains are not actually a grain, like wheat or rice. They look a lot like cauliflower, but have a jellyfish like consistency. Yeah, it's kinda weird to the uninitiated.

If you read 10 different sites about making kefir, you'll probably hear about 10 different methods, but they're all basically the same:

1. It takes about 1 Tablespoon of grains to make 1 cup of kefir in 24 hours.
2. You can let your kefir ferment for more or less time, to taste. The longer it sits, the more "sour" it will get.
3. Kefir grains don't like to touch metal. I like to use a plastic spoon to scoop my grains out of my kefir and simply dump them into a new jar for the next batch. Some people use a plastic strainer.
4. Kefir grains like whole milk, they like the fat. You can also use cream, or any other milk, such as 1% or 2%. It's up to you. I use raw whole milk.
5. You can seal your jar lid or not. If you seal it, be sure not to let it sit for too long. The fermentation process produces gases that could potentially explode your jar. Both dangerous and messy, I'm sure.
6. The finished product can be a little lumpy, especially if you use raw milk. It helps to blend up your kefir before you drink it. This is also the best time to flavor it.
7. You can make kefir with non-dairy milk, such as coconut, if you are dairy sensitive.
8. Happy grains will grow and multiply, so you can share with your friends, if they happen to also be into home culturing!
9. Milk kefir grains, if "fed" regularly by using to make milk kefir, will continue to make kefir and multiply indefinitely.

This post actually ties into this month's challenge because milk kefir is great to use to soak your  whole grains to eliminate the anti-nutrients they contain. Soaking your grains also helps with that "heavy" factor whole grains tend to have. In fact, I shared a recipe on monday that uses oats soaked in milk kefir.

If you're interested in finding out more about milk kefir, check out this page. If you'd like to know wher e to order yourself some  milk kefir grains, check out Cultures for Health's website. Not only are they a great source for information and resources for culturing foods at home, but Raising Isabella is a Cultures for Health Affiliate, so if you do decide to make an order, please come back and click through this link, so I can receive a commission on your order! Thanks!


Don't order any kefir grains just yet, because I will be holding a contest starting this Friday, February 13th  for one lucky reader to receive some free milk kefir grains! Tune in Friday to learn more!

This post was shared at Monday Mania, Traditional Tuesdays, Fat Tuesday, Simple Lives Thursday,


  1. Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. This was very interesting! Hope to see you next week!

    Be sure to visit on Sunday for Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

  2. I really love the way information is presented in your post. I have added you in my social bookmark…and i am waiting for your next post.

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  3. This is great..I love your blog..keep it up