Health & Wellness

Kefir and Kombucha: What you need to know about them?

There are so many types of drinks available in the market these days that you are literally spoilt for choice. From fizzy to fresh, from grains to fruits, you have juice or a drink in all forms possible. However, many people these days are opting for natural drinks not just to quench their thirst but also for the simple health benefits.

Most of the bottled drinks have some or the other added flavour or fragrance, along with processed sugar. They do quench your thirst but are not considered particularly healthy. So, people mostly go for self-made fruit juices and drinks to be sure and the Internet is anyway a good source to find recipes to make some amazing drinks. While some of the drinks mentioned on the Internet may be pure fad, there are quite a few which are full of health and meant to benefit those with certain diseases or allergies.

During these unprecedented times, people have been looking at food and drinks that increase and maintain their immunity. In such a scenario, two drinks which have topped the list of must-have drinks are kefir and kombucha. Though these drinks are famous among health nuts, their fast spreading fancy is being caught by all and sundry.

What is Kefir?

A cultured, fermented milk drink, Kefir is like a thin yoghurt. It originates from the North Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Russia. Kefir has a thinner consistency than yoghurt, so it is more drinkable. It has a tart, sour taste leaving a bit of fizz in the mouth in the end due to the carbon dioxide as a result of the fermentation process. The flavour is said to depend on how long the fermentation process has occurred.

How is Kefir prepared?

The difference between yoghurt and kefir is how they are prepared. A product called kefir grains is used to ferment whole cow milk to make kefir. Kefir grains are not actual grains, but a jelly-like small balls which contain a selection of bacteria and yeast. These balls are left soaked in the milk for 24 hours at room temperature, for them to convert the natural sugar or lactose in the milk into lactic acid. This conversion allows the bacteria to grow and flourish.

Similar to yoghurt, the kefir grains can then be removed to a fresh batch of milk to produce more kefir. The strained kefir is now the drink. But unlike yoghurt, kefir grains can be used indefinitely for them to keep reproducing. Kefir grains are usable as long as kept in fresh milk at room temperature, as keeping them in the low temperature of a refrigerator can cause the bacteria growth to cease.

Kefir can be easily made at home. However, one must be extra careful with the recipe as the wrong temperature, dirty vessels or wrong fermentation time can cause stomach upset or other related illnesses.

Although the original kefir was made with whole cow milk, there have been variations over the years with goat milk, sheep milk, coconut milk, soy and rice milk alternatives.

What are the health benefits of Kefir?

Milk is an extremely good source of protein and calcium. So, kefir has those benefits. However, kefir grains are a highly potent source of probiotics. Probiotics are also called healthy bacteria as they are the best solution to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestion related illnesses. They help in balancing out the good bacteria in your gut, sorting out any digestion or gut-related problem.

As the process of fermentation breaks down the lactose in the milk, kefir is said to be good for people who are lactose intolerant. However, there are mixed reports regarding this, so it is advisable to consult your doctor, if you are lactose intolerant, before consuming kefir.

Regular consumption of kefir has been proved to benefit people in controlling blood pressure, balancing cholesterol and blood sugar management. Along with that, kefir grains are available in many variations in terms of the number of bacteria and yeast used to make the culture. One such variation contains lactobacillus, which is called lactic acid bacteria. There are various reports that suggest that obesity and bloating are caused by lactobacillus bacteria in your gut. Many people have reported that regular consumption of kefir has helped them lose weight but there is no actual research on this particular claim.

As kefir is traditionally made of milk, a product rich in vitamin K and calcium, it is also a highly recommended drink for people with weak bones and those suffering from osteoporosis. Women especially are recommended to drink kefir as their bones tend to weaken due to age and kefir can provide such an amazing solution to it.

Are there any side effects?

As there are various brands of kefir grains available in the market, it is difficult to say which one has the probiotic bacteria and of what potency. If one is not used to fermented food items, it would be better to start with small portions and graduate to larger and regular consumption. People with a compromised immune system or those who have a histamine allergy should talk to their doctor before consuming kefir.

Another variety of kefir is water kefir. While the process of making it is the same, it uses different kefir grains in sweetened water instead of milk. The fermentation makes good bacteria reduce the sugar content in the water. One must note that the kefir grains for water kefir and milk kefir are different and one will not work for the other. Cane sugar or fruit juice can also be used to sweeten the water to make water kefir, which would make an additional beneficial drink. This is especially good for people who are on a dairy-free diet.

It is of utmost importance that you consider your allergies and health concerns before making and consuming kefir. If in any doubt, it is best to consult your doctor. However, if you can consume it without any issues, it can be a great health drink.

Another drink that has been creating waves across the world due to its taste and health benefits, is the kombucha.

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is an ancient wellness tea that originated around 200 BC in Manchuria in northeast China. A fusion of fermented sugary tea, kombucha uses four ingredients: tea (usually black or green), sugar, water and a bacterial culture. The culture of bacteria and yeast (also called SCOBY) is a diverse and cooperative ecosystem of microbes that help make the drink. The bacterial culture, when added to the sugary tea, will eat up most of the sugar and leave it fizzy with a sour tangy taste. A fermentation process takes up to one or two weeks and then the drink is to be bottled up to help with carbonation. Finally, it is stored in a refrigerator to slow down the processes of carbonation and fermentation.

It can be easily made at home as the bacterial culture is available in various brands in the market. This tea is said to be 1% alcoholic, although non-alcoholic versions are available. Fruit juices, spices, and other flavourings can be added to make different variations.

What are the health benefits of Kombucha?

Kombucha is fermented in such a way that it is a rich source of vitamin B, antioxidants and other compounds. However, what makes it so great is the collection of probiotics in it. More importantly, kombucha scores above the other probiotic drinks because while most such drinks contain only one strain of bacterial culture, kombucha has multiple strains, which makes it even more beneficial.

Our gut or viscera contains good bacteria which is responsible for our health. An imbalance in that ecosystem can cause a whole lot of diseases that aren’t even directly related to our intestines. A probiotic like kombucha can deliver multiple strain bacteria directly into our gut, balancing out the ecosystem and possibly helping with various diseases.

However, it is also a fact that much research on kombucha has only just picked up. Hence, there is not much confirmation as to if kombucha is, in fact, a probiotic which may or may not help our health. Another fact remains that not all kombucha cultures available in the market have multiple strains of bacteria or are equally beneficial. Some even contain sugar, or some are pasteurised to halt their fermentation process to balance out the alcohol content in the drink.

Are there any side effects?

There are few cautions that must be taken into consideration while preparing kombucha at home. Any non-sterile vessel, untested bacterial culture or any other kind of contamination can cause serious health hazards. There have been warnings that people suffering from certain illnesses should avoid kombucha as it may aggravate their conditions.

It is best to consult your doctor before partaking of kombucha. With your doctor’s opinion, if you are able to make the perfect kombucha, it is a fun drink for hot summers.

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