Fermented foods – Secrets to Kefir

About kefir & its benefits

Kefir is a fermented drink which has been consumed for thousands of years. It originated in the Caucasus mountains in the former Soviet Union where the drink was fermented naturally in bags made of animal hides.

The fermentation process in making kefir creates a source of friendly micro-organisms that provide ideal conditions in the digestive tract for the colonization of friendly bacteria. Home-made kefir is a very cost-effective way to provide your body with a fantastic supply of good gut bacteria to help keep you healthy. 

The array of friendly bacteria found in kefir can control the spread of undesirable micro-organisms such as harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi, helping one to combat food poisoning and many bowel and urinary tract infections. Kefir provides great nourishment for pregnant and nursing women. They are a good defense against the Candida albicans yeast, now implicated in many health problems in people who are malnourished or whose immune systems are depleted or compromised. There is evidence that probiotics can help protect against the negative effects of radiation, antibiotics, and toxic pollutants.

Kefir is also a source of B-vitamins, such as biotin, niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and folic acid, as well as minerals, enzymes, and essential amino acids. The amino acid tryptophan is present in significant amounts, making it a great sleep enhancer. Its protein is partially digested during the fermentation process, making it easily utilized by the body, aiding one to feel full for long periods of time. 

Sources say that the best time to take kefir is first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Others suggest having a glass 1-2 hours before bedtime. Kefir taken before bedtime apparently helps to  improve intestinal flora and enhances sleep. The presence of the enzyme lactase makes it great for those who cannot otherwise digest milk, and the fermentation process makes it easier for your body to absorb the calcium, and in turn magnesium. Kefir also contains a chemical called tryptophan which is the other reason it helps you to be more relaxed and get a better night’s sleep. 

Kefir vs Yoghurt, Ayran and Amasi

Yoghurt is not entirely the same as kefir. One theory around the discovery of yogurt is that during 10,000 – 5,000 BC, when herdsmen began milking their animals, they would store their milk in bags made from the intestinal gut thereof. The intestines contain natural enzymes that cause the milk to curdle and sour. Other sources account that yogurt was discovered ‘by accident’ in the Middle East, when bacteria from goatskin bags caused milk to ferment into yogurt when carried by camels through the hot desert. The nutritional difference between kefir and yoghurt, it is understood that kefir contains more probiotics than yogurt. Ayran was first developed thousands of years ago. It is basically yoghurt diluted with water and a touch of unrefined sea salt. It is said to yield the most amazing and refreshing flavour. Ayran is one of the fundamental drinks of Turkish culture dating back to Central Asia. The word comes from the Turkish word yoghurt, deriving from the verb yogurtmak, which means to blend, a reference to how yoghurt is made. 

Amasi is sour, cultured milk. It is produced by inoculating pasteurised milk with a specific bacterial culture. The end-product has a firm texture, without the bubbles that often characterises kefir, and no separation of whey from the coagulum. It has a pleasant sour taste with a slight tanginess on the tongue and is consumed widely in South Africa. 

Traditionally, Amasi is prepared by storing unpasteurized cow’s milk in a calabash container (igula in isiZulu) or hide sack to allow it to ferment. The fermenting milk develops a watery substance called umlaza. The remainder is Amasi. This thick liquid is mostly poured over mealie meal (maize flour) porridge called pap, or taken straight. It is traditionally served in a clay pot (ukhamba in isiZulu) and eaten with wooden spoons. Amasi is also produced commercially using Lactococcus lactis subspecies lactis and L. lactis subspecies cremoris.

Kefir is more potent than Yoghurt in its friendy bacteria offerings helping to restore and maintain good micro-ecology. If you are looking to improve digestion or gut health, kefir may be the better choice…

In South Africa, a similar drink to Kefir is known as Amasi (in isiZulu and Xhosa), or maas in Afrikaans and mafi in Sesotho. These are the common words for fermented milk that tastes like cottage cheese or plain yoghurt. Amasi is traditionally prepared by storing unpasteurized cow’s milk in a calabash container (igula in isiZulu) or hide sack to allow it to ferment. The fermenting milk develops a watery substance called umlaza; the remainder is Amasi. This thick liquid is mostly poured over the mealie meal (maize flour) porridge called pap, or drank straight. It is traditionally served in a clay pot (ukhamba in isiZulu) and eaten with wooden spoons. Amasi is also produced commercially using Lactococcus lactis subspecies lactis and L. lactis subspecies cremoris.
The nutritional difference between kefir and yoghurt it is understood that kefir contains more probiotics than yogurt. Kefir is similar to a thin yogurt or ayran that is made from a specific type of mesophilic symbiotic culture. It appears in the form of gelatinous particles called “grains.” A mesophile is an organism that grows best in moderate temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, with an optimum growth range from 20 to 45 °C (68 to 113 °F). The milk kefir grains are sometimes called “Tibetan milk mushrooms” and water kefir grains are also known as “Japanese water crystals.” Milk grains are white and somewhat rubbery; they look like cottage cheese or cauliflower florets. One can grow the cultures in cow, goat, or sheep-derived milk.

The Art of Kefir

We take a closer look at kefir from our interview in the March 2021 issue of Biodiversity & Environment Africa, with Katja Philips from Green Baskets Healthy Lifestyle Boutique

Kefir’s flavour is tangy and slightly bubbly…but is there ‘more’ to kefir than meets the eye -or should we say today’s tastebuds?

“Please tell us more specifically about Kefir? Why is it an ‘old family secret recipe’? It sounds like an art form or craft of sort… a skill passed on from one generation to the next, like pearls of wisdom one would like to pass on to your children.”

I used to watch how my great grandmother used to make kefir. I was very fortunate that my great grandmother was still alive while I was growing up. She was born in 1908. She lived a very incredible life, and she brought a lot of wisdom and knowledge into my life. She raised me up until I was 12 years old so luckily I still have quite a few memories that are still alive and vivid. It is definitely a process. Once again, in our fast life everything seems to be rushed. When I went onto Google to find a recipe for kefir and have a look at what is actually out there, I just couldn’t understand how all the suggestions on the internet could be that useful? But nevertheless, it is what it is. Things are done way too fast and the general idea that I pick up is that you can just take 2 tablespoons of already prepared kefir, and just pour it into your glass of milk and leave it overnight and in the morning when you wake up and you drink this glass of milk …I don’t know how it can really turn into genuine kefir, because the fermentation process is really much deeper than that. People just think that if something has a “sour” taste, it automatically has become “kefir”.  

Well, kefir is something that is created through the symbiotic relationship between cultures which like to feed themselves on naturally occurring sugars known as lactose, and that totally enjoy very specific temperatures. They have their ‘own little life’. They definitely are little ‘alive creatures’. 

Therefore, there are very specific aspects that need to be looked at while kefir is in preparation. Just like a woman, these cultures have their own ‘mood’. I know intuitively how to nurture it, and if mutual understanding is found, then the great benefit is shared. I won’t unfortunately go into the details. 

When someone asks me: “how do you make kefir, please give me the recipe.” I say: “No problem… I will give you the recipe for my kefir if you give me the recipe for Coke. Then I will give you my recipe…” (Katja has a bit of a laugh in between her words.) This might sound a bit mean, but nevertheless this is something I will be sharing with my kids, and so on, if they will be interested.

Kefir is also something that must not only have the taste, but actually have the right effect and work. My clients actually do feel the changes in how “their tummy” works. I am really glad that life gave me the opportunity to hold such pearls, and actually apply my mind to it and share the benefit with others. And that is exactly why purchasing the product from our shop, with our recipe, the way we make kefir through the way I am running my kitchen, it does do the proper work. 


After her tertiary education in social sciences, humanities and romance languages through the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) and UNISA in South Africa, Nicolette began her working career in the linguistic field while living in Spain and Portugal, and subsequently built up experience through various projects and developments inside the wellness industry upon her return. Here, her skills formation has focused on therapeutic modalities aimed at ensuring general wellbeing and mitigation of individual stress at grassroots level with a personal aim of supporting communities. Over the past 16 years, Nicolette has contributed various articles to specialist health magazine publications and blogs, and given presentations on natural therapies including Therapeutic Reflexology and Traditional Chinese Medicine while running her own private practice based in Johannesburg.

Recommended Links & References:

B&E Africa eMagazine-March 2021 -Issue 3Strong Roots: Interview with Katja Philips from Green Baskets-Healthy Lifestyle Boutique.

How to Make Your Own Healthy Probiotic Drink -By Terry Garcia-Haass






Amasi: – Eskom  https://www.eskom.co.za 

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