Give Your Food Some Culture

Thanksgiving 2020 ain’t what it used to be…So we ignored the turkey and fixings and smoked a big chicken for the two of us. We’d already decided to forego traveling, and now we’re quarantined anyway, so that just verified that we’d all made the right decision.

I’m thankful for a lot this year. For the fact that we are both healthy, that Joe Biden is president, that we have time for little things, for Instacart and delivered groceries, and my kefir grains that (I believe) are helping to keep me healthy. There’s no time like now to try a new hobby…

If a person paid attention to “experts” telling you what to eat, there would probably be nothing on your plate but organic greens. With a cup of green tea for dessert. No flours, rice, pasta, or beans because they are dangerous carbs. No red meat, pork, or eggs because of cholesterol. No fish because of mercury; no poultry or dairy because of the hormones fed to the animals; indeed, no animal products at all because of the cruelty of eating animals; fruit is too high in sugar; sugars and fats have been known to cause cancer; tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are part of the deadly nightshade family… Are you exhausted yet?

I’ve always tried to ‘eat healthy’. But sometimes it’s hard to tell what is just a nutrition fad and what is truth. In the sixties Adele Davis said “Eat Liver”; in the seventies Frances Moore Lappe said be a vegetarian and eat complementary proteins; in the eighties and nineties fat was the monster to cut completely out of your diet; in the oughties carbs became the villain. Yes, I’ve lived through decades of contradictory advice. So here I am writing a nutrition post on cultured foods. Is it a fad? I don’t know. Am I a nutritionist? Nope — not even close. All I can tell you is that these foods have made me less tired, less crabby (Mr. H.C. might disagree on that one!) and helped with both stomach issues and eczema.

These are the two different kinds of kefir I have culturing on my counter right now:

These foods give you probiotics, or healthy bacteria that your gut needs. Desperately.

I’m not a scientist, and there’s no point for me to go into all that when others have written about it much more fluently than I could. If you need info, try these three articles: Your Gut Bacteria and Your Health ;  Can Gut Bacteria Improve Your Health?  ;  How to Have Healthy Gut Bacteria

There are two kinds of kefir: dairy and non-dairy. They are both so delicious and different from each other, that they really deserve posts of their own. So today I’m writing about non-dairy kefir, similar in benefits to kombucha, but making it requires kefir grains, rather than a scoby.

Water Kefir, Kefir Soda, or Tibicos

These are grains that contain a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. You add the grains to a sugar-water mix; the grains feed off the sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol, and carbon dioxide, which makes the drink fizzy. (The alcoholic content is negligible — about .5% to .75%.) This is so much  fun to make! It makes you feel like a mad scientist…. I make it a quart at a time with filtered water and 4 tablespoons of raw sugar. You can use brown sugar, coconut sugar, molasses, or maple syrup, but honey and agave syrup are not recommended. It sits on the counter for a day or so to ferment, and then you strain the liquid from the grains. You can drink it at this point, but next is the fun part. Get yourself some fermenting bottles–these are 16 oz. bottles.

Add two ounces of fruit juice (you can also add flavorings here too — ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom…) and fill each bottle with 12 ounces of the fermented liquid. Cap it and wait a day or so. It will carbonate, so you probably want to open the cap once every few hours to let it breathe. I have had explosions, but the bottles don’t break.  I have had to use a mop and a sponge on the floor and on the cabinets (Yes, it looked like a kid’s science project on how to make a volcano, gone awry).

After it sits on the counter for a day or so, refrigerate it, and drink it over ice. This was my summer-time-afternoon-pick-me-up, and I liked it so much, I’m still drinking it. Make it with cider and warm spices. Make it with cranberry and ginger. Make it with pineapple juice and cardamom. It is not sweet–the bacteria feeds on the sugar and so depending on how long you let it ferment, there is almost no sugar left. There is a small amount of alcohol present, as with any fermentation, but it’s minimal. It’s a great substitute for sugary soda drinks, and it is low calorie. My calorie counter, Lose It clocks an eight ounce glass at 10 calories; My Fitness Pal gives the same glass 45 calories. Here’s the thing: No two fermenting times or juices or sugars are the same, so it’s difficult to tell exact calories.

I ordered my grains at Cultured Food Life but there are other places to order it also. Here’s another good site: Cultures for Health and don’t worry, complete instructions come with your orders. And if you know someone who makes water kefir, chances are they will be happy to share some grains with you. Happy grains produce more grains.

Salud! Here’s to health and a happy stomach! And only 35 more days until 2020 is over…