The nutrition buzz words of the 2000’s seem to be antioxidants, Omega-3’s, and the friendly bacteria, otherwise known as probiotics. Generations of antibiotic use, an over-sugared diet, and the introduction of so many new dietary habits and chemical substances into our food supply have led to regular reports of tummy troubles and a rapidly increasing demand for probiotics. Yogurt has been a mainstay in the Western world for decades, but we are just beginning to open our eyes to kefir, a natural probiotic drink. I had my very first taste of kefir today, thanks to the new So Delicious Coconut Milk Kefir. Since this is a brand new product, and truly the first of its kind, I thought it would be helpful to offer some information about kefir, as well as my own tasting notes …
Like yogurt, kefir is a cultured milk product, but it contains different types of beneficial bacteria. According to nutrition guru Dr. Mercola, yogurt helps to keep your digestive system clean and provides food for the friendly bacteria that are already present, but kefir goes above and beyond by helping to “colonize” or populate your intestinal system. Kefir also contains several major probiotic strains not found in yogurt and it has beneficial yeasts (yes, there are actually “good” yeasts) that help to balance your intestinal flora.
So why haven’t I written more on this “wonder food” until now? Though I do address the topic in the book Go Dairy Free, kefir hasn’t been a readily available food for dairy-free consumers. You can make it at home using a kefir starter culture (though truly dairy-free cultures can be hard to find), and there are a few soy kefirs found in local area markets. Yet overall, kefir (let alone dairy-free kefir) just wasn’t mainstream enough. But we can always count on Turtle Mountain can’t we? They have released a coconut milk kefir that is not only dairy-free, but also vegan, soy-free, and certified gluten-free! This new “drinkable yogurt” is popping up in natural food stores such as Whole Foods, and will hopefully hit some major grocers soon. It comes in three dairy-free versions, original, strawberry, and vanilla, each of which I had the chance to sample …
Strawberry – I had absolutely no idea what to expect since this was my first taste of any type of kefir, but it was surprisingly pleasant. Not too sweet, but just sweet enough, with only the least bit of tartness. My husband said “it tastes like strawberry yogurt.” True enough, but we aren’t speaking of a sugary, over-gelatined strawberry yogurt. This was like a drinkable yogurt with a clean taste that was most definitely, strawberry. Not an artificial note to be found. I loved that the sugars were low, but that I was still able to enjoy it straight from the glass. I think this flavor would also be excellent in smoothies or poured over your favorite hearty and crispy breakfast cereal.
Original – Since I went for the strawberry first, the bitter tang of this one shocked my taste buds a bit. The “original” version of most dairy alternatives seems to be at least a bit sweetened, but this one isn’t … it is the natural version for purists. While I found it a bit too savory for drinking straight or to douse on cereal (I tend to eat cereals sweetened only with fresh or dried fruit) it should go nicely in fruit smoothies and may add nice contrast to cereals that are a bit sweet. However, I am most intrigued to trial it out as a healthy buttermilk alternative in salad dressings. It has a good thickness too it, is extremely smooth and fluid, and has a flavor that seems a good match for savory applications. Since kefir is all about the live and active cultures, I wouldn’t heat it for use in cooked/baked recipes, but for raw recipes (like salad dressings or chilled soups) I can really see its potential.
Vanilla – As I sipped at this thick beverage, the first thought that came to mind was refreshing. I can’t say why, but the overall vibe left a refreshing feel in my mouth, unlike the other two flavors. It was sweetened a bit, but I would hesitate to label this kefir as sweet; the modest amount of evaporated cane juice served to neutralize the bitter and tart notes found in the original, taking it only a notch or two above savory. Really, it was very pleasant and definitely vanilla. This would be the kefir I would reach for first to compliment a hearty breakfast cereal, or give a parfait like experience with granola and fresh fruit.
The So Delicious kefir is fortified with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12 to help fill in some of the nutritional gaps. Since it is made with coconut milk it is a bit higher in fat, but not as much as you might think. An entire cup yields just 6g of fat in the original, and 5g of fat in the two flavored varieties. Surprisingly each version contains a few grams of fiber and a very respectable level of sugars. So Delicious kefir is kosher certified, but it is certified "D.E.," which means it is manufactured on equipment that also handles dairy ingredients for other products. If concerned about cross-contamination, definitely speak with the company directly to learn more about their cleaning processes and allergen safety. Below are the ingredients for the Original version.
So Delicious Original Coconut Milk Kefir Ingredients: COCONUT MILK (COCONUT CREAM, WATER, GUAR GUM, XANTHAN GUM), TAPIOCA DEXTROSE, CHICORY ROOT EXTRACT (INULIN), PECTIN, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, LACTIC ACID (FROM VEGETABLE SOURCE), NATURAL FLAVORS, MAGNESIUM PHOSPHATE, CAROB BEAN GUM, CITRIC ACID, CARRAGEENAN, DIPOTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, VITAMIN B12 – Live Active Cultures include: L. Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus, L. Plantarum, L. Rhamnosus, L. Paracasei, Bif. Lactus, Bif. Bifidum, Bif. Animalis, Leuconostic Cremoris and L. Acidophilus