Bon Appetit Wednesday! Ancient Magical Kefir

Image courtesy of Yuriybrisk on Wikimedia Commons.

Image courtesy of Yuriybrisk on Wikimedia Commons.

We’ve written before about the benefits of looking to our past for nutritious foods. Many ancient cultures thrived in part because of the healthy, natural staples in their diets such as amaranth and quinoa in Mesoamerica, the adzuki bean in Japan and seaweed in Asia and the British Isles. Today, we’re bringing you a recipe for a delicious smoothie that features an ancient ingredient called kefir. It’s the perfect nutrient-packed start to your morning.

Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a consistency similar to drinkable yogurt. It originated centuries ago with the nomadic, shepherding peoples of the Caucasus Mountains. The exact date is unknown, perhaps because the making of the drink was a closely guarded secret for many years. The process of making kefir was a simple one. Milk from cows, goats or sheep was poured into watertight, animal skin bags before adding the kefir grains, which we’ll discuss below. The bag was then hung out in the sun. After sunset, the bag was brought inside and suspended near a place of high traffic where everyone would poke and prod it in order to make sure it stayed well-mixed. As the fermented drink was consumed, more milk would be added and the process would continue on and on uninterrupted, an efficacious process since the kefir grains are self-sustaining.

Kefir grains. Image courtesy of A. Kniesel.

Kefir grains. Image courtesy of A. Kniesel.

Kefir’s health-giving properties are due to the kefir grains, which have been referred to as “magical grains” because their origin of discovery is so mysterious.[1] “These grains are composed of microorganisms immobilized on a polysaccharide and protein matrix, where several species of bacteria and yeast coexist in symbiotic association”.[2] They are actually not grains at all and appear similar to tiny cauliflower florets. Speculation as to the discovery of these tiny powerhouses has created several myths over the years, including one that maintains the grains were the actual manna from heaven that the Israelites received from God when they were wandering in the desert.[3]

Aerial view of the Caucasus Mountains.

Aerial view of the Caucasus Mountains.

The most well-known legend comes from the Islamic people living in the Caucasus Mountains.  It tells how the Prophet Mohammed gave the so-called “grains of the Prophet” to the orthodox tribes in the region and told them that if they shared these grains, the grains would lose their potency.[4] The grains were kept as part of a family’s wealth and passed down from generation to generation in order to ensure their continued existence, but only among followers of Mohammed. Travelers to the Caucuses could sample the drink and many were amazed by it, but the recipe was never shared. Not even the famous explorer Marco Polo was able to learn its secret, though he did write about the drink in his chronicles.[5]

Regardless of how the grains were discovered, the people of the Caucuses knew their worth and so did those outsiders who were lucky enough to try the fermented drink. Finally, at the end of the 19th century, kefir made its way to Russia and was eventually shared with the rest of the world. The tale of its escape from the Caucuses is legendary and whether true or fictional, it is befitting a drink with “magical” grains. The story goes that a group of Russian physicians decided they must have access to the drink. They charged dairy owner Nikolaj Bandalov with obtaining the grains. He concocted a plan in which his beautiful employee, Irina Sakharova, would be introduced to the Caucasian Prince Bek-Mirza Bachorov. She would convince him to share the grains with her. He was not convinced, but when Irina left his court he had her kidnapped and then offered to marry her. Russia was not pleased with the prince’s actions and threatened to prosecute him. Instead, the prince handed over the secret grains.[6]

So why should you indulge in ancient fermented foods like kefir? Because it’s good for you! Fermented foods aid in digestion and kefir yogurt is loaded with healthy bacteria. Also, people who are lactose intolerant and struggle with dairy digestion can enjoy yogurt because the lactose has already been gobbled up by bacteria. Kefir, specifically, is a fantastic source of magnesium, calcium and B vitamins. Also, it is rich in enzymes and complete proteins that are already partially digested and therefore easy for your body to use.[7]

Thankfully, whether through spy-movie tactics or by some other less exciting method, kefir was spread throughout the world and we can enjoy its incredible, nutritious deliciousness today. Useful in many recipes, we’re bringing you a simple smoothie that showcases the versatility of this ancient drink. The sweetness of the cherries pairs perfectly with the tangy tartness of the kefir. Want more of a nutrient punch? Add some greens. Whatever your concoction, enjoy the magical gift of kefir!

Cherry Banana Kefir Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of cold kefir (you can buy it at any health food store or make your own)
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 cup of frozen cherries
  • Honey to taste

*If your fruit isn’t frozen, add a few ice cubes to the mix.

Instructions

  • Place all ingredients into a blender and blend. Use smoothie setting if possible.
  • Pour into a tall glass and sip away!

*You can add some spinach or other greens if you’d like a bit more fiber. Experiment with different fruits and veggies. Kefir goes with everything!


[1] Why I Love Kefir and What Are Kefir Grains? (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://www.homemademommy.net/2012/09/why-i-love-kefir-and-what-are-kefir-grains.html

[2] Farnworth ER, Mainville I. Kefir – A Fermented Milk Product. In: Farnworth ER, editor. Handbook of Fermented Functional Foods. 2th ed. CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group; Boca Raton, London, New York: 2008. pp. 89–127. (2 ed)

[3] Why I Love Kefir and What Are Kefir Grains?

[4] Seifi, P. (n.d.). Kefir: The history of the magical grains. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://blog.lingualift.com/kefir-history-recipe/

[5] Of Russian origin: Kefir. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/kefir/

[6] Of Russian origin: Kefir.

[7] A Kefir Smoothie? Absolutely! (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2015, from http://www.all-smoothie-recipes.com/kefir-smoothie.html

Final Call for Entries for LegacyQuest 2015

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LQ collageIt’s not too late to bring history to life! Submit your video showing how the past has resonance today. Join in our international film festival for tweens!

Final videos due February 27, 2015


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In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Tattoos and the Body as Canvas: Erasing the Past With Modern Tattoos

basma-hameed-before-after-cosmetic-tattooWe’ve written before about tattoos in our post Tattoos and the Body as Canvas. How from ancient times people have etched into flesh the story of their lives.  From designs that heighten beauty, signify status, show affiliation or even scourge a social outcast, tattoos have always been about designations. Indeed, our body as canvas is at once both intimate and public. For some, tattoos depict their innermost beings for the world to see.  For others, particularly when used to announce a person’s outlier status in society, tattoos are meant to be felt as a visceral destruction of self. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! West African Jollof Rice

Jollof_riceIt’s an explosion of flavors, a mingling of ingredients, that creates a perfect symphony of taste. Jollof rice, or “one pot” in the Jolof language, is thought to be the original dish behind the Cajun favorite called jambalaya.[1] Jollof rice can be found in all corners of West Africa, with different regions claiming their own recipes. Each variation boasts a history with roots as deep as the culture in which it originally made its appearance. But to tell the true tale of jollof rice is to tell the story of the Wolof tribe. Continue reading

Ancient Egyptian Blue: How the World’s First Synthetic Pigment Is Producing Tomorrow’s Brave—and Colorful–New World

color paletteHave you ever noticed that the AntiquityNOW website has splashes of a particular set of vibrant colors? Perhaps you’ve even found the Our Colors section on our site that reveals the ancient history behind our beauteous array. One color, specifically the deep blue, is particularly intriguing with its 4,500-year-old past, its surprising relevance for today’s scientific inquiry and its future promise for such fields as medicine and communications technology. Continue reading

The Fable of “The Sheep and the Horses”: Take a Listen to the 6,000-Year-Old Language of Our Ancestors

th21-630-istock-language-dictionary-learn-book-630wUPDATE! This post was originally published on February 25, 2014.  The post below reveals the amazing technology that is helping linguists rediscover languages from our past that were lost long ago. Specifically, it discusses the discovery of a Proto-Indo-European language that was spoken over 6,000 years ago. Today’s update is about saving a language before it becomes extinct. Some young people in Louisiana, United States, are fighting to preserve the language of their people, a little known Native American tribe called the Houma. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Ancient Nettle Pudding—Britain’s Oldest Recipe

nettleWhy would anyone ever want to eat something called a “stinging nettle?” Well, because it’s delicious and nutritious! Our ancient ancestors knew the value of this unhappily named plant and you can still enjoy it today. This week we’re bringing you a recipe for an ancient Nettle Pudding. For those of you not familiar with non-dessert puddings, it has the consistency of a dumpling and is often eaten with chunks of bread and the meat it is cooked along side. Continue reading

Happy 2015! Here Are Your Free Gifts From AntiquityNOW!

We hope your holidays were joyous and accompanied by good cheer, good company and good food. We wanted to make sure that in the midst of all the holiday celebration you received your free gifts from AntiquityNOW. Just click on the links below.

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Enjoy our e-cookbook with delectable recipes from our Bon Appetit Wednesday! blog posts. Each recipe includes a brief explanation of the food’s ancient origins—with many surprises sure to tickle the imagination along with the palate.

Education Topic Matrix

BlankMap-World darkNew this year! AntiquityNOW has a variety of free content to supplement the classroom curricula, all organized by region/era and including fun facts, educational projects, videos, lessons and more showing how ancient lives continue to influence us today.  Who knew the first computer was built more than 2,000 years ago in Greece? That bubble gum was discovered from 3,000 BCE in Finland? Or that the ballgame was created in Mesopotamia in 1400 BCE? We knew because at AntiquityNOW we love to make those eye-popping, jaw-dropping connections. As we like to say, “The past is not as distant as you may think.” Like what you see?  Let us showcase your best ideas revealing how past and modern times intersect. Please go to “Submit Work.”

Bookmarks

Bookmark single image high resWe’ve added more bookmarks, including for the two projects above, to download for you archaeologists, teachers, students, cultural preservationists, puzzle aficionados, Trivial Pursuit enthusiasts and historical gadflies everywhere.

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Join us in cherishing and preserving our global heritage. Contact us at info@antiquitynow.org to learn how. Let’s make 2015 a year to remember.

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Happy New Year from AntiquityNOW!

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Antique Postcard, 1910 by Frances Brundage

WE WISH YOU A PEACEFUL, PROSPEROUS AND JOYFUL NEW YEAR!


Take a look back at our New Year’s posts to learn more about the history and food of this holiday!