Keep your gut happy with kefir drinks and lacto-fermented vegetables
PETALING JAYA, Oct 16 — Do you feel bloated soon after eating, suffer from frequent bouts of indigestion and even “food poisoning”? Experts claim these issues occur when there is an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in our gut.
With this in mind, people are turning towards brewing cultured drinks like kefir and making lacto-fermented food to treat their own stomach issues caused by bad bacteria. This has given rise to classes like the gut wellness one taught by Mandy Leong that covers kefir and lacto-fermentation.
For much of her life, Mandy suffered from a sensitive stomach — an ailment she nicknamed the “princess stomach.” While her friends enjoy street food, she would be nibbling on a bun that was considered safe for her stomach.
She was also lactose intolerant and suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. The jolt to start leading a healthier lifestyle was when her husband died suddenly in 2012.
This sudden loss led to more health issues that included depression. An aversion to taking pills to remedy her illnesses also meant she preferred a more natural solution.
Long before it was hip and happening, Mandy’s mother, Lana Lee, was already dabbling with natural healing. The gutsy lady who is also a qigong instructor is always game to experiment. This included a grueling gallbladder cleanse diet that meant consuming epsom salt (or magnesium sulfate) which is often prescribed for foot soaks!
In the early stages, Mandy admits she wasn’t enthusiastic about her mother’s homemade cultured brews. Case in point: her homemade fruit enzyme will reek of vinegar making it unpleasant to drink.
When her mother started making water kefir, she was fascinated with the lava lamp effect of the kefir grains… floating up and down in the jars. Even though her mother swore that it was good for digestion and will slim her down, she didn’t believe her.
It was only when one of her sisters tried out the kefir drink and proclaimed that it tasted pretty good that Mandy sampled it herself. Once she started, she was hooked and in September 2014, she ventured into making water kefir drinks.
As the months rolled by, Mandy cultivated many bottles of the water kefir — feeding them every day after work like babies. As her grains multiplied from 3 tablespoons to 50 tablespoons, she decided to start her own side business and sell the water kefir.
Sparked by a growing interest in natural healing, she made a trip down to Singapore to attend a class by Ajuntha Anwari who teaches plant nutrition. Soon she learnt that her craving for chocolate was a signal from her brain that her gut was off balance and full of bad bacteria.
In December 2014, after much research that saw her using some elements she learnt from making jamu and ulam to be paired with kefir drinks, she started to teach how to make the fermented brews in one-to-one sessions.
One month later, she converted it into group classes. Initially it was a part-time effort but nowadays she teaches on a full-time basis. Usually, the classes are held at PJ Palms Sports Centre and she is also available for private sessions. Every month, she also teaches at One Heart in Joo Chiat, Singapore.
The classes are kept intimate with a minimum of four participants. Some participants are looking to brew these drinks at home since you pay a pretty penny for off-the-shell options. Currently milk kefir drinks are sold for around RM45 per bottle while the kefir grains are being sold for as much as RM120 to RM150 for 2-3 tablespoons.
Some of Mandy’s students have also started their own small home-based businesses selling their own fermented brews.
Each participant has their own reasons for attending the class. For Miklos Scheibehoffer, he is looking for a solution for his IBS. Others like Irene Fong had tried milk kefir and found out it works well for her — shifting the stubborn weight (about 2 kilograms) in 10 days that she had gained after she gave birth. Moreover, she was also curious about kefir since she recalls that her mother used to make these drinks but called it “yoghurt.”
What Mandy emphasises to them is everyone’s reaction to these fermented drinks is different. Rather than leaving you cold turkey after the class, she runs a support group via WhatsApp, with around 100 active participants who share their own experiences. She is also always on hand to troubleshoot any issues that crop up during her students’ journey into kefir drinks.
You will learn that there are two types of kefir grains; water and milk. The water kefir grains ferment fructose and sucrose to produce slightly fizzy drinks that have 15 to 20 probiotic strains.
For the milk kefir grains, they eat lactose to convert it into a drink that tastes similar to lassi with 20 to 40 probiotic strains. Initially, Mandy only taught how to make water kefir. As she was lactose intolerant, she avoided the milk kefir grains.
Urged by her students, she decided to try it out in October 2015. After the milk kefir cleansed her gut from all the bad bacteria, she could once again enjoy dairy products.
There’s endless possibilities once you start your kefir journey. The water kefir can be flavoured with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and even dried flowers. Mandy uses dried French rosebuds and lychees to create a delicate floral infusion that is pleasant to drink.
It is also advised that the fermentation is kept shorter, say up to eight to 12 hours. If it is fermented too long, it will be more sour tasting, alcoholic and lower in probiotics. Some prefer to ferment their water kefir grains in fresh young coconut water, as it’s believed to be good for critically ill and diabetic patients.
For milk kefir, you can use the thick slightly sour tasting drink to make smoothies and ice cream. The milk kefir can also be strained to remove its whey to create thick Greek-styled yoghurt and soft “cheese.”
Mandy has also made her own cultured butter from the milk kefir. In Indonesia, milk kefir is also popular as a beauty mask since it is rich with minerals and proteins. This is something that Mandy is currently exploring as she is keen to introduce it for beauty purposes.
The class concludes with the most fun part… when the participants receive their grains. As the grains are in fact living organisms, they react to their surroundings to grow. This could be just voices or even music.
If you are living alone, place them near the television when you are watching your latest K-drama serials. From Mandy’s students’ observations, the grains will also become more active when it’s a Chinese martial arts drama.
Mandy relates that one of her students would hold the jar every day and say a prayer of gratitude to the kefir grains that caused them to spurt from three tablespoons to 40 tablespoons!
You can also hibernate the grains by chilling them in the refrigerator but it is not recommended to be done for a long period of time. That is why, some people even have “kefir sitters” who help look after and feed the grains when they are away. Some even cart their kefir grains with them when they travel to keep their tummies happy.
For one of the participants, Ko Woan Chyi, it’s like adopting two more children to look after. “This is like no pain but fun,” she adds. She plans to rope in her two young daughters to help look after the kefir grains since their happy chatter will definitely be a boost to their growth and they also get to learn some biology.
The second part of the class touches on lacto-fermentation as this topic goes hand-in-hand with the kefir grains. “Lacto-fermentation contains prebiotics that is food for the probiotics from the kefir,” she explains.
From the early days, lacto-fermentation has been practised as a form of preserving food where pits are dug and filled with crocks that have vegetables and fish. In the anaerobic conditions (when the containers are covered and not exposed to air), the lactobacillus bacteria inside the food will break down the sugars to produce lactic acid that prevents the food from rotting.
Hence you have sauerkraut, kimchi and all sorts of pickles and relish that use this method. This type of fermentation also increases the vitamin and enzyme levels that boost your digestion and contribute to your general health.
Mandy teaches the participants to use a brine solution to lacto-ferment the vegetables. Pop it into a jar with the vegetables of your choice and after six weeks to three months, you will have delicious lacto-fermented vegetables to dine on that is good for your gut.
For more information on the classes, visit Natural Remedies by Artisanal Bunny’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ArtisanalbunnyRemedies/ or email Mandy Leong at email@example.com