What is the latest fermented trend kefir and why is this AFA judge backing it?

Kefir – the latest fermenting favourite bursting with bacteria has made its way to supermarket fridges, but what actually is it? Ahead of the Australian Food Awards – presented by RASV – new judge and food scientist Kriben Govender gives us the run down.

Translating to ‘feel good’ in Turkish, kefir is a cultured, fermented drink, with a sour twang.

The Australian Food Awards this year has carved a section for the fermented drinks and well-being movement with two types of kefir being judged this year - kefir milk and water kefir.

Kefir milk, similar to drinkable yogurt, can be produced with dairy milk, soybean or coconut. Water kefir can be produced from fruit juices and sugar solutions. Both use kefir cultures or ‘kefir grains’ and are fermented.

Wondering how to get your hands on kefir grains? Well, kefir grains aren't grains at all but a "SCOBY", a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, containing microbes. And you can’t grow kefir grains, you need to acquire it from other people making kefir or buy it online. The specific polysaccharides, bacteria, and yeasts that make up the grains have been handed down from generation to generation – the origination of the product is fairly mysterious

A firm believer in fermented products and devotee to kefir milk is our new AFA judge - Kriben Govender. Kribin is a Food Scientist and owner of gut health brand Nourishme Organics.

Almost 10 years ago, after searching for a solution to overcome mental health and weight struggles, Kriben stumbled upon kefir milk, which he says greatly helped him. It’s high in nutrients and probiotics and thought to be beneficial for digestion and gut health. Kriben has been producing organic kefir grains and kombucha SCOBY ever since.

Keen to share his experience and educate people on the importance of gut health, Kriben’s knowledge and influence have spread far and wide. His in-store workshops in Cheltenham, Victoria are often fully booked, his podcast interviews with gut health and fermentation experts have had more than 71,000 downloads and his business’ Facebook community of gut health gurus has grown to 10,000 people.

Kriben thinks the growing demand for fermented products is due to the flood of studies suggesting the brain and gut have a bidirectional relationship - and lifestyle factors like chronic stress and poor sleep negatively alter gut microbiota composition. Adjusting your diet to correct this is a growing area of interest and because fermented food and drink is potentially rich in probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics, they’re particularly popular due to their positive association to gut health.

Kriben explains the science behind the concept.

“Gut microbiota, specifically Bifidobacteria are crucial to the production of tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin your feel-good hormone- 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut.”

Kriben is a big fan of kefir milk because it is rich in probiotics, functional peptides and tryptophan that may improve mood.

Want to learn more about the brain-gut connection? Kriben recommends listening to this interview on Mood Food and the New Science of The Gut-Brain Connection with Prof Ted Dinan, a world-renowned expert on Gut Brain research.

While Kombucha consumption has tipped into the mainstream due to consumers looking for soft drink alternatives that taste good, are low in sugar and have a perceived health benefit, Kriben doesn’t think milk kefir will reach the same broad appeal.

“There is a negative stigma of dairy amongst some groups of the population. Having said that milk kefir is the most widely studied fermented food with the greatest potential health benefits so I hope it does reach the same level of popularity as yoghurt.”

Kriben will join a judging panel of more than 70 industry leaders to assess Australian produce across 10 categories including meat, dairy, preserves, convenience foods, pantry goods, seafood, value-add grain, produce and the new category beverages. Judging will take this July at Melbourne Showgrounds.