I know what you’re thinking- what is kefir?
Kefir was invented in the mountainous regions of Eastern Europe. Kefir is an amazingly tart dairy treat that resembles drinkable yogurt. In my “Grandma’s Noodle Kugel” post, I discussed how lactic acid bacteria was added to regular cream to create sour cream.
The difference with kefir lies in its starter culture, which is known as kefir grains. Kefir grains are clumps of yeast and bacteria that live in perfect harmony.
When added to milk, kefir grains digest lactose (milk sugar) and produce acid that contributes to its tart taste. The bacteria in the kefir grains thicken the milk by coagulating the milk proteins. Bubbles also become present through yeast fermentation, or the production of carbon dioxide and alcohol from the breakdown of sugar.
Kefir, like yogurt, is full of probiotics that aid digestion by repopulating the intestines with beneficial bacteria. Kefir has been studied for its antimicrobial and anti-cancer qualities. It has been seen to regulate the effects of lactose intolerance, as well as control blood sugar and high cholesterol. Kefir also contains a lot of protein, vitamins, and minerals that aid immune function.
Kefir and yogurt can be used to replace butter and fats in recipes. The proteins in the dairy ingredients serve as great thickeners, and the liquid content of the kefir and yogurt contributes to the moistness of the baked good.
The wetness of kefir and yogurt prevents a 1:1 replacement for butter and oil in recipes. A decrease in liquid contents or increase in dry ingredients is usually needed to make this switch.
A great way to test this substitution is by making muffins. A muffin, like a shortbread or biscuit, is a “quick bread,” which is a bread that doesn’t use yeast to rise. Leavening agents in all quick breads are air and steam, and the majority of the items rely on baking powder (1).
Baking powder controls the rate at which carbon dioxide forms in quick breads. This allows the dough to rise without relying on yeast fermentation (2).
I absolutely love blueberry muffins. Have you ever wondered why blueberries stain your hands, or give your bakery items a purple-bluish hue?
Blueberries grow on bushes that have small, white dangling flowers, and they start out as little green fruits. The green berry develops about a month after fertilization of the flower’s ovary. At this point, the fruit starts turning light purple, and then the color transforms into dark purple-blue.
This unique color comes from a compound known as anthocyanin. This color pigment is responsible for the red, purple, and blue shades of many fruits, vegetables, and flowers. It forms in blueberries during their first week of color change, and the compound is mainly located in the skin of the fruit. The amount of anthocyanin varies from each kind of blueberry. The European blueberry bush, or bilberry bush, contains the largest amount of anthocyanin components, since the fruit is dark blue on its inside and its outside (3).
The health benefits of anthocyanins have attracted nutritionists and food scientists because of their antioxidant properties. Many cells in the body have highly reactive, unstable substances called free radicals. Free radicals are byproducts of bond formations that can damage the components of cells due to their constant search for electrons to fill their “empty” shells.
Antioxidants are “scavengers” that work to sequester free radicals, which means that they stabilize free radicals by donating their own electrons to the molecules. Antioxidants are fine and dandy without their missing electrons, so they are able create a state of neutrality in the body by making free radicals unavailable for further reactions.
Therefore, antioxidants prevent free radicals from destroying the body’s cells! Antioxidants have been shown to protect our bodies from aging, cancer, heart disease, cholesterol problems, brain damage, and bone disease.
Studies of anthocyanins have also been conducted to determine whether their antioxidant properties are lost during cooking. One study looked at the breakdown of thirteen anthocyanins in blueberries when cooking stuffed fish. The study concluded that blueberries lost a maximum of 40% antioxidant activity, and one portion of the study even determined that an increase in “scavenging” activity can occur in blueberries after cooking (4).
You know what that means? You can cook your anthocyanins, and eat them too!
It’s pretty amazing that one tiny color pigment can make such an impact the healthy of the human body. It’s time to put this amazing color into muffins.
You will need: 1 cup light brown sugar, 3 tbsp soft or melted coconut oil, 2 eggs, 3/4 cup kefir 1/2 Tbsp baking soda, 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Mix the light brown sugar and coconut oil in a large bowl. I used my KitchenAid Mixer for this recipe, but you can easily use a whisk to stir the components. Mix until the sugar looks soft and caky.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and completely incorporate them into the sugar and oil. Then mix in the kefir. At this point, your batter will be almost completely liquid.
Stir in the baking soda. Then add all of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time to prevent loss from mixing. Start with the all-purpose flour, and then move onto the whole wheat flour.
The batter will still seem wet after adding all of the flour. That’s okay for this muffin recipe! The contents will still rise thanks to the baking powder. The coconut oil also adds to the moisture, and will become solid upon cooling.
Time to add the antioxidants!
Stir the blueberries and chocolate chips into the batter until they are fully incorporated.
I used frozen blueberries for my recipe, and a lot of the anthocyanin leached into the batter. This color action will also happen with fresh blueberries, but not quite as much.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line 1 1/2 cupcake tins with cupcake liners. Grease the inside of the liners with a little oil, butter, or cooking spray.
Fill up the cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way. This method will yield about 16-17 muffins.
Check the muffins around 12 minutes to see their progress. If the tops of the muffins still feel too squishy, then leave them in for another 3 minutes or so. The muffins are finished when an inserted knife can be cleanly removed from the center of the muffins.
These muffins seemed to vary in cooking time. About 12-20 minutes is needed due to the placement of the racks in the oven. The muffins on the top rack took a bit longer to cook in my oven. That’s why I’m giving you a wider time range for this recipe!
Let the muffins cool for at least 10 minutes when they’re out of the oven. Then you’re ready to gain your daily dose of antioxidants!
1. “Quick Breads.” Southern Utah University. Accessed 20 February 2014. Available at http://www.suu.edu/faculty/wright/nfs1240/Read/QuickBreads2.pdf.
2. Miller, Dennis. “Chemical Leavening.” PowerPoint presentation. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Food Chemistry Lab. 2011.
3. “Blueberries FAQ.” U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Accessed 22 Mar. 2014. Available at http://www.blueberry.org/faq.htm
4. Oliveira, C., LF Amaro, O. Pinho, and Ferreira IM. “Cooked Blueberries: Anthocyanin and Anthocyanidin Degradation and Their Radical-scavenging Activity.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2010. Accessed 23 Mar. 2014. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20662539
© The Baking Tour Guide, 2014