KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 18 — Fermented foods may well be the latest health food, though they have been around for centuries. Whether it is kimchi or kombucha, miso or natto, it seems everyone is eating or drinking more fermented treats. One fermented superstar, kefir, has been mostly missing from the conversation in Malaysia though... till now.
Enter Made-In Kefir (MIK), a locally-made range of water kefir drinks by Mabel Cheah and Wan Chiun Low. The duo aren’t newcomers to the F&B industry; Cheah is a pastry chef who works for an established F&B company while Low is one of the two co-founders of Smooshie Juice.
The bubbly pair first met while working out at Crossfit Vidatha. A shared love for health and fitness brought the two together. Cheah recalls, “I saw Wan Chiun working out and I thought to myself, ‘Man, I want those toned arms!’ We didn’t set out to become business partners. It wasn’t a case of, ‘Right, we want to start a business, what can we sell?’ Rather, our mutual passion for kefir and for promoting gut health brought us together.”
Low adds, “I have always had a keen interest in health and had started experimenting with fermented foods for personal consumption. It wasn’t long before I realised that Mabel’s an accomplished baker. Much like Santa Claus, Mabel would go around distributing delicious little treats to people.”
Soon the two started talking about the benefits of the many fermentation processes they had come across. Realising they both loved the goodness of probiotic foods, they decided they should share the health benefits of probiotics with others.
According to Cheah, there are actually two types of kefir: milk kefir (which is milk based) and water kefir (which isn’t milk based). “Both are clusters of bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to the gut. People often refer to these bacteria/yeast matrices as ‘grains’ but that actually refers to their appearance. No actual grains were harmed in the making of kefir!”
The initial launch of MIK’s line of natural probiotic sodas comprises four flavours of water kefir: Coconut Passionfruit, Strawberry Juniper, Mango Cardamom and an organic Ginger Turmeric Lime. In addition to seasonal specials, MIK plans to introduce a range of milk kefir products in the second phase.
“Milk kefir is very versatile and unique as it can be consumed as is, or used to cook with,” says Low. “Both water kefir and milk kefir are great natural health boosters. Kefir nourishes your body with billions of healthy bacteria and yeast strains. In short, kefir is good for your digestive system and overall health.”
The girls have experienced kefir’s health benefits first hand. Cheah shares, “My interest in kefir came about as I was suffering from stomach problems. I started searching for natural alternatives. I started brewing water kefir when Wan Chiun showed up at lunch one day and slyly handed me a bottle of water kefir grains.”
MIK’s first goal is education. Cheah explains, “We’d like people to learn more about the benefits of fermented foods. Gut health is the key to overall health. If a few people decide to buy our products? Great. But first comes awareness. We are not in the business of selling trends. Healthy living is a lifestyle choice.”
Prior to MIK, trying to procure kefir locally was far from easy. Low recalls, “Reading about kefir got me really excited, and I started searching high and low for them locally. Eventually, I managed to buy some grains locally from a home brewer.”
Getting some kefir grains was only the first part of the process. Creating viable kefir flavours was a whole different ballgame. Cheah admits, “There were definitely a lot of bloopers in the process. Let’s just say using bananas was a terrible idea (super slimey) and using pineapples? Gas-o-rama.”
The result of their long hours of R&D are delicious, not-too-sweet natural sodas with fruity flavours and spice notes. MIK is currently available at Ben’s Independent Grocer in Publika where the bottles stand out thanks to their whimsical, flora-and-fauna rich labels designed by artist Elena Kravchenko.
“Moving ahead, we will be launching our website where people can obtain more information on kefir, as well as purchase them,” says Low. “The local startup and food scene is an exciting one, with lots of people working on a myriad of ideas, and we will be looking to collaborate with like-minded individuals. Soon, you will also find us at local markets and bazaars. Using these avenues, we hope to reach out to as many Malaysians as possible.”