The History and 20 Health Benefits of Kefir

kefir probiotic drink

Kefir is a fermented drink that is manufactured by utilizing specialized grains that are a combination of gelatinous white or yellow particles of casein (milk proteins) and complex sugars. The kefir grains consist of approximately 10 to 20 different types of beneficial bacteria and yeast organisms. The yeast and bacteria react to milk when mixed to create a fermented, healthy drink.

Two types of kefir exist, milk and water. Milk kefir is derived from any form of milk such as that produced by cows, goats, or sheep. A water form of the beverage is created by using a non-dairy milk product such as coconut milk or sugar water. Milk-based is the traditional drink. Water-based is a relatively new form.

 Is Kefir Better than Yogurt?

The fermented beverage is very similar to yogurt. However, unlike yogurt, bacteria actually colonizes inside of the body’s colon and continues to bestow added health benefits. The bacteria-laden beverage has three times the amount of probiotic benefits as opposed to standard yogurt.

What Does Kefir Taste Like?

The frothy drink features a tart taste that some people even consider sour. However, it can be mixed with berries and other sweet substances to make it more palatable. Some people liken the flavor to that of traditional buttermilk or liquid yogurt.

The Many Health Benefits of Kefir

The fermented drink’s origins can be traced back to ancient shepherds who resided in Europe’s North Caucasus Mountains.The people of the region have long been famed for their longevity. One of the key reasons for their extended life span is believed to be their excessive consumption of the refreshment.

To reap the many health benefits, you should consume one to four cups per day. However, many people drink much more. In some parts of the world it is the dominate refreshment of choice.

  • Balanced Food Source: It is a highly balanced and nutritious food. The thick drink is believed to boost the body’s immune system and enhance lactose digestion.
  • Abundant Probiotics: The active curds are a valuable source of probiotics for the digestive tract. It contains more probiotics than typical yogurt.
  • Immune System Booster: The good bacteria and yeasts of the infusion stem the growth of harmful gut bacteria and naturally boost the body’s immune system.
  • Ample Calcium: One 175 gram serving provides 20 percent of a person’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of calcium.
  • Relaxes and Relieves Anxiety: It contains a key amino acid known a tryptophan, which is commonly found in turkey meat. Tryptophan helps the body relax and feel sleepy. It also relieves feelings of anxiety.
  • Lactose Digestion: In a study done by the Medical Dietetics Division, School of Allied Medical Professions at the Ohio State University, researchers found that consuming it improved lactose digestion and may be a way to eventually overcome lactose intolerance.
  • Digestion Improvement: Upon consumption, it raises the levels of good bacteria in the digestive tract which improves overall digestion.
  • Alleviates Childhood Diarrhea: The probiotics in the drink have been shown to improve bouts of childhood diarrhea and may keep children safe from the highly contagious rotavirus, according to WebMD.
  • Antibacterial Properties: The antibacterial properties are believed to fight off Salmonella, Helicobacter Pylori, and E. coli.
  • Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea: Antibiotics play a key role in treating many infections. However, long term use of antibiotics can cause the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract to perish. A bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract often leads to bouts of diarrhea. The bacteria within the drink helps restore the good bacteria in the digestive tract.
  • Protein: It contains abundant protein.
  • B Vitamins: Ample levels of biotin, B1, and B12 are found in kefir. B12 is known to benefit the body’s blood and nervous system, B1 is an ideal stress reliever, and biotin helps the body utilize all B vitamins more effectively.
  • Reduces Cholesterol and Lowers Blood Pressure: The active granules of the drink naturally manufacture polysaccharide which has been shown by Japan’s Research and Development Division at Daiwa Pharmaceutical CO., LTD. to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Ample Phosphorus: It contains ample phosphorus which the human body uses for cell growth and energy.
  • Cancer Preventative: Research has found that the active bacteria may play a pivotal role in cancer prevention. The School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, Macdonald Campus of McGill University in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue Quebec, Canada found that kefir extracts inhibit cancerous human breast growths.
  • Allergies and Asthma: Researchers at the Natural Medicine Research Center, Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology found that bacteria and yeast are a strong anti-inflammatory that could curb the allergic reactions of the body in certain individuals. The anti-inflammatory properties also relieve asthma symptoms by reducing lung inflammation.
  • Reduces Flatulence and Regulates the System: It reduces flatulence and regulates bowel movements.
  • Traveler’s Stomach: A small amount of the fermented substance can successfully regulate the gastrointestinal system to fight common traveler’s stomach.
  • Increases Metabolism: It can rev up the body’s metabolism, which may help individuals lose weight.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis causes bone loss and the deterioration of connective tissues. It is a chronic condition suffered by many postmenopausal women. Researchers at the National Center of Excellence for General Clinical Trial and Research, National Taiwan University Hospital, and College of Public Health found that consumption of bacteria rich milk-based compound improved bone mass density in osteoporosis sufferers.
  • Acne: It inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the body which frequently causes acne.
  • Gastrointestinal Relief: Frequent consumption relieves the discomfort and symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Nutrition in Kefir

One six ounce serving provides the following:

Vitamin D

Protein: 6 grams of protein

Riboflavin (B2): 19 percent of the RDA.

Calcium: 20 percent of the RDA.

Phosphorus: 20 percent of the RDA.

Magnesium: 5 percent of the RDA.

Calories: Approximately 100 calories.

Carbohydrates: 7 to 8 carbs

Fat: Depending on the type of milk it will contain 6 to 8 grams of fat.

 The Legends of Kefir

Legends abound about kefir but one of the most common and widely accepted is that Islam’s great Prophet Mohammad provided kefir grains to the Orthodox Christians and taught them how to make the fermented beverage. The grains used to make kefir were called the “Grains of the Prophet.” It was believed that if the secret of the grains and the method used to manufacture the beverage were released to the general population then the drink would lose its potency and magical powers.

Traditionally, the process of creating refreshment was handed down from generation to generation. Families would selfishly guard their recipes. The fermented beverage would only be served to the most revered guest.The great adventurer Marco Polo recounted in his book the first time he had the privilege of tasting kefir during his travels to the eastern regions of the world.

In the Victorian era, kefir was believed to treat a variety of illnesses such as disorders of the intestines, stomach, and as an accepted treatment for tuberculosis.

Russia’s Historic Struggle to Obtain the Grains

Russian doctors started to study and prescribe kefir in earnest at the turn of the 19th century. However, they quickly ran into problems obtaining a satisfactory amount of the needed curds. The elusive grains used to manufacture the product were hard to obtain.

In desperation, members of the All Russian Physician’s Society approached two brothers named Blandov who owned a dairy in Moscow and two cheese manufacturing factories in Kislovodsk and the North Caucasus region. They asked the brothers to help them acquire an adequate supply of granules to start wide scale industrial production of the frothy substance throughout Russia.The Blandov brothers accepted the mission to procure the hard-to-obtain grains.

The brothers quickly sought the help of one of their female employees named Irina Sakharova. Irina was sent to the court of Prince Bek-Mirza Barchorov to obtain the granules. The prince quickly became enamored with Irina but she was unmoved by his advances and proclamations of love so in a desperate attempt to win her hand in marriage he had her kidnapped. The Blandov brothers organized a rescue mission to gain their employee’s freedom.

After Irina’s rescue, the prince was brought before the court of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II and as payment for his crimes against Irina he was forced to provide Irina with ten pounds of prized curds. The Blandov brothers and Irina used the grains to start the first commercial manufacturing company in 1908.

In 1973, Russia’s Minister of Food and Industry of the Soviet Union officially sent Irina Sakharova a letter officially acknowledging her services and thanking her for her help in obtaining the curds. It was through her assistance and hard work that all the people in Russia were able to start enjoying kefir.

Large Scale Manufacture

By the 1930s, kefir was manufactured on a large scale in Russia. The early commercial processing of kefir was sub par compared to traditional kefir. However, during the 1950s the All-Union Research Institute (VNIMI) perfected the large scale manufacture of kefir by stirring milk and grains in a large vessel and then providing the mixture with the required time needed to successfully ferment and agitate before bottling the substance for sale.

Hospitals and medical physicians throughout Russia started to prescribe the drink  for a wide array of disorders such as gastrointestinal disorders, allergies. atherosclerosis, cancer, tuberculosis, metabolic and digestive disorders.

Kefir Around the World

The frothy, bitter beverage fell out of popularity for many centuries until it experienced a resurgence in the late nineteenth century. Now it is one of the most widely consumed fermented beverages in Russia. Today, wide scale production of the compound also takes place throughout Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. It is also becoming a popular holistic drink in North America, Australia, and parts of Asia. In South America, especially Chile, it is called yogurt de pajaritos (bird’s yogurt) and is a common drink among both locals and immigrants.

Purchasing Kefir

 A wide variety of commercial brands are available at supermarkets and natural health food stores. You can usually find it located near the yogurt products. The effervescent compound is typically sold as drinkable refreshment in single serving sizes up to 32-ounce bottles. It is available plain or with added sugars and flavors.

How to Make Kefir at Home

 The kefir grains used to make the drink are commonly available for purchase at most health food stores and many supermarkets. You can also order them online from numerous distributors.

After purchasing your curds, take one or two tablespoons of the grains and place them into a glass jar with a lid. The more active granules that you use, the faster the fermentation process. Add two cups of raw or all-natural milk to the grains. Add a bit of full cream if you want the final drink thick. Place the lid on the grain and milk mixture. Leave the mixture at room temperature for 24 to 36 hours. When the fermentation is complete, the mixture will appear clumpy. Strain the liquid from the clumpy, moist curds. The grains can then can be reused to make additional batches.

Kefir can be consumed in its natural, unflavored state or used to create smoothies and other delicious beverages. You can add vanilla extract, orange juice, honey, cinnamon, or cocoa powder to sweeten it.

How to Make Water Kefir

Kefir can also be made with water. However, be sure to purchase water kefir grains because standard kefir grains will not ferment in water. Melt 1 tablespoon of raw sugar in 2 cups of warm water.  Mix a ¼ of a cup of water grains with the two cups of sugar laced water. Pour the mixture into a glass jar and cover it with a lid. Leave it alone for 24 to 36 hours so the mixture can ferment. After fermentation, you can strain out the grain kernels from the liquid for reuse later.  Instead of sugar water, coconut water can also be used.

After making water kefir, you can add a variety of fruit juices to create a flavorful beverage.  

Possible Side Effects

 Anyone not used to taking probiotics should start drinking kefir in moderation because they may experience constipation, diarrhea, or bloating at first.  Individuals with a compromised immune system should consult with their physician.

The fermented drink is considered healthy addition to your daily diet that may improve your body’s function and your overall feeling of well-being. The tangy, effervescent drink is an acquired taste for many but for others it a yummy beverage that they readily consume with gusto.

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