This is a type of fermented milk, a bit like yoghurt, made simply by adding microbes (kefir grains) tomilk. The difference is that kefir contains about 25 different types of potentially probiotic bacteria,compared to yoghurt’s 3 or 4. It’s also rich in vitamins, bioactive peptides and other potentiallyhealth-enhancing metabolites – a bit like “yoghurt on steroids”! It’s easy to make yourself at homefor a fraction of the cost of shop-bought versions, and it’s more sustainable too.
To make kefir, you need kefir grains, which aren’t actually “grains” at all, but little lumps of bacteriaand yeast that look like tiny cauliflower florets, living together in perfect harmony, bound together ina kefiran polysaccharide matrix (kefiran provides additional health benefits too).
Kefir It has been studied by scientists for over a hundred years and has both proven and anecdotalhealth benefits, though human trials are as yet rather thin in the ground. Anecdotally, regular kefirusers report: more energy, fewer illnesses, improved digestive transit, reduced allergies, quickerrecovery from colds etc and fewer cravings. It is also possible that a daily dose of kefir could helpprevent the future onset of inflammatory / metabolic diseases. The potential health benefits of kefirare well documented in the scientific literature: positive effects have been found in all these areas (though not all from Human studies).
Kefir originated at least 2000 years ago somewhere in the Caucasus Mountains, where, according to legend, the first kefir grains were given to the Caucasians by the prophetMohammed. He showed them how to make a magical elixir that would bring health andlongevity, but only if was kept secret; so kefir grains became closely guarded tribal treasures.For hundreds of years kefir was barely known outside this region, but gradually, rumours of amiracle health tonic began to spread and by the end of the nineteenth century, the AllRussian Physicians’ Society were keen to get their hands on some for their patients. Theyapproached local dairy owners, the brothers Blandov, to discuss the concept of large-scalekefir production.
But there was a problem. To make kefir, they needed Kefir Grains, and the nativeCaucasians were intent on sticking to Mohammed’s instructions, reluctant to share eithergrains or know-how. The brothers decided to resort to subterfuge. Step forward IrinaSakharova, a brilliant and beautiful young employee at the dairy – at 20, already a graduatein dairy farming with a gold medal to her name for her butter. Irina was sent off with a smallparty to charm some kefir grains from Prince Bek-Murza, a local Caucasian nobleman anddairy owner. After entertaining her at court for several days, the Prince was rather taken withIrina. Every day he sent her red roses and invited her to walk in the “alley of love”. Irina didnot return the prince’s affections, but it seems the plan was successful and he was besottedenough with her to bestow 4 kg of kefir grains. The Blandov brothers were able to startproduction and from 1908 kefir was available to the Russian public – in some cases providedfree of charge – although large-scale production was not undertaken until the 1930s.Mohammed-based myths aside, it is generally accepted that kefir started through anaccidental interaction between two different microbial worlds. Fresh milk, which is a richsource of nutrients and microbes, was stored in goatskin bags, covered with their ownmicrobial flora. Shepherds used to take goatskins onto the hills with them and top them upwith milk during the day – one supposes that on occasion, the milk turned into delicious fizzykefir, and at some point the connection was made between the flavour and the presence ofthe grains. The habit became to store milk in a bag hanging over the door and wheneveranyone passed they would knock the bag to help mix the contents. If you don’t have a fridge thereare only two ways to enjoy milk – either fresh, or fermented, on the basis that once it has beenacidified, it deteriorates much more slowly. The kefir grains we use today are distant descendants ofthose same ancient cultures. In fact, the creation of kefir grains through any other means thanspontaneous natural generation happens only rarely: kefir grains do not form in prepared kefir, forexample.