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What is Milk Kefir? Origins of Milk Kefir Grains and Milk Kefir Benefits

Milk kefir benefits, what it is and where it comes from.

Milk kefir benefits, what is kefir milk and it’s origins

What is Milk Kefir?

Milk kefir is a fermented milk beverage with a tangy sour taste.

Milk kefir is made by placing milk kefir grains or cultures in milk (usually cow, goat or sheep milk) and allowing them to ferment the milk for 24 to 36 hours. The milk kefir grains are not actual grains but a symbiotic community of yeast and bacteria (SCOBY). They look like gelatinous cauliflower florets.

Origins of Milk Kefir Grains

It is one of the oldest milk ferments in existence and is believed to have originated from the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe. The name originates from the Turkish word keif which means “good feeling”.

It can get a little tricky in our country if you pronounce the word kefir incorrectly. The correct pronunciation is either keh-feer or keefur.

Why drink Milk Kefir?

Milk kefir is packed full of nutrients and referred to as a functional ferment, i.e. it has health benefits for consumers.

It contains minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids, conjugated linoleic acid and a wide variety of probiotics (beneficial yeast and bacteria). The amounts of these nutrients will vary based on the cows, cultures, and region where it is produced. Yet even with the range in values, kefir has superior nutrition.

Here are a list of nutrients kefir is known to contain:

Dietary minerals:
Calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, copper, molybdenum, manganese, and zinc.

Vitamin A, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.

Essential amino acids:
Methionine, cysteine, tryptophan (known for calming the nervous system), phenylalanine, tyrosine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, lysine, and valine.

Kefir is a rich source of a wide variety of probiotics (healthful bacteria and yeast). View a list of the probiotics common to milk kefir.

A by-product of the fermentation is the production of carbon dioxide and ethanol (usually less than 1% but will depend on how long the milk has been left to ferment).

Consuming these vitamins, minerals, enzymes and probiotics in their whole, natural form helps to keep your body nourished and less susceptible to getting sick. A prevention is better than cure attitude is imperative especially so now that we are in a post antibiotic era.

Health benefits of kefir

The following milk kefir benefits imparted by it’s superior nutrition attribute to the popularity of this health drink:

  • Strengthens immunity: Probiotics inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria.
  • Helps build strong bones and reduces risk of Osteoporosis: Increases calcium absorption by bone cells which leads to better bone density.
  • Protective against cancer. Removes procarcinogens and has been shown to stop the growth of certain tumours in animal studies.
  • Supports detoxification and healthy gene expression. The bacteria in kefir can bind to aflatoxins (a mutagen created by mold in a variety of nuts, oils, beans and grains) and therefore prevent these toxins from binding to DNA.
  • Lowers risk of heart disease.
  • Helps reduce bowel inflammation.
  • Helps to prevent allergies and asthma. Kefir has anti-inflammatory properties that help to modulate the immune system.
  • Kefir is low in lactose and can be tolerated by some people who have milk-related lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant and would like to try kefir to test whether you can tolerate it, then please first consult a registered dietician who can advise, assist and monitor you with this.


Functional Properties of Microorganisms in Fermented Foods

Guzel-Seydim ZB, et al. Review: functional properties of kefir. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Mar; 51(3):261-8.

St-Onge MP, et al. Kefir consumption does not alter plasma lipid levels or cholesterol fractional synthesis rates relative to milk in hyperlipidemic men: a randomized controlled trial BMC Complement Altern Med. 2002;2:1. Epub 2002 Jan 22.

de Moreno de Leblanc A, et al. Study of immune cells involved in the antitumor effect of kefir in a murine breast cancer model. J Dairy Sci 2007; 90(4):1920-8.

Guzel-Seydim ZB, Kok-Tas T, Greene AK, Seydim AC. Review: functional properties of kefir. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2011; 51(3):261-8.

Chen HL, et. al. kefir improves bone mass and micro architecture in an ovarectomized rat model of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International 2014; PMID 25278298.

Hertzler SR, Clancy SM. Kefir improves lactose digestion and tolerance in adults with lactose maldigestion. J Am Diet Assoc 2003; 103(5):582-7.

Lopitz-Otsoa F, et al. Kefir: a symbiotic yeasts-bacteria community with alleged healthy capabilities. Rev Iberoam Micol 2006; 23(2):67-74.

Liu JR, et al. Hypocholesterolaemic effects of milk-kefir and soyamilk-kefir in cholesterol-fed hamsters. Br J Nutr 2006; 95(5):939-46.

Vinderola CG, et al. Immunomodulating capacity of kefir. J Dairy Rez 2005; 72(2):195-202.

Lopitz-Otsoa F, et al. Kefir: A symbiotic yeasts-bacteria community with alleged healthy capabilities. Rev Iberoam Micol 2006; 23:67-74.

Society for General Microbiology. “How Probiotics Can Prevent Disease.” ScienceDaily. (accessed April 12, 2014).