Kefir / Milk Kefir - The Exotic Bird Amongst All Dairy Products

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Briefly: What is Kefir (Milk Kefir)?

Was ist Kefir / Milchkefir? Das Wichtigste über Kefirknollen auf einen Blick
Kefir grains at a glance:

The grains of Milk Kefir look like a small cauliflower and process milk into an aromatic-creamy, yoghurt-like Kefir drink containing natural yeasts, lactic acid bacteria and minerals practically overnight (in 24-48 hrs). This exotic milk genius presumably comes from the Caucasus or Tibet. There, it counts to the most important foods since many centuries by now and is traditionally known as the “drink of the one-hundred-year-olds”. Milk Kefir has also a long history in Germany and Eastern Europe where it is valued as an alternative and very wholesome dairy product by many loyal fans. After fermentation, the finished Kefir drink is almost completely lactose-free and considered as especially well digestible. Furthermore, the lactic acid bacteria in the Kefir are a good source for the important vitamin B12 for vegetarians. Our starter kits are made from organic milk and are a perfect match for your very own Kefir production easily at home – guaranteedt!

Interesting Facts about Kefir / Milk Kefir (Tibetan Mushroom)

Kefir Milchkefir Tibetanischer Pilz
"Is that cauliflower in your milk?!"

Almost every one of us loves yoghurt, curd and cheese. These healthy, acidified dairy products are made by the help of lactic acid bacteria and are an integral part of a modern and balanced diet. Lactic fermentation of raw vegetables just celebrates its great comeback as well, and here, mankind has also likewise been using lactic acid bacteria beneficially already for millennia (Sauerkraut and Kimchi for example).

The genuine Kefir is a really exotic bird amongst all dairy products and also known as “Kefir grains”, “Tibetan Mushroom” and or “Caucasian Milk Kefir”. Milk Kefir is the only dairy product distributed in Europe which is produced by the help of yeasts. They not only produce valuable vitamins but also carbon dioxide giving your drink a sparkling character and some gentle yeast fragrance.

Kefir, Water Kefir (which is cultivated in water, sugar and dried fruits) and the tea fungus Kombucha (who feels comfortable enough in sweetened tea to raise a family) alike share the special characteristics of a community unique to bacteria and yeasts. Kefir consists of many single straps that intertwine to small chunks which frequently split up into offspring after a short while.

Kefir besteht aus einzelnen Schlingen, die sich zu kleinen Kefirknollen formen und immer wieder in junge kleinere Kefirknollen zerfallen.

The grains of the “Tibetan Mushroom” are rubbery and look like a small, cleanly structured cauliflower consisting of lots of single straps. Over time, the grains continue to grow until they finally fall apart into smaller ones usually reaching a size of somewhere between peas and walnuts, whereby size literally means age. The other way around this means the smaller the newer and fresher.

Typically, Kefir doubles after about every 2-4 weeks growing therefore much slower than Water Kefir for instance. With thorough care and good living conditions, the grains propagate continuously and stay on your side for a lifetime. Kefir is conveniently and easy to keep if you respect some basic rules.

The production of Milk Kefir is quite simple: You only have to give the Kefir or the grains into some milk (cow, sheep or goat’s milk), and after 24 hrs already, you get an aromatic and creamy dairy-power drink bodacious in flavor and scent.

Ob im Müsli, pur, in Dressings oder Saucen, süß oder deftig: Kefir macht immer eine gute Figur

Either pure, with fresh herbs, scallions, garlic, mint, or finely grated ginger, Kefir cuts quite a figure – also in sweet variations with honey, fresh and dried fruits, and moreover in salad dressing and dips. Many use it as a yoghurt substitute for their breakfast and or cereals. Kefir is furthermore an incredible fresh and delicious experience in taste for various main courses e.g. casseroles and different sauces. On our dedicated Kefir recipes page, you will find dozens of rewarding recipes and ideas.

Your Kefir drink is practically lactose-free after a fermentation time of about 48 hrs. This makes the Kefir worth a try for all of us who suffer poor digestion of milk sugar. Additionally, Kefir contains many vitamins and minerals.

By the way, if you want to get lots of omega-3 fatty acids, then you should definitely use organic milk for your Kefir grains just as our team from Wellness-Drinks has done ever since. We have summarized all important information on Kefir and organic milk [GERMAN PAGE] in a detailed guide which you may find here [GERMAN PAGE].

As several medical studies have shown, it is in particular easier for the digestive tract to better absorb various minerals and vitamins (e.g. many B vitamins as well as vitamin D and C) compared to using unfermented milk. Additionally, the lactic acid bacteria temporarily colonize your intestine and support your well-being. Milk Kefir is a healthy alternation in any case for everyone who likes yoghurt, buttermilk, and curd and wants to try something new.

Where does Kefir / Milk Kefir come from?

The Caucasus Mountains: These 1,100 km long high mountains do count as the most likely birthplace of the Kefir grains.
The Caucasus Mountains: These 1,100 km long high mountains do count as the most likely birthplace of the Kefir grains.
Caucasus or Tibet? Its origin and routes may be soundly debated.

It is assumed that Milk Kefir made its way step by step from Asia firstly to East and finally to West Europe because it was regarded as an especially well digestible dairy product and above all very easy to handle. In contrast to Water Kefir and Kombucha which became well-known pretty late in Germany, Milk Kefir already has a small but loyal fan base that values and honors it as a healthy and wholesome dairy product for decades by now.

The historical origin of the Kefir grains is most probably either the Caucasus or Tibet. The exact origin is difficult to prove of course because it is not fully clear in historical deliverances if another or only very similar lactic fermented dairy product is meant. Nevertheless, it has been for centuries one of the most important basic foods in both areas, Himalaya and Caucasus, and is traditionally known as the “drink of the one-hundred-year-olds” promising vitality and a long life.

In the Himalaya as well, they also use milk from mountain goats besides cow milk for the production of Kefir.
Himalaya mountain goats

The secrets of its production are passed on traditionally. In the entire Caucasus for example, Kefir is cultivated in leather bags which are refilled with fresh milk every day. There, virtually everybody knows of this Kefir drink mainly made from sheep’s, goat or mare’s milk, standing for joy of life and well-being. The Kefir grains are handed over as a precious source for a healthy diet between the local tribes with each generation anew. In the Himalaya as well, they also use milk from mountain goats besides cow milk for the production of Kefir.

It is known from nomadic people that they attach the filled leather bags to their horses thus always ensuring a good mixing of milk and Kefir grains by the horse’s movement. Other historical sources report that settled communities usually stick their filled leather bags to their front doors for fermentation; they also achieve a good mixing through the use of these doors. For both traditional methods of Kefir production, the occurring temperature balance may be of great impact: Kefir prefers a moderate temperature – not too warm and not too cold. And perhaps it is even a bit niftier: in both cases, there is a cooler and a warmer side in the Kefir container. The yeasts in the Kefir like cooler temperatures whereas the bacteria desire warmer degrees. This way, an effective workload may result because some Kefir grains can do their work on the warmer side and the others on the colder side allowing for an especially smooth Kefir drink in the end. But please don’t be afraid: today’s Kefir grains are used to our constant room temperatures and do not need to be carried around by your house pets or farm animals! ;-)

Ilja Iljitsch Metschnikow is one of the founders of probiotics and introduced Kefir to Russia.
Ilja Iljitsch Metschnikow is one of the founders of probiotics and introduced Kefir to Russia.

In Russia, doctors and biologists discovered the fascinating Kefir grains at the beginning of the 20th century with great excitement. According to various Russian legends, the Prophet Mohammed is said to have shown Orthodox believers in the Caucasus how to produce Kefir. However, clear historical evidence for such oral traditions is still lacking of course.

A widely disseminated writing by the Russian bacteriologist Ilja Iljitsch Metschnikow from 1908, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine the same year, led to a Russian Kefir boom that established the drink in Russia until today. Metschnikow is considered as one of the scientific founders of probiotics. He examined bacterial-fermented foods such as curdled milk, yoghurt, and especially Kefir with the declared aim of treating intestinal infections and diseases for good, as well as to slow down the aging process in general. According to his theory, lactic acid bacteria may suppress harmful or less favorable bacteria thus preventing diseases and ensuring a healthy digestion.

Thanks to his good reputation, Kefir eventually made its way across the Black Sea and spread throughout Eastern Europe and the entire Balkans. In Bulgaria, Kefir is still today a popular national drink due to its taste and good tolerability. Moreover, it is not only popular in all Central Asia but also in North and East Asia.

Himalaya mountains: One possible origin of the Kefir grains
The Himalaya mountains are one possible origin of the Kefir grains

Neither its name nor its origin is fully clear, Kefir history is still at issue. It is assumed that the Russian term “Kefir” (Кефи́р) either derives from the Turkish term köpürmek = “foaming” or from the Turkish word keif which may be translated as “well-being after drinking”. The Caucasus or Himalaya – no matter where the Kefir came from and which people contributed the most to its spreading, the nationalistic vehemence shown at claiming the discovery of the Kefir reflects much of the veneration given to this foaming dairy beverage even today.

Healthy is in:
Kefir is trendy for years already

Kefirknollen im Ansatzgefäß
Genuine Kefir is not available in supermarkets

Ready-made Kefir drinks have become a real bestseller in supermarket dairy shelves over the past years. Milk Kefir is, just like fresh and biological active yoghurt, a true alternative to all those sweetened and artificially flavored dairy products although genuine Kefir is usually not available in stores. You will find the name affix “Kefir, mild” on mostly all of such Kefir products. For industrial produced Kefir, suppliers use a Kefir culture which is easier to process providing a steady taste and consistency throughout. For the industrial product “Kefir, mild”, they forgo on the use of yeasts inducing alcohol as far as possible because the cup lids would bulge unattractively. The industrial Kefir may lack alcohol, but it also misses the sparkling carbon dioxide and the wonderful yeasty smell. And above all, “Kefir, mild” is not lactose-free. It still contains lactose in amounts of about 2.7 to 3.9 g per 100 g – annoying for any such people with lactose intolerance who expect genuine Kefir.

Die traditionelle Kefirknolle sollte niemals mit Metall in Berührung kommen. Metall könnte dem Kefir dauerhaft schaden.

The new industrial product has aroused great interest in the genuine traditional Kefir – and its production at home is actually very easy when you follow some basic rules. Kefir and Water Kefir alike must never get into contact with metal. On contact with metal, an ionic flux may develop which severely damages the Kefir by times. Because of that, wooden spoons were usually used in the past, whereas we nowadays use means of plastic and glass for the handling of Kefir grains. Otherwise and with good care, the “Tibetan Mushroom” is an uncomplicated and practically indestructible fellow who may give you many years of enjoyment.

Note: All information and tips on our website have been selected and verified by us with great care. Nevertheless, we cannot guarantee for the currency, completeness and validity of the given data. We assume no liability for any damage and or accidents.
When following our recommendations, tips, and notes, please also use your own personal judgment and experience in the proper and safe handling of food.