Kefir has recently gained popularity in Australia; however, it has been a popular part of the diet in Russia for centuries. Kefir is believed to have originated in the north Caucasus Mountains around 2,000 years ago. Kefir is a fermented milk product with a slight fizz and sour taste.
What is Kefir?
Kefir is traditionally a dairy product, although it can be made with dairy-free alternatives and is produced through the fermentation of bacteria and yeasts that are naturally present in kefir grains. This self-carbonated drink provides many nutritional benefits through the presence of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins. Kefir has a slight acidic taste and natural carbonation. The word kefir means “feel good” in Turkish, which is likely due to the abundance of good bacteria and the health benefits this drink provides.
How is Kefir Made?
Kefir is created when kefir grains are added to milk. Kefir grains are not actually grains, instead, they are made up of various species of bacteria, yeasts and moulds that grow together forming a matrix of polysaccharides and proteins. Kefir grains resemble cauliflower florets and have a firm slimy structure. Kefir grains are added to milk and left to ferment at room temperature for at least 24 hours. This creates a slightly sour, creamy drink similar to a runny yogurt.
What are the Nutritional Benefits of Kefir?
Kefir provides many nutritional benefits which may be amplified due to the fermentation process. Kefir provides a good source of B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12 and folic acid. Kefir is also an excellent source of vitamins C and K. As well as being a good source of many vitamins, kefir provides significant amounts of minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, molybdenum and phosphorus. Kefir may also provide numerous therapeutic benefits such as:
Anticarcinogenic effects: Some studies show that fermented milk products may reduce the risk of developing some cancers such as breast cancer. This may be due to the presence of bioactive compounds such as proteins and small peptides. These bioactive compounds have the ability to prevent cancer from developing and may suppress tumour growth.
Antibacterial effects: Certain Lactobacillus bacteria have been shown to have antibacterial properties against harmful bacteria. Kefir provides bacteria which may inhibit the growth of certain disease-producing bacteria such as E. coli, Helicobacter pylori and salmonella.
Immune system effects: Fermented products have shown some positive effects on the immune system in both animal and human models. The probiotics in fermented products such as kefir can have two-way actions on the immune system. Either by influencing immune cells directly, or indirectly through their secondary metabolites.
Anti-inflammatory effects: Kefir may provide anti-inflammatory benefits which have been demonstrated in some animal studies, however, more human studies are needed to confirm these effects.
Kefir is a nutritious fermented drink that provides a great source of many vitamins and minerals. Kefir is also one of the most beneficial fermented products for providing a wide range of good bacteria. This combination of probiotics and nutrients in kefir create a tasty drink packed with many health benefits. You can read more about the health benefits of kefir here.