THE CAUCASUS KEFIR
Dr. Lee Lorenzen, Biochemist
In 1908, Metchnikov wrote in his book, "The
Prolongation of Life" that the secret to longevity that he found in the Russian
mountains was the yogurt that the people were making and eating.
The villagers of Caucasus mountains gave us yogurt.
But this part of the world is also the origin of fermented milk product that may be good
for your health called Kefir. The history of Kefir is centuries old. It is mentioned
in the Koran and is very well known in Eastern Europe.
Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) have been used to ferment foods
for at least 4000 years. Without understanding the scientific basis, people used
LAB and kefirs (bacteria and yeast complexes) to produce cultured foods with improved
preservation and with different characteristic flavors and textures from the original
food. A wide variety of foods including sausage, ham, wine, cider, beer, sauerkraut,
olives, and pickles contain LAB and other GRAS ("Generally Recognized As Safe")
microorganisms. LAB are used for many fermented milk products from all over the
world as well, including yogurt, cheese, butter, buttermilk, kefir, and kourniss.
Although kefir is just being discovered in some areas of the world, it has been very
popular in Europe and the Middle East. In the former Soviet Union, kefir accounts
for 70% of the total amount of fermented milk consumed. It is also well known in
Sweden, Norway, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Greece, Austria, Brazil, and Israel.
Like yogurt, kefir is milk based. The process to make
kefir involves fermenting milk with what are called kefir grains. The grains are a
mass of safe bacteria, yeast and polysaccharide (complex sugars). The grains are a
living growing mass that have been the subject of much study to define exactly what makes
up the grains. Origin, storage, temperature, growth, media (what you feed the kefir
to make it grow) and handling all influence the make up of the grains.
The polysaccharide that makes up the mass of the kefir
grain has been shown to be unique and has been given the name kefiran. The
fermentation process takes about twenty four hours, during which the grains change milk
into a sour tasting drink. Many years of consumption in these countries have
demonstrated that the microorganisms in kefir are not pathogenic or disease causing.
Kefir is actually a preventative. It processes antimicrobial activity against a wide
variety of gram positive and gram negative bacteria and against some fungi. In a
recent study by Zacconi, the antagonistic effects of kefir against Salmonella was
attributed to the complexity and vitality of the unique microflora found in this complex.
The folklore of Kefir enjoys a rich tradition of health
claims. In the former Soviet Union, it is used in hospitals and Santeria for a
variety of conditions, including metabolic disorders, atherosclerosis, and allergic
disease. It has even been used for the treatment of tuberculosis, abnormal cell
growth, high cholesterol levels, gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases, hypertension,
ischaemic heart disease and allergy. The mild acid taste and its characteristic
microflora facilitate salivation, enzyme secretion in the stomach and pancreas and
improved peristalsis. Kefir contributes to more even movement of food in the
intestine and the presence of lactic acid, acetic acid and antibiotic substances inhibit
decomposition processes in the small intestine.
Its consumption has also been associated with longevity in
Caucasus Mountains where the drink was fermented naturally in bags made of animal
hides. For additional information, read the research of Dr. Kornai.
This is from the folklore of the
region and we make no claims as to the effectiveness of our kefir to treat or control
disease. It is, however, a very healthy drink which can help control bad bacteria
and yeasts in the digestive tract.
Our Caucasus Kefir was brought to us by a Christian
missionary in 1983. We have kept this complex alive since that time and have studied
the many. microorganisms it contains, including Saccharomyces boulardii, a now well known
yeast which is antagonistic to Candida albicans and pathogenic bacteria which cause severe
gastrointestinal upset for the travelers. After years of work we were able to
stabilize and freeze dry the complex so that it could be encapsulated and shipped to those
For thousands of years, the villagers in the Caucasus
mountains had never allowed their precious complex to be used outside their area, but the
missionary (who was originally born and raised in the village), convinced them that this
discovery was too important to be used by only a few people. We are honored that the
people of the Caucasus have shared their unique development with us.