What is Kefir?
Pronounced “keh-FEER,” kefir is a fermented milk drink. Kefir's colorful and romantic history dates back many centuries—likely even longer—to the shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains, who reportedly discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into an effervescent beverage.
Another legend, from the Islamic peoples of the Caucasus Mountains, claims that kefir "grains" were a gift to the region's Orthodox Christians from Mohammed, who strictly forbade their dissemination, because they would lose their "magic strength." Although Marco Polo mentioned it in his travel accounts, kefir and its secrets remained unknown outside the Caucasus region until reports spread of its value in treating tuberculosis, and for intestinal and stomach disorders. Russian doctors of the Victorian era believed that kefir was beneficial for health and the first scientific studies for kefir were published in the late 19th century. This mildly self-carbonated beverage continues to be popular in the Caucasus, Russia and southwestern Asia, and recently gained wide popularity in Western Europe.
Kefir's Health Benefits
In addition to kefir's ancient reputation as a healthy drink, it has been famously credited with the extraordinary longevity of people in the Caucasus. Hospitals in the former Soviet Union use kefir, especially when no modern medical treatment is available, to treat conditions ranging from atherosclerosis, allergic disease, metabolic and digestive disorders and tuberculosis to cancer and gastrointestinal disorders.
A number of studies conducted to date have documented kefir's ability to stimulate the immune system, enhance lactose digestion, and inhibit tumors, fungi and pathogens— including the bacteria that cause most ulcers. This makes a lot of sense as scientists have since discovered that most ulcers are caused by an infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori and not spicy food, stomach acid or stress, as physicians erroneously believed for years. Scientists are now discovering that a great many inflammatory diseases (including certain types of heart disease) can be triggered by a bacterium. And that provides all the more reason to enjoy kefir as part of your daily diet.
What’s The Difference Between Yogurt & Kefir?
While both yogurt and kefir are cultured milk products, they contain different types of beneficial bacteria. Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.
Kefir contains several major strains of friendly bacteria not commonly found in yogurt, Lactobacillus Caucasus, Leuconostoc, Acetobacter species, and Streptococcus species.
It also contains beneficial yeasts, such as Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir, which dominate, control and eliminate destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body. They do so by penetrating the mucosal lining where unhealthy yeast and bacteria reside, forming a virtual SWAT team that housecleans and strengthens the intestines. Hence, the body becomes more efficient in resisting such pathogens as E. coli and intestinal parasites. Kefir’s active yeast and bacteria provide more nutritive value than yogurt by helping digest the foods that you eat and by keeping the colon environment clean and healthy. Because the curd size of kefir is smaller than yogurt, it is also easier to digest, which makes it a particularly excellent, nutritious food for babies, the elderly and people experiencing chronic fatigue and digestive disorders.