Kefir grains, which are a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria, are used to make kefir.
Alternative names milk kefir, búlgaros
Type Yogurt
Main ingredients milk, kefir grains (bacteria, salt, yeasts, proteins, lipids, sugar)

Kefir, keefir, or kephir ( ),[1] alternatively milk kefir, or búlgaros, is a fermented milk drink made with kefir "grains" (a yeast/bacterial fermentation starter) and has its origins in the north Caucasus Mountains.[2] It is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep milk with kefir grains.[3] Traditional kefir was made in skin bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed.[4]


The word kefir,[5] existing in modern Russian (since at least 1884),[6] Polish, Turkish and English, is probably from a North Caucasian Turkish Origin (although some sources see a connection to Turkic köpür (foam)[7]) and has become the most commonly used name, although it is known in other regions by various names. The word kefir may be a derivative of the Turkish word keyif, which means feeling good.[2][8][9]


Kefir grains are a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix, or (SCOBY) forms "grains" that resemble cauliflower. For this reason, a complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can be found in these grains although some predominate; Lactobacillus species are always present.[2]

Kefir grains contain a water-soluble polysaccharide known as kefiran, which imparts a rope-like texture and feeling in the mouth. The grains range in color from white to yellow, and may grow to the size of walnuts.

The composition of kefir depends greatly on the type of milk that was fermented, including the concentration of vitamin B12.

During the fermentation, changes in composition of nutrients and other ingredients occur. Lactose, the sugar present in milk, is broken down mostly to lactic acid (25%) by the lactic acid bacteria, which results in acidification of the product.[2] Propionibacteria further break down some of the lactic acid into propionic acid (these bacteria also carry out the same fermentation in Swiss Cheese). Other substances that contribute to the flavor of kefir are pyruvic acid, acetic acid, diacetyl and acetoin (both of which contribute a "buttery" flavor), citric acid, acetaldehyde and amino acids resulting from protein breakdown.[10]

The slow-acting yeasts, late in the fermentation process, break lactose down into ethanol and carbon dioxide: depending on the process, ethanol concentration can be as high as 1-2% (achieved by small-scale dairies early in the 20th century), with the kefir having a bubbly appearance and carbonated taste: most modern processes, which use shorter fermentation times, result in much lower ethanol concentrations of 0.2-0.3%.

As a result of the fermentation, very little lactose remains in kefir. People with lactose intolerance are able to tolerate kefir, providing the number of live bacteria present in this beverage consumed is high enough (i.e., fermentation has proceeded for adequate time). It has also been shown that fermented milk products have a slower transit time than milk, which may further improve lactose digestion.[11]

For the preparation of the present factory-produced kefir, the so-called kefir mild, kefir grains are no longer used, but a precise composed mixture of different bacteria and yeast, allowing the flavor to be kept constant.

Traditional kefir is fermented at ambient temperatures, generally overnight. Fermentation of the lactose yields a sour, carbonated, slightly alcoholic beverage, with a consistency and taste similar to thin yogurt.[12]

Variations that thrive in various other liquids exist, and they vary markedly from kefir in both appearance and microbial composition. Water kefir (or tibicos) is grown in water with sugar (sometimes with added dry fruit such as figs, and lemon juice) for a day or more at room temperature.


Nutritional composition

Kefir products contain nutrients in varying amounts from negligible to significant content, including dietary minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids, conjugated linoleic acid,[13] similar in amounts to unfermented cow, goat or sheep milk.[14] Kefir is composed mainly of water and by-products of the fermentation process, including carbon dioxide and ethanol.[8]

Typical of milk, several dietary minerals are found in kefir, such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, copper, molybdenum, manganese, and zinc in amounts that have not been standardized to a reputable nutrient database.[8] Also similar to milk,[14] kefir contains vitamins in variable amounts, including 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.[8] Essential amino acids found in kefir include methionine, cysteine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, tyrosine, leucine, isoleucine, threonine, lysine, and valine,[8] as for any milk product.[14]


Several varieties of probiotic bacteria are found in kefir products such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, and Lactococcus lactis,[2][13] although the significance of probiotic content to nutrition or health remains unproven.[15][16] Lactobacilli in kefir may exist in concentrations varying from approximately 1 million-1 billion colony-forming units per milliliter and are the bacteria responsible for the synthesis of the polysaccharide kefiran.[3]

In addition to bacteria, kefir often contains strains of yeast that can metabolize lactose, such as Kluyveromyces marxianus and Kluyveromyces lactis, as well as strains of yeast that do not metabolize lactose, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Torulaspora delbrueckii, and Kazachstania unispora;[2] however, the nutritional significance of these strains is unknown.


Lactose intolerance

A 2003 study found that consumption of the polysaccharide kefiran by human adults with lactose intolerance led to a significant decrease in flatulence.[13]


90 grams of kefir grains

Production of traditional kefir requires a starter community of kefir grains which are added to the liquid one wishes to ferment.

The traditional, or artisanal, method of making kefir is achieved by directly adding kefir grains (2–10%) to milk in a covered acid proof container which is traditionally agitated one or more times a day. It is not filled to capacity, allowing room for some expansion as the kefiran and carbon dioxide gas produced causes the liquid level to rise. If the container is not light proof it should be stored in the dark to prevent degradation of vitamins and inhibition of the culture. After a period of fermentation lasting around 24 hours, ideally at 20–25 °C (68–77 °F), the grains are removed from the liquid by straining using a non-corrosive straining utensil which can be stainless steel or food grade plastic and reserved as the starter for a fresh amount of liquid.

The fermented liquid which contains live microflora from the grain, may now be consumed as a beverage, used in recipes, or kept aside for several days to undergo a slower secondary fermentation which further thickens and sours the liquid. Without refrigeration, the shelf life is up to thirty days.[17] The grains will enlarge in the process of kefir production, and eventually split.

The Russian method permits production of kefir on a larger scale, and uses two fermentations. The first step is to prepare the cultures by incubating milk with grains (2–3%), as just described. The grains are then removed by filtration and the resulting liquid mother culture is added to milk (1–3%) which is fermented for 12 to 18 hours.[18]

Kefir can be produced using lyophilized cultures commonly available as a powder from health food shops. A portion of the resulting kefir can be saved to be used a number of times to propagate further fermentations but ultimately does not form grains, and a fresh culture must be obtained.


Kefir is a popular drink across Eastern and Northern Europe.

In Chile, where it is known as "yogurt de pajaritos" (little bird's yogurt), kefir has been regularly consumed for over a century; it might have been introduced by one of the various waves of migrants from the former Ottoman Empire and migrants from Eastern Europe.

The alleged health benefits of kefir have recently been popularized in North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and kefir can be found in pasteurized form in many stores and supermarkets.

Milk types

A glass of kefir in a Polish café

Kefir grains will ferment the nutritional qualities. Raw milk has been traditionally used.

Kefir grains will also ferment milk substitutes such as soy milk, rice milk, and coconut milk, as well as other sugary liquids including fruit juice, coconut water, beer wort and ginger beer. However, the kefir grains may cease growing if the medium used does not contain all the growth factors required by the bacteria.

Milk sugar is not essential for the synthesis of the polysaccharide that makes up the grains (kefiran), and studies have shown that rice hydrolysate is a suitable alternative medium.[19] Additionally, it has been shown that kefir grains will reproduce when fermenting soy milk, although they will change in appearance and size due to the differing proteins available to them.[20]

Culinary uses

As it contains lactobacilli bacteria, kefir can be used to make a sourdough bread. It is also useful as a buttermilk substitute in baking. Kefir is one of the main ingredients in cold borscht in Lithuania. Other variations of kefir soups and foods prepared with kefir are popular across the former Soviet Union and Poland. Kefir may be used in place of milk on cereal or granola.

Possible origin of kefir grains

One group of researchers[21] wrote:

Motaghi et al. (1997)[22] produced kefir grains in a goat-hide bag using pasteurized milk inoculated with sheep intestinal flora, followed by culture on the surface of milk. Despite intensive research and many attempts to produce kefir grains from the pure or mixed cultures that are normally present in the grains, no successful results have been reported to date. This failure can probably be ascribed to the fact that little is known about the mechanism of grain formation.

Other research indicated that kefir grains are carbohydrates of bacterial origin produced by lactobacilli from within the matrix, forming sheet-like structures that become a grain.[23]

More recently investigators have postulated that small kefir granules form initially from auto-aggregations of lactobacilli and yeast, followed by a biofilm created by the adherence of additional bacteria and yeasts to the granule exterior.[24]

Other fermented dairy products

Other fermented beverages

See also


  1. ^ kefir.
  2. ^ a b c d e f de Oliveira Leite AM, Miguel MA, Peixoto RS, Rosado AS, Silva JT, Paschoalin VMI (October 2013). "Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage". Braz J Microbiol 44 (2): 341–9.  
  3. ^ a b Altay F, Karbancıoglu-Güler F, Daskaya-Dikmen C, Heperkan D (October 2013). "A review on traditional Turkish fermented non-alcoholic beverages: microbiota, fermentation process and quality characteristics". Int J Food Microbiol 167 (1): 44–56.  
  4. ^ Prescott; Harley; Klein. Microbiology (7th ed.). London: McGraw-Hill. p. 1040.  
  5. ^ "Wiktionary, the free dictionary: Kefir". 
  6. ^ "Origin of KEFIR". Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. 
  7. ^ "kefir – Memidex dictionary/thesaurus". 
  8. ^ a b c d e Ahmed Z, Wang Y, Ahmad A, Khan ST, Nisa M, Ahmad H, Afreen A (2013). "Kefir and health: a contemporary perspective". Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 53 (5): 422–34.  
  9. ^ Nielsen B, Gürakan GC, Unlü G (December 2014). "Kefir: a multifaceted fermented dairy product". Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins 6 (3-4): 123–35.  
  10. ^ Handbook of Fermented Functional foods. 2nd Ed. Edward R. Farnsworth, Editor. CRC Press, 2008.
  11. ^ Farnworth, Edward R. (2005). "Kefir – a complex probiotic". Food Science & Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods 2 (1): 1–17.  
  12. ^ Kowsikowski, F. and Mistry, V. (1997). Cheese and Fermented Milk Foods, 3rd ed, vol. I. F. V. Kowsikowski, Westport, Conn., ISBN 0965645606.
  13. ^ a b c Guzel-Seydim ZB, Kok-Tas T, Greene AK, Seydim AC (March 2011). "Review: functional properties of kefir". Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 51 (3): 261–8.  
  14. ^ a b c "Nutrition facts for fluid sheep milk, one US cup, 245 ml". Conde Nast,, USDA Nutrient Database, Standard Reference, version 21. 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014. 
  15. ^ LA 104 and reducing intestinal discomfort pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 (example, search EFSA for other opinion reports on probiotics"Streptococcus thermophillus LA 103 and Lactococcus lactis LA 102, Lactobacillus helveticus LA 101, Bifidobacterium longum"Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to a combination of . European Food Safety Authority, EFSA Journal 2013;11(2):3085. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  16. ^ Rijkers GT et al. (2011). "Health benefits and health claims of probiotics: bridging science and marketing". Brit J Nutr: 1–6.  
  17. ^ Motegi et al.; Mazaheri, M.; Moazami, N.; Farkhondeh, A.; Fooladi, M.H.; Goltapeh, E.M. (1997). "Kefir production in Iran". World Journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology 13 (5): 579–581.  
  18. ^ "Fabrication of kefir". Retrieved 12 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Maeda, H; Zhu, X; Suzuki, S; Suzuki, K; Kitamura, S (2004-08-25). "Structural characterization and biological activities of an exopolysaccharide kefiran produced by Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens WT-2B(T)". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry (American Chemical Society) 52 (17): 5533–8.  
  20. ^ Abraham, Analía G.; de Antoni, Graciela L. (May 1999). "Characterization of kefir grains grown in cows' milk and in soy milk". Journal of Dairy Research (Cambridge University Press) 66 (2): 327–333.  
  21. ^ Chen, T.-H.; Chen, M.-J.; Chen, K.-N.; Liu, J.-R.; Chen, M.-J. (2009). "Microbiological and chemical properties of kefir manufactured by entrapped microorganisms isolated from kefir grains". Journal of Dairy Science 92 (7): 3002–3013.  
  22. ^ Motaghi, M.; Mazaheri, M.; Moazami, N.; Farkhondeh, A.; Fooladi, M. H.; Goltapeh, E. M. (1997). "Short Communication: Kefir production in Iran". World Journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology 13 (5): 579–581.  
  23. ^ Marshall VM, Cole WM, Brooker BE (1984). "Observations on the structure of kefir grains and the distribution of the microflora". J Appl Bacteriol 57 (3): 491–7.  
  24. ^ Sheng-Yao Wang and Kun-Nan Chen and Yung-Ming Lo and Ming-Lun Chiang and Hsi-Chia Chen and Je-Ruei Liu and Ming-Ju Chen (2012). "Investigation of microorganisms involved in biosynthesis of the kefir grain". Food Microbiology 32 (2): 274–285.  

Further reading

External links