Kefir – The fermenting wonder

Kefir beverages have become a popular lifestyle food lately. Kefir is an excellent natural source of probiotics and thus not a surprise since there is a greater awareness of probiotics for gut and general health these days. For example, 81.5% of health professionals in an international survey responded with a good understanding of probiotics [1]. An Australian study of 1,265 adults also found that 58.9% of the participants were probiotics users. They mainly were female, more educated, with a higher awareness of gut health and healthier lifestyle behaviours [2]. If you want to learn more about probiotics, please see my previous blog post, “Everyone needs probiotics”.

What is kefir?

Traditionally, kefir is a fermented milk drink with a sour or acidic taste and is made from a culture of yeast and bacteria. It was said to originate from Eastern Europe [3] or the Caucasian mountains of Russia [4]. The word kefir is borrowed from Russian according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary [5]. The culture or biomass is called kefir grains as they are small lumps of irregular shapes with light yellow to dark brown in colour depending on where they were grown [4].

A close-up look at kefir grains (Photo credit: Arthur Barys under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The kefir grains are now widely available commercially, so it is easy to make kefir at home. The process is simple. Add milk with kefir grains and incubate at 18–24 °C for 18 to 24 hours, then separate the kefir grains with a sieve. That’s it, you have your kefir, which some also called a yogurt drink.

Non-dairy kefir?

If you are someone like me who do not drink milk, then the nondairy version of kefir is the alternative option. The process is the same since the yeast and bacteria will use the available carbohydrates, be it lactose in milk or glucose, fructose, or sucrose of any non-dairy sources for fermentation. So, nondairy kefir beverages can be made from water, fruit juice, soy milk or vegetable extracts by adding brown sugar [4]. Not to be worried about the sugar content. After 24 hours of fermentation, the sugar is converted mainly into ethanol and lactic acid, making the final product a low-sugar, acidic, sparkling, and slightly alcoholic beverage [6].

Non-dairy kefir can be made by mixing kefir grains and fruit juice or even water and brown sugar.

Microorganisms in kefir grains

According to one study, the non-dairy kefir grains contain a diverse host of 45 bacteria and 23 yeasts [6]. Most bacteria are lactic acid bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Leuconostoc, Pediococcus, and Streptococcus. The yeast strains in kefir mainly belonging to the genus Saccharomyces and Kluyveromyces [6]. These microorganisms can help to increase the diversity of our gut microbiome.

Major health benefits

The health benefits associated with kefir are enormous. The abundance of good bacteria in kefir can improve common gastrointestinal symptoms of abdominal pain and bloatedness while increase appetite [7]. Hence, the immediate result is an improvement in gut health. A healthy gut with good bacteria can also protect against fungi, parasites, viruses and other invective agents [8]. In this COVID-19 pandemic era, kefir has also been suggested as a dietary supplement to strengthen the immune system to protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection, reducing the risk of severe illnesses [9].  

Kefir helps to build up a stronger immune system for protection against infection.

Modulating the immune system can also reduce allergic responses such as asthma [10], accelerate wound healing [11], and protect against cancer. A systematic review of 11 studies found that kefir may be associated with cancer prevention and has beneficial effects in cancer treatment [12]. For diabetic patients, kefir is an excellent choice for managing blood sugar. Research has shown that diabetic patients who drank 600ml/day of kefir for eight weeks had a significant reduction in their HbA1c level. The reduction in HbA1c was also more significant than those who took only conventional fermented milk [13].

Conclusion

Kifer beverages, either dairy or nondairy, are excellent natural sources of probiotics. They can be made conveniently at home and taste great. The health benefits of consuming kefir are numerous. It can improve gut health, protect against infection, prevent cancer, reduce allergy, promote healing, and lower blood sugar. Try it today if you have not.

Try kefir your way, everyday.

References

[1] S. Fijan, A. Frauwallner, L. Varga, T. Langerholc, I. Rogelj, M. Lorber, P. Lewis, P. Povalej Bržan, Health Professionals’ Knowledge of Probiotics: An International Survey, Int J Environ Res Public Health 16(17) (2019) 3128.

[2] D.S. Khalesi Ph, D.C. Vandelanotte Ph, B.T. Thwaite, D.A. Russell Ph, D.D. Dawson Ph, D.S. Williams Ph, Awareness and Attitudes of Gut Health, Probiotics and Prebiotics in Australian Adults, J Diet Suppl 18(4) (2021) 418-432.

[3] M.R. Prado, L.M. Blandón, L.P.S. Vandenberghe, C. Rodrigues, G.R. Castro, V. Thomaz-Soccol, C.R. Soccol, Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products, Front Microbiol 6 (2015) 1177-1177.

[4] M.B. Egea, D.C.d. Santos, J.G.d. Oliveira Filho, J.d.C. Ores, K.P. Takeuchi, A.C. Lemes, A review of nondairy kefir products: their characteristics and potential human health benefits, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition  (2020) 1-17.

[5] Kefir, Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster.

[6] D. Laureys, L. De Vuyst, Water kefir as a promising low-sugar probiotic fermented beverage, Arch Public Health 72(Suppl 1) (2014) P1-P1.

[7] M.C. Wang, A.I. Zaydi, W.H. Lin, J.S. Lin, M.T. Liong, J.J. Wu, Putative Probiotic Strains Isolated from Kefir Improve Gastrointestinal Health Parameters in Adults: a Randomized, Single-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study, Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins 12(3) (2020) 840-850.

[8] B.C.T. Bourrie, B.P. Willing, P.D. Cotter.

[9] R.S. Hamida, A. Shami, M.A. Ali, Z.N. Almohawes, A.E. Mohammed, M.M. Bin-Meferij, Kefir: A protective dietary supplementation against viral infection, Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 133 (2020) 110974.

[10] W.S. Hong, Y.P. Chen, M.J. Chen, The antiallergic effect of kefir Lactobacilli, J Food Sci 75(8) (2010) H244-53.

[11] A. Oryan, E. Alemzadeh, M.H. Eskandari, Kefir Accelerates Burn Wound Healing Through Inducing Fibroblast Cell Migration In Vitro and Modulating the Expression of IL-1ß, TGF-ß1, and bFGF Genes In Vivo, Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins 11(3) (2019) 874-886.

[12] N. Rafie, S. Golpour Hamedani, R. Ghiasvand, M. Miraghajani, Kefir and Cancer: A Systematic Review of Literatures, Arch Iran Med 18(12) (2015) 852-7.

[13] A. Ostadrahimi, A. Taghizadeh, M. Mobasseri, N. Farrin, L. Payahoo, Z. Beyramalipoor Gheshlaghi, M. Vahedjabbari.

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