Milk Kefir History – Where do Kefir Grains Come From?

Milk kefir is much more popular than water kefir (the other type of kefir). Previously we talked about water kefir grains and its origin and now the time has come for the tasty milk kefir.

The origin story of milk kefir grains is full of rich history and it is a very interesting read. So, let’s jump straight in!

Origin Story of Kefir in the Caucasus Mountains

Where do kefir grains come from? Well, the origin of kefir can be traced back to several centuries. Most resources point out to Caucasus Mountains’ shepherds. The shepherds learned that fresh milk, when put in leather bags, would ferment into a fizzy drink using kefir grains. According to the people of the Caucasus Mountains, there is a legend that the Orthodox people were gifted with kefir grains by the Prophet Mohammed. The prophet warned the people against giving away the secret of preparing kefir to other people or for them to even share the grains with anyone else as they would lose their magical strength.

At this time, kefir grains were regarded as a part of the tribe’s wealth. Kefir grains were passed on from one generation to the other. The kefir was made of goats or cows milk in bags made from the animals’ hides. It was occasionally made in clay pots, oak vats, and wooden buckets. There were other people from different areas that used sheep milk.

Usually, the bags of Kefir were hung out in the sun at daytime and brought into the house when it was nightfall. During nightfall, they were hanged near a doorway. Anyone entering or exiting the house could prod the bag with their hand or foot to continuously mix the contents. Every time kefir was removed, more fresh milk was added to the kefir grains in order to ensure the continued process of fermentation.

Shepherds could also make their own kefir when on travel. When they left home, they would take bags of kefir along with them on their long journeys. They would then add fresh milk from their animals to replace the kefir they have consumed. As they moved, the milk mixed with the kefir grains and it would ferment to form the sparkling beverage that they would later drink. The people of the northern Caucasus enjoyed the Kefir drink for many centuries without sharing its secret of preparation with anyone.

First Studies Made on Kefir

First Studies Made on Kefir

For many centuries, kefir was unknown outside the Caucasus. This was until the news of its use in the treatment of tuberculosis, stomach, and intestinal diseases started to spread through the world. Russian physicians believed kefir was beneficial for health. This led to the first studies on kefir towards the end of the 19th century. But at this time, kefir was quite difficult to obtain thus hindering its commercial production as it wasn’t possible to obtain the source of the kefir – the kefir grains.

Determined to obtain the kefir grains to make kefir for their patients, the members of “All Russian Physician’s society” approached the Blandov brothers. He requested them to obtain the kefir grains for large-scale production of kefir. The brothers were excited about the idea. This was mainly because they owned cheese manufacturing factories in the Caucasus region in addition to their Moscow Dairy.

The way in which the kefir grains were obtained is more of a “romantic story”. The kefir grains were obtained through a ruling passed by the Tsar for Bek-Mirza. A woman called Irina had been sent by one of the Blandov Brothers to seduce the young Caucaus prince and convince him to gift her the kefir grains. The Prince out of fear of breaking a religious law refused to give her the kefir grains. When she was returning to her home, she was captured by the prince’s guards and was ordered to marry him. She was later rescued from the forced marriage. For this crime, the prince was brought before the Tsar. He passed the ruling for her to be compensated with ten pounds of the kefir grains.

In 1908, the grains were brought to the Moscow Dairy. They were used to process the first bottles of milk kefir. Small quantities of this drink were produced in numerous towns within the area. People started consuming it for its alleged medicinal use.

It was not until 1930 that kefir started getting produced on a large scale in Russia. But it was extremely challenging to produce it using conventional methods on an industrial scale as a result of its ever-changing state and complicated biological make-up. Later on, in 1973, the workers at the All-Union Diary Research Institute discovered a new technique for the commercial production of kefir.

Presently in Russia, kefir is the most popular fermented milk.

Health Benefits of Kefir Throughout History

The indigenous people of the Caucasus region are well known for their extended longevity.  Many people accredit this to their continued regular intake of milk kefir. Hospitals that existed in the former USSR used kefir to treat ailments such as allergies, atherosclerosis, metabolic and digestive disorders, cancer, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal disorders.

The chemical changes of the kefir culture make the milk easier to digest thus allowing the body to absorb more of the available nutrients. Kefir is high in amino acids, calcium, folic acid, and B-vitamins. Also, it can play a significant role in the development of a healthy digestive tract in children and it protects against the negative effects of radiation and assists in improving the immune system.

The friendly culture of kefir also produces specific antibiotic substances which can help in controlling harmful microorganisms. It also helps with bowel function and in the treatment of candida.

Elie Metchnikoff (1908) found out that kefir has properties that can activate the saliva’s flow. This is mostly attributed to its content and its minimal levels of carbonation. The drink stimulates digestive juices and peristalsis in the intestinal tract. It is therefore recommended to be consumed as a postoperative food as most operations on the abdomen cause the bowels to stop contracting and prevent peristalsis.

Kefir is also used to remedy digestive problems. This is because it has minimal curd rigidity meaning the curd breaks up easily into small particles. This small size of the curd allows digestion by offering a large surface area for the agents of digestion to work on. It also contains mild laxative attributes.

The story of kefir is a distinct one. Comparing it with a water kefir grains story, milk kefir grains have a history of over 2000 years. This is a drink that is quite beneficial and valuable among many generations that use it. Kefir was produced in the ancient times by the nomadic shepherds in the Caucasus Mountains and little was known about it in the west for about 1900 years. It was by the order of the Russian Tsar that it was brought to Russia and become popular in many parts of Europe at the start of the 20th century.

Today, kefir is being used for the treatment of many conditions.  It is used for stimulating the immune system, inhibits tumor cells, enhances the digestion of lactose, and prevents the growth of pathogens including ulcer’s causing bacteria and fungi.

With new studies showing that some bacteria can trigger inflammatory diseases. This includes some types of heart diseases. Because of this, it is advisable that people consume kefir on a regular basis.  It can help to boost longevity and improve health. Given its many proven benefits, it is worth giving it a try and hopefully experiencing a new change in health.

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