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Kefir is a food that can be “dressed up or “dressed down,” by switching garnishes, glasses and serving plates (see photo below as a comparison). Photo © S. Mohr Photography |Fotolia.





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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.


May 2010

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Cheese-Butter-Yogurt

Probiotic Kefir

Page 1: Kefir Health Benefits



CAPSULE REPORT: Learn all about kefir (kuh-FEER); then read our review of Evolve Kefir, a yogurt-based beverage that has transformed rustic kefir into a delicious, lowfat, probiotic smoothie. Probiotics help to promote digestive health and enhance the immune system; while smoothies help to soothe the soul. The Evolve line of kefir is so delicious, we’ve given up milkshakes and malteds to focus on its delicious fruit flavors. The line is certified OU(D) kosher. Many lactose intolerant people can enjoy kefir, as long as it is is raw and not cooked (cooking destroys the enzymes). This is Page 1 of a three-page review. Click on the black links below to view the other pages.

What Is Kefir

A tart fermented milk beverage, kefir is believed to have originated about 2,000 years ago among the shepherds of the Caucasus mountain region—today’s Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The word is Russian, most likely derived from the Old Turkic word for milk, köpür.

The Caucasus Mountains* stretch from the Black Sea in the west to the Caspian Sea in the east. Russia is on the north side of the mountain range, and Georgia and Azerbaijan are to the south. The people of the Caucasus were known to have especially long life spans, with many living 100 years or more. While many attributed this to the health benefits of kefir, modern scientific studies have discounted the claim.

The word Caucasus derives from Caucas, a son of Togarmah, grandson of Noah's third son Japheth. He is the purported ancestor of the North Caucasians, from which Europeans descend. According to historic legend, after the fall of the Tower of Babel and the division of humanity into speakers of different languages, Togarmah settled with his sons between two mountains—possibly Mount Ararat (in modern Turkey) and Mount Elbrus (quite some distance away, in Russia).

Kefir has long been enjoyed in northern and middle Europe at breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks instead of milk, tea or other beverages. Countries formerly part of the USSR (Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine), Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) and central European nations (Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia) enjoy it for its flavor as well as its reputation as a health drink.


The health benefits of kefir and the increased enjoyment of yogurt (and its use as a probiotic food) have increased awareness and popularity of kefir in the U.S.

  Caucasus Map
The Caucasus Mountains, home of kefir, are highlighted in gold between Russia and Georgia. Map courtesy Wikimedia.

The Health Benefits Of Kefir

Kefir is not only delicious, it’s therapeutic. It contains millions of live and active probiotic cultures that clean and strengthen the intestines and help the body with healing and maintenance functions.

The end product is a creamy, slightly sour, refreshing milky beverage that is filled with these “friendly bacteria.” It’s a food you can feel great about eating.

People have been touting the numerous healing effects of kefir since the early eighteenth century. It has been used to treat allergies, atherosclerosis, cancer, candidiasis, digestive disorders, heart disease, hypertension, HIV and metabolic disorders, nervous system disorders, osteoporosis and tuberculosis.

Enjoy kefir for breakfast or as a nutritious, delicious snack. Photo by © Olga Lyubkina | Fotolia.

While kefir isn’t the panacea many believe it is, it is a very healthy food.

  • It’s chock full of beneficial bacteria and yeast.
  • It contains numerous vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. You’ll get a healthy dose of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B2, B12, D and K.
  • Kefir contains a substantial amount of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids that is known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Some people see it as a “calming” drink.
  • Perhaps its best effect is the benefit to digestive health created by the millions of probiotic bacteria in each serving.

Probiotic bacteria, which are live and active cultures,* occur naturally in the digestive tract, where they help promote a healthy balance, good digestion and overall intestinal vitality. People with digestive problems need more of these cultures than their systems naturally contain.

That’s why so many different types of products—cereal, cheese and other items that do not naturally contain probiotics—are enhanced with them. Yogurts are also enhanced with probiotic cultures. While all yogurt is made with beneficial bacteria, a typical yogurt does not have a high enough level of live and active cultures to be “probiotic.”

Learn more about probiotics and see our Probiotics Glossary for additional information,


*Not all live and active cultures are probiotic; probiotic action requires a concentration of cultures, the numbers of which are not yet understood.



Continue To Page 2: How Kefir Is Made

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