What is Kefir? | U.S. Dairy

What is Kefir?

  • Article
  • August 22, 2016

Kefir is a fermented milk beverage that originated in the Caucasus Mountains and has been enjoyed for hundreds of years. Kefir is derived from the Turkish word, kief, which means “good feeling.”

Kefir is traditionally made from cow’s milk, but it can be made with goat, sheep, buffalo milk, or even water as well. It is slightly thick, like a smoothie, and has a tart flavor.

Kefir is made by two types of fermentation: the fermentation of lactose (lactic acid fermentation) and the fermentation of yeast (alcoholic fermentation). Traditionally, fermentation was initiated in the milk by the addition of kefir grains, a yeast/bacteria fermentation starter. The kefir sold in stores today rarely uses kefir grains to initiate fermentation, but uses starter cultures that have been isolated from kefir or kefir grains in order to make a food that has a consistent texture and taste.

A recent scientific review discusses many potential health benefits linked to whole kefir, kefir grains or other components of kefir. There is some evidence associating kefir with gut health and other possible benefits, yet the science is not robust at this time and further research is needed. The authors point out that every batch of kefir is different and we can’t assume any benefits they found apply to the kefir you buy at the grocery store or make at home.

Researchers are interested in kefir’s potential role in maintaining health and are working hard to create a consistent, healthful fermented milk drink that maximizes its potential.  While the research is unfolding, know that, as a milk-based beverage, kefir can help you get more dairy in your eating plan. Healthy eating patterns, which include low-fat and fat-free dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt), are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and improved bone health.  

Want to make milk kefir at home? All you need is a glass jar, milk and kefir grains. You can buy the kefir grains (starter culture) or powdered kefir culture packs to start fermentation. Time and temperature can be adjusted to get the texture and taste you like best.