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Kefir Encyclopedia

Kefir Encyclopedia

Understanding the benefits of kefir includes learning about misconceptions of traditional kefir. Where kefir stands today, we reflect on history in an attempt to gain optimal benefits of the culture-art as a whole. This includes expanding the practical use of kefir grains and kefir, even to the extent of using kefir grains therapeutically. Here abide a collection of unique and interesting kefir-related products; the majority of which were pioneered and developed by yours truly. These achievements are the fruits born from numerous hours of dedication, working with the amazing self-organizing micro and macro-system- Kefir grains; the natural mother-culture of milk-cultures.

I regard kefir grains to be Probiotic-Jewels... and the culture-product kefira Probiotic-Gem

Prior to the introduction of kefir into my life, way back in 1978, I already had realized the respect and admiration that I felt for human-cultures of yesteryear, and the accumulated knowledge that they have provided us, in the practical-art of natural food-preservation. Much of this know how was passed on to me by my parents and other family members. The evolution of such culture-arts has with little doubt, improved quality of life. To place in mind that this is achievable by harnessing the many goodies generously provided in abundance, by one of the most simplest life forms - the single-celled organism. However, these fine culture-arts also need preservation; otherwise they may be forever lost and forgotten. In the interest of self-sufficiency regarding the preparation of cultured-foods, this extensive site is a valuable resource for information; an ongoing work. I advise the interested reader, to take your time reading the information provided here- and remember that what is on offer here, is to enhance enjoyment. In any case, what value is there in keeping self-acclaimed know-how to one's own self?

If you enjoy reggae-dub style genre of music, you may not want to miss out on downloading an audio track from my current CD album; Probiotix... music for-life.The title of this particular track is, Let's say Kefir!This song and the entire album is written, produced, and recorded by yours truly over many wee hours of the morning. This sound track is presented to you here as a gift. So, please, feel free to download the track from Dom's Hammond Organ and Leslie speaker in-site. The inspiration behind this particular composition, is based around the interest to provide a certain understanding regarding how individuals from different countries, pronounce the word Kefir. Can you figure out which country the different voices originate? Can you guess which voice is mine? While I'm asking all the questions here, what about yourself?... how do you pronounce the word, Kefir?.. Hmm?!

Special warm thanks go to William from Canada, Molly and Beverly both from the USA, Anja from Germany and to Alexander from the USA but originally from Russia. Thank you all SO VERY MUCH for initially providing a digital recording of your voices, which all of you sent to me via e-mail. And a special warm thanks, with lots of kefir-topping, also goes to Sandra, my better half even when halved. Sandra!!... your voice shines through like a hot-arrow, shot straight through my heart ... via my stomach, partially filled with refreshing kefir to cool off the hot arrow-tip... KISSSsssss

WHAT IS KEFIR? [I ask myself in your place]

Kefir [Kephir or Kefyr] is pronounced kef -er Alternate names for kefir; kewra, talai, mudu kekiya [Reference: Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia]. And Ayran.

Kefir is a refreshing cultured-milk beverage, which originated many centuries ago, in the Northern Caucasus Mountains. The word kefir is derived from the Turkish word keif, which loosely translates to good feeling or feeling good. This is for the sense of well-being one enjoys by drinking the culture-product.

Kefir has a uniform creamy consistency, a slightly sour refreshing taste, with a mild aroma resembling fresh yeast [or beer like]. Kefir also has a slightest hint of natural effervescent zesty tang. There are an assortment of approx. 40 aromatic compounds, which contribute to the unique flavour and distinctive pleasant aroma of kefir. To round this all off, kefir may contain between 0.08% to 2% alcohol. However, between .08 to .5% alcohol are realistic figures for 24 hour brewed kefir- [yep!... wow!].

Traditional authentic kefir can only be prepared by culturing fresh milk with Kefir grains. Kefir grains are not to be mistaken for cereal grains, i.e. to say that the grain part of the name is a misnomer. Kefir grains, or kefir granules if you wish, are in fact a natural-starter or natural-mother-culture. The grain's bio-structure [which I refer to as a bio-matrix], is created through the efforts of a symbiotic relationship, shared between a vast mixture of specific friendly Lactic acid bacteria [LAB] and yeasts. The grains are a soft, gelatinous white biological mass [biomass], comprised of protein, lipids [fats] and a soluble-polysaccharide Kefiran complex. The microbes and yeasts not only create the bio-matrix structure, they are harboured by the very structure that they create; abiding either on the surface [interior and exterior], or encapsulated within the bio-matrix itself <[-The abode of the friendly microbe-]>.

Today, traditional authentic kefir [real kefir] is easily prepared at home. Raw unpasteurized or pasteurized, full-cream, low fat or non-fat fresh milk is poured into a clean suitable container with the addition of kefir grains. The content is left to stand at room temperature for approx. 24 hours. The cultured-milk is strained in order to separate and retrieve the kefir grains from the liquid-kefir. The grains are added to more fresh milk, and the process is simply repeated. This simple process can be performed on an indefinite basis... for kefir grains are forever. The strained liquid-kefir may either be consumed fresh, refrigerated for later use, or ripened at room temperature over a period of days before consuming. The ripening process is useful for individuals who wish to eliminate lactose in their kefir.

As active kefir grains are continually cultured in fresh milk to prepare kefir, the grains increase in volume or in biological mass [biomass increase]. To prevent overcrowding, and to maintain a reasonable constant grain-to-milk ratio it eventually becomes essential to remove a portion of kefir grains. Apart from the more obvious advantage in preventing overcrowded, the other advantage is to produce a kefir with a reasonable constant character and consistency on an ongoing basis. Traditionally, excess kefir grains were either eaten [which I highly recommend], dehydrated and stored as a back-up source, shared among family members or traded among the tribes-people of Caucasus, in exchange for basic essentials.

Except for refrigeration, the culture-art of kefir has been performed as explained above, over many centuries by the people of the Northern Caucasus Mountains

Alternate names for milk-based Kefir Grains: Tibetan Mushrooms, Yogurt Plant, Yogurt Mushroom, Yogurt Fungus, Snow Lotus, Kin-oko or Tane-oko [Jap], Tibetanischer Pilz [German]

Reference:

1. Beatrice Trum Hunter's FACT/BOOK on Yogurt, Kefir & Other Milk Cultures [1973] Library of Congress Card Number: 72- 87858. ISBN: 87983-033-175


FRESH KEFIR & KEFIR GRAINS

To rinse, or not to rinse kefir grains

A jug [far left in picture] of freshly strained kefir, and a glass of fresh kefir ready to be gulped ...
... Salute! <-kefir-burp'n-grin-just-4-u-> excuse me!

Pssst!! Far right in the picture is a portion of kefir grains sitting in a tall cylindrical jar half filled with fresh water. I refer to this as, fasting kefir grains, and this process has its place in the art of culturing kefir. To elaborate; since the introduction of kefir to the rest of the world [in 1903], it has since become common practice to rinse the grains with water, between each milk change. Today, this practice has become well rooted. As portions of kefir grains are passed on from person to person, it is common for the recipient of the grains to be instructed to rinse the grains with water before placing the culture in fresh milk.

Under most conditions it is not essential to rinse kefir grains. Although, fasting kefir grains in water for 12 to 24 hours, may be a useful means for individuals who are in the habit of rinsing. So, the fasting of kefir grains procedure can be used as a means to wean off of the habit of rinsing. Fasting kefir grains may be performed at room temperature, or in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. I do not recommend fasting kefir grains for more than one day per fortnight.

The clear solution strained from fasting kefir grains in fresh water, contains kefiran, organic acids [mostly lactic acid], and a small percentage of soluble protein and amino acids. The compound solution is what I refer to as Kefiraride. The solution is slippery to the feel and has many practical uses.

Probiotic : [Pro = for, Biotic = life] = "Life- promoting" or "For-life" as opposed to Antibiotic - [Anti = against, Biotic = life] = "Against-life". The term "Probiotic" refers to live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host. FAO/WHO report, October 2001

TRADITIONAL KEFIR of CAUCASUS

Traditionally, in the Northern Caucasus Mountains, kefir was prepared with raw, full-cream goat or cow's milk. Fresh milk with the addition of kefir grains was kept in goatskin leather bags and fermented for 24 hours at room temperature. The content was tied off to one corner of the leather bag [where most of the grains were retained], and the kefir was separated from most of the grains by pouring the contents into a container. This produced a foaming beverage, creamy in texture and consistency with an alcohol content of approx. .5% by volume. During cold conditions, the leather bag was placed out in the sun during the day, or hung near a fireplace. It was also a custom to hang the bag near a door way, whereby visitors would give the bag a gentle nudge to rock the bag as they passed by. The latter was possibly performed as a religious ritual.

Maturation. Liquid kefir was regularly forced through a secondary fermentation. A mixture of freshly strained kefir sometimes with the addition of fresh milk and the occasional addition of the root from the Snow Rose [Rhododendron caucasicum] was poured into wooden barrels, or clay crocks. The container of choice was plugged airtight and the content was brewed for some days, forcing a secondary fermentation. This produced a highly effervecent beverage, with an increased alcohol content to pre-secondary fermentation. This form of kefir has an exceptional good keeping quality, with a substantial increase of specific Vit B group. Folic acid may increase by at least 116% after the second day of secondary fermentation. With this the ripening kefir is enjoyed as it evolves toward maturation.

Mature kefirFar left; strained kefir with added orange peel and cinnamon bark, ripening in a 10 Lt [2.5 gal] crock [day 4]. Note the formation of foam forming on the surface. Right; the mature kefir poured in a glass. This kefir has a wonderful smooth texture with a delightful creamy mouth-feel. Yes, this ripened kefir definitely satisfies the bliss-factor in good-deed !

Today, traditional kefir is cultured in multitudes of households worldwide. Unfortunately though, the ripening process explained above is not well addressed or practiced. Omitting this important process altogether, and solely consuming freshly strained kefir, or a kefir which is stored in the refrigerator, is only in part of reaping a wider spectrum of benefits, initiated by the very mysterious natural mother-culture - kefir grains

Hey! .. is this kefir?.. milk-beer?.. or what? Hiccup! kefir-moostashed-grin-gang of New Zealand


KEFIRANPresently, the mechanism involved in the construction of the bio-matrix [the grains], is not yet fully understood. A soluble gel polysaccharide [PS] discovered in kefir grains, was unique enough to be given its own name, kefiran [KGF-C]. Dry kefir grains consist of a matrix of which approx. 45% is kefiran. The PS is composed of two mono-saccharides; Glucose and Galactose in almost equal proportions. Kefiran is produced at the centre of the grain, synthesized by homofermentative Lactobacilli species including Lb. kefiranofaciens and Lb. kefiri. These particular Lactobacilli are encapsulated within the centre of the grain, where anaerobic conditions are favourable for Kefiran synthesis in the presence of ethano alcohol [2]. There are other lactobacilli that produce a similar PS, Lb. sp. KPB-167B and Lb. brevis are said to be such organisms.These, including other species of Lactobacilli, which produce kefiran or a similar form of PS [with slight variations between ratios of glucose and galactose] produced at different rates or amounts of, may be the mechanism behind the grain's natural tendency to propagate as self-enclosed structures. This is possibly due to the different strains of encapsulated microbes, arranged in specific layers throughout the matrix.Experiments performed with mice [against mice really], have revealed kefiran exhibited anti-tumour properties. In these experiments, orally administered kefiran was found to reduce the size of tumours, by inducing a specific immune response in mice. Much of this earlier research was performed in Japan [3, 4, 5, 6].Recent research evaluated kefir grains induced an anti-inflammatory property in kefir grain fed rats [7]. In fact, the author initially discovered the anti-inflammatory property of kefir grains, when he used kefir grains to successfully correct Ulcerative Colitis, contracted in 1999. He has been in remission since. The treatment is explained in a word document situated hereReferences:2. Arihara K, Tobo T, Adachi S. Int J Food Microbiol 1990;11:127-34. Immunofluorescence microscopic studies on distribution of L. kefiranofaciens and L. kefir in kefir grains.3. Murofushi M, Mizuguchi J, Aibara K, Matuhasi T, et al. Immunopharmacology 1986 Aug;121:29-35. Immunopotentiative effect of polysaccharide from kefir grain, KGF-C, administered orally in mice.4. Yakugaku Zasshi 1992 Jul;112:489-95. Pharmacological study on kefir-a fermented milk product in Caucasus. I. On antitumor activity (1). Kubo M, Odani T, Nakamura S, Tokumaru S, Matsuda H, et al. Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Kinki University, Osaka, Japan.5. Shiomi M, Sasaki K, Murofushi M, Aibara K, et al. Jpn J Med Sci Biol 1982 Apr;35:75-80. Antitumor activity in mice of orally administered polysaccharide from Kefir grain.6. Shiomi M, Aibara K, Murofushi M, et al. Jpn J Med Sci Biol 1983 Feb;36:49- 53. Effect of orally administered polysaccharide from kefir grain on delayed-type hypersensitivity and tumor growth in mice.7. Schneedorf M., Anfiteatro D. N. [2004] Fitoterapicos Anti-inflamatorios by Carvalho, J.C.T. Quefir, um probiotico produzido por microorganismos encapsulados e inflamacao. Chapter 33 pp 443-462. / Diniz R . O, Garla L . K, Schneedorf M., Carvalho J.C.T. [Jan. 2003] Study of anti-inflammatory activity of Tibetan mushroom, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and fungi encapsulated into a polysaccharide matrix. Pharmacol Res; 47[1]:49-52

To obtain Kefir grains, please follow this link

HISTORY & RELATED INFORMATION

My milk-based kefir-grains

Kefir grains were considered a gift from Allah [God] among the Moslem tribes-people of the Northern Caucasus Mountains. Kefir has been credited with healing powers since the early eighteenth century. Kefir grains were passed from generation to generation among the tribes-people of Caucasus. These folks considered kefir grains a source of family and tribal wealth, and the secret process of kefir was closely guarded to the extend of protecting the art and the mother-culture-matrix [kefir grains], with their very lives.

In the early 1900's, the All-Russian Physicians' Society, contacted two Blandovs brothers who owned cheese factories in the northern Caucasus Mountains, for their help to obtain the kefir culture. The brothers decided to take on the challenge, and they planned to use a beautiful young woman named Irina Sakharova, to coax a Caucasian prince named Bek-Mirza Barchorov into giving her some kefir grains. Irina indeed dazzled the prince with her beauty, but the prince refused to give her any of his precious living probiotic-jewels.

However, the prince wasn't willing to giving up Irina, so he instructed some of his men to kidnapp Irina as she was returning home. Against her will, they brought Irina back to the prince's courtyard, where the prince, hoping to win her love, proposed her hand in marriage. However, Irina refused. The Blandovs, who employee Irin at their cheese-making factory, eventually rescued her. Then, backed by the two brothers, she brought her case against the prince to the Tzar's court.

The prince offered Irina gold and jewels as reparation for the crimes done against her, but she refused his offer. Instead, as a settlement of her suit against Prince Bek-Mirza Barchorov, Irina demanded, and received, probiotic jewels [Kefir grains] instead!

In late 1908, Irina Sakharova brought the first amounts of kefir to Moscow, where it was used medicinally with great success. At the age of 85, Irina, in 1973 received a letter from the Minister of the Food Industry of the former USSR, expressing grateful acknowledgment of her primary role in bringing kefir to the Russian people.

The above information was originally obtained from an unknown Web Page, which I was provided a link to in 1999. But alas, the link to the original site has since been lost in e-space, hence no reference can been provided.


KEFIR GRAINS... A GIFT FROM GOD!

While researching culture-products in general, including kefir in the early 1980's, the author came across an interesting abstract[unable to relocate the original source-material]. This explained microbiologists' many unsuccessful attempts in the spontaneous propagation of kefir grains from non-existing grains. These experiments were performed by attempting to culture pure mixed starter-cultures, prepared under laboratory conditions from organisms isolated from kefir grains. After failing to propagate kefir grains from the pure mixed-cultures, the microbiologists turned to the Caucasians, asking them how they acquire or propagated their original kefir grains. The Caucasians simply replied with something to the effect of...

Seek and you'll be... zzZZAAPPed!"The grains were a gift from God provided to us over 1,000 years ago"... which I thought was quite an appropriate answer

It is said that the orthodox tribes-people of Northern Caucasus Mountains, were gifted kefir grains by the Prophet Mohammed while the Prophet traveled through this region approx. 1,400 years ago. It is also said these folks referred to kefir grains as The grains of the Prophet Mohammed and the culture product, kefir, The drink of the Prophet [Beatrice T. Hunter 1973]. With this, a simple and logical question comes to mind.. How or where did Prophet Mohammed acquire the original Kefir-Grains?

Until present, it is not well understood how the bio-matrix structure is created, or in fact, which specific microorganism/s are relied upon in the construction process. This mystery still seems to remain with the kefir grains. When the secret behind the intelligent-like self-organized bio-matrix micro<^>macro-system is understood, may help us to understand not only this particular bio-system, but could also help bring about a better understanding of certain diseases. These may include diseases such as tumours, carcinomas, including diseases which may involve microbial etiology [infections e.g.], to say the least.

This could also be true, not just for this one realm [the medical discipline], but could possibly open doors in other areas e.g., discovering new methods for producing unique organic/inorganic compounds, controlling biological waste, and possibly help control some forms of pollution. I can envisage e.g., a self organized micro-bio-system which my render crude oil spillage safer by utilizing crude oil to form a floating mass, synthesized by specific microbes, which may safely digest the spillage, or localize the pollutant at a refined/defined area.There may be a high possibility that understanding the mechanism behind how microbes create a bio-matrix, such as kefir grains, a system whereby the use of microbes and or viruses may be implemented in nanotechnology e.g., for producing smaller and more efficient electronic components such as Central Processor Units [CPUs] for tomorrow's computers. Until then, I'll be happy to simply enjoy the natural benefits and nutritional value of a simple glass of refreshing real-kefir. Including the benefits of sharing and ingesting excess kefir grains on a regular basis... Cheers!


NON-DAIRY KEFIRS [& WATER-KEFIR]

Apart from traditional dairy-milk fermentation, with some adjustments, milk-based kefir grains may be cultured in alternative media e.g., Soy, Seed & Nut milk or coconut milk. The natural mother-culture may also be used to prepare some interesting cultured-products, the majority of which shared throughout my Web Pages were pioneered and developed by yours truly.

There is a variety of a refreshing effervescent beverage, often referred to as Kefir d'acqua or water-kefir, which is commonly prepared with a specific variety of kefir grains, often referred to as sugary kefir grains [SGK]. Please see table below for alternate names. The grains are cultured in a 5% to 10% sugar/water solution with slices of lemon including the addition of dried fruits such as fig, apricot or raisins, to further enhance flavour with increased nutrition. SKG are small, transparent and firm mucilaginous masses, which consist of polysaccharides [dextrans] with chains made up of glucose only [9]. Similar to traditional milk-based kefir grains, the dextrans of SKG are produced through a symbiotic relationship shared among Lactic acid bacteria and yeasts embedded within the matrix. Scientists are surprised by the ability of SKG to ferment a media poor in nitrogen and growth factor source and doing so over many years without modifying the balance between the different microorganisms [8]. Traditional SKG have a unique opaque texture in comparison to traditional milk-based kefir grains of Caucasus. The grains are transparent and fragile; they break apart quite easily will little applied force. SKG are not gel-like in texture or white in colour; as the case is with traditional milk kefir grains of Caucasus.

Click to zoom in

On a physical level, traditional sugary-kefir-grains [SKG] are denser than traditional milk-based kefir grains of Caucasus. The latter have a slimy elastic property which is missing in the former. The former are quite delicate having a tendency to easily chip or shear with a faceted edge. These granules bounce when dropped on a solid surface, whereas milk- kefir grains will not do so, due to the gel property. The unique property of SKG are probably due to the grains being continuously subjected to moderate pressure [CO2 gas] produced due to culturing in an airtight container. Apart from Lactobaciklus casei, which is believed to condense the polysaccharide into a non-soluble form [linked, or chained dextrans made up of glucose only], the compression factor may also play a role in regards to the grain's morphology.

Transferring milk kefir grains to a water/sugar media

In early 1980, I discovered that traditional milk-based kefir grains may be transferred to a sugar/water media, to produce a suitable Kefir d'acqua or water-kefir. Milk kefir grains can produce a beverage with similar qualities as do traditional SKG. I've also discovered that alternative sugars including maltose and honey e.g., may either replace or be included with cane-sugar. Dry fruits or fresh fruits or the juice of fresh fruit may also be used. The use of fresh or dry herbs or herbal teas may be included as part ingredients [please see Kefir d'erba medica for details and recipes]. After transferring milk kefir-grains to a water-media, there is an initial lag phase of approx. 3 to 4 days. During this phase, little activity is evident as the organisms cease reproducing and fatten up, until the organisms adjust to the new source of energy [different types of sugar]. However, after the third or so batch, it should take 48 hours to culture the sugar/water-medium from that point on.

When traditional milk-based kefir grains are transferred to a sugar/water-media, after a few weeks of consecutive 48 hour batches, the grains may not successfully revert back to prepare a suitable milk-kefir. It is highly likely that the grains become non-propagable [they cease growing]. This is due to a missing bacterial component such as the encapsulated Lb. kefiranofaciens. This important microbial component is likely to become damaged after transferring milk-based kefir grains to a sugar/water media, cultured over some weeks. Although, on transferring the grains back to milk, I've observed that approx. two months of culturing with daily renewal of raw [personal preference], whole fresh milk, the grains eventually produced a form of milk-kefir with a reasonable good texture and flavour. However, the culture milk-product lacked the viscosity of traditional milk-kefir, prepared with propagable milk-kefir grains. This is highly likely due to the fact that the grains remained non-propagable throughout the culture-process. These specific milk-kefir grains were previously cultured in a water/malt/sucrose/dry fig for approx. four months, prior transferring the grains back to milk, to perform the experiment above.

Transferring sugary kefir grains to milk

When transferring translucent SKG to dairy milk, the batches prepared over the first week produced a pungent odour with an unappealing bitter flavour. Initially no curd formed after culturing for 24 and 48 hours. Although the culture-milk product stabilized as each consecutive batch was prepared over a two week period. While I observed deposits of milk-curds forming and adhering to the exterior surface of most of the SKG, the translucent character of SKG did not propagate as a white, soft, slimy texture over a ten month period, which is a typical character of traditional milk-based kefir grains. Nor was there any evidence of the gel-polysaccharide, kefiran produced, which is a typical component produced by propagable milk-based kefir grains, culture in dairy milk. This is most probably due to missing Lactic acid bacteria [LAB] component[s] such as the encapsulated Lb. kefiranofaciens, or other kefiran or kefiran-like producing LAB, native to propagable traditional kefir grains of Caucasus.

Alcohol Content of Water Kefir Prepared with Sugary Kefir Grains vs Milk-Based Kefir Grains

There are variations between alcohol content of water-kefir prepared with [5%] sugar-solution, when cultured with milk-based grains vs traditional SKG. After 48 hours, the SKG produced app .9 % alcohol by volume. On the other hand, a parallel brew prepared with recently transferred milk-kefir grains, produced app 1.9 % alcohol at 48 hours.

My HYPOTHESIS: Due to increase in biomass, in this case 122% increase by weight of SKG over a 48 hour period, a proportion of the sugar in solution was utilized by specific microbes to synthesize the dextran-based matrix from glucose, which the grains consist of. Whereas in comparison, transferred milk-based grains did not increase in biomass over a 48 hour period. So in effect, culturing water kefir with milk-based kefir grains provides a larger amount of glucose available for yeasts to convert into a greater percentage of alcohol.

Self-confessed CONCLUSION: Apart from other factors including temperature, the percentage of alcohol in water-kefir prepared with SKG, may have a direct relationship with the percentage increase in biomass of SKG.

END NOTES: SKG that I have cultured, including other individuals who culture SKG, have observed a large fluctuation regarding growth-rate of such grains. Growth increase can vary between 10% to 160% increase by weight at 48 hours, even when cultured with the same percentage of sugar/water solution [cultured at room temperature]. On the other hand, milk-based kefir grains increase at a reasonable constant rate when cultured in fresh milk. To add, many individuals including myself, have found a great potential for SKG to all of a sudden cease to propagate, and remain non-propagable, when cultured in close vicinity with milk-based kefir grains [to prepare traditional milk kefir]. I feel that this outcome is likely due to a form of contamination, where organisms of milk-based kefir grains replace certain organisms of SKG, the outcome of which damages the growth-factor of SKG.

Typical microorganisms isolated from various water-kefir grains and water-kefir beverage
Lactobacilli

Lb. alactosus
Lb. brevis
Lb. casei subsp. casei
Lb. casei
subsp. pseudoplantarum
Lb. casei
subsp. rhamnosus
Lb. casei
subsp. tolerans
Lb. coryneformis subsp. torquens
Lb. fructosus
Lb. hilgardii
Lb. homohiochi
Lb. plantarum
Lb. pseudoplantarum
Lb. yamanashiensis
Streptococci/lactococci

Streptococcus cremeris
Str. faecalis
Str. lactis
Leuconostoc mesenteroides
Pediococcus damnosus
Yeasts

Saccharomyces cerevisiae
S. florentinus
S. pretoriensis
Candida valida
C. lambica
Kloeckera apiculata
Hansenula yalbensis
Sugary Kefir Grains observed with a stereo microscope. Two grains are partially submerged under a drop of water revealing surface structure of partially exposed grain

Sugry kefir grains in water [X 50].

Alternate names for Water-Kefir-Grains and Water-Kefir: California Bees, Sugary Kefir Grains, Water Kefir Crystals. Tibi or Tibicos [Latin America]. Wasserkefir or Piltz [German].Kefir di frutta [Italy]

References:

8. The structural organization of the Tibi grains as revealed by light, scanning and transmission microscopy. Moinas, M.; Horisberger, M.; Bauer, H.
(1980) Archives of Microbiology (128), 157-161

9. Characterization of the polysaccharide from a Lactobacillus Brevis and from sugary kefir grains. Pidoux, M.; Brillouet, J. M.; Quemener, B. Biotechnology
Letters 10 (6) 415-420 (1988) [Lab. de Genie Alimentaire, ENITTIAA, Chemin de la Geraudiere, 44072 Antes Cedex, France]

Abstract: The gel-forming polysaccharide of sugary kefir grains [11.5% of dry matter] and 1 taken from a Lb. brevis culture were identified as dextrans with some 1-Gp-3 links in the main chain, with a ratio [branched/total units] of 0.19 and 0.14, resp., [compared to] 0.07 for non-gelling polysaccharide.


COMPOSITION of MILK-BASED KEFIR GRAINS

Formalin - fixed kefir grains examined under a microscope, presented a protein/polysaccharide/lipid complex, consisting mainly of insoluble protein and neutral muco-polysaccharides. The percentage composition of freeze dried grains, with a moisture content of 3.5 % was found to be :

Fat: 4.4%
Ash: 12.1%
Mucopolysaccharides: 45.7%
Total protein: 34.3%; consisting of insoluble protein 27.0%, soluble protein 1.6% and free amino acids 5.6%
A small percentage of unknown substances

Amorphous and crystalline iron was observed mostly on the grain surface. 1-5 micrometer crystals were observed also in the interior of the grain. The fashion in which the microflora is distributed over the surface of the grains, confirms the concept that kefir grains should not be rinsed with water between milk-changes during culturing.

Reference:

Dmitrichenko, M.I. [1974] Microstructure and composition of kefir grains [Lecture] pp. 43-46 [Kemerovskii Tekh. Inst. Pishchevoi Promyshlennosti, Kemerovo, former USSR]


GROWTH-CYCLE & MICROFLORA of KEFIR GRAINS

Scanning electron micrograph of kefir grains[A] Transmission and [B] scanning electron Micrographs of Kefir grains showing mixed microflora of yeast and bacteria and the water-insoluble matrix. "Food Technology and Nutrition" under "Kefir" page 1807

Traditional kefir grains of Caucasus is a fascinating natural mother-culture. The grains, or the matrix, is formed through the effort of a symbiotic relationship shared among the complex microflora, which render an irregular sheath, composed of protein, polysaccharide and lipid complex. The irregular fashioned sheaths usually form multiple irregular lobules covering the surface of a grain. I refer to these lobules as baby-grains, attached to a mother-grain. The irregular lobules have a natural tendency to form as self-enclosed bio-structures, having a growth-signature unique to each baby-grain [ see picture ]. Such lobules are conjoined to a common midsection radiating outwardly to form as a mother-grain [a complete grain with all lobules attached]. On appearance, the growth pattern of baby-grains share self-similarities with the mother-grain, which it forms with and is attached to. Some kefir grains also share similarity with the physical structure [morphology] of the brain, pancreas, and other internal organs [those with an interest in Doctrine of Signature may find this of some interest].

After a period of time, and possibly due to external stress or physical trauma, one or more lobular sections detach from any particular mother-grain. The smaller bodies, or baby-grains, eventually propagate into mother-grains, by increasing in overall size, with multiple lobules forming. This growth-cycle simply repeats, to continue the ongoing process in a similar fashion. This is self-propagation. Some kefir grains may not shed baby-grains for some months, and in some instances for up to a year or longer. Such grains may instead form into one large biomass or one massive kefir grain, retaining all lobular bio-structures. This can occur if the physical makeup of such grains is firm, due to certain culture conditions, and the grains are not subjected to hash physical trauma during the straining process. In such cases, sections of baby-grains may be removed from a large mother-grain, by dissecting the grain by hand [see this animation for details of the operation].

Although in such cases, large kefir grains may eventually shed all the baby-grains in a relatively short period of time. This is to say that the majority of baby-grains will spontaneously detach from the mother-grains within a 2 month period, as a common example. This process occurs as each individual baby-grain's umbilical cord-like section, which attaches the lobule to the mother-grain, reduces in circumference. Then, eventually, this section of the matrix becomes thin and weak, which makes conditions favourable for a baby-grain to spontaneously detach from the mother-ship, with ease. And if this process happens to all the attached lobules in a relatively short period, then the specific batch of grains will comprise of numerous small kefir grains. In fact, weigh for weight, a batch of grains consisting of individual smaller grains may increase weight by 200% more efficiently than a batch made up of one large kefir grain, or overall larger grains. This may be due to a larger surface area that small grains make up [or take up in the media]. Or possibly that smaller grains produce and release larger proportions of kefiran in the milk, which is freely available for the microflora to create the matrix.

External surface area of each grain may vary from smooth areas, with areas of diverse irregularity, containing arrays of irregular small rounded protrusions, randomly scattered over the exterior surface. The surface texture of certain grains may be smooth, while other grains from the same batch may exhibit a greater proportion of surface area, which is covered with multiple irregular protrusions. Other grains from the same batch may exhibit a mixture of both surface-textures. Although less common, some kefir grains may propagate as an irregular flat sheath. Or mother-grains may shed a baby-grain as an irregular flat structure. These outcomes are mostly determined by culture conditions, and if conditions are favourable, after a period of time, any flat grains usually revert and transform into self-enclosed grains. Such a transformation may take some months to occur. I've observed that batches of kefir grains cultured in whole raw goat or cow's milk, mostly propagate with smooth, well rounded lobular structures [balloon-like]. While kefir grains cultured with pasteurized milk and at cooler temperatures mostly propagate with many tiny protrusions covering most of the exterior surface of each grain. Seasonal changes [or temperature variation] may also incur a swing between one form of growth-texture to another. The type of medium, temperature and the amount of time that the grains are left in the same milk, all these factors influence growth-structure activity of kefir grains.

Some observations suggest surface areas consisting of vast irregularity or roughness, contain higher yeast activity. While smoother areas are mainly where bacteria predominate. Yeasts and bacteria cells, particularly yeasts, seem to form large surface concentration [micro-colonies] along the protrusions over the surface; streptococci seem to intertwine with other bacteria, without forming colonies. Research suggests internal structure of the grains show a predominance of Lactobacilli with few yeasts; cells are not bound to one another but encapsulated within a muco-polysaccharide believed to be produced by the encapsulated microorganisms [10]. Other research suggests stained sections of grains studied under a microscope, showed that yeasts were mainly located on the edge of the internal cavities, and occasionally along the peripheral channels of the matrix. While the exterior was mainly occupied by bacteria [14].

Short and long rod-shaped bacteria and yeast, formed separate colonies both on the outside and inside of the grain. Internally, filaments of encapsulated cells, extending outwardly from a population of long rod-shaped bacteria. One microorganism in particular, Lb. kefiranofaciens is found to be responsible for the formation of the soluble polysaccharide, Kefiran. This research suggests that the encapsulated bacteria may be responsible for the propagation of kefir grains [11]. The reason for this conclusion seems to be due to the fact that propagation of the grains will not occur [non-propagable grains] in the absence of Lb. kefiranofaciens, which produces kefiran in the centre of the grain, under aerobic conditions and in the presents of ethanol alcohol.

DO NON- PROPAGABLE KEFIR GRAINS HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO PRODUCE AN AUTHENTIC KEFIR?

Suggestions exist, surmising that non-propagable kefir grains retain kefir-producing capacity [11], which I personally disagree with [please see this picture of non-propagable kefir grains]. As an example, I've observed that a Kombucha S.C.O.B.Y. [a natural mother-culture or pellicle used for preparing the Kombucha beverage] was able to culture a similar culture-milk beverage, as do non-propagable kefir grains [please see this experiment at 42 months, which may also suggest the possibility of how kefir grains came to exist]. Would it be fair to suggest that the unique culture-beverage, cultured with the KKH [explained in the experiment linked above] is able to produce an authentic kefir? Even though, initially, kefir grains plus a Kombucha S.C.O.B.Y. were cultured together [as a mixed-culture] for 30 months, to produce a cultured-milk product? At present, the KKH produces a product with similar character and properties to an authentic kefir. However, the Kombucha S.C.O.B.Y. could have been replaced for pieces of leather hide in the experiment explained above, and with some certainty, one could predict that the end result [the culture-beverage] would be quite similar as in the experiment above. There was no evidence that kefiran, which is the essential component of propagable kefir grains, was produced by the microflora, which colonized the KKH [or which may colonize the pseudo-leather parts of my shoes for that matter].

The nature of wild microbes have the ability to colonize structures or materials having a porous nature, such as non-propagable kefir grains, Kombucha S.C.O.B.Y, terra cotta pots, wooden barrels, and yes, including leather hide. If kefiran is not produced due to a damaged component e.g., Lb. kefiranofaciens [as with non-propagable kefir grains], then, the specific kefiran produced by this particular encapsulated organism is absent in the final cultured-milk. With this, it is reasonable to suggest that cultured-milk beverages produced with non-propagable kefir grains, shouldn't be classified as true authentic kefir. However, such culture-products are in parallel with commercially-prepared pseudo-kefir, cultured with lab-prepared pure mixed starter-cultures. And to add, even a custom prepared mother-culture, as with KKH, or in fact, non-propagable kefir grains for that matter, these have an advantage over lab prepared starters, being that the former have the capacity to produce a culture-milk product, on an ongoing basis, without any loss of variability of the organisms involved in the fermentation process. On the other hand, lab prepared pure mixed-starters lack viability, and only have the capacity to culture no more than seven or so batches, before the culture begins to fail [see below for details regarding Bacteriophage infection].

Kefir grains have been described by Russian dairy technologists as a natural-starter and depending on the source and more importantly, culture conditions, the microbial composition can certainly vary [13, 15]. This, I understand, is not well accepted, or understood by Western counterparts, in concluding something like, These little critters have a mind of their own, which we want to control, but which we are unable to, as a typical attitude. I guess though, that minds shall be minds.. in the wild-wild west. A similar attitude or outlook, has recently influenced dairy-food technicians working in countries such as, as an example, Russia and Poland. Formerly, actual kefir grains were implemented in the culture-process to produce a commercial kefir for sale in these counties. Due to modern-day intervention, today, most, if not all commercially produced kefir around the world, commercially prepared pure mixed starter-cultures are implemented in the process, replacing actual kefir grains to mass produce the culture-product [and such culture-milk-products are sold under the name of Kefir. What have we let become of us?].

KEFIR-LIKE "STARTER-CULTURES"

For many reasons today, the development and implementation of commercially prepared pure mixed starter-cultures for producing what I refer to as, Kefir-like or Pseudo- kefir have surfaced over recent years [on a commercial level]. I feel that these forms of kefir, including the starter-culture, should not be classified as authentic kefir, or authentic kefir-cultures. Especially if traditional kefir grains are not used in the actual culturing process, i.e. not in constant direct contact with fresh milk during the culture-process [for producing a commercial kefir-product]. Without culturing with actual kefir grains, instead, using commercially prepared starter-cultures, many of the natural properties, which only kefir grains produce, contain and release into the media, may not be found in the commercial product e.g., the water-soluble polysaccharides including kefiran This includes the kefir grains themselves, which research have proven reduce the size of tumours when ingested by mice. Not to mention recent findings evaluated the anti-inflammatory properties of kefir grains [7]. Any potential protective agent/s, which seem to inhibit certain pathogens or weed organisms, may also be missing from such cultures and their culture-products. Not to omit that commercial cultures loose the power to culture if the same culture is recycled to a fresh media [batch-culture]. Until we can spontaneously propagate kefir grains from non-existing grains, then not enough is known about any disadvantages, by attempting to culture a form of kefir, without the use of actual kefir grains as the actual mother-culture.

For more information re commercial starter- cultures Vs kefir-grains, please go to From Us, to The Kefir-Novice section situated below.

TO BE OR NOT TO BE CONTAMINATED IS NOT THE QUESTION!

Till current date, I have yet to come across reported cases where consuming homemade traditional kefir has caused health a problem, but to the contrary. Although there are some concerns shared among dairy technologists regarding certain species of microbes isolated from specific batches of kefir grains [or the kefir itself], obtained from different regions or countries around the world. With this though, there was no evidence to suggest that there was a health problem issue, due to consuming kefir made with such grains. These mainly concern commercial kefir-producers, who wish to use kefir grains for the production of traditional kefir for sale in the marketplace. The fact that governing bodies implementing and enforcing regulations stipulated laws via Codes of Practice which restrict numbers of coliforms or other objectionable organisms and compounds in food-products intended for sale.

Possibly due to lack of specific knowledge by modern-day microbiologists regarding kefir grains, the outcome is that certain grains are classified as being contaminated. This so-called contamination could actually be favourable as a protective agent for the host. When culturing kefir with kefir grains, the contaminating microorganisms are inhibited or controlled usually to extremely low numbers, in comparison to the numbers or organisms of the microflora as a whole. These microbes were not found to overpopulate the media or the grains themselves. In fact, in some earlier papers, procedures are explained, which include suggestions and methods to minimize and control possible problems that may arise during commercial kefir-production. E.g., it was noted that coliform counts fell as the kefir became more acidic [Babina, NA. et al. 1975 ]. This is in regards to commercial dairy-plants implementing kefir grains intended as a mother-culture to prepare starter- cultures, in order to inoculate large volumes of milk. It was common to use 1 to 5 % kefir grains to prepare the initial starter, which 2% to 5% was used to inoculate 98% to 95% freshly pasteurized milk respectively. Unlike prepared kefir at home, where up to 30% kefir grains are commonly used to prepare traditional kefir. In the former, the probability for contamination due to obviously less amounts of starter used, including implementing multiple steps and procedures, all of which increase the chance for contamination.

Recent research has revealed that kefir grains cultured in a media containing Escherichia coli [coliforms] inhibited the growth of this organism. In fact, it was observed that certain batches of grains completely halted the growth of Escherichia coli for at least 25 hours [15].

In the commercial dairy and food industry, coliform counts are used to determine possible contamination; due to faecal matter and or improper handling, processing and storage of food or milk and equipment etc. These microbes are also part of a healthy intestinal microflora, including other organs, similar to Candida albicans. As is the case regarding counts of C. albicans kept in check in a healthy host, coliform counts seem to be kept in check, if found in certain batches of kefir grains. These microbes and yeasts are and always will be part of our environment, both externally and or internally. The secret to a healthy balance lies in keeping these microbes and yeasts in check, either by the auto-immune system or other bio-control-systems. This includes friendly microbes and yeasts which are endorsed with certain protective properties. When consuming traditional kefir, the protective properties may be propagated in the gastrointestinal tract, to become part of, or enhance the present microflora therein. Ingesting kefir grains on a regular basis may also be a protective agent for the host, either due to the natural protective chemical compounds of the grains, or by the grains inducing a beneficial auto-immune response in the host, which may help to keep certain pathogens under control [16,17]. In turn, maintaining a healthy balance in that specific bio-system [or for the host if you wish].

Westerners have a tendency to keep their surrounding environment and foods as clean as possible [too clean for our own good in fact]. Recent research suggests that people living in countries with less hygienic environments than their Western counterpart, have less incidences regarding certain infections [e.g., Gastritis or Gastroenteritis including allergies]. This is possibly due to the population in these countries being subjected to certain amounts of pathogenic microbes [or virruses] on a relatively constant basis, especially early on in life. In relative speaking terms, the auto-immune system gets a good workout [use it, or loose it]. Ingesting smaller numbers of coliforms, with larger counts or proportions of vast strains of friendly lactobacilli and yeasts [as in the case of so called contaminated kefir grains], may decrease the likelihood of contracting certain or specific infections, including the prevention of allergenic response.

THE MICROFLORA OF KEFIR GRAINS

A vast variety of different species of organisms have been isolated and identified in kefir grains. Such species are among four genus groups; Lactobacilli, Streptococci - Lactococci, Acetobacter and Yeasts. The microorganisms and yeasts share a symbiotic relationship, which in short means, they survive or propagate by sharing their byproducts as an energy source or growth-stimulating source [u 4 I + I 4 u ... a balanced relationship]. Bacteriocin may also be present, especially if the appropriate strains of lactic acid bacteria are present in the grains [13].

Batches of kefir grains obtained from various sources usually vary in microflora composition. In fact, the microflora from the same batch of kefir grains will vary during different seasons or due to culture-conditions [adapting to the environment]. This localized-adaptation may possibly encourage, or bring with it, a localized-protection for the consumer, sharing that specific environment with the grains and their microflora. More research definitely needs to be carried out in order to gain more of an understanding at a scientific level. Although, my intuition, in communion with logic tell me, that I may well be on a correct path of thought/feeling.

After all, Caucasians who consumed large amounts of kefir, are renowned for their longevity and healthy constitution. I'm sure the milk that these tribes-people gathered from their milking animals, contained coliform counts, due to milking conditions! These people are often classified as centenarians, in that many are known to live to over 100 years young. Not forgetting that these people were also known to ingest actual kefir grains on a regular basis - which I feel is the key-factor to their longevity [the former is not very well addressed today]!

< To behold, or not to behold a cheeky wrinkled-grin >

Typical Microflora Isolated from Batches of Kefir Grains Divided into Four Genus Groups

LACTOBACILLILb. acidophilus
Lb. brevis

Lb. casei
Lb. casei
subsp. rhamnosus
Lb. casei subsp. pseudoplantarum
Lb. paracasei subsp. paracasei
Lb. cellobiosus
Lb. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus
Lb. delbrueckii subsp. lactis
Lb. fructivorans
Lb. helveticus subsp. lactis
Lb. hilgardii
Lb. kefiri
Lb. kefiranofaciens
Lb. kefirgranum sp. nov*
Lb. parakefir sp. nov*
Lb. lactis
Lb. plantarum
STREPTOCOCCI/LACTOCOCCILactococci lactis subsp. lactis
Lc. lactis var. diacetylactis
Lc. lactis subsp. cremoris
Streptococci salivarius subsp. thermophilus
Strep. lactis
Enterococcus durans
Leuconostoc cremoris
Leuc. mesenteroides
YEASTSCandida kefir
C. pseudotropicalis
C. rancens
C. tenuis
Kluyveromyces lactis
Kluyveromyces marxianus var. marxianus
K. bulgaricus
K. fragilis / marxianus
Saccharomyces subsp. Torulopsis holmii
Saccharomyces lactis
Sacc. carlsbergensis
Sacc. unisporus
Debaryomyces hansenii
**
Zygosaccharomyces rouxii**
ACETOBACTERAcetobacter aceti
A. rasens

Units Count of Microbes in Gram Stained Kefir GrainsBacilli [single cells, pair, chains]
Streptococci [pair, chains]
Yeast [single cells]
The Means RangeBacilli 66, 62-69%
Streptococci 16, 11- 12%
Yeast 18, 16- 20% [10]
ReferenceEncyclopaedia of Food Science, Food Technology and Nutrition [1993] [pp. 1804-1808] Edited by R. Macrae, R.K. Robinson, M.J. Sadler
* International Journal of Systematic Bacteriology 44(3) 435-439 [1994]
** T. Loretana, J.F Mosterta and B.C. Viljoen [2003] Microbial flora associated with South African household kefir. S. Afr. J. Sci. Vol. 99 No. 1/2

List of Bacterial Names with Standing in Nomenclature - Genus Lactobacillus

Opportunistic sites that have taken the material above, without my permission [Plagiarism shall be exposed... please read copyright notice below]:

http://www.kefir.com.au/9A_microflora.html If it is so that "any publicity is good publicity", then take it as a favour that I have included a link to the webpage in question.

END NOTES: Candida albicans has never been isolated in kefir grains, for conditions make it impossible for this particular opportunistic yeast to flourish. Certain yeasts of kefir include Candida as part of the nomenclature [name]. These yeasts are not opportunistic yeasts such as C. albicans, but instead have been classified as Generally Regarded As Safe [GRAS]. Such yeasts may in fact have the potential to keep C. albicans in check in the host.

References:

10. Molska, I. ; Kocon, J. ; Zmarlicki, S. [1980] Electron microscopy studies on structures and microflora of kefir grains. Acta Alimentaria Polonica. 6 (3) 145-154 [Dep. of Food Tech., Warsaw Agric. Univ. Warsaw, Poland]

11. Toba, T.; Arihara, K.; Adachi, S. [1990] Distribution of microorganisms with particular reference to encapsulated bacteria in kefir grains.International Journal of Food microbiology. 10 (3/4) 219-224. [Lab. Of Anim. Products Tech., Fac. Of Agric., Tohoku Univ., Tsutsumidori-Amamiyamachi 1-1, Aobaku, Sendai 981, Japan]

12. Microorganisms in Processing of Dairy Products [pp. 284]

13. Encyclopaedia of food science, food technology, and nutrition [1993] [pp. 1804-1808] Edited by R. Macrae, R.K. Robinson, M.J. Sadler

14. Rosi, J. [1978] Kefir micro-organisms: yeasts. Scienza e Tecnica Lattiero-Casearia 29 (2) pp. 59-67

15. Garrote Graciela L., Abraham Analia G., De Antoni Graciela L.[2001] Chemical and microbiological characterisation of kefir grains.Journal of dairy research vol. 68, No 4 , pp. 639 - 652

Other Links of Interest:

Kefir grain microflora [By Dr. Miloslav Kalb]. Wonderful high quality Micrographs of kefir grains revealing microflora.


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