Origin of kefir

24 November 2010 § 1 Comment

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Small kefir grain by fabrivelas on Zooomr

The origin of milk kefir is described in the paper by M. Motaghi, M. Mazaheri, N. Moazami, A. Farkhondeh, M.H. Fooladi and E.M. Goltapeh, Short Communication: Kefir production in Iran (World Journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology vol. 13 pp. 579-581, 1997):
“A goat-hide bag (4-l capacity) obtained from Pariz and Babak villages in Kerman (Southwest Iran) was washed several times with sterile water, filled with pasteurized milk and intestinal flora from sheep. It was kept at 24 to 26°C for 48 h and shaken hourly. When the milk was coagulated, 75% was replaced with fresh milk. This procedure was repeated for 12 weeks. Gradually a polysaccharide layer (spongy form) appeared on the surface ofthe hide. The layer was removed aseptically from the hides and propagated in pasteurized cow’s milk. Kefir grains of variable size (0.5±3.2 cm in diameter) were added several times to the fresh cow’s milk.”
and also by Semih Otles and Ozlem Cagindi in the paper “Kefir: A Probiotic Dairy-Composition, Nutritional and Therapeutic Aspects” (Pakistan Journal of Nutrition 2 (2): 54-59, 2003):
“Kefir grains are prepared in a goat-hide bag fill[ed](ing) with pasteurized milk inoculated with sheep intestinal flora, followed by culture of the surface layer in milk. Gradually a polysaccharide layer appears on the surface of the hide. The layer is removed from the hides and propagated in pasteurized milk. Kefir grains appear [as] pieces of coral or small clumps of cauliflower florets or pop corn and range from 3 to 20 mm in diameter…”

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Small kefir by fabrivelas on Zooomr

This kefir has to be distinguished from the sugar water kefir (tibi).

The matrix in which the symbiosis of fungi and bacteria grow has been identified as being dextran for the sugar water kefir, whereas for the milk kefir it is kefiran which is made by different kinds of bacteria than those present in the sugar water kefir.

The following summary is from the sugar water kefir page where links to the references are present:
Sugar-water kefir (tibi) forms on the leaves of the Opuntia cactus (orig. Mexico) as hard granules (Lutz, L.: Recherches biologiques sur la constitution du Tibi. Bull. Soc. Mycol. France 15, 68-72 (1899), and Stacey M. and Youd, F.R.: A note on the dextran produced from sucrose by Betacoccus arabinosaceous haemolyticus Biochem J. 1938 November; 32(11): 1943–1945.

These two references seem to be the only ones referring to the origin of the sugar water kefir (tibi) grains which seems a bit strange given the age of the publications. I cannot recall seeing tibi on my grandmother’s Opuntia when it was still living (1990s), but I did not really look for them either.

These sugar water grains have also been identified with the ginger beer plant in other scientific articles (M. Pidoux
(The microbial flora of sugary kefir grain (the gingerbeer plant): biosynthesis of the grain from Lactobacillus hilgardii producing a polysaccharide gel, World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, Springer Netherlands, pp. 223-238, vol 5(2), http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01741847, 1989).)

There has certainly occurred cross-contamination of the two so that even in scientific studies the naming/distinction of the two can differ. I also wonder if different ingredients can change the fungal and bacteriological composition leading to the different names of the sugar water kefir that is tibi, tibicos, water kefir grains, sugar kefir grains, Japanese water crystals, California Bee (from wikipedia) and in older literature also known as Bébées, African bees, Ale nuts, Australian bees, Balm of Gilead, Beer seeds, Beer plant, Bees, Ginger Beer plant, Ginger bees, Japanese Beer seeds and Vinegar bees from Kebler (1921)).
[Kebler, Lyman F. (1921) “California bees.”, J. Pharm. Sci., vol. 10(12), pp. 939-943, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jps.3080101206

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§ One Response to Origin of kefir

  • Andreas Jonsson says:

    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing. “intestinal flora from sheep”: Yuck! Would you give it a go on this original recipe!?

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