Kefir is fermented milk produced from grains that comprise a specific and complex mixture of bacteria and yeasts that live in a symbiotic association. The nutritional composition of kefir varies according to the milk composition, the microbiological composition of the grains used, the time/temperature of fermentation and storage conditions. Kefir originates from the Caucasus and Tibet. Recently, kefir has raised interest in the scientific community due to its numerous beneficial effects on health. Currently, several scientific studies have supported the health benefits of kefir, as reported historically as a probiotic drink with great potential in health promotion, as well as being a safe and inexpensive food, easily produced at home. Regular consumption of kefir has been associated with improved digestion and tolerance to lactose, antibacterial effect, hypocholesterolaemic effect, control of plasma glucose, anti-hypertensive effect, anti-inflammatory effect, antioxidant activity, anti-carcinogenic activity, anti-allergenic activity and healing effects. A large proportion of the studies that support these findings were conducted in vitro or in animal models. However, there is a need for systematic clinical trials to better understand the effects of regular use of kefir as part of a diet, and for their effect on preventing diseases. Thus, the present review focuses on the nutritional and microbiological composition of kefir and presents relevant findings associated with the beneficial effects of kefir on human and animal health.
Keywords: ACE angiotensin-converting enzyme; CFU colony-forming units; LAB lactic acid bacteria; Fermented milk; Health benefits; Milk kefir; Probiotics.