On Kephir.


Translated from Berichte d. Deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft, 1884, p. 314-316.

Kephir is a beverage which is prepared by a peculiar process of fermentation from the milk of cows and other animals. It has been in use from time immemorial by the inhabitants of the northern declivities of the high Caucasian mountain range, to whom it possesses the same importance as koumis does to the nomades of the southeastern steppes of Russia. The last-named beverage was for the first time brought to the notice of the scientific world in 1784, and since then it has been frequently the subject of investigations, but only within a few decades has it attained greater importance as a remedy.

On the other hand, kephir was, even in Russia, totally unknown until two years ago, although in 1867 Dr. Sipowitsh had made a short communication on this subject to the Caucasian Medical Society, which remained buried in the archives of the latter. Ten years later, in 1877, Dr. Shublowski published a more detailed paper on kephir which, however, failed to direct the attention of science or that of the public towards this new beverage; the proper impulse was first given from Moscow in 1881, almost a century after the first notice of koumis.

On December 1st, 1881, Ed. Kern read a paper before the Imperial Society of Naturalists at Moscow ("Bull. Soc. Imper. des Natur. de Moscou," 1881, p. 141) on "Kephir, a new milk ferment from the Caucasus," which he had collected during his travels. The requisite investigations had been made by Ed. Kern under the supervision and in the laboratory of Prof. Goroshaukin. The result is that, within the last two years, kephir was not only introduced as a medicine from the southern to the northern section of Russia; but that also a number of papers and pamphlets on this subject has been published. During the latter part of the past year kephir has also been noticed in other countries, among others by Prof. Dr. F. Cahn, at the meeting held December 13, by the section for Natural Sciences of the Silesian Society at Breslau. Kephir has already become an article of speculation, is procurable in commerce, and will doubtless be further scientifically investigated. The narrow circle in which for centuries kephir has been harbored with almost religious piety, has been broken, and it has become public property notwithstanding the method of its preparation is still surrounded with a certain mystery, depending upon the so-called kephir-grains, the new milk ferment of Kern. This can only be procured from the mountain tribes; but after it has been obtained, kephir may be prepared with the requisite precautions, at all times, in winter or in summer.

This present mystery concerning the origin and nature of the kephir-ferment invites further investigations, and it will doubtless not be a long time before the preparation of kephir in all its details will have been ranged with the known phenomena of fermentation in general. Then, most likely, this simple beverage and remedy of the mountain tribes of the high Caucasus will be accorded an important position among the domestic and general remedies, more particularly as towards koumis. But years of observation will be required to determine its true value; at present kephir is beginning to become a fashion remedy.

The author has undertaken the chemical investigation of kephir with the view of applying to it the results of his protracted investigations of milk, and of determining the changes produced by this ferment; although more difficult and complicated than expected, he hopes in the near future to be able to report his results.

Tiflis, January 30, 1884.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 56, 1884, was edited by John M. Maisch.