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A Big World in Small Grain: A Review of Natural Milk Kefir Starters

Nejati, Fatemeh; Junne, Stefan; Neubauer, Peter

FG Bioverfahrenstechnik

Milk kefir is a traditional fermented milk product whose consumption is becoming increasingly popular. The natural starter for kefir production is kefir grain, which consists of various bacterial and yeast species. At the industrial scale, however, kefir grains are rarely used due to their slow growth, complex application, bad reproducibility and high costs. Instead, mixtures of defined lactic acid bacteria and sometimes yeasts are applied, which alter sensory and functional properties compared to natural grain-based milk kefir. In order to be able to mimic natural starter cultures for authentic kefir production, it is a prerequisite to gain deep knowledge about the nature of kefir grains, its microbial composition, morphologic structure, composition of strains on grains and the impact of environmental parameters on kefir grain characteristics. In addition, it is very important to deeply investigate the numerous multi-dimensional interactions among different species, which play important roles on the formation and the functionality of grains.