Up the Caucasus
The word Kefir is derived from the Turkish word “Keif” describing a state of feeling good and it's as true now as it was then.
Kefir originated in the Caucasus Mountains more than 2000 years ago and is the oldest known fermented milk yoghurt. The grains of Kefir were considered a gift from God among the common folk and it is said that the grains were blessed by the prophet Mohammed himself. The secret of the Kefir grains, passed down from generation to generation, was considered a source of family and tribal wealth. Traditionally, Kefir was made by mixing Kefir grains with fresh, raw, cow or goat milk which was then left in goatskin leather bags to ferment. It was customary to leave the bag outside the door and let anyone entering, kick or shake the bag. This assisted the culture process.
A bit of Russian intrigue
In the early twentieth century, The Russian Physicians' Society contracted two cheese makers, the Blandov's brothers, to go out and search for the secret of Kefir, which had been closely guarded by the people of the Caucasus Mountains for centuries. The brothers decided the easiest way to procure the renowned Kefir grains was to utilise the charms of their very attractive employee Irina Sakharova. She was to bewitch the Caucasian prince Bek-Mirza Barchorov and coax him into giving her some kefir grains. The Prince outright refused to give up the “grains of long life " but was so smitten he also refused to give up Irina. The Prince hoped to win her heart by making her his bride and sharing with her his lands but, Irina refused and instead was held captive. She was eventually rescued by the two brothers and brought home but not without hope of gaining the sought after secret of the kefir grains.
With help from the Blandov brothers and The Russian Physicians' Society, Irina brought her case against Prince Bek-Mirza Barchorov to the Czar's court.
The prince lost the case and was ordered to pay reparations to Irina for her distress. Although the Prince offered her gold and jewels she demanded and received kefir grains as payment for her unfair treatment.
In 1908 Irina Sakharova was famed with bringing the first batch of Kefir grains into Moscow where it was used, medicinally at firs,t in health sanatoriums as part-treatment for tuberculosis and other ailments with great success.
In 1973, at the age of 85, Irina received a letter from the Minister of the Food Industry of the former USSR, expressing grateful acknowledgment of her primary role in bringing Kefir and its benefits to the Russian people.
Health and Old Age Places with High Longevity: Transcaucasia Part 1
Location. The Soviet Union's southernmost point is dramatized--and dominated--by the Caucasus, a 750-mi.-long strip of mountains with peaks such as Mount Kazbek, the Dykh-Tau, and Mount Elbrus rising magisterially to more than 16,000', 17,000', and 18,000' respectively. The Caucasian mountains run between 2 great lakes called "seas": to the west the Black; to the East, the Caspian. The region includes the Soviet Union republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbayan. Because of its felicitous geographical location, this area--one of the world's most colorful--embraces simultaneously subtropical stretches, seacoast resorts, and Alpine villages nestling on mountainsides at altitudes of nearly 5,000'. The 1st 2 regions are bathed in year-round sunlight and are eternally green, while the latter is shaded by perpetual snow clouds.
To the east are the Mongolian republics with their Uzbek, Kirghiz, and Kazakh populations of sloe-eyed, yellow-skinned people. South of the Caucasus lie the neighboring nations of Turkey and Iran. Somewhat inadvertently the Caucasus gave its name to that division of mankind which comprises the chief race of Europe, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. The supposition was that the people of the Caucasus or "Caucasians" were racially "typical" of what we think of as Aryan.
Longevity. The total population of the area is about that of New York City--9.5 million--yet it proudly and legitimately boasts the highest number of long-lived people anywhere in the world. In fact, in the local Caucasian dialects there is no word for "elderly" or "aged," merely the Russian word which means "long-centuried." The last census, taken in 1970, revealed that 5,000 centenarians then lived in the Caucasus. Most of these were found in the Daghestan part of Azerbaijan at the Caspian end of the Caucasus, and in Abkhazia, part of Georgia at the Black Sea end of the mountains. Daghestan's population is just over a million with 70 out of every 100,000 of the population 100 years or over in age. In Abkhazia, with its half-million people, 2.58% are over 90 years old. Compare this percentage with a total 0.1% for the whole of the U.S.S.R. or 0.4% for the U.S. In a further breakdown of official figures, one out of every 300 Abkhazians is 100 years old or over. For comparison, note that in the U.S. only 3 in 100,000 reach 100 years of age.
Geriatrically, the Caucasus area is the most thoroughly and scientifically documented region in the world. Professor G. E. Pitzkhelauri, director of the Gerontology Center headquartered in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, helped by his assistant Dr. Deli Dzhorbenadze, has studied 15,000 people of the Caucasus, all over 80 years of age, and the 2 doctors have tested more than 700 centenarians. Many of these latter have birth certificates or baptismal records, but they have also been carefully questioned as to historical events, dates of marriage, birth of children, death of husband or wife, etc., and by arithmetical computation, the age of these very old people can be counterchecked or verified with considerable accuracy. Moreover, foreign gerontologists have frequently visited here to corroborate Russian findings.
© 1975 - 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace
Reproduced with permission from "The People's Almanac" series of books.