Russian Language Blog

From The Minds Of Russians Posted by on Aug 12, 2015 in Culture, History, News, Russian life, when in Russia

Even if you haven’t ever cooled down with Redpop! from Faygo on a hot summer day, you definitely passed by it at your local grocery store about a million times; and if you haven’t yet purchased Lifeway Kefir at your local supermarket, you have probably seen it. Regardless of your involvement with  the abovementioned beverages, I bet you listen to the radio, at least occasionally. What do these things all  have in common? Russian people created them.

Alexander Popov was a professor of physics in 1885. While giving a lecture at St. Petersburg University he unveiled a system for wireless communication. In doing so, he gave the world its first radio. Unfortunately, he worked for a military institution and was unable to publish his work. Meanwhile in Italy, Guglielmo Marconi had been conducting similar experiments that would be the basis for an article that he did get published in 1897. Not long after that, the radio became a commercial sensation with the credit for its development still disputed today: Russian or Italian?

If you don’t live in the United States you may never have had the pleasure of drinking a Faygo Root Beer or Faygo Rock N’ Rye. In about 1907, the Feigenson brothers, both of whom had emigrated from Russia, started producing soda pop that made them more money than their previous jobs as bakers had. In the beginning they had only three flavors and they were based upon their cake frosting recipes: strawberry, grape, and fruit punch. During  the 1920’s the name had been changed to Faygo, they purchased a truck to deliver it, and sales began to take off. Initially, they charged $.03 for one bottle and $.05 for two. They would even deliver it to your home. Today, Faygo is quite popular in Michigan and has been featured in Bon Appétit magazine.

Lifeway Foods produces a tasty, fermented milk called kefir – this is their flagship product. Kefir is made by inoculating animal milk (cow, goat, or sheep) with kefir grains. In 1976 Michael Smolyansky emigrated to the U.S. and happened to visit a food show where he found kefir. He saw the potential of this product that had not really taken off in America and started Lifeway out of his basement. They have also created a variety of tasty flavors including vanilla, blueberry, strawberry, and peach. Kefir has been around for centuries and is quite popular across Europe and Asia, however, Lifeway has increased its popularity in America in a big way. I personally grew up drinking kefir. Unfortunately, kefir didn’t come in 20 different flavors during my childhood but we were fond of adding sugar to it. Today you can find many varieties of kefir in both national and independently-owned grocery stores across the country.

Some other Russian inventions include electrically-powered railway wagons, videotape recorders, the helicopter, solar cells, and transformers – the kind necessary for a power grid. People from all countries have invented some great products that have made our lives better in some ways, Russia is no exception.

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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u


  1. Richard:

    There’s a very good kefir made here in Canada, Liberté brand. Some Russians living here have told me that government regulations requiring all milk and milk products sold in Canada to use pasteurized milk changes the taste and/or nutritional value of kefir made in Canada. I don’t know if that’s true or not, I just buy Liberté at my local grocery store and it tastes great! Love kefir!!! <— Для вас, Женя!! :))

    • Jenya:

      @Richard Thank you Richard. I am not sure what your Russian friends meant exactly but the kefir I grew up with (store bought kefir) was made from pasteurized milk and it was still good. Russia has been pasteurizing its milk since I was a little girl but you can still buy raw milk from a little old lady pretty easily, even to this day. Perhaps, they are referring to prostokvasha (простокваша) which is basically milk that turned sour, similar to buttermilk and kefir; however, it does not require the use of kefir grains/culture :-).
      P.S. Большое спасибо for the entertaining video 🙂

  2. Richard:

    Yeah, I was pretty sure Russian health regulations require milk to be pasteurized, so perhaps I misunderstood what I was told. Two people told me that and they were coworkers from about ten years ago. I remember the woman was a health food nut and she made her own kefir and her own yogurt; maybe she just didn’t like store bought food.

  3. Richard:

    I’ve never heard of prostokvasha, maybe I’ll poke around some of the local stores, see if they have it. I think North Americans really need to get away from junk food and start eating natural foods. Just my 2¢ worth!

    • Jenya:

      @Richard Richard, I doubt any of the local stores will sell prostokvasha (since they do not sell raw milk); but if you can buy raw milk, you can easily make your own prostokvasha by simply leaving the milk out on the counter for a day or two (the longer it sits out, the more sour it gets). Make sure to mix it well before drinking :-), refrigerate any leftovers.