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Milk Kefir

May 22, 2017

What is milk kefir?


Milk kefir is a fermented milk beverage that is very rich in probiotics, it is fermented much like yogurt. Kefir grains are made of various strains of bacteria and yeast. Kefir is not a grain like wheat or rye, but is named so due to its appearance.


What do the grains look like?


The size of kefir grains varies from the size of barely visible couscous grains to the size of a hazelnut, there are also flat, large kefir grains measuring multiple inches in diameter.


What kind of milk to use to make milk kefir?


Cow's milk and goat's milk are the most popular kinds of milks to make kefir, raw or pasteurized milks can be used but avoid using ultra pasteurized milks. Cow's or goat's milk with 1%, 2%, 3.25% or even higher fat percentage milk produces a very tasty kefir, skim milk too can be used but the texture of the kefir tends to be less rich. Kefir grains feed on the sugar in the milk which is the lactose however if you are lactose intolerant, soy, coconut and almond milk will also produce a milk kefir, if you are using lactose free nut milks it is recommended to switch to cow's or goat's milk every fourth or fifth time so the grains remain active.


What kind of container to use?


The best container, also known as brewing vessel for culturing kefir is a wide mouth glass jar, ceramic can also be used, try to avoid metal and plastic.


What kind of strainer to use?


A plastic fine mesh strainer is the best tool for straining milk kefir, a stainless steel strainer can also be used but avoid other metal strainers such as ones made with aluminum.


How should a fully fermented milk kefir taste like?


The taste depends the length of the fermentation, it can range from very mild, almost sweet to very pungent, bubbly and effervescent. The kefir might taste bitter if the grains starve because they have stayed in the milk for too long.



What is the best temperature to culture milk kefir?


20-25 degrees is ideal for culturing milk kefir, if the room is too hot, the kefir will be ready in just a few hours and that usually makes a flatter tasting kefir that also lacks texture, the longer the fermentation the more body it has. You may adjust the amount of milk you use on very hot days to prolong the fermentation time.


Also, when left in the fridge, the kefir grains slow down significantly but they will still continue to ferment the milk at a very slow pace. If you have a large quantity of grains, simply pour enough milk to cover the grains and refrigerate, in about 2 days, you will have the thickest and tastiest milk kefir you have ever had.


Kefir grains vs. the powdered kefir starter packs ? 


Before I stated using milk kefir grains to make kefir, I used the 5 grams sachets of dried kefir starter cultures, this produced a kefir that had a very flat taste, the texture looked more like runny not fully fermented yogurt and we mainly used it in smoothies, once I realized that this kefir had only a fraction of the bacteria and yeast, I switched to real kefir grains. Now, I am a huge fan of the taste and while we continue to use it in smoothies, I prefer drinking plain cold kefir. The grains produce a much better tasting beverage and they will last indefinitely as long as they are cultured in fresh milk regularly.


How do you know the kefir is ready to be strained?


You will know your kefir is ready when the grains float to the top and the milk has a thicker consistency, and if you leave it longer the kefir will separate, the green whey will stay on the bottom of the jar and the thick curd like kefir will float to the top along with the kefir grains. If you are looking for a mild, sweet kefir, then simply filter the kefir grains using a fine mesh plastic sieve and enjoy the kefir either at room temperature or refrigerate for later. The taste will get stronger in the fridge as it continues to ferment at a slower pace than at room temperature. And if you are looking for a stronger, pungent and effervescent kefir, then a second fermentation is necessary, I would highly recommend tasting the kefir every few hours.


Is a second fermentation necessary?


Once the milk is fully fermented, the kefir is ready to be consumed, the second fermentation reduces the amount of lactose present in the milk even further and produces a more acidic, pungent and effervescent beverage. The second fermentation usually takes less time than the first fermentation, the taste changes quite rapidly too so it's important to check the taste frequently, the whey separates and that's normal, simply close the lid and shake the bottle.

What to do if the milk kefir grains are not multiplying?


Milk kefir grains multiply regularly, at a much slower pace than water kefir grains but if you make kefir regularly, the grains should multiply over time. If you have a small amount of grains and they produce a tasty kefir without multiplying, keep using the same grains, once they become more active, they may start proliferating.


What to do if the kefir grains become less active?


Culturing milk regularly helps become grains stay active, if the grains are not producing at the same speed they used to, one thing that may help is reducing the amount of milk for the same amount of kefir grains. Once the grains become active again, the same ratio can be used again.


Can I take a break from making kefir?


To take a short break, a few days to a week, place the grains in a clean jar, fill it fresh milk, close the lid and refrigerate. If you would like to take a 3-4 weeks break from making kefir, store the grains in half a gallon of milk, when ready to start culturing again, strain the kefir grains, discard the fermented milk and start culturing again as before, if the first batch doesn't smell right or doesn't ferment like it used to, discard the milk once more before you start to consume the kefir.


How to make kefir using kefir grains?


- Place about a tablespoon of kefir grains in a clean glass jar

- Cover with about 3 cups of milk of your choice, cover with a cloth or loose lid and let ferment at room temperature until the milk becomes thick and is fermented. This may take 12-24 hours depending on the temperature and how strong you want the kefir to taste.

- Strain the kefir through a fine sieve and refrigerate or leave it on the counter for a second fermentation.

- The grains are once again ready to culture another batch of kefir, there is no need to rinse the kefir grains, in fact rinsing is not recommended, just fill the jar with fresh milk and either ferment on the counter at room temperature or if you prefer to take a little break, close the lid and refrigerate for a few days.



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